How Much Money Do Cloth Diapers Save?: A Cloth vs. Disposable Cost Comparison

Consumer Reports estimates you’ll spend $1500-2000 for disposable diapers before your child is potty trained.  Can you save by using cloth?  Yes!  The cheapest option, prefolds plus covers, can cost as little as $243 over 2.5 years—that includes washing and drying expenses.  An all-in-one (such as this one by bumGenius) or pocket diaper (such as a Fuzzibunz) can cost around $17 each, so people tend to buy fewer and wash them more often, raising the total price over 2.5 years to $792.  To see our calculations and learn how to save money using cloth diapers, keep reading.

Prefolds: The Cheapest Diapering Option.  My daughter just turned two.  According to my obsessively detailed calculations, I spent $129.50 on the first year and $66 on the second.  I don’t foresee buying any more supplies, so after 2.5 years (the average age of potty training), I’ll have spent $213.50 diapering my child.  That figure includes all my cloth diapers, some disposables for travel, and washing and drying.

Here’s how I arrived at the total for prefold diapers in the first paragraph:

36 prefolds at $1.25 each = $40
18 covers in varying sizes at $6 (the cost of new Proraps and Diaperaps) = $108
washing and drying per year (every four days) = $36 x 2.5 = $90
total = $243

Now, your figure may vary depending on a few things.  One, you may not get away with just one set of prefolds as I did.  If your baby grows out (or pees out) of the standard size, you will end up buying another set of prefolds for around $40.  Technically there are four sizes of prefold diapers, so you could spend $160 (or more) buying 3 dozen of each size. 

I also estimated that you’d need about 18 covers, figuring you’d need six covers in three different sizes.  Your price will vary here depending on the amount of covers you really buy (I never have more than four in any one size) and the cost of those covers.  You can save by buying used covers at a consignment store—some cost just $1!  Ebay is another place to find used diapering supplies.  Of course, you could also spend much more on covers—some brands cost $20.

Washing and drying costs are based on my own experience, using a front-loading washer that uses far less water and energy than a top loader.  We wash diapers every four days on the heavy cycle.  Your laundering costs will depend on the type of washer you have, the cost of your electricity, and the efficiency of your hot water heater.  If you use a “wet pail” to keep your dirty diapers, you’ll use more water.  If you run an extra rinse cycle, you’ll also use more water.  We recommend skipping these steps—you may find, as we did, that they’re not necessary.

Prefold plus cover

Cuteness and Convenience: Pocket and All-in-One Diapers.  Many cloth-diapering parents prefer the convenience and trim look of a pocket or all-in-one diaper.  I calculated the pocket/all-in-one prices like this:

36 diapers in varying sizes at $17 each = $612
washing and drying per year (every other day) = $180
total: $792

I estimated that people would buy 12 diapers for each size and wash them every other day.  You can save a lot of money buy buying used pocket or all-in-one diapers.  A used Fuzzibunz, for example, costs $6-8 rather than $17 and can be resold for that price.  You will have to wash diapers more often with pockets and all-in-ones.  Most people buy fewer, and they fill up the diaper pail faster than prefolds do.

You can save money by buying adjustable pocket diapers.  BumGenius, Motherease, and Happy Heiny all make adjustable pocket diapers that aim to fit babies from eight to over thirty pounds.  A bumGenius diaper costs $16.  If you buy 18 ($288) and wash every three days ($48.80/year, $122/2.5 years), you’ll spend a total of $410.

Hidden Savings with Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers can be used on your next child.  That’s when you can really start seeing savings.  I estimated my washing and drying costs at $36/year.  Because I already own all my diapering supplies, I would spend just $90 diapering a second child.  That means I could save as much as $3696 diapering two kids in cloth diapers instead of disposables.

