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The Cost Debate: Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable Diapers

Question:  Which is more expensive, cloth diapers or disposables?


Any cloth diapering system you pick should save you a lot of money.

- The most expensive cloth diapering system should still save you money over the cheapest disposable diapers.
- Just how much you save will depend on the products you choose, and which disposables you compare them against.

This is very welcome news for parents trying to save money in a tight economy, for you can easily save a minimum of $1000, and up to several thousand, in a 2-1/2 year period by using cloth diapers.

Customers Share Experiences:

Took S., who has two babies in cloth diapers estimates that switching to cloth has saved “at least $2000 and counting.”  “Honestly,” she says, ”when I found out I was pregnant with our second child three months after my first child was born, I panicked.  Two babies in paper diapers was going to be around $180+ [month], including wipes.  It was purely economical for me.”  Yet she was happy to note that, “After switching to cloth, I noticed my son did not smell so ‘chemically.’  About two weeks after I switched I noticed that my son’s frequent diaper rashes all but disappeared.  I was also very surprised when our medical group actually recommended children to be cloth diapered.

Megan C., mother of twins, admits that, “The cost up front for cloth diapers was a bit of a sticker shock, but people don’t realize how much you really spend on disposables when you spread the cost out over a 2-1/2 - 3 year period.  Initial cost to us was under $500 for two babies.  We were going through a $16.99 pack of 60 diapers every 3-1/2 days.  We spent $78 on diapers the first two weeks alone.  We will make up the cost of our cloth diapers in just under 3 months if we were buying disposables.  Over the diapering lifetime of our twins we figure we have saved several thousand dollars.

Kimberly B:  “When I made my cloth purchase and compared the cost of that to that I spent on using disposables for my first son, about $80 a month for the first 6-8 mos. and then about $60 a month after that, my purchase of cloth diapering supplies will pay for itself in about 5 months.  Keep in mind that I am also using cloth wipes so I am not having to purchase those either.”

Sarah T.:  “Originally, we decided to cloth diaper for two main reasons:  #1 to save money, and #2 because it just seemed a whole lot less wasteful.  As best as I can figure it out, cloth diapering has saved us about $1000 [thus far] - and since we take very good care of our diapers, and we will be able to use them for successive children, it will save us much, much more in the future.  We have also have the privilege of helping several other families make the switch to cloth and every one has said it saved them money - and time - no more running to the store for diapers every couple weeks, or trying to find the best deal, and clipping coupons.”

Gabriella F.:  “I used cloth with my son for about 6 months and he potty trained, so maybe saved about $500 with him.  I spent about $400 for cloth diapers for my daughter who is 6 weeks old, so for her we will be saving a lot, maybe around $3000.  I think it is a great way to save money - think of what you would rather buy with $3000!

Approximate Cost Comparisons

Since babies typically potty train between 2 and 3 years, our costs are based on an average use period of 2-1/2 years.

We calculate about 10 changes per 24 hours in the first 3 months, about 8 changes from 4-30 months.  

Of course, your costs will vary depending on purchase price, number of diapers you buy, length of time actually use.  Anyways, this is a useful ballpark, that you can use as a springboard for your own calculations.

 Cloth Diaper Calculations

First, some key points about cloth diaper cost:

- If cloth diaper products are re-used for another child, the cost is greatly reduced, by up to 50%!

- Your cost of the cloth diapers stays the same no matter how many times you change your baby.  (We are aware that some parents change disposables much less than they should, as a way to save money on a tight budget.)

- With twins or triplets, your savings can really multiply.  While the number of disposable diapers purchased would have to double or triple, many parents purchase less than a full double or triple amount of cloth diapers.

- Many people sell diapering products in good condition on Craig’s List or, recouping a good portion of their initial investment.
- Cloth diaper cost can be felt more at the time of purchase, as it is a bigger up-front investment.  But divide the cost by months of use, and you begin to see their true economy.

- To learn about the costs involved with washing diapers at home, refer to the Diapers and the Environment article.
- Following are three cloth diapering scenarios; there are many more.  Your choices can range from inexpensive to more expensive.  For some people, natural fiber products are worth the expense.  It’s up to you.

1)  Bum Genius 4.0 Pocket diapers (18), Allens detergent, a diaper sprayer AND laundering costs would be about $765.

2)  Thirsties Diaper Covers with Chinese prefolds, all sizes, with laundering costs, about $780 overall (calculated at 6 covers per size, 3 sizes used, and 3 dozen diapers each in two sizes)

3)  Wool Nikkys with Hemp Prefolds (6 covers per size in NB, S, M; 4 covers per size L, XL, SL), about $1450 including laundering.    

Some Disposable Diaper Calculations

Remember, the cost goes up if you change your baby more often!

Exact prices are tough to calculate, because they vary widely by size of package, place of purchase, and size of diaper.   And even types of diapers within a brand.  Looking for Huggies, I found “Baby Shaped” diapers, “Little Movers” diapers, “Snug & High” diapers, etc.  Some brands had prices which varied dramatically from place to place; others ranged just a few cents.  Anyways, I found price ranges, and averaged it for each item.  I used the newborn-small price for the first 3 months.  I averaged the cost of the next 2-3 sizes for the next 27 months.  I used popular brands, rather than obscure or store brands.  You can customize it by putting in the exact cost of your own diapers, brand and place of purchase, using the formula of 10x per day for first 3 months, 8x per day next 27-ish months, or however often you currently change your baby.  Many people with disposables don’t change their babies as often as recommended. 

1)  Regular Huggies:  Approx. $2671

2)  Seventh Generation:  Approx. $2973

3)  Huggies “Pure & Natural”:  Approx. $3007

4)  G Diapers:  Approx. $3028 (total of 18 pair reusable “G Pants” purchased at $18 ea., along with disposable inserts)

5)  Tushies Gel Free Disposables:  Approx. $4095