Does cloth diapering really save money?

Who switches to cloth diapers when their son is 18 months old? Yeah, me, apparently.

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When I was pregnant with Corban, Peter and I had considered cloth diapering in order to save money, but at some point during the overwhelming time while preparing for our firstborn we decided to let it go since it just seemed too complicated. We also had read that it can end up being about the same cost as disposables.

18 months later, I revisited the idea, did some more research and realized:

1) It would be totally doable with our lifestyle. Our nanny cloth diapers and loves it, so she was on board. Honestly, she does all of Corban’s laundry and changes most of his diapers during the week anyway. But even if I were doing it all myself, I’ve come to realize that baby laundry doesn’t really bother me, and the added laundry was a main factor in our decision not to cloth diaper when C was born.

2) It would definitely save money, even this late in the game. We were pretty cheap disposable diaperers – we used Target Up & Up brand, which is cheaper than on-sale name brands – and only change about five or six diapers a day, but that still adds up to about $1 a day in diaper costs alone (when Corban was younger, the sizes were cheaper per diaper, but he probably went through a few more diapers each day, so I figured $1 a day across the board was reasonable). For others, I’m sure this cost is much higher.

Cloth diapers are expensive, but less so if you know where to buy them. I bought three very lightly used bumGenius 4.0s for $14 each including shipping on Cloth Diaper Trader. Then I found them new for $14.50 each (including shipping) and bought 12 more on Cotton Babies and Kelly’s Closet (I would recommend Cotton Babies since they are the manufacturer, they shipped quicker and they include a sample of bumGenius detergent). So, total diaper cost: $216. That will pay for itself in 216 days of use, or a little more than seven months. I also learned as I hunted for diapers that cloth diapers hold their value really well, especially bumGenius and some other hot brands. So even if Corban were the only child of ours to use these diapers, it would still save money since I could re-sell them for probably 75% of what I paid for them if I kept them in good condition. Since we will use them for Baby #2 and other future children, they will definitely save a lot of money.

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3) It would save money, even factoring in water, energy and detergent costs. A cloth diapering myth out there, at least in my experience, says that once you factor in all the extra laundry, detergent and time spent on cloth diapers, it ends up costing the same as disposables. This is definitely false for us.

You use very little detergent for cloth diaper loads – if you use too much it will build up in the diaper and make it less absorbent. For our high efficiency front-loading washing machine, I’ve found 1.5 teaspoons of powdered Country Save detergent to be the right amount. The diapers come clean and don’t smell at all. If I notice them becoming less absorbent at some point, I’ll try even less detergent and see how it goes. But when I break that down, it costs just over 2 cents per load. I wash them every other day, so that comes to $4.83 per year in detergent (and it will take us almost four years to go through one box of detergent! haha).

As far as water/energy costs, it’s tough to calculate exactly how much more we’re spending, but I think of it this way: since the diapers will have paid for themselves in ~7 months, after that point our water and electric bills would have to go up by more than a dollar a day in order for cloth diapering to not be cost effective. Our quarterly statements would have to be $91 more than pre-cloth diapering for that to happen. By my estimated calculations (taking the kWh usage of our washer multiplied by our electric rate), it likely costs about $3.52 more per quarter in electricity (I line dry the diapers and can line dry the inserts or tumble dry with other laundry). Taking a more average look at it, using average high efficiency kWh usage for hot/cold cycles according to Mr. Electricity* and multiplying by our electric rate, it comes to $6.51 more per quarter in electricity. Using Mr. Electricity’s calculator (our rates and basic info, but average high efficiency washer kWh usage) our total water, electric and detergent costs should be something like $10.87 more per quarter. I have a feeling it is actually less for us, but however you look at it, it’s a far cry from $91.

To think of it in yearly terms, that’s $43.50 more per year in electricity, water and detergent vs. $365 more per year to buy disposable diapers.

*Mr. Electricity has an awesome site with lots of great info. He also looks a lot like Weird Al. And he has a page dedicated to calling out all the media organizations who have misquoted his info