Experiments in Disposable Diapering

A few weeks ago, I posted an article written by Carrie, a close friend of my wife who has been using cloth diapers for her daughter, Elizabeth, since the baby was born. The analysis of cost that Carrie provided was a huge hit (67 comments as of my writing) and convincing enough that it got my wife and I to attempt cloth diapering on a small scale with our daughter, who is about six months old. Here are the notes on our real world experience as parents used to disposable diapers trying out cloth diapering for the first time in an effort to save money.

Our Current Diapering Costs, Financial and Otherwise

Since our son was born, my wife and I have used high-end disposable diapers (namely, Pampers Swaddlers/Cruisers) largely because of their convenience: they’re very easy and quick to put on, almost never leak, and have no maintenance cost or effort whatsoever. Here’s more information about our disposable diaper buying process if you’re interested.

Over the long period of raising our son and our daughter (our son is just over two and our daughter is six months), our total cost average for disposable diapers comes out to 26 cents a diaper.

However, for us there’s another cost. Disposable diapers are one of the worst things you can put into a landfill – and we certainly do produce a lot of them. To us, the environmental damage caused by disposables is a real cost, one that bothers us and we’re committed to changing.

Selecting a Cloth Diaper

The biggest factor that drew us to using Swaddlers/Cruisers is their convenience and quality – they’re easy to put on, easy to dispose of, and rarely leak. It minimizes our time with every single diaper change, and that saved time gradually adds up like interest in a savings account.

When we decided to dip our toes into cloth diapers, we looked at several different options and eventually went with bumGenius. These diapers are designed to effectively replace disposables – and they’re amazing. They’re constructed so that anyone who can handle putting on a disposable can immediately pick up a bumGenius and know exactly what to do. There’s no “plastic pants,” no confusing process to put the diaper on, and our daughter seems to be quite happy with them on (except at first she would sit funny while wearing them because they’re proportioned differently than disposables). So far, we’ve seen no leakage at all.

However, these diapers are expensive. They’re available for $17.95 a pop at Amazon – if you dig around, you can shave maybe a dollar more off of the price. That’s a significant investment, and so we bought only three for our test run.

Challenges

Just to make things clear, if we’ve previously spent $0.26 per disposable diaper in the past and are now using bumGenius at $17.95 a pop, it would take 69 uses of the bumGenius just to get down to the cost of the disposable – and that’s not including laundry cost. If you go this route, realize that the number of washings you have to do to recoup your cost versus disposables is very high – but what you get for that price is much greater convenience per diaper change.

Putting them on and taking them off is easy, but what about the washing process? Following the directions led us to using a separate load for just those three diapers so far – basically, we just rinsed them quickly to get rid of any solid waste, then ran them as a normal load of laundry except with additive-free laundry soap and a second rinse cycle. We then dried them normally, and we calculate that this complete process costs about $0.08 all told. That extends the “break even” point out to approximately 80 uses of the bumGenius diapers to get them down to the price point of the disposables we normally use. My estimate is that we could wash about 25 of the bumGenius diapers in a single load if we were to scale up, which would help.

Are We Going To Scale Up?

After using these three diapers several times, I think we’re both happy enough with the process that we’d be willing to scale up to a much larger number of these diapers – with one caveat. It entirely depends on whether we are going to have a third child. With just the two children we have, we’re not fully confident that each diaper would get the 75 or so uses that it would require to reach the break-even point. With a third child, our scale changes – we would definitely reach the break-even point with a lot of room to spare.

Recommendations for New Parents

If you’re an expectant parent out there wondering if cloth diapering is worth the added hassle, my conclusion (having used disposables for years and now trying bumGenius) is that it’s definitely worth it, but that with more cumbersome cloth diapers, it would probably not be worth the effort. My suggestion, if you’re on the fence, is to request a few bumGenius diapers as a baby shower gift, then mix them in with the disposables. If you find the cloth ones work just fine for you – something we just now discovered is true for us – then scale up and go to primarily cloth diapering.

Over the long haul, the financial savings is real, even with expensive cloth diapers, and the environmental savings is quite real, too. It’s a frugal choice that I think my wife and I are both happy with.

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