Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Why Cloth Diapers? Part One: Cost

As the first mama in my circle of new mamas to be using cloth, I get a lot of questions about it. Number one: WHY?

Lots of people don't understand the drive to use cloth diapers. My own mom doesn't really, and she cloth-diapered my older sister! Not me, though. Apparently she didn't care for it. I've tried to explain to her that cloth diapers 30 years ago are not the same as cloth diapers today. She hasn't had a chance to see what I mean for herself yet.

But I digress. There are generally three main reasons why I, and many, many other mamas out there, choose to use cloth diapers:

1. Cost
2. Environment
3. Health

This post would be of staggering proportions if I tried to go over all three reasons in one go. So for today, I'll cover number one: cost.

It's no secret that, over the long run, using cloth diapers will cost a family far less than using disposables. Unless, of course, you're one of those mad efficient extreme couponing moms that can get cases of disposables for pennies. I am in awe of your kind. For us mere mortals, however, here's a basic breakdown, with a more in-depth cost comparison further below:
  • Cost of a complete stash of cloth diapers: $200-800 or so, depending on what type and how many you prefer to have. Trust me, it's easy to get addicted to buying cloth. Of course, there are some additional costs, including accessories and the cost to wash them, which should be taken into consideration too.
  • Cost of using disposables from birth to potty training: $2000-3000, though your mileage may vary depending on what brand of disposables you use and what age your child potty trains.
Plus, cloth diapers can often be reused on a second child, or resold for an impressive portion of their original price.

Interested in the full breakdown? So glad you asked. I'll be comparing three different cloth diaper scenarios with a very basic disposable diaper scenario. Note: I'm not going to describe in depth the different types of cloth diapers, and their pros and cons, here-- that would need a whole separate post!

Note: All prices in this post are taken from Nicki's Diapers.


Basic assumptions:

  1. That you choose to wash your dirty diapers every other day.
  2. That you use a conventional washer and dryer (as opposed to an HE washer and a clothesline).
  3. That your water is of no more than average hardness.
  4. That you use a highly rated cloth diaper detergent, such as Rockin' Green, for $14.95 for 45 loads (90 in an HE washer), or $0.33 per load, not counting shipping costs. 
  5. If you wash every other day, that comes to 183 loads per year.
  6. A baby in the first year of life will go through anywhere from 6-12 diapers per day (this obviously will vary by the baby). For our purposes, let's say an average of 10 diapers per day. 
  7. This means that if you wash every other day, you should have at least 20 diapers on hand to last between washes. To give us a bit of breathing room, let's pad that out to 25 diapers. 
  8. Water and energy costs: We're going to assume an average energy cost of $0.36 per washer load and $0.40 per dryer load, and an average water cost of $0.11 per washer load. These numbers are taken from The Simple Dollar, one of my favorite personal finance blogs. If you're really interested, you can also plug your own numbers into this calculator to find out costs for your specific situation.
  9. We're going to use The Simple Dollar's average costs for the wear and tear on your washer and dryer as well, though obviously this can vary widely depending on initial cost for your washer and dryer and how many loads you wash/dry on average. This comes to $0.20 for the washer and $0.15 for the dryer, per load.
  10. Based on these average costs for water, energy, and detergent, as well as equipment wear and tear, you're looking at a per-year cost of $283.65 to wash your cloth diapers.

Cloth Scenario A: If cost is the most important factor for you, you simply can't beat using prefolds or flats, with waterproof covers. For this scenario, we're going to use a couple of different popular brands of covers and prefolds to achieve our stash of at least 25 usable diapers:

This scenario gives you a total of 30 prefolds and 12 covers, which should be plenty to last between every-other-day washes, plus a wetbag and three diaper fasteners, for a total of $250.39, not including any shipping or sales taxes. I'll discuss additional accessories in a separate post; these are the very basics. Granted, you may have to buy additional prefolds if/when your child outgrows a particular size, so there may yet be additional costs on down the road. 

Cloth Scenario B: If you still need to consider carefully the cost of your initial investment, but hate the inconvenience of using prefolds and covers, come sit by me! This is pretty much the boat I find myself in. Prefolds are just about my least favorite cloth diapering solution, and I believe it is where many who try cloth give up in disgust-- it most closely resembles the system your grandmother most likely used back in the days of yore. So our second option is going to look at some of the newer, more user-friendly options, namely All-In-Two diapers and pocket diapers, but still keeping an eye to cost:
In this case, you would have a total of 5 All-In-Two covers, 13 All-In-Two inserts, 9 pocket diapers, and 19 pocket inserts (I'm not counting the newborn/small inserts in that total). This would, again, be more than enough to last between laundry loads. Our grand total for this scenario is $307.86. In this case there might be less expense on down the road for replacements, since all of the actual diapers involved here are "one size", meaning that they're adjustable to fit your baby as he grows.

Cloth Scenario C: If you absolutely cannot stand the extra work involved in assembling and putting on cloth diapers, even to the extent of stuffing an insert in a pocket, there is a solution for you: All-In-One diapers. Having a stash comprised solely of All-In-Ones is definitely the most convenient, but most expensive, option.
Having no inserts to count up, this is a straightforward scenario: 25 All-In-One diapers for a grand total of $529.00.

My estimates above went a little higher than our most expensive scenario here; this is to allow for the fact that there are additional accessories that you may want to go for, and many families like to have more than the bare minimum number of diapers on hand, in case of a few extremely busy days all in a row that would preclude sticking to your normal laundry schedule.


I'm only going to go into one scenario for disposable diapers here. Financially conscious mamas who choose to use disposable diapers can always find ways to reduce costs-- coupons and such-- but that's really beyond my scope here. So here's a basic breakdown:
  1. Your child is in disposable diapers from birth to potty training. Age of potty training of course varies widely; for our purposes, let's assume an average age of 3 years.
  2. We'll use the same figure for number of diapers per day as with cloth: an average of 10. This will be higher in the newborn period, and lower as the child ages, so this is a very generic average.
  3. Let's say that you choose to use Huggies Little Snugglers and Huggies Snug and Dry, and that you buy them all from Amazon.com.
  4. The different sizes of diapers vary in cost, but if you buy the economy size packs, they average out to about $0.24 per diaper.
  5. With these numbers, your cost to use disposable diapers from birth to potty training at age 3 is $2628
To compare, the cost of using cloth diapers-- even if you go with our most expensive scenario-- over the same time period, would be $1379.95.

That's pretty substantial savings, even before you consider reusing cloth diapers on additional babies or reselling them.

Next, we'll discuss the environmental impact of cloth vs. disposables.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

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