Cloth Diapering: A Real-World Analysis

Several readers wanted a real-world analysis of the costs and benefits of cloth diapering. Luckily, my wife’s closest friend, Carrie, is cloth diapering her daughter Elizabeth and has contributed this lengthy analysis of cloth diapering. Carrie writes some notes about parenting and art at her personal blog, Dangerous Crayon. I have some notes in response to this that appear in th first comment. Take it away, Carrie!

Recently, when The Simple Dollar told readers to ask him anything they want, there were several commentors who asked for a cost benefit for cloth diapering. While there are lots of resources out there to analyze this, I thought I’d take a shot at figuring out in my own situation what the cost of cloth diapering has been over Elizabeth’s first year of life.

My methodology is a little hazy, but hopefully it’s decent enough to give a realistic analysis. If you have suggestions for other ways to provide a better view of the cost, please advise me, and I will report back!

The Background

All of our appliances are electric. I wash diapers approximately 3 times a week. My wash routine for the majority of the year has been: 1 cold wash and rinse, no extra rinse, no detergent; 1 warm wash and rinse, extra rinse with detergent, 1 cold wash and rinse, no extra rinse, no detergent, typically followed by 2 – 45 minute dryer cycles. I found this to be most effective for me. Some people do fine with a cold rinse, warm wash with 1 extra rinse, which could potentially reduce the amount of water and electricity used by almost half.

Currently, I change diapers about 7 times a day, making for about 50 diapers a week. Even though diapers were changed more frequently in early months, I figure this is a reasonable number to use, so that makes for about 2,600 diaper changes per year. On a side note, if it takes about 1 minute to change a diaper (ha, right!) then that means I’ve spent in the neighborhood of 44 hours changing diapers – that almost 2 full days of diaper changes!

My diaper stash is a mix of inexpensive (prefolds, pins, and cheap covers) and the pricey (pocket diapers). The way I figure it, I have about 53 diapers – 30 infant prefolds or fitteds that were used up to about 14 lbs, 12 premium prefolds we’re using now, and about 11 one size diapers that we’ve used all along. Over the course of the past year, we’ve purchased some disposable diapers, and we were give some as gifts. I figure we used about 360 disposable diapers – usually when we were gone on vacation somewhere, which, with all of our family and church activities, was in the neighborhood of 6 weeks. We also used them occasionally when diapers weren’t washed in a timely fashion.

The Numbers

The total value of my cloth diaper stash is $705.53 *
Detergents – $51.00
Utilities (water and electric) $173.55**
Total cost for cloth diapering in Year 1 (2007) – $930.08

If one assumes that 50 diaper changes a week is a reasonable yearly average, then, if we cloth diapered exclusively, that would work out to 2600 diaper changes in 2007. Considering that we know we did about 360 changes less than that average, we will use 2240 as out number of diaper changes in 2007. That works out to about $ 0.42 per washed diaper in Year 1.($930.08/2240)

* This number includes ALL diapering items – prefolds, covers, snappis (replaces diaper pins) onesize pocket diapers, reusable cloth wipes, diaper pail and reusable liners, a diaper sprayer to remove solids from diapers, and a few other miscellaneous diaper accessories.

** To calculate utilities, I made a basic assumption that the increase in cost between 2006 and 2007 is all diaper related. The reality is that utility rates have increased, there was additional baby-related laundry, and we used the air conditioners more in the summer of 2007 than we had in previous years. I believe the actual cost related to cloth diapers would be noticeably lower. We used less water in 2007 than in 2006 because of changes in the number of people living in our home (1 adult was replaced by one infant) But, for grins, and because we had changes in people and fixed several plumbing leaks in 2007, I’ll go ahead and include a cost for water. In electricity, we used about 1732 kWh more in 2007 than in 2006.

Less than $1000 doesn’t seem to bad, but it doesn’t seem too far from what you might expect to spend on disposable diapers. However, one must consider that these diapers should last us another year, so the only additional expense in Year 2 should be utilities and laundry detergent. If we assume that the prices on those items will remain constant, then over the course of 2 years, the cost would be more like this:

Year 2
The total value of my cloth diaper stash – $0 – bought it all last year
Detergents – $51.00
Utilities (water and electric) $173.55
Total for Year 2 in cloth – $224.55

Not too bad. I think I can scrounge around and find that in pocket change over the course of a year!

Total for 2 years in cloth: $1154.63

If we assume 2240 diaper changes in Year 1, and lets assume that there will be fewer diaper changes in Year 2 (we’ll say on average 5 changes per day – 1825/year) then we would say that over the course of Year 1 and Year 2, there will be 4,065 diaper changes. That gives us a cost of$.28 per diaper change.

Comparing to Disposables

Since I haven’t used disposable diapers exclusively, I will have to estimate the cost for Year 1 and Year 2 diapers, based on the same changing habits. I went to my local big-blue-box store, and priced out diapers in the lower range – the White Cloud store brand. I priced at purchasing in bulk when possible, and since in real life we can only buy whole packages of diapers, I “bought” however many packages I needed to cover the number of changes, even if I ended up with extras. Since the cost per diaper of disposables varies depending on size, I reviewed Elizabeth’s growth chart to guess the number of weeks that she would have been in a given size, still using the 50 changes per week. (This, I think, is under-estimating since there are more diaper changes in the first few months.) I’m also assuming 2.5 wipes per change because my experience is that I’ll use one wipe for some changes, and 6 or 7 for the messier changes.

Year 1
NB – 100 changes, 3 pkgs (40/$6.97) – $20.91
Sz 1 – 100 changes, 1 jumbo( 88/$12.74), 1 regular pkg (44/$6.97) – $19.71
Sz 2 – 400 changes, 5 pkgs (80/$12.74)- $63.70
Sz 3 – 2000 changes, 24 pkgs (84/$13.98) – $335.52

Wipes (at 2.5 wipes per change) 6500 – 11 pkgs at (648/$11.82) – 130.02

And, just for fun – Diaper Genie 2 – $29.96 and 15 refills – $89.10

Once we figure sales tax in, this comes up to about $858.83 for Year 1, or about $.33 per diaper change (yes this is a little fuzzy, because it does not account for the extra diapers purchased in each size.)

Year 2

Assuming that children use fewer diapers on average per day as they get older, I’m pretending that Elizabeth would have about 5 diaper changes per day, for a total of 1,825 changes in a year. If that were split evenly between the next 2 sizes, then it would look like this:

Sz 3 – 913 changes, (84/$13.98) – $153.78
Sz 4 – 913 changes, (72/13.98) – $181.74
Wipes (at 2.5 wipes per change) 4680 – at (648/$11.82) – $94.56
11 diaper genie 2 refills – $65.34
Total cost in Year 2 after sales tax – $495.42, or about $.27 per diaper change.

Total cost to use disposable diapers for 2 years – $1354.25
Assuming 4,065 diaper changes over the course of 2 years, that gives us a cost of $.33 per diaper change.

If you were inclined to use more expensive brands – I priced out Pampers’ Swaddlers and Babydry style diapers – then you could expect to add about $90 in the first year, and about $100 in the second year, for a total of $1601.83 to diaper for 2 years in a more expensive disposable.

Conclusions

Year 1, Cloth – $930.08
Year 1, Disposables – $858.83

Year 2, Cloth – $1154.63
Year 2, Disposables – $1354.25

If I had opted out of a larger stash, and some accessories, I believe that the cost in Year 1 of cloth diapering would be on par with the cost of disposables.

Since most children are not potty trained by one year, I would say that cloth is cheaper, even when you have some of the more expensive diapers. Actually, for the money that I “save” by using cloth – $199.62 – I could have added more than 8 pocket diapers to my stash, and still come out on top.