Cloth diapers have a high resale value.  You may be surprised to know that used cloth diapers—even ones in not-that-great shape—have a very high resale value.  We’ve seen Bumpy (Imse Vimse) covers that cost $14 new run for $8 used.  I even found prefolds, which cost $1.25 new, for $1 in a consignment shop!  If you spend the $612 I estimated for pocket diapers and resell them each for $7, you’ll recoup $252 of your overhead expenses, reducing your total from $792 to $540.

Bumpy (Imse Vimse) diaper cover

There are ways to save on laundering expenses.  We mentioned a few methods above: wash every four days (rather than every other day), use an energy efficient washer, avoid extra rinse cycles and wet pails.  Also, you need very little detergent when washing cloth diapers—about a third of what you’d use for a normal load of laundry.  One big way to save is to hang your diapers dry in the sun—this will bleach out stains and save you a lot of money.  Pocket diapers and all-in-ones hang dry better than prefolds, which emerge stiff and crunchy from the clothesline.

As you can see, there are many variables to keep in mind when trying to figure out how much money you’ll spend on cloth diapers.  No matter what system you choose, it’s definitely possible to save money—as much as $1757!

Comments

  1. In 1952, my husband was Administrative Assistant to our Nevada Senator in Washington D.C. Our family of five crossed the country many times, usually by car. Our children’s ages were five, two and less than one year. I’m glad they weren’t triplets! It took us over a week each trip.
    This was before disposable diapers were a viable choice. We started each day washing diapers by hand at the motel. We rolled up the car windows catching a corner of the diapers in the top of the windows, diapers outside. As we drove off down the highway, the diapers flew in the breeze.
    This method worked faster than today’s dryers, but I wouldn’t recommend it to Rebecca for use in Portland, even though it would save energy.

  2. Cloth diapers are the way to go. The cloth diapers of today with inserts are so easy to use AND clean that it is hard to justify using disposables regularly. Thanks for the great article.

  3. my start-up for cloth diapering has cost me $25 as I am making my own-the most “expensive” part is the elastic and velcro!! :D

  4. Amanda Weiss says:

    I am new to cloth diapering (my son is 3 months and I JUST started). I have spent 120.00 USD on my cloth diapering supplies (13 covers, 30 pre-folds, and 2 AOIs) by buying seconds and lucking out with a lot listed on a local buy/sell/trade site. I have enough to carry me through my son’s diapering years (the pre-folds are big and I just fold them down, the covers adjust). We have spent well over 120.00 in just three months and I am amazed that more parents don’t cloth diaper!

  5. Cloth is definitely the way to go, it saves you money, you really never have to worry about running out, not as often at least. You also get the satisfaction of not throwing thousands of diapers into land fills.

  6. Natalie Portman says:

    I agree with my friend, Mila. She frequently babysits for me and we always use the cloth diapers. I would really like Aleph’s carbon footprint to be as small as possible.

  7. I am due in September and will absolutely use cloth diapers. Putting poo in plastic that doesn’t biodegrade for 500 years makes zero sense. Disposable diapers are the third most common item in our landfills today. There is just no excuse not to use cloth.

  8. I cannot find diaper covers that aren’t less than 10-15 dollars! Do any of you know a website where I can purchase new/used (it doesn’t matter) diaper covers for less?

  9. Sara,
    You can check ebay or your local craigslist to see if you can get them for less. Also, call around to consignment shops in your area to see if they carry diaper covers. I was lucky enough to score a dozen or two secondhand covers for about 1.50 each at a shop in Portland. I hope that helps!

  10. Amy Everpean says:

    I love cloth diapers! A website i found with great cloth diapers is gogonatural.com. You should check it out!!

Trackbacks

  1. […] spent just $129.50 on one year of diaper supplies, which is on the cheap side.  I estimated in my Cloth vs. Disposable Cost Comparison post that, depending on the diaper system, you could spend anywhere from $120 to about $600 on start-up […]

  2. […] exactly what our savings will be, but if you’re looking for a cost comparison, check out the Green Baby Guide. And, if you continue to use your cloth diapers for future offspring, your savings will continue to […]

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