When I was pregnant with my second child I became interested in cloth diapering, both for its environmental and money-saving benefits. I ran the numbers on the cost of diapers, to see if the money saved would be worth the extra time spent in washing them. I was shocked at how much cheaper it is to use cloth diapers, so I thought I’d share my calculations with you. Before we get started, you might want to check out my Cloth Diapering 101 post to see tons of example of cloth diapers, and descriptions of how they work. If you’re intimidated and/or grossed out by the idea of cloth diapering your baby, let me just say this: the options for cloth diapering have changed a lot in the seven years, not to mention the last twenty years. So I encourage you to cast off every preconception you have about cloth diapering and learn about what’s going on right now- cloth diapering is a lot easier, and a lot cuter, than it was for previous generations.
Cloth Diapers Save You a Lot of Money
Cloth diapers have a higher up-front cost than disposable diapers, but over the long term the savings really add up- in the range of $1000-$3000 over a three year period. Let’s break down these cost savings with a hypothetical family that needs to diaper their baby from birth to potty training.
Cost of Disposable Diapers: $3492
First we need to figure out how much it would cost our hypothetical family to use disposable diapers full-time. Our equation would be: Cost = (Total Number of Diapers Used x Cost of Each Diaper) + Extra Cost of Disposal (don’t think you have to pay extra to throw out diapers? Read on for details…)
Here’s the breakdown for each part of the equation:
Total Number of Diapers Used: 8208
The number of diapers used depends on how long it takes before potty training is achieved. Every statistic I could find put the average age for finishing potty training a disposable-diapered child at 30-42 months. For this calculation we’ll assume that our hypothetical child being diapered with disposable diapers falls in the middle, at 36 months. We’ll also assume that the parent would change the diaper each time it was wet or soiled, rather than keeping the diaper on through multiple “wettings.” Younger children need more diaper changes than older children, but over three years it would average out to 2736 diapers per year, or 8208 for the full 36 months. (Incidentally, these numbers are consistent with our experience using disposable diapers on our first child.)
Cost of Each Disposable Diaper: 25 cents
On average, cheap store brand diapers can be found for 18 cents each (before tax), name brands (including all-natural brands) are about 25 cents each, and premium diapers with special features (like pull-ups, over-nights, compostables, and swim diapers) are about 50 cents each. We’ll assume that half of the diapers our hypothetical parent purchased were all-natural diapers, 25% were cheaper store brand diapers, and 25% were premium diapers with special features, like pull-ups. That would put the average per-diaper cost at 25 cents each.
Extra Cost of Disposal: $1440
As I mentioned in this post, more and more cities and counties are implementing scaled-fee programs where your monthly garbage bill is determined by the size of garbage can you use. In our city, a standard 68-gallon can costs about $56/month, whereas as 20-gallon can costs about $16/month. We used disposable diapers for our first daughter, and there was no question we needed the 68-gallon can for disposing of them. Once she was potty trained, we were able to reduce our can to the 20-gallon size- saving us $40/month! Assuming our hypothetical family can take advantage of a scaled-fee program such as this, they would pay $40/month extra for the regular 68-gallon can. Multiply that times 36 months and you get $1440 extra spent on garbage disposal.
So, our equation is 8208 (Total Number of Diapers Used), multiplied by $.25 (the Cost of Each Diaper), then add $1440 (Extra Cost of Disposal). This equals $3492 spent on disposable diapers over a three year period.
Cost of Cloth Diapers: $573.78
Now we’ll determine how much it would cost to cloth diaper our hypothetical child. Our equation would be: Cost = (Number of Cloth Diapers Used x Cost of Each Cloth Diaper) + Total Washing/Drying Costs – Money Back From Re-Selling Diapers (don’t think anyone would want to buy those stained, pooped-in cloth diapers? Think again! Read on for details…)
Number of Cloth Diapers Used: 24
For full-time cloth diapering from birth to potty training, most cloth diaper experts recommend 24 cloth diapers total per child. This allows you to do laundry every couple days and still have clean diapers on hand when you need them. This assumes that you’re using “one-size” diapers that will fit from newborn to potty training- if you use “sized” diapers you’d have to buy 10-20 per size (there are generally 2-3 sizes from newborn to potty training). For our calculation we’ll assume that our hypothetical child will be using 24 one-size diapers.