Factors That Make Disposable Diapers More Expensive Than Calculated

The brand As I indicated above, if you go for a more expensive brand, it will cost you more. One of the reasons I opted for cloth is that I think there are health benefits to avoiding disposables. If I use disposables, my preference is brands like 7th Generation, which have fewer dioxins, and hopefully, are healthier for babies. Those brands are even more expensive than brands like Pampers.

The size of the package Some parents are cautious about buying in bulk, since it means you could be stuck with lots of diapers in the wrong size. Some parents don’t have the upfront cash to buy diapers in bulk, so they end up spending more per diaper when they buy smaller packages.

Frequency of changes While I used a 50 change per week average, the truth is, diapers should be changed more frequently for health. We shouldn’t be letting the disposables fill until they are falling off the bottoms of the babies. More diaper changes mean a noticeable increase in expense with disposables, while with cloth, more changes do not significantly impact the number of washes. More changes mean the cost per washed diaper keeps dropping.

The leaks The times that I used disposables, I found that they tended to leak more, which sometimes rendered clothing stained beyond public wear.

The garbage Although I haven’t personal experience with this, some people have reported to me that their garbage service charges more, because they set more bags/barrels of trash out on the curb.

Factors That Affect Your Personal Cost to Cloth Diaper

Your stash If you go with the cheapest end of cloth diapering – all prefolds, inexpensive covers, inexpensive detergents, then you will see a greater benefit. If you use the most expensive options – all-in-one diapers or pocket diapers, then your cost recovery will be much slower. If you buy a large stash, the diapers individually will last longer, but of course, the cash outlay for 48 pocket diapers is substantially more than that for just 24.

Your routine If you wash more often, or have more rinses, etc., then you’ll see greater utility costs.

The number of children The more children you have who will wear the same cloth diapers, the greater your savings.

And, if you’re not convinced that cloth is less expensive (aside from the potential health and environmental benefits), check out these sites:
Punkin-butt: Diaper Dollar
Cloth Diapers: Can I afford to cloth diaper?
Nicki’s Diapers: How much money can you really save?
Pinstripes and Polka Dots: how much will cloth diapers cost?

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  1. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I have just a couple comments. First of all, I basically agree with Carrie’s conclusion – with the first child, the cost of cloth diapering and disposable diapering are on par with one another, but with additional children, cloth diapering does become cheaper.

    I do want to note that one of the largest costs with cloth diapering for many families is the time investment. The time invested in doing the extra laundry needed for cloth diapering can add up significantly, and for many families, that time cost does not add up to enough to make it worthwhile in terms of the dollars saved.

    Personally, we have used Pampers Swaddlers and Cruisers with our two children – they almost never leak or burst, so the “dirty clothes” factor is basically nil. We buy them in bulk and use the constant flood of coupons we receive to drive down the cost per diaper.

    Regardless, this is an excellent analysis of cloth diapering, and I thank Carrie for taking the time to write it all out.

  2. IndigoGirl says:

    Wow, you do a lot more than I do. I have:

    18 premium prefolds ($20)
    5 used covers ($25)
    detergent (on my second bottle-$8 each)
    some fleece liners (remnants-less than $5)

    I wash twice a week. I do a cold rinse/soak overnight and then just ONE hot/cold cycle. Then the dryer. That’s it.

    I change my 6 month old 4 times a day and then use one disposable at night. Cloth is NOT an all-or-nothing proposition. I know people who use disposables at night (like me) or use cloth at home and disposables when they’re out, etc. Oh, and despite what all the old ladies tell me, there’s no rinsing in the toilet. :) The gross factor is minimal, I promise.

    I have a special zipper bag for my diaper bag (cost about $20) and another liner for my diaper pail ($15). Both those are just tossed in the washing machine with the diapers.

  3. Melissa says:

    Thanks for the entry! As someone who is planning on having kids in the near-future, this will help.

    But, I have the same question as the above poster. Cloth diapers definitely have benefits by being cheaper and more environmentally sound, but what about the time invested in washing all those cloth diapers? How many hours per week are you spending doing the extra loads of laundry?

    Certainly, spending an extra $200 over a span of two years seems worth it to not have to deal with washing diapers!

  4. Meg says:

    I simply wanted to add that you can acquire cloth diapers used for a great savings. I recently purchased some high quality chinese prefolds on craigslist for less than $1 per diaper. Additionally, I made diaper doublers pads out of my husbands old t-shirts and some towels that were old good for dusters. Another cost saving strategy is to use the old fashioned pins and plastic pants or wool soakers. These are both more durable and less expensive than the velcro style diaper covers. While I still have the utility and detergent costs, setting up my entire stash cost less than $100. Using her utility and detergent figures, that would bring my cost for Year 1 to approximately $400.

  5. Small Cents says:

    If you want to really be frugal, you can make your own diapers. I wrote a post on how I did so here: http://smallcents.blogspot.com/2008/02/make-your-own-cloth-diapers.html
    I have three kids, and have cloth diapered them all, more or less religiously, so to speak. Even now, with a five year old, and almost four year old, and a five month old, I haven’t found the extra two loads of laundry I do per week because of the diapers to be overwhelming or too tiring.
    @Meg, there are fewer and fewer places to find used cloth diapers: Ebay is now forbidding it, and is quite stringent in removing listings, and Craig’s List forbids it as well, although I don’t know how strict they are. I wrote a post about that as well, on the collapse of the used cloth diaper market.
    (Honestly, I write about a lot of other stuff, I’m not just some crazy cloth diaper lady!).

  6. Bill says:

    All,

    I “subscribe” to a diaper service for my two kids (2 years old and 5 months old) for which I pay about $100 per month (100 diapers a week).

    So, in short, I pay $1200 a year and I don’t have to wash a thing! My wife and I simply put the soiled diapers in a plastic bag and place on our porch once a week.

    How simple is that? And it sounds like it’s about the same price as the author pays but without the mess or time out for laundering.

    I’ve known for some time that this was the way to go, but most of my friends simply do not believe me. It’s better for the baby and the environment (my wife likes those parts the best) and it’s as good for the pocket book (I’ve calculated that it’s better).

  7. This is a timely and relevant topic for me as my wife and I are expecting our first child in April.
    I will cetianyl poitn her to this article and see what her thoughts are.
    At this point we are leaning toward disposables and I am sure she would rather do that since she does the laundry in our house and doesn’t seem to like the idea of washing dirty diapers.
    I’m not sure how much savings in cost it would take to change her mind!
    -Tyler

  8. Michael says:

    Sadly, those of us who do not own a washing machine are priced out of cloth diapers.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    You don’t need to spend nearly that much on detergent!! I have been using the recipe from inspireco (link below) and having great results. It is easy to make, the ingredients were at my local grocery, and my detergent costs are much, much smaller than they had been previously (even shopping with sales and coupons).

    Also, you did not figure in the environmental costs of cloth vs. disposables. While cloth does create gray water, the local water utilities have treatment plants for such things already in place. Plastic lasts almost forever. Imagine every one of your kids’ used, dirty diapers in a pile–because somewhere on this earth, they are, and they will be for the next 100+ years.

    Laundry soap recipe link:
    http://inspireco.blogspot.com/search?q=laundry

  10. Tana says:

    We use cloth diapers. I have 24 diapers that I bought for $10 each and 6 that I bought used for half that price. We go through about 12 a day, which means I do a load every day or so. As a SAHM, the time factor is nil for me since it only takes a net of about 5 minutes of my time to wash one load, albeit spaced out over a few hours.

    Our diapers are mid-range as far as price is concerned. Chinese prefolds are $2 or $3 each if you buy them by the dozen. Fitted diapers are easier because they have elastic and snaps and thus operate much like disposables.

