Is all this cloth diapering saving me money?

January 30, 2010

My son has been in cloth diapers since he was about two weeks old. My main motivation for cloth was the monetary savings (buy diapers for the first baby, and then you’re set for subsequent babies) and the environmental savings (no reason for any more of our waste to sit in a landfill). There are plenty of other benefits, though – a truly better product, a much more attractive product, no chemicals next to sensitive areas, and supposedly easier potty learning. Despite the extra laundry, cloth diapering has remained the most attractive diapering option for our family.

But recently I began wondering if I really was saving any money. According to Mothering magazine, “a child will go through about 8,000 diapers changes. At $.25 per diaper, that adds up to $2,000 spent on disposables.” (Evans, Lindsay. “Dumping Disposable Diapers.” Mothering. April 2008: 50.)  Are these numbers valid? How do cloth diapers compare?

Cost of Disposables

When I buy disposable diapers I always buy the Target brand which sells for $10.69 for 60 diapers – $.178 per diaper, a little less than quoted in the Mothering piece. How about the number of diaper changes? When my son was a newborn I remember changing his diaper constantly. But now that his little system is more mature he really doesn’t need as many changes. If you change your kid’s diaper 8.7 times per day for 2.5 years, you get to 8,000 diaper changes. Eight or nine changes per day is reasonable for a young baby, but I haven’t changed my son that often for awhile. Let’s drop the estimate down to 6,000, which still may be a bit of an overestimate.

Based on these calculations, my cost to use disposables full-time would be about $1,068 per child. Note that I have not included the cost of wipes or diaper pail liners, etc. I don’t use these products so I am not equipped to guesstimate their cost.

Cost of Cloth

There are several components to the cost of cloth: the cost of the product and the cost to launder.

I have purchased the following products for my son:

  • Snappis – $2.50 x 3 = $7.50
  • Newborn prefolds (dozen) – $21 x 2 = $42
  • Infant Fitted Diaper – $6.75 x 6 = $40.50 (yikes, this was a complete waste of money! Chaulk it up to learning curve).
  • Infant prefolds (dozen) – $25 x 3 = $75
  • Med prefolds (dozen) – $29 x 3 = $87
  • Large prefolds (dozen) – $32 x 2 = $64
  • Toddler prefolds (dozen) – $36 x 2 = $72
  • Newborn covers – $11 x 4 = $44
  • Small covers – $12 x 5 = $60
  • Medium covers – $12 x 4 = $48
  • Larger cover – $8 x 1 = $8
  • Large covers – $11 x 4 = $44
  • Doublers – $3.75 x 6  = $22.50 (would have skipped in retrospect)
  • I won several covers in a contest, had I not won them I would have spent about $25 more

The cost to cloth diaper all of my children comes to $639.50. (In retrospect I could have skipped a few of these items and shaved about $71).

To truly have an accurate comparison, I would also need to include the increased costs of my water, electricity and gas bills. I have sorted through the historical costs of these items and have found the variance to be a bit unbelievable. For a brief period of time my water bill was almost doubled and as of right now it’s at about a 40% increase. I really haven’t seen much of an increase at all in my gas bill which is odd considering that heating the water is supposedly the greatest cost of running a washing machine. However I do see a quite a large increase in my electric bill – almost 50%! I have to question whether this is really related to the diapers or if it because I am now home more often.

I will need to complete more research before providing an accurate utility cost for cloth diapering. Right now I would guesttimate that I am spending about $20 per month in additional utilities. If we cloth diaper for 2.5 years, I’ll spend a total of $600 on utilities.

I am not surprised to see that it costs more to cloth diaper the first child. Now that I have seen the numbers, I have to question whether cloth diapering is worth it. While it can be annoying to have to run the diapers through the laundry, I still firmly believe that the cloth is a superior product (personally I don’t enjoy having a baby poop on me). I also believe that it is the better choice for the environment. While I do use extra water to wash the diapers, I am not sending anything to the landfill and I like that.

I would love to hear more cost analysis from fellow fans of cloth. Do you think the cost to use disposables is accurate? What about the additional utility costs to wash the cloth diapers? Is cloth really worth it?


3 Responses to “Is all this cloth diapering saving me money?”

  1. I was able to buy about half of my cloth diaper stash secondhand, so that really cut down on the up-front costs for me. In addition, we live in an apartment where our water bill is included in the cost of our rent, and so we won’t be paying any more for water even though we’ll be doing more laundry.

    I’m going to use flushable liners, so I know that will add to the cost of cloth diapering for me. I plan to line dry the diapers, though, so that should save on electricity at least six months out of the year (I’ll thrown them in the dryer for a few minutes after they’ve been on the clothesline, just to soften them). But I’ll still need to dry the inserts in the dryer (we’ll be using Fuzzi Bunz). This will definitely increase our electricity bill.

    I’m not comfortable with most disposable diapers because they contain sodium polyacrylate (the superabsorbent gel). So on the occasions when I don’t use cloth diapers, I’ll be using Tushies disposables, which are significantly more expensive than, say, Pampers. So cloth diapering is definitely the cheaper option for me.

    • Liz Says:

      Buying secondhand will definitely save a chunk of change. I am going to start line drying once the weather is a bit warmer. It is great for keeping the diapers nice and white, too.

  2. Natalie Says:

    For us, I know it will save us money because our Fuzzi Bunz will last through at least three children – the hand me down size large that my son is wearing now has already been through several kiddos.

    If not for that, then I don’t know that it would be the least expensive choice.

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