On our recent article “Cloth Diaper Recommendations for a Complete Novice,” one of our readers asked if it would be worth investing in cloth diapers if she lived in an apartment with coin-operated laundry. In my opinion, based on number-crunching rather than personal experience, it would be worth a try. Even if you have to pay to run the washer and dryer, you will save money using cloth diapers. As long as your washer and dryer work reasonably well and you don’t have to keep feeding it quarters to make them properly wash and dry your diapers, it should be a better choice for the environment, too.
Our reader pays $1 to run the washer and another $1 to run the dryer. Obviously she could save money and carbon emissions by hanging diapers to dry, but that not may be practical in her apartment or climate. I wash diapers every four days, or ninety times a year. If she can get away with running just one cycle per load (i.e., she does not use extra rinses or run the washer twice to get the diapers clean), she’ll pay $90 a year to wash the diapers. I know some apartment dryers barely work, but let’s assume that $1 will adequately dry her diapers, so she’ll pay $90 for drying, too. If she uses Biokleen Laundry detergent (see our posts on eco-friendly detergents here and here), she’ll spend $.139/load, or $12.51/year on detergent for her diaper loads. Total washing and drying costs (for one year): $192.51.
I 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 costs. Total start-up costs: $120-$600.
Keep in mind that even if you do start cloth diapering and give up, you can usually sell back your diapers and get as much as half your money back. Consumer Reports estimates that disposable diapers will cost $600-$800 a year-and obviously there is no resale value on a used disposable diaper! With these factors in mind, I’d say it’s definitely worth giving cloth diapering a try. Even in the first year, you could spend about half the cost of disposables.
Now for the practical side of washing cloth diapers in an apartment. Will you want to lug a stinky diaper pail down to the public laundry facilities? Will your fellow apartment-dwellers be grossed out by diapers swishing in their laundry machines? These are factors to consider, too. Perhaps some of our readers can weigh in with personal experience. Has anyone tried using cloth diapers with public washing machines? How did it go? Please help our pregnant reader solve her diapering dilemma!