    For covers, we use wool, which costs from $40 to $80 or more per cover if you purchase them from WAHMs who hand-knit them. I am a knitter, though, so they cost me $10 to $20 each and bring me hours of knitting, which I enjoy. During the winter these covers are wool pants, which we have three pairs of. During the summer, they are wool shorts, which cost half as much to make. Since I only buy shirts, I save on wardrobe costs as well.

    I think the most expensive time of cloth diapering is the first six months. Newborn size diapers lasted us about 6 weeks, then the next size until about 6 months. After that, it’s the same size until potty-training.

  11. Patrick says:

    We are cloth diapering our 3 week old and found this information to be useful. To this point cloth diapering has been very manageable.

    I know this is a personal finance blog, but I would like to add the impact disposable diapers have on our land fills each year.

    If you take the your estimated 2240 diapers per year and multiply that times the approximately 4.2 million infants born in a year, you get 9.6 BILLION disposable diapers added to a land fill each year. A quick search of the internet shows that it takes 500-600 YEARS for a disposable diaper to decompose.

    Financial freedom is important to me, but so is having a clean environment for my children and my children’s children.

  12. kim says:

    I think that a lot of children (especially those in disposables) do not potty train until they are 2 1/2 to 3 years old. That increases the cost effectiveness of cloth. Also, the 700 figure for cloth diapers seem like a very high end estimate. I used cloth on my twins. I spent about 100 on diapers and another 50 on covers and pins. I used a 5 gallon bucket with a well fitting lid and did the same dunk and swish routine that my mom used – no fancy equipment. I put baking soda in the soak water and did a load every other day. I poured the yuck water and diapers into the machine and set it to spin. I then did a quick cold water rinse (with the water level set on low). I then washed in hot water with tide. I used a hot dryer to sanitize my diapers. A mother could save a lot more using cloth diapers if she made it known that cloth diapering was a priority before her baby was born. Most diapering supplies could be shower gifts.

  13. yvie says:

    I used cotton diapers on my second child, and only used disposable diapers when I went out with her. (It doesn’t have to be either or.) My daughters day care mom tolerated the diapers. But what really saved money for me was skipping the dryer and hanging the diapers on the clothesline from May to October. And the sun bleached the diapers as well, keeping them white.

  14. Kacie says:

    I’ve heard that when children wear cloth diapers, they potty train faster, since they’ll be able to tell that they’re wet.

    True, you’ll have to spend more time doing an extra load of laundry, but honestly…laundry is the easiest chore there is, in my opinion. The machine does all the work!

    And, if you’re all-disposable, then you’ll have those assorted late nights when you need to run to the store to pick up a pack. That takes time.

    When I have my first baby, if I’m living in a place with a washer/dryer, I’ll probably use cloth diapers. I’d hopefully get a lot of diaper supplies as shower presents and the sort.

    I take advantage of the big drugstore deals that come along, so I wouldn’t have to pay for my detergent anyway, likely.

    Bottom line, I think cloth diapers can be significantly cheaper than disposable, and if they’re better for the environment and a baby’s tush, all the better!

  15. Jen says:

    This is an interesting analysis, I appreciate seeing it laid out like this.

    However, there is one issue that your friend doesn’t seem to address: daycare. A large percentage of mothers work, either out of necessity or because they want to. You may be able to convince some smaller home based daycares to change your cloth diapers, but most larger, center based daycares will not. We chose our daycare based on reputation, they are simply the best daycare provider within 250miles of my house (and I have data on that, and I pay for that). They will not take cloth diapers because of space and sanitation concerns. They can store disposable diapers in one genie for all kids in the room, and empty it as often as necessary usually 2x a day for infants, 1x/day for older children, but would need to store cloth diapers for all kids separately so they could be sent home.

    Further, I dispute that cloth is better for kids. The additive in modern diapers wicks moisture away from the skin, keeping them drier.

    But whatever method you choose, let your kids run around bottomless for at least a half hour a day, more if you can chance it. The tush needs the airflow. My son never once had diaper rash, and I do think this is largely because I let his butt “breathe”.

  16. Julie says:

    We use cloth diapers and I definitely think that $700 is a WAY overestimate for the cost of diapers! I have not added up the cost however and think I might do it just to see. We used prefolds/covers and about 6 pocket diapers and a couple of all-in-ones until our son was to squirmy to use the prefolds anymore (they were just too hard to get on him). Since then we have used all pockets. He can still (barely) use the size mediums which we have had since he was about 6 months old and he is now 1 1/2. Those diapers are getting a major workout and still look fabulous and work great.

    Also, most of them I bought used, to further reduce the cost. http://www.diaperswappers.com is a GREAT place to find deals on cloth diapers in any price range.

    We still use disposables for night time, going out for longer periods of time (if it’s just for a 1-2 hours we use cloth) and for the Grandparents house but find we only buy maybe 1 family size per month, if that.

    It definitely saves not only money, but the landfills as well. Most people don’t realize that even with disposables you are supposed to dump out the solid waste in the toilet before putting the disposable diaper in trash (it even says it on the box of diapers!). We do this also.

    I don’t really agree with the potty training faster though. Most of my friends that use cloth have not found this to be true either.

    Oh yeah, and I only wash 1 prewash with no detergent and 1 full wash with detergent and I have never had any problems with stinky diapers as some have had. I occasionally throw in some tea tree oil as it’s a natural antiseptic.

  17. Julie says:

    Oh sorry…I noticed a typo on my above post. My son is 2 1/2! So, that is 2 years in the size medium diapers, though I think we are moving to all larges very soon. :) I really do know how old my son is…really! :)

  18. Carrie says:

    Trent – I agree that the time used in laundry can be a significant factor for some families. As a stay-at-home parent, I have “luxury” of being able to wash at my leisure.

    Michael – Actually, I know some people who do not own their own laundry machines, and still cloth diaper to save money. As several other commentors have mentioned, you can purchase cloth diapers for much less than I spent, by purchasing the very inexpensive prefolds, covers, and pins.

    Kim – I agree that the value of my cloth diapers is more than needs to be spent – If I had chosen to go with a smaller number of diapers, prefolds, pins and covers as you did, then I think costs would have been similar.

    Jen – You are correct that daycare’s willingness to cloth diaper does significantly impact one’s ability to use cloth diapers during daycare hours. Since I haven’t personally faced that situation, I can only respect the fact that each family makes the child-rearing decisions that make the most sense for their situation.

  19. Carrie says:

    Several people have mentioned that $700 seems like an overestimate. That was the actual cost, based on receipts and current day values of items received as gifts. Cloth can cost less, but it can also cost much more, if you opt for the high-end diapers.

  20. Julie says:

    Carrie, I used prefolds/covers (and snappis – NO pins!) for the first 6 months or so, but then used what I would say are middle of the road in terms of cost – Fuzzi Bunz and BumGenius primarily, but also some other brands like Happy Heiny’s, Swaddlebees, Green Acre Designs, and others. New these range from $15-20 per diaper, but you can find them used. And I still don’t think I spent anywhere near $700. Your stash must be huge.

    Also, you can sell off things very easily if you find either they don’t work for your child (they all fit differently) or you don’t like them or whatever. This can provide a little extra to buy the next size up as well.

  21. George says:

    We’ve used cloth diapers (from http://www.mother-ease.com) for our two children. Total cost was about $400 total for 24 diapers, liners, and a couple of sizes of covers. For the first couple of months, we did a load of diaper laundry daily, but after about the 3-month mark the laundry switched to every other day.

