Cloth Diapering: How Much Can You Really Save?

A couple of weeks back, I posted on my Facebook page that my husband and I were planning to try cloth diapering. Responses ranged from ultra-supportive to “Wow, she’s crazy!”

There are a lot of reasons not to cloth diaper. There are also a lot of reasons to do it. They are better for the environment, softer for baby’s bottom and cheaper. It’s that last reason – cheaper – that won me over.

When I first got a registry list of all the things we would “need” for baby – I almost died of shock. Seriously. I’m a naturally skeptical person, so I knew we wouldn’t need ALL the items on that list but after calculating the must haves… I immediately started revising our family budget.

One question I keep getting is, “Is it really worth it?” That depends largely on your tolerance for scraping poop into a toilet. Today though, I thought I’d share with everyone what I found when asked myself that question and did the math.

Before I lay out the numbers, I need to mention that there are many different types of cloth diapers and my husband and I plan to try one of the more expensive – albeit more convenient – called Pockets. Here’s a breakdown of the major types.

So here we go. We’ll start with disposables. First, finding an “average” cost for a disposable diaper in the U.S. can be a bit difficult. Thankfully, smarter people than me have done cost breakdowns that are easily available on the web. Click here or here to see what I mean.

Photo Credit: Flickr / longestaugust

As baby grows, they need bigger diapers and bigger diapers generally cost more, since there aren’t as many per box. Price per diaper (also called unit price) as a result, can range from $.15 to $.45. Let say then, for purposes of simplifying the math, that an average price per diaper over baby’s early years will be $.30.

According to the University of Michigan, the average time it takes to potty train a child is about 2.5 years or 30 months. Using an average of 8 diaper changes a day (adjusting for a larger number of changes when baby is small and fewer when it is older) that brings us to a disposable diapering cost (8 changes x $.30 per change x 913 days) of $2,191!

But wait! There’s more!

  • Wipes @ $.03 per wipe (average based on my cost per unit observations) X 7,304 total changes (8 x 913) = $219.12
  • Diaper pail and/or Diaper Genie = $50 (including liner refills)

Total Disposable Cost: $2,460,12

Here are our expenses in going “cloth” as I calculate them:

  • 24 cloth diapers & 48 inserts (CB pockets, one-size until potty trained) = $479.96
  • 30 CB cloth organic wipes = $48.57
  • 2 wet bags (to store/launder diapers in) = $40.00
  • Additional water/detergent usage (via @Mint estimate) = $252

Total Cloth Cost: $820.53

TOTAL SAVINGS = $1,639.59

A few key points…

*Modern cloth diapers can be reused for a second child provided they are well cared for, dramatically increasing the possibility of savings.

*The brands we chose for cloth diapering in the example above are higher-end and there are much cheaper options available on the market, providing the opportunity for even more savings.

*Disposables for many families are just easier to use. In fact, many who use cloth diapers end up using throwaways for long trips or day care, so those may need to be added to the cost estimates for cloth diapering in some cases.

This is by no means an scientific analysis but to me the potential savings was just to enticing to ignore. Then again, this being our first little tot, we haven’t yet had to face “mountains of doodie” as one of my dearest friends likes to call it.

Parents, what do you think? Does the math above win you over? Or do you think cloth diapering is way too much hassle? Sound off below!

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14 thoughts on “Cloth Diapering: How Much Can You Really Save?

  1. While I totally understand the reasoning behind wanting to try the cloth diapers, I personally, could not stand cleaning all of the “doodie” out and handling the smell that lingers (no matter how you store them) until you have enough built up to wash a load! I lasted about a week trying them and quickly switched back to disposable and never regretted the extra cost!

  2. Well I can save you a ton of money in one area on your disposable list. You REALLY don’t need a diaper genie. We never had one and we never had a problem with the smell especially if you take your trash out all the time. And I can also tell you your estimate on wipes is off too. You will use more that 1 wipe a change especially on messy ones! My next baby I will definitely go the cloth route too. There is also a cool thing you hook up to your toilet that will spray off messes into the toilet if do go the cloth route.