Cost of Each Cloth Diaper: $4.08-$22 ($13.04 average)
The cost of each cloth diaper is obviously determined by the type and brand of cloth diaper you purchase, and there are quite a range of options available. The cheapest type is a rectangular cloth (called a “prefold“) that you place on your baby before putting on a leak-proof diaper cover. You don’t change the cover every time- just the soaked prefold- so you need approximately 1 cover per 4 prefolds. I checked prices of various brands on Amazon and the price of 1 cover per 4 refolds averaged out to $4.08 per diaper. The most expensive types of cloth diapers are the ultra-convenient “All-In-One” or “pocket diaper” styles of diaper. An “All-In-One” is a one-piece leak-proof diaper that Velcros or snaps around the baby (we used these and these on our younger child). “Pocket diapers” work the same way, but they have a cloth insert that the parent puts into a pocket in the diaper before securing the diaper on baby. These one- or two-piece leak-proof diapers basically look and function like uber-stylish disposable diapers- they are so convenient that they tend to win over grandparents, babysitters and daycare centers. They come in countless irresistible colors and patterns, and use super-easy snap or Velcro-like closures. Brands include BumGenius, Fuzzibunz, GroVia, Bummis, and Blueberry. They range in price from $15-$35, but most are about $22 each.
For this calculation, let’s assume that our hypothetical parent, like most cloth-diapering parents, will use an even mix of prefold diapers ($4.08 each) and All-In-One or All-In-Two diapers ($22 each), which yields an average per-diaper cost of $13.04.
Total Washing/Drying Costs: $498.25
Obviously, line-drying your cloth diapers will be less expensive that using a dryer, but I’m going to assume for this calculation that our hypothetical family uses both a washer and a dryer.
Cost Per Load for Clothes Washer: $.56
A typical cloth diaper washing includes a cold water soak, followed by a hot water wash and an extra cold water rinse. To determine the cost-per-load of this routine, we add the cost of water used to wash the clothes to the cost of electricity used to heat the water and spin the clothes.
Water Used: A High Efficiency Energy Star washer uses 15 gallons of water per load, but with the additional cold water soak (5 gallons) and rinse (10 gallons) we should estimate the washer using a generous 30 gallons per load. If your water company charges $.0034 per gallon of water, that would equal $.10 of water used per load.
Electricity Used: An average washing machine uses about 3.1 kWh of electricity for a cold soak/hot wash/additional cold rinse cycle. If your electric company charges $.15 per kWh, you would multiply 3.1 times .15 to arrive at $.46 per load.
$.10 (water used) plus .46 (electricity used) equals $.56 per load.
Cost Per Load for Clothes Dryer: $.91
To calculate the cost-per-load of an electric dryer, multiply the kWh it uses times the number of hours it takes to dry a load of clothes, and then multiple that number by the amount your electric company charges for a kWh. The average dryer uses 3.4 kWh per hour (your dryer should state it’s exact kWh usage on the back of the dryer). It takes a dryer about 1 hour to dry a load of cloth diapers. Multiplying 3.4 kWh times 1 hour equals 3.4, then we multiply that by the amount that the energy company charges per kWh (we’ll use $.15 per kWh, but you should check your utility bill for your local rate). The result for our hypothetical family is $.51 per load.
The cost for both washing ($.56) and drying ($.51) a load of cloth diapers is $1.07 per load. We’ll assume that our hypothetical family washes three diaper loads per week. That’s $3.21 per week, or $166.92 per year. Now, how many years will you be washing diapers before your child is potty trained? There is ample evidence that babies using cloth diapers become potty trained an average of 6 months – 1 year earlier than babies in disposable diapers, and that the average age of potty training for cloth-diapered babies is 24-30 months. Let’s assume our cloth-diapered hypothetical child takes the full 30 months (2 and a half years) to finish potty training. At $166.92 per year, this would cost $417.30 for the two and a half year period.
Let’s assume our hypothetical family values convenience in cloth diapering, so let’s also add in a deluxe toilet-mounted diaper sprayer for easy flushing of solid wastes ($59.95) and a wet/dry diaper bag for carrying cloth diapers on-the-go ($21). That brings our total cost of washing and drying cloth diapers to $498.25.
Re-Selling Your Used Cloth Diapers: $156.48
So now, to the final part of the equation: the money you’ll make back by re-selling your used cloth diapers. It might seem crazy that you can re-sell used diapers, stains and all, but it’s true! Just do a search on Ebay, Craigslist, or Diaperswappers if you don’t believe me. These sites show you can typically sell used diapers for at least 50% of their cost new. So, our hypothetical parents can re-sell their used diapers for $156.48.
Whew, that was a lot of numbers! Let’s plug the numbers into our cloth diapering equation: 24 (Number of Cloth Diapers Used) x $13.04 (Cost of Each Cloth Diaper) + $498.25 (Total Washing/Drying Costs) - $156.48 (Money Back From Re-Selling Diapers) = $573.78
Our hypothetical family, diapering one child from birth through potty training, would spend $3492 on disposable diapering, versus $573.78 on cloth diapering. Money saved using cloth diapers instead of disposable diapers: $2837.27!
After I ran these numbers, we decided to use cloth diapers for our second child. We differed a bit from the “hypothetical family” because we used disposable diapers at night, and cloth diapers during the day. We also occasionally used disposable diapers when we needed to apply diaper ointment for a rash. Despite only cloth diapering part-time, we are still saving a significant amount of money, especially because we’ve been able to re-sell the cloth diapers we don’t need anymore for a full 80% of what we paid for them.