    I’m not sure of the logic of doing several washes and rinses, followed by two dryer loads. This seems like total overkill. We just drain any water from the diaper pail into the toilet, dump the damp diapers straight into the washer, and wash them on a single hot wash cycle with an extra rinse, with regular detergent and borax. Instead of running them through the dryer, we put them on a drying rack in our basement, or outside during the summer. The diapers come out totally clean and fresh, without using nearly as much water or electricity. There simply isn’t any need to wash them over and over again – they don’t need to be “sterilized” any more than baby clothes do.

  22. Julie says:

    Totally agree with George about the multiple washing. We do the short prewash and the full wash and that’s it. In winter we line dry and put in the dryer, depending on how behind we are on washing. In summer, we line dry (either in our basement or outside) all the time. Extends the life of the diapers and saves money. :)

  23. Jodi says:

    The differences in the number of wash cycles could have a lot to do with your diaper pail method. A dry pail requires an extra rinse wash I think. But then again, you don’t deal with poopy water.

    Another thing to note… In talking to other parent’s who cloth diaper, it seems that they enjoy the diapering process a lot more. Has anyone else noticed this?

    I take a great deal of pleasure in diapering my kids now that we are in cloth… Except for that week that my kids got the flu. :)

  24. Carrie says:

    I’ve been tinkering with my wash process for a while – I found that I have less stink with the wash I currently use, as described in the post. Every once in a while, I try a different wash set up, and I find that there is an unpleasant odor. So, another example of how one’s situation can make a difference in diapering. As for the dryer, I do that for expedience :)

  25. Sylvia says:

    We went with a diaper service for the first 6 months, and found it comparable to disposables in cost. Plus, we had weeks given as a shower gift. The REAL money-saver has been ec-ing since our 10 month old guy was about 2 months old (using elimination communication- check out diaperfreebaby.org). We really only do it part-time (mostly after naps and when waking up), and have only 1 poopy diaper every 3 weeks or so. That saves lots of diapers/money. And no, it’s not hard and doesn’t take much time (especially compared to cleaning up a poop-covered baby!) Plus, I still use the infant-sized prefolds I bought used off diaperswappers, which I formerly snappi’d and used with an inexpensive cover- now that he’s bigger I trifold them as inserts in other covers- more savings!

  26. A.M.B,A. says:

    Nice post – thank you! My kids are past the diaper stage- thank goodness- but I do have a question. Do diaper delivery services still exist? If so, what is the cost comparison in time, quality and convenience?

    A.M.B.A.

  27. Retentitive says:

    I have a Vietnamese friend with an almost one year old child. He’s 75% potty trained. Really. She started training him at 8 months and only urine ends up in the diaper now.

    My friend is a refugee and though her mother has been hooked up with some “old world” knowledge. Imagine not having all the modern comforts. It’s not really workable to have a kid running around making a mess for two years.

    The key apparently is to notice when the kid starts to poop and then make a “sushing” sound. I guess they use something else for ‘be quiet’ in Vietnam. Anyhow, it’s your basic Pavlovian deal. Make the sushing sound when you notice the baby going and work up to making the sound not too long after a meal.

    So ponder how much money you save by investing a little time potty training your kid. Not in the forced way that supposedly makes one anal retentive, but in the subversive way.

  28. Helen says:

    Nowadays financial costs cannot be considered without taking into account environmental costs.

    this article seems to favor disposables:

    http://www.ilea.org/lcas/franklin1992.html

    UNTIL you read the line that ‘Air drying cloth diapers is one example. If this reduces energy used in the laundering process by 37%, it would be preferred even over disposable diapers. ‘ – why would you not line dry? Line drying, and washing with a modern water-efficient machine, would have to be a preferred option.

    I did prefer to use good quality disposables at night, as baby stayed drier and slept more soundly, and it avoided the problem of wet sheets from leaking diapers.

    Then you also might like to take a look at the environmental record of diaper manufacturers:
    http://www.kleercut.net/en/

    Not to mention the non-renewable plastics that go into their manufacture.

    Choose organic cotton diapers and an enviro-friendly wash/treatment for at least some of your diaper use.

  29. Shevy says:

    I used cotton flannel rectangular diapers (the old-fashioned kind you have to fold yourself) when my grown children were babies and still had a dozen or two tucked in a box that I used occasionally when my last child (now 5) was born.

    I used a wet pail with water & detergent. I’d wring them out and wash them in hot water with bleach. I’d give them two extra cold rinses, then dry them.

    The laundry itself never took much time, 5 minutes to get it in the wash, a couple of minutes to set the rinses and pop the diapers in the dryer.

    What did take a little time was folding them, but I used to do it while watching TV. I folded them like disposables but adjusted them according to the size of the baby. That was the nicest thing about them, that you only had to buy them once and they would last through several children from infant to toddler.

    Oh, and they were cheap. About a dollar apiece.

  30. Mark says:

    As mentioned above, this analysis misses two big points:

    1) Daycare – most (all?) daycare centers will not allow cloth diapers, so for a households with two working parents this does not work.

    2) Time – as Trent mentioned, many families will gladly trade the extra few cents per diaper for the convenience and time savings of disposable.

    My 2 kids are in Pampers Swaddlers/Cruisers and they have worked great for us. I can usually find them, with a coupon, at Babies ‘r us for around $.24 per diaper.

  31. Mel says:

    I agree with Meg, I think that the cost of her stash is a bit high. I did disposables for my first and have calculated, and recalculated that doing cloth for my second (and last) is still more economical. You can build a stash for significantly less if you just do the prefolds with a cover. Prefolds cost $2 ea and the covers I like best (Proraps) can be bought for around $7 each. These are not only cheaper than the all in ones, they take less time to dry too.
    Also I can & have recoup some of my investment by selling the stuff when I’m done.

  32. Julie says:

    A.M.B.A. – there was not a diaper service in my area (Nashville) when my son was born, so I had no option. I would have liked a service, I think for the first month or so to get used to everything, but the cost is a lot higher than just doing it yourself. But, for those who don’t have the time or inclination to wash dirty diapers, but still want to use cloth, it’s a great option for environmental reasons.

    As for daycares, it’s true that many won’t deal with cloth, but there are quite a lot who will. I have had several friends who daycare providers work with them on the cloth, turns out they had just never been asked before. One of my friends daycares even used the same diaper service as her and she didn’t have to pay extra for the diapers used at daycare. Double bonus for her!

    But, it’s not just all about cost for many who use cloth. The environmental cost of using disposables full time is just not attractive to me. And, I enjoy my cloth diapers, like one poster said. I love seeing my little one run around in his colored or bug printed diapers. So cute!

  33. JE says:

    Just two things:

    1. We’ve spent far, far less than this anaylsis, but there are a variety of factors that can affect the cost. The bottom line is that it can be much less expensive than this if you want it to be.

    2. You can convince most daycare providers to use cloth, but you have to be well-prepared to stand your ground and deal with a mess when you get home. The folks who change diapers at the centre take the diaper off the kid, put it in a plastic bag, and toss it in a trash can. Essentially, you can do the same thing with a cloth diaper except you put it in a ziploc bag and toss it into a diaper bag.

    And after being without hot water for nearly a week and being forced to use disposables because we couldn’t wash the cloth, I can now firmly say that I am a devout cloth diaperer!

  34. Brian Jefferies says:

    We used cloth diapers for our children and saved a fortune!

    It may have been more work cleaning them but, in the long run we never had to worry about running out.

    We even used the same cloth diapers for both kids ;)

  35. Allie says:

    Thanks Carrie for the post! We are expecting our first child in June so this was perfect timing. We are planning on just one child so I think with everything factored in, we’re going to use disposables. But it’s good to know there’s not a tremendous price difference in disposables and cloth for the first baby.

