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!