  3. Cloth all the way!!! You don’t need to get all fancy with your wipes – find a friend or relative with a serger and grab some flannel, get 5″ squares cut and serged and you’re good!
    Also I’ve got one big wet bag for the longer trips out, a smaller one for one or two changes instead of the great big bag, and at home I use a plain old trashcan with a fliptop lid.

    The only thing I would tell you to research more than you might have is the type of washer you use. If you have an HE machine you’ll want to investigate the best way to launder the diapers. It may have a higher water setting or similar – basically, make it use as much water as possible for diapers!

    Good luck :)

  4. Check out Amazon.com…sign up for their Mom’s program and also find diapers and wipes that are part of their subscribe and save program. You can get disposable diapers for as little as .14 per diaper. We used Pampers on our first, they were the only ones that didn’t leak, and plan on using Pampers with our second when she arrives in a couple months. If you shop around for wipes and find the deals wipes won’t be as much as you calculated also. And as another commenter said, you will use more than one wipe per change. On the dirty ones I used as many as 10 wipes for those blow out moments. You will also use wipes for face and hand cleaning and spit ups, etc. You can cut the cost of disposables more than your estimate if you shop smart.

  5. We are cloth – wipes and diapers and I’ll NEVER switch back. Poop belongs in the toilet, not in the landfill.

    We have 22 diapers in rotation, two wet bags (one for every day and a smaller one for all day outings) and our GRAND total for it all is $200ish. That’s 3 pockets and 19 AI2′s.

    I’ll keep my extra $1k+ in my pocket, thanks though.

  6. I am expecting our first in February! My husband and I have decided to go with cloth diapers! He loves the price, and I love the versatility! We are planning on using the pocket diapers, which I find are very customizable. Velcro at night for when you are stumbling around half asleep, and snaps during the day for durability. Plus, you can layer it up depending on your babies needs. They also make disposable liners for some cloth diapers for when you are on the go or when the baby gets older and poop gets into that weird half solid, messy stage. And, I love the idea of the little sprayer that connects to the sink. You just spray the excess off into the toilet! The only thing I am going to find hard to do is remembering not to put fabric softener in my diaper load!

  7. Michelle – First, let me say congratulations! Motherhood is such a wonderful journey and while it’s the toughest job you’ll ever have, it’s also the most rewarding and joyous.

    I just had my second daughter in July and thanks to my friend Theresa, who wrote about cloth diapering last year on my site, I decided to try cloth diapering too. I was more convinced by the environmental issues than the monetary ones but whatever your reasons, it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

    One great piece of advice Theresa had was to not even attempt cloth diapering until your tiny one is at least 3-months old. This way you avoid the extra hassle of cloth at the very time when your tiny bundle is pooping constantly and diaper changes happen MANY times a day. Those first few months are also the hardest on parents because of your lack of sleep and moms are still recovering physically so if it seems overwhelming, maybe use disposable for those early months.

    Two other things to consider that you may not already have thought about.

    #1 – Most daycares will not use cloth so unless you are staying home full-time or have in-home care, you will likely have to use at least some disposables.

    #2 – Money is an important issue but the value of your time should play a role in your decision as well. This may just be my personal experience but so far, I have found the extra time it takes to use cloth overwhelming. I’m still making an effort and I hope it gets easier but I work from home and have two little ones to care for. I find that I barely have time to do regular laundry. and the extra work of cleaning and caring for the cloth diapers is frustrating.

    That said, I’m glad you are trying and I hope that your pregnancy is going well. Looking forward to reading about how other moms who have tried this are doing.

  8. My daughter was “allergic” to disposables—if you get the off brand, they don’t have as many scents and chemicals that cause the reaction–but off brand really don’t hold as well. I did use diaper liners (under a penny a piece), then you lift the dirty out and it’s flush-able and keeps skin dryer.
    On long trips, I did use disposable, but we get so many grocery bags, so Use them to hold for a stop. I did rinse even the wet off before putting them in the container. If you soak in bleach water, they won’t last. I just used a bit of laundry soap (one with baking soda is great).
    The other big issue is the landfill. We had a neighbor that burned their trash (instead of paying for pick-up)–wet diapers don’t burn well–and with retrievers (that would escape the yard at times) and we’d end up with half burned disposables in our yard–very disgusting.
    I also bought a big pack of white, soft wash clothes to wipe with—didn’t think of the flannel, but with warm water, it’s better on a baby than some of the chemicals in the wipes.
    Cornstarch is a bottoms good friend–and doesn’t have all the talc float in the air.
    As a mom of 6, I know you have to find what’s best for you–good luck.