    Thanks to the posters who shared their favorite brand of disposables. I’ve been asking around for opinions on which are best and this helps. I didn’t want to waste a lot of money on disposables that didn’t work well.

    I look forward to more posts related to frugally raising children. Keep up the good work Trent!

  36. Eric says:

    Lots of great comments!

    Two things I am wondering about –

    1 “Time – as Trent mentioned, many families will gladly trade the extra few cents per diaper for the convenience and time savings of disposable.”

    How much time to people think it takes to start a load of laundry? I take the diaper pail downstairs, separate the poopy diapers, spray those down in the toilet, then start a load. All in all it takes me 10 minutes a night. Then to go back downstairs and transfer from washer to dryer another 1-2 minutes. So really 10-15 minutes a night.

    I guess maybe I am not busy enough because that is really quite manageable.

    2. “there are fewer and fewer places to find used cloth diapers: Ebay is now forbidding it, and is quite stringent in removing listings,”

    I just went to ebay and typed in “mother ease” and found several listings. So they must not be doing that great a job removing them.

    I think it is very easy to find used cloth diapers on-line (another commenter posted a link to a site).

    Oh one more – “Certainly, spending an extra $200 over a span of two years seems worth it to not have to deal with washing diapers!”

    Keep in mind that Carrie’s cost for cloth was a lot higher than many other people. We haven’t spent more than $200 on cloth diapers in 2 years. When you consider the cost of disposables over that time the savings is far far more than $200.

  37. Jeanne says:

    I’m now 3 months pregnant and am very interested in cloth diapering. Not so much for the frugal part but for OUR environment.

    For the websites frugal part, I live in an apt. building. A single wash is $1.50. There is no “rinse only” cycle. You have to wait for the whole thing and if some people are saying 2-3 washes just think of what that would cost me per month @ $3 or $4.50 per day (not including detergent and bleach).

    I’m still investigating diaper services (since I live in NYC I have a nice variety to choose from).

    So you have to put forth a little more effort. I think in the long run to feel I didn’t contribute to the landfill will make me happier.

  38. partgypsy says:

    I agree from an environmental perspective the cloth has it down for reducing waste in landfills. I am not convinced it is necessarily less expensive, unless you toliet train early. Currently with our 18 month old we do amazon autoship of seventh generation diapers for $36 a month ($432 a year for year 1-2, not including wipes). 2.5 wipes per change seems excessive! When we are at home we often use an old washcloth for pee pee changes that you simply rinse out (our changing station is in the bathroom). The other consideration is our area is in a severe drought and all citizens are expected to reduce consumption by 50%. I don’t think we would be able to do that if we were washing cloth diapers.

  39. partgypsy says:

    In case I wasn’t clear, I am very pro cloth diaper. I do not feel good seeing all those diapers and imagining them filling the landfill. But cloth wasn’t really an option in my situation as I work full-time and my husband was not on board with the idea of cloth diapers.

  40. Renee says:

    Like George, we ended up going with motherease diapers (www.mother-ease.com) although we got some other supplies from other companies too. All-told, I think we spent $558.15 on diaper supplies (478.35 for 36 one-size cloth diapers w/snaps, 4 small covers, 12 extra absorbency liners, $24 on 12 prefold diapers, $55.80 on two pail liners and two wet-dry travel bags). We’ll have to buy some extra diaper covers as our daughter grows (I figure that will take us to about an extra $100) so all told we’ll have spent close to the $700 Carrie talks about in her post.

    We don’t use disposables at all. Initially we did at night because we were worried about absorbency at night, but our daughter has skinny legs (like her dad!) so she kept leaking through the disposables no matter what brand we tried! The first night we tried the cloth at night, she slept longer than she had w/the disposables, didn’t leak, and as such didn’t get her nightclothes & bedsheets all wet.

    We chose mother-ease b/c if you’re into convenience, these are the cloth diapers that take most of the hassle out of cloth diapering. There are snaps on the diapers which, depending on where you snap them, make it so that the diapers will grow from birth to whenever she’s out of diapers. No pins, no fancy folding–just snap the diaper on, put the cover on (also with snaps, although they have velcro covers too), and you’re done.

    For laundry, we do a dry pail (we don’t want to risk our daughter being a Houdini and figuring out how to get in a wet pail and accidentally drowning) with a cold prewash w/minimal detergent (to try to keep stains from setting), then a hot full wash & cold rinse cycle with detergent & vinegar added to the rinse cycle. Vinegar helps to keep cloth diapers absorbent and gets out pesky odors. We dry the diapers on regular heat for an hour. Once warmer weather hits (I’m in PA), we’ll start drying the diapers outside since the sun is a natural bleacher. We also use inexpensive cloth washcloths (wet) instead of wipes. These go in the same wash as the diapers.

    I do diaper laundry about 2-3 a week. When I get home from work, I grab the pail liners, start the wash, and then go to feed my daughter. When she’s done, I finish the diapers. It’s not like I’m sitting there waiting for the diapers to finish washing or drying, so I’m not sure how anyone would think an extra couple loads of laundry a week would be such a time burden. Once they’re dry, the washclothes are tossed in a bin under her changing table & I accordian-fold the diapers so those are done in less than 15 minutes.

    We haven’t noticed a substantial increase in either our water or electric bills, to be honest. In addition, Strollerderby puts the cost oof disposable diapers & wipes at $2400 over 30 months–meaning that if we use that #, cloth diapers are SUBSTANTIALLY cheaper in the long run, ESPECIALLY if you use them for more than one child (which we intend to).

  41. AnKa says:

    All I can say is you need a better washer. Seriously – 3 runs?????? That’s nuts. I am a part-time diaperer and I never do anything but a regular run at ‘warm’ (not hot) setting and regular detergent. We use pocket diapers (bum genius).

  42. Sharon says:

    If you live out West where water is very expensive and scarce, the entire equation can change dramatically. We have WAY more landfill space than we have water.

  43. Sharon says:

    If you live out West where water is very expensive and scarce, the entire equation can change dramatically. We have WAY more landfill space than we have water.

  44. The savings are not significant as i expected they would be; compared to the convenience and “yuck” factor I’m not sure its worth it.

  45. jill123 says:

    This was very interesting. Thank you for taking the time to work that all out for us. Just a couple notes: I can buy disposibles at BJs for about $.17 per diaper without coupons. With coupons, I pay about $.14 per diaper (that is for the expensive Pampers Cruisers). Second, this may seem like a silly question, but do you not use wipes with cloth diapers? I noticed that they were included with the disposibles, but not with the cloth calculations. I agree with the other person who said your wipe count was too high. I probably use 2-4 wipes a day as I only use them for poopy diapers.

  46. Heather says:

    There are two flaws with this analysis that drastically skew the results:

    1) Healthy babies should have 6-8 wet/dirty diapers a day — minimum. Babies should be chanced EVERY time, regardless of whether they are in a disposable or cloth diaper. With disposables, this drastically increases the costs. With cloth, it might require a larger stash of diapers, but not more washes, since with washing 3x a week with a single child, these are not full loads anyway.

    2) The analysis compares a mid- to high-end cloth diaper stash with low end disposable diapers. As several pp have shared, it is very easy to have a larger, cheaper stash by buying used, more prefolds, less expensive covers, etc. I spent less than $350 to set up for my infant, and then another $50 to add my 2-year old when I realized how easy it was.

    3) The analysis leaves out the resale value. Prefolds show minimal wear, even after months and months of hard use. If taken care of, small and medium covers will be outgrown before they show signs of wear. These can all be resold for 50-85% of the price of new.

