Do Cloth Diapers Save Money? The Economics of Cloth vs. Disposable Diapers

You may be wondering, "Do cloth diapers save money?" We'll show you the math! Even when you consider the hidden costs (water, energy, detergent), there's no doubt about it, cloth diapers cost less than disposable diapers in the long run.  Read on for a more detailed breakdown.

do cloth diapers save money?

Consider the fact that most parents do not start potty-training their child until they are 2-3 years old. Over the course of 2.5 years most babies will average 8 diaper changes per day. This works out to 7,300 changes per baby.

Cloth diapers can save you $885 or more!

If you choose cloth, you may experience other cost savings as well:

  • Babies that wear cloth diapers are potty-trained on average 6 months earlier than babies that wear disposables because they feel wetter - if your disposable-loving kid doesn't potty-train until 3 or 3.5 years, you'll add another year of diapers and pull-ups to your costs.
  • Some municipalities now charge garbage disposal fees. Since disposable diapers account for a lot of the waste from a household, you may end up facing extra fees here if you choose disposables.

Cost of Disposable Diapers

While costs for disposable diapers can vary a lot depending on brand, size, and where you shop, my estimations assume an average of $0.17 per diaper for store brands and $0.25 per diaper for brand names.

Disposable diapers can range in cost from $1241 to $1825 for each baby. Add to that the price of wipes - at $0.02 per wipe, and 2 wipes per change, you are looking at a minimum of $300 in wipes, and more if use name brands! The total is between $1500 and $2100, depending on brand.

Cost of Cloth Diapers

Do Cloth Diapers Save Money

There are several types of cloth baby diapers you can choose from, ranging from prefolds to pocket diapers. Do cloth diapers save money? Depending on your choice of system, the brand you choose, and how often you are willing to do laundry, the total investment you will make in cloth diapers can vary.

With Made in North America brands, I've estimate that it you will need to invest between $758 and $1,240 to cloth diaper your first baby, depending on the system you buy (see below).  You can definitely cloth diaper for much less than that - we've shown that there are ways to cloth diaper your baby for under $100, and there are many cheap one-size pocket diaper options for under $12 per pocket, including inserts.

Keep in mind that with many diapers, you will likely be able to re-use your diapers on a second child (or sell them as used cloth diapers if you don't plan to use them again).

Cloth Diaper Costs

Small and Large Sized Pocket Diapers

  • 20 small pocket diapers + 18 large pocket diapers - $18 x 38 = $684.00
  • 20 hemp inserts - $5.50 x 20 = $110.00
  • 20 doublers - $3.75 x 20 = $75.00
  • Wetbag + travel bag = $40
  • Cloth wipes - $0.50 x 30 = $15.00
  • TOTAL - $909

Pre-Folds and Covers

  • 2 Sizes of Bummis Super Brite Covers - 6 small and 5 large covers - $14 x 11 = $154.00
  • 36 Infant pre-folds - $3.75 x 36 = $135.00
  • 36 Premium pre-folds = $5.00 x 36 = $180.00
  • Wet bag + travel bag = $40
  • Cloth wipes - $0.50 x 30 = $15.00
  • TOTAL - $509

Laundry Costs

Front-Load Washing Machines

Washing - $0.19 per cycle

Drying - $0.41 per cycle

Total Spend per Load - $0.60 per cycle

Loads per Week - 3

Spend per Week - $1.80

Total Cost (2.5 years) - $234.00

Top-Load Washing Machines

Washing - $0.37 per cycle

Drying - $0.44 per cycle

Total Spend per Load - $0.81 per cycle

Loads per Week - 3

Spend per Week - $2.43

Total Cost (2.5 years) - $316.00

Other Considerations

  • You can save more money if you run loads less frequently
  • Drying can be reduced or eliminated if you are willing and able to hang your diapers to dry on a clothesline or indoor drying rack. The sun is also great for removing stains and neutralizing smells!
  • You will also have to factor in some wear and tear on your washing machine and dryer from the extra loads.
  • If you decide to purchase extras like flushable liners and a cloth diaper sprayer to make your cloth diapering experience easier, don't forget to include these in your calculations.
  • Please also keep in mind that these "Do Cloth Diapers Save Money" calculations do not include detergent. Because I use a front-load washer, I don't use a lot of detergent. In more than 2 years, I used less than 1 jug of detergent, but price and the amount you will use depend a lot on the detergent you select and the washing machine you use. For more information on washing cloth diapers click here.

Assumptions:Calculated using assumptions from Michael Bluejay's Laundry Costs Calculator, updated May 2011.

Do Cloth Diapers Save Money? Calculations assume a Hot/Cold cycle in a typical washing machine, and include water plus electricity for washer, electric dryer and electric water heater, with incoming water temperature of 77F (25C), an average electricity rate/KWh of $0.15, plus price of water of $5.50/1000 gallons. If your electrical or water rates differ, the Michael Bluejay site offers a great laundry cost calculator to help you calculate how much you will spend on diaper laundry.

Click here to read about Eco Friendly Diapers: The Environmental Impact of Cloth vs. Disposables?

More in Our Cloth vs. Disposables Series

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