  9. My youngest is now 16, and, for all four of our kids, we used disposables for the first sixish months, until they started eating solid food and had the resulting change in diaper contents. Then we switched to cloth. But I was a stay-home mom; I had the option of doing that. Most day cares at that time (this may have changed) required disposable diapers. Yes, we saved money…but there was one advantage to cloth diapers that a lot of folks don’t think about…disposables have advanced to the point that a kid scarcely can tell when it’s wet, and so the discomfort factor is way higher with a cloth diaper. This is a good thing, as it actually encourages potty training. Now, this does depend on the kid; I had a couple that just didn’t care how uncomfortable they were because they were too busy to bother, but for the more fastidious kids, the discomfort actually pushed them a bit towards ‘big kid underwear’ and using the potty. Something to think about.

    And I still have a number of those (now) very soft flat cloth diapers that I use for pressing cloths in my sewing room. ;-)

  10. Something you haven’t factored in is resell value. Cloth diapers, if well cared for, retain a great deal of value and can be resold to make up some of the cost. A Nurturing Moment has a cloth diaper swap every other month and you can get great deals on gently used diapers. I have built my stash this way and have spent way less than $800 on my cloth diapers. I have enough diapers to wash every other day. I also second the person who said make your own wipes. My mom made mine with material she already had on hand. Yes, I still use disposables for day care and long trips out of the house, but I am still saving money by cloth diapering. Go for it, you might just get addicted!

  11. I have raised 2 children. My first I started in disposable diapers and went to cloth for the “saving money” idea. It took me about a month of the mess, smell, extra washing and leakage onto me in public to change my mind. Also, during that month, we had a stomach virus and the added work using cloth diapers was horrid. Then you deal with the washing the diaper out in the toilet water prior to putting it in a pail for washing. You forgot to add the cost of the deodorizers you must keep in the pails that you put the diapers into or you will have a worse smell than you are going to have any way. They are extremely expensive and you use a lot of them weekly. So add them to your weekly shopping trip. I felt as though I was continuously washing diapers, folding diapers and changing diapers as cloth does not protect your baby as well as disposables and require more changing to prevent rash. Which was my final reasoning for changing. The diaper rash was horrible!! I tried and tried to keep it off my daughter, but she got progressively worse due to the fact cloth does not absorb as well as disposable and the moisture stays next to the skin for more irritation. After my VERY long month of using the cloth I went back to disposables, the very best move I could of made! I never changed again. When my son was born and I went to purchase diapers for him, I did purchase cloth diapers…..to use as burp cloths! He was a disposable baby from beginning to ending! Good luck to you, but if you have a hectic career, as I suspect you do, you will quickly change your mind about the “convenience” of cloth vs disposable!

  12. One thing to consider especially if you are working: make sure hubby is on board with the cloth diapers. Not just excited about the savings but actually willing to change the diapers. Otherwise you will be doing every diaper change for the next two years. My husband can’t stand the thought of changing cloth diapers so I knew if I wanted help we should do disposables.

  13. What a great blog, Michelle! I’m really excited that you are helping to make more mothers aware of the cloth option! We loved having you visit our Cloth Diapering Class and diaper swap at A Nurturing Moment. I look forward to seeing your precious little one!!

  14. I used cloth diapers in the “olden days”! Pins, flat diapers… We weren’t exclusive, but it was so nice to know I “had diapers” regardless of whether I’d been shopping or not!
    My husband didn’t love it (and I fell off the boat most of the time by child #5)…… I think the newer ones would have been so much easier and taken a lot of the frustrations away!
    I always knew if we hit a diaper rash problem that fresh air and cloth diapers would help it go away!

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