  47. Shannan says:

    It cost me about $350 total (includes detergents and laundry $) for 2.5 years of cloth diapering. I did not have a washer/dryer and did all my laundry at the laundromat ($3/week). I can now turn around and sell all my cloth diapers and get back almost all the money that I paid into.

  48. Kim says:

    I think Carrie did a great job breaking down the costs associated with cloth diapering, and has started a great discussion to fine tune the costs as most people experience them. I would like to add my input on disposables.

    Since there isn’t an upfront cost to disposibles, unlike cloth, it is easiest to just calculate the cost per diaper. Using the guidelines from babycheapskate (http://babycheapskate.blogspot.com/2008/03/stockupportunity-prices-grumblingly.html) and Carrie’s diaper size estimates, the cost per diaper for the first year is 21.2 cents, and the second year cost is 23.5 cents per change. (Stockupportunity price for each size times the number of diapers needed in each size divided by the total number of diapers used)

    I think the number of wipes needed can also be greatly reduced. I never use a wipe for a pee only diaper, and I only use two wipes maximum for a poopy diaper. So I think .5 wipes per change is a much better estimate of wipes used, adding a penny, on average, to each diaper change.

    So I think a fairer estimate of the cost of disposable diapering a baby for the first year is more like (8 changes per day x 365 days x $0.222 per change) $650. For the second year a good estimate is (6 changes per day x 365 days x $0.245 per change) $540.

    Of course this can be much greater or less depending on what you buy. This is calculated using assuming Premium name brand diapers bought on sale with a $1.50 coupon. It is possible to get diapers much cheaper. I only spent $250 on diapers in the first year, with an average of 13 cents per diaper, but I got diapers as gifts and my mom likes to surprize me with a box of diapers.

  49. Suzanne says:

    I agree with Sharon re: Water Issue. Water really
    is a signifigant environmental issue, beyond
    landfills, if you have scarce water, which is a growning problem, then the true cost of cloth
    diapers versus disposable changes.

  50. Julie says:

    Hi – I own a cloth diaper store (believe it or not!) so I have a few things to add:

    — If you’re using the higher priced pocket diapers like Fuzzi Bunz, they recommend you have 12 per size (three sizes) so that’s 36 x $18 = $648 for one of, if not the, most expensive cloth diapers. So, yes, it can actually be cheaper than that…

    — You might as well be using cloth wipes if you cloth diaper, which cuts the cost even more.

    — I agree that the amount of rinses and washes is high. I recommend a cold rinse followed by a hot wash with minimal detergent. If your diapers stink or leak, it’s probably detergent residue – even natural detergents leave residue. A ‘pure’ detergent like Charlie’s Soap or Allen’s works great on cloth, and you use very little, particularly in a front-loader.

    — Washing a medium-sized load of cloth diapers uses as much water as a five-minute shower.

    — Diaper services are nice, as far as cost & convenience is concerned, but they use far process washes by law than home laundering. Plus, they use bleach, which isn’t recommended for home washing.

    — The time used to wash a load of diapers every other day is minimal. No more time expended than a trip to the store/internet to purchase disposables or the time it takes to lug those garbage bags to the dumpster. Seriously – I’ve cloth diapered with a newborn while holding down a full time job.

    — As for the ‘yuck’ factor… You don’t handle poop with disposables? Technically, you’re SUPPOSED to shake solid waste into the toilet when using disposables, so the ‘yuck’ factor is actually universal. Besides, there’s plenty of yuck in every phase of parenting – you just have to build your tolerance ;)

    — Also, regarding the absorbency agents in disposable diapers that keep babies so dry… The polyacrylate gels in disposables do their job so well they pull natural moisture out of the skin. That’s why kids in disposables actually have higher incendence of diaper rash. And those gels are non-biodegradable, so the 5,000 disposables used in roughly 2.5 years of diapering one child will actually not break down in the landfill.

    Just some more food for thought.

  51. Michelle says:

    I have used sposies on my first and cloth with my second and cloth wins HANDS DOWN. I bought my diapers (prefolds and covers) from a friend whose son just potty trained for $150. I wash three times a week, with the cheapest detergent I can find, one hot wash, then into the dryer. A little bit of vinegar in the wash with baking soda in the pail takes care of the smells. (Cheaper detergent is actaully BETTER for cloth diapers than expensive stuff, because all the additives reduce absorbancy).

    As for the “yuck” factor, What “yuck” factor?? With disposables, I had to empty a garbage pail full of week old human waste and take it to the trash can. It was disgusting!! With cloth, I take the entire thing, dump it in the pail (no toilet rinsing), then after 2 days, put it in the washer. Takes 10 minutes of my time, no gagging required.

    And maybe we should add a gym membership to the disposables side, because I get a great ab workout hanging my diapers on the clothesline!

  52. Catherine says:

    Don’t forget that if you register for cloth diapers or ask for them as gifts, that can reduce the cost of the initial investment. :-)

  53. Emma says:

    I’ve never commented before, but I just wanted to add my thoughts on cloth nappies.

    Before my daughter was born we decided we would use a gdiaper type system (we live in australia). But after she was born they just didn’t seem to work for us so we just got disposables. Now she is about 9 months old and we’ve decided to move to cloth. I’ve managed to buy a few ‘used’ cloth nappies on ebay – basically they were all unused extras that people were getting rid of. I managed to get a few organic cotton fitted napppies for a quarter of the retail price. We have been slowly buying a few each month while still using disposables for night-time and when we’re out (and when I’m washing the ones we do have). Hopefully in about two months’ time we’ll have enough of a stash to go full time and then our nappy budget will decrease dramatically.

    I dry-pail my nappies – simply rinse them off under cold water, ring them out and put them in the pail. Then I use a hot wash with an extra rinse (I have a front-loading washing machine which uses less water than the top-loading kind). You should use about half the amount of detergent that you would normally use as it can cause build up. I also add vinegar for the first rinse cycle. This apparently can neutralise odours and kills bacteria. I don’t have a dryer so they hang outside or on racks indoors when it’s wet.

    I’ve found it to be much easier than I thought it would be, and I feel a whole lot better about putting her into the cloth ones. I’m not particularly bothered by any ‘yuck’ factor, but I think that some people would find it harder than I have. I also stay at home so I do have the luxury of being able to do the laundry at any time. There are many factors to be considered when deciding what to do.

  54. Andrew says:

    I may sound like a big idiot, but I have a question…my mother washes out plastic ziplock bags and reuses them numerous times. Are there any types of disposable diapers that someone could clean and wash out and use again??? Perhaps in an old utility sink as to avoid bacteria and germs as much as possible?? I feel like an idiot asking this so please take it easy on me if you respond!!!

    Thanks,
    Andy
    (getting married in Sept. and hope to have a rugrat or two someday)

  55. Bree says:

    I’d be curious to see the cost analysis for the newer hybrid line of G Diapers.

    http://www.gdiapers.com/

    These seem like an interesting idea to me and I’ve wondered where they fall on the cost spectrum.

  56. Joe Chin says:

    Andy:

    No, you can’t reuse disposable diapers. Inside the diaper, there’s this dry stuff that turns gelatile after it gets wet, and there’s no turning back after that. And believe me, you don’t want to handle poo any more than you have to, just to save a few bucks a year.

    We have one rubbish bin with a tight lid for wet diapers and a Diaper Genie for the poopers. Diaper Genies are an awesome invention! You can buy them at your local baby store or probably Target.

    Cheers,
    Joe

  57. bakednudel says:

    Old timer here…are you all really putting poopy cloth diapers, complete with poop, into the washer? (after soaking in a diaper pail)

    I was taught to swish them in the toilet before putting them into the diaper pail. It wasn’t hard!

    Just curious, since I’m post-menopausal!

    Fascinating article and comments!

  58. bakednudel says:

    PS just read about the mini-shower–what a GREAT idea for cloth diapers!

  59. I used Mother-Ease one-size with my daughter, and spent about $300 7 years ago, so I would think around $400 would be comparable. We used those from 3 weeks of age to 2.5 years, when she potty trained. I chose them by ordering a bunch of samples and deciding which one I’d want to wear. :)

    I also think if you’re looking at economizing, hanging to dry is the way to go – for my electric dryer, I save 50 cents per hour. I think I remember washing diapers about 2.5 times per week. At that rate, line drying every time (possibly not feasible, but just for quick figures) would save about $98 in a year.

    Great post, Carrie!

  60. Cheryl says:

    As a cloth diapering/gDiapering mom & owner of s store that carries both types here are some options that are cheaper ways to do it:

    1. $750 on diapering stuff in one year? You’ve got to be kidding. That is an excessive amount of stuff. I have 8 gDiaper “pants” that cost $120 (several bought used), 6 microfiber inserts (bought new on eBay for $10 w/shipping)and 2 dozen prefolds that were used as burp cloths for my 5 yr old that I now use as inserts (shower gifts 5 yrs ago-maybe $25 tops). While these pants are sized, there is a HUGE resale value on them, so 50% of price paid can be recuperated on a used diaper site. My “pail” is a bucket we already had lying around (free), so the tab is about $155. I also use the flushable inserts occasionally when out or lazy, so add in 2 packs (80 inserts)/month is about $336 a yr. Still WAY below $750.

    2. Washing-Because there’s a waterproof liner in the g pants, they don’t have to be washed every time you change baby so despite having 8 pants I wash every other/every two days when using cloth inserts exclusively. I do a single cycle w/extra rinse-usually with his clothes I already have to wash. This works because I’m using a non-soap based detergent (Charlies, Ecos, etc.). They don’t leave residue so no odors, no stripping required AND only 1/4 of the amount to use on “regular” clothes so less detergent cost & there isn’t any “extra” utility being used.

    3. I line dry my pants & liners on a rack so there isn’t as much need for the dryer to be running any more than for our family’s normal clothing laundry.

    4. The other option is to use one-size pocket diapers from the beginning-they’ll last you through to potty-training & on to the next kid and usually can resell well. Obviously you’d need more (around 18 which is about $325) & there’s a bit more frequent washing, but the inserts come with them and with the washing regime described above a minimal amount of water & electricity.

    Both methods should cost under disposables and add the assurance that your diapers won’t be sitting in a landfill in 200yrs.

  61. Carrie says:

    Just for grins, I went to the store where I purchased all my products (I like to support local businesses) – cottonbabies.com
    and figured up what 24 each of infant and regular prefolds, 4 dappis covers each in newborn, small, and medium, a pack of diaper pins, and 24 wipes, and a 5 gallon bucket from any hardware store, and I figured and it would cost $142 with all new items, no sales tax, no shipping, to have what I would need to diaper for Elizabeth’s first year. Quite a bit different from the $700+ spent I actually spent on the diaper supplies!

  62. Michelle says:

    Yes, I just put the whole thing, poop and all, in the dry pail. Then into the washer. That’s how a commercial diaper service does things, so that’s the way I do it. Sometimes I have to run a quick rinse after a load because there are like potato skins (stuff that can’t be digested) stuck to the side of the washer drum. To me, it’s not a big deal, but it grosses my mom out.

    To each his own!

  63. Steph's Diaper Factory says:

    Hi, I’m a cloth diapering mama too!

    I do appreciate this post, it’s nice to see everything spelled out. Cloth diaper can be very inexpensive and can also be very expensive depending on what type of diapers you buy and if you’re in to the newest crazes out there.

    I make my own diapers and I also work full time. My son is in a “bigger daycare center”. I just wanted to say that some of the information mentioned above about cloth diapering not being allowed in daycare centers is not true. Make sure to look up the law for your state, they vary. I looked up our state law and was armed and prepared when going to the daycare to talk about cloth. Almost every state that I know of allows cloth diapers by law, they may have a few extra rules regarding how they handle them, but they are allowed. I’ve been using cloth on my son for almost two years now. His daycare teachers have never had a problem with it. I provide easy-to-use pocket diapers as well as provide a wetbag for them to store the diapers in.

    Just wanted to add another $0.02 on the daycare situation.

  64. Steph's Diaper Factory says:

    bakednudel: I do not put poop in the diaper pail…which is a dry diaper pail not a wet one. I dump the poop in the toilet then put the diaper in the pail.

    ALL POOP SHOULD BE DUMPED. It is mentioned on the side of disposable diaper packaging that feces should not be thrown in the trash. So, poo should be dumped even with a paper diaper. Unfortunately that rarely happens.

  65. Amanda says:

    One thing that you can do instead of washing cloth diapers several times is to get some kind of anti-bacterial solution to put in the wash. I use something called Odoban. I’ve only seen it at Sam’s Club and it comes in a gallon sized bottle. Throw a half a cup in with your wash and it doesn’t matter what your kid did in the diaper or out the diaper onto clothes, the clothes will not stink, but smell like odoban. I love it and will continue to use it even after my kids our out of diapers.

  66. Diane says:

    When I was 12 I helped my Grandmother sew diapers for my brother’s first child. We made them of double thickness flannel. They were a large hourglass shape with extra absorbant material in the center. They were all one size, the tops just got tucked in when the baby was tiny. We made 4 dozen and they lasted through him and his little sister. Excellent burp cloths, and they got softer all the time.

  67. kelly says:

    We paid about $400.00 for all of our supplies to diaper my first child through potty training. Now we are on our second child with the same supply. Buy simple items that will last. Don’t forget Babyworks website. They let you actually TRY all of your items for up to a month and you can return it if it doesn’t work out. http://www.babyworks.com

  68. April says:

    Cloth is way better. I’m still diapering DS at night and he’s almost 6, so from those 6 years and since we used cloth for two kids, we spent about $400 total for diapers (actually, that’s probably a high estimation of what I spent), not much at all for detergent (you only need a tiny bit; too much will actually build up and cause stink but I usually use homemade so it’s not a concern) and minimal costs for the utilities to actually wash them. The time spent was minimal IMO and probably the only enjoyable laundry I’ve ever done. We have come out way ahead in all regards!! Diapers cost a lot more here than estimated in the post, so that brings us even further ahead. Plus using cloth wipes and cloth menstrual products (something I will be using for years and years to come), we save even more.

  69. Trish says:

    I’m responding to the poster that wrote that ebay and craigslist are not permitting the sale of used cloth diapers. The place to go is diaperswappers.com

  70. Jonathan says:

    I definitely enjoyed this post, we were just debating cloth vs. disposable diapers the other day with some new parents, and how my mom used cloth diapers on me back in the 70s. Thanks for laying out the math.

  71. Wendy says:

    I just found a laundry routine that took the stink out of my Bum Genius diapers. I purchased a 1 gallon Allens Naturally detergent with a 1/8 oz pump for my HE machine. I do a cold wash with a prewash with a little bit of the 1/8 oz of detergent. Then I do a whitest whites cycle with the rest of the detergent. So far it works great. Even though I am in Canada and had to by the detergent on line and pay for S&H, it is economical because you use so little, the gallon will last years.

  72. Nicki says:

    Ah..cloth diapering is my favorite subject. I have my second newborn – we haven’t spent a dime on diapering and he is 4 months. We have decided to not use any disposables and have used his sister’s cloth diapers. So if your family will include more than one child, the price becomes even more inexpensive.

    Also, there is a value in the diapers for resale, especially in the covers. We even bought most of our family’s diapers secondhand through local consignment stores and craigslist or as “seconds” through the internet….so even more savings.

    The last thought is we don’t use the dryer during the summer months (maybe we can hang one last load on Monday). The sun has so much value beyond money savings for cloth diapering. It’s an instant bleach and negates any build up of smell.

    So I guess my long winded comment is to say I was surprised how expensive the analysis made diapering seem. It’s definitely more inexpensive than her post makes it appear…plus money is only one important aspect….the environment is a bigger consideration.

    One last suggestion..bum genius all in ones or pocket diapers for one size fits all. These will fit the wee one from birth to potty learning. They really do.

    And for those folks concerned about water use – um..the water use to make disposables and to ship them way trumps clothdiaper water use.

  73. liz says:

    This is an interesting article, and I’m glad you posted it, but I have to question the dollar amount you came to for the cost of disposable diapers. There is no WAY I am spending near that on disposables. If you clip coupons and use them when diapers go on sale, you drive the price paid way down. And coupons for disposables are plentiful! Through careful coupon use, I have stocked up on enough diapers to get my son 6 months of age, and will have only spent about $75 total, including wipes and a big jar of petroleum jelly in case he gets a rash (none yet at 3 months old, knock wood!). I don’t use a diaper genie or special bags to throw the diapers away…just old grocery bags and a trash can with a lid. You dont’ need a diaper genie and expensive refills. Just take the trash out every night, and odor will not be an issue!

    If you want to use disposables, check craigslist, freecycle, freepeats.org, and ebay for people who are selling, trading, or flat out giving away extra diapers their children no longer fit into. I got a lot of diapers this way, and then sold my extras when my son outgrew a size. I’m using a mix of store brand and premium brand diapers…no preference to brand, I just get whatever I can as cheaply as possible. It’s worked out to $3 a week to diaper him. And I change him VERY frequently, so it’s not like I’m letting him sit in wet diapers just to save a few bucks.

    At the rate I’m going, I’ll be spending WAY elss than a clother diaperer.

  74. Amanda says:

    I do not agree that it is cheaper to cloth diaper. I think it may be a tiny bit cheaper ONLY if you use the plain prefolds, and the plain rubber pants with pins, and not those expensive Bum genius diapers, and other expensive brands. My 4 month old daughter uses the brand Parent’s Choice from Walmart. She uses 1 big box per month, so that means $13.67 per month to diaper my baby. These diapers hold alot of pee, and are the cheapest new diapers available that I am aware of. Even the White Cloud are more expensive. But some poeple do it for other reasons besides the cost. For me, I’ll stick with my Parent’s Choice from Walmart and save alot of money, and time!

  75. Martha says:

    To Liz, what about all that time you are spend clipping coupons or driving to pick up your cheap diapers from Craigslist, not to mention the money you spend on gas to do so. Disposables aren’t the time savers everyone says they are if you’re going through that much trouble to get them. Reminds me of my dad who spends 5 dollars on gas driving out of town to save 4.50 on a fill-up.

    Frankly I think the costs were exaggerated for both sides, disposable and cloth. That said, cloth is still more cost effective than disposable if you want it to be, especially with more than one child.

    I use cloth and I spent $400 to get myself set up. I bought diapers that will fit my child until he’s potty trained because they’re fully adjustable. I can use them for any future children as well. I use cloth wipes and I dry pail the diapers. I do a very small load every other day and dry my diapers in the dryer with the rest of my laundry (which means I can’t use dryer sheets, but there’s another savings :) ). I buy cheap detergent with no chemicals.

    BTW, do you know that water is used in the production of disposables? You have to consider the resources that go into the making of the diaper, not just the resources your household uses.

  76. Angela says:

    First off, I spent about $350 to cloth diaper my son from birth, disposables do not compare, they feel awful. Secondly, to those people who don’t use wipes everytime they diaper, understand that you can’t see urine residue but it is certainly there on your baby’s skin. Thirdly, I am put off by those who say “they hold a lot of pee!” I hope you save that expression if you ever suffer uncontinence and have to wear depends. It should be quite enjoyable to see how many times you can pee yourself before leaking…

  77. Laura says:

    Five kids. First two in disposables, last three cloth. Cloth wins hands down. I used a service, and cost was not an issue for us. Who wants to swaddle their baby’s butt in plastic and chemicals? With the third child I ditched the chemical-laden baby wipes as well. Their booties deserved soft baby wash clothes and warm water. In the summer, I let them run around without a liner quite often and changed often! Wouldn’t do it any other way!!!!

  78. Elizabeth says:

    Let’s not forget that at the end of the day, when everyone is potty trained, you can sell you cloth diaper stash for 50% – 75% of it’s initial retail value and recover that money.

    Let’s also not forget to add the price of year #3 in disposables. Cloth diapered children potty-train, on average, about a year earlier than disposable diapered children.

    And as many people have already pointed out, $700 for a cloth diaper stash is ridiculously high. Most cloth diaper mamas I know spend about $300 on a nice stash, not $700.

    That’s all I got ;-)

  79. Carrie says:

    As a follow up to my original post (now that I have almost 3 years of cloth diapering and 2 in cloth) I agree that the costs listed on both sides are a bit much, but they do represent my reality. The stash value given was the retail price for every item I had been given or purchased.

    Looking for sales, or coupons for cloth or disposables can significantly reduce the cost, as can using online ordering for disposables (amazon’s subscribe and save keeps the cost down for when I use disposables while traveling)

    Even with my crazy expensive stash (and replacing many of my pocket diapers when they wore out after 2+ years and 2 kids) it’s still been a cost effective endeavor.

    Since I stay at home, the time spent washing diapers isn’t a big deal. A couple minutes putting diapers in the washer, a couple minutes checking and restarting the washer as needed, a couple minutes to get them into and out of the dryer – maybe 15 minutes total, while I’m doing other things about the house. I’m not concerned about the value of my time there.

  80. sue says:

    I have to say that the example user given for cloth diapers is doing it in a fairly excessive manner, in regards to the # of diapers they are using and even how much water and electricity they use. I don’t really think she represents your average cloth user. Especially, a cloth user who has cost effectiveness as a priority.

    I’ve cloth diapered both of my boys with the same set of diapers. I think i maybe have 25 pocket diapers which were about $15 when i bought them back in 2004.
    even with only one child this was much cheaper than using disposables.

    we do diapers about 2-3 times a week with one sanitary cycle each on our washing machine with about 2 teaspoons of detergent. we live up north and we line dry outside in the summer and on a rack by the radiators to dry in the fall and winter. both of which cost nothing since the radiators are on to heat the house anyways.

    i run two businesses (one downtown, one online) and have the kids with me most of the time and truly don’t find cloth diapering to any big deal as far as the time i spend doing it.

  81. Kelly says:

    My partner and I used cloth diapers for our son and loved them. I bought a dozen BumGenius 3.0s from a combination of places. Several I bought from DiaperSwappers.com, several I bought on Ebay, and the remaining I found at a local diaper swap. The 3.0s are one size all in ones, so he used them until he was potty trained. I did not use them when he was a newborn simply because of the amazing number of people who bought us NB and Sz 1 disposables. I will say, though, that doing laundry every day was absolutely worth never having to run to the store for diapers. We had a few leak problems when we were still figuring it out, but those were mostly at night after he stopped waking us up at 3 AM for food. Once we discovered how to properly use a doubler, we never had another issue. I saved them all and will be using them again for our next child.

    Also, if you line dry them not only do you save the cost of running your dryer, they smell fresher with fewer chemicals and the sun will bleach them naturally.

  82. Steve says:

    No comparison of cloth vs. disposables is complete unless it breaks down the savings as a dollars per hour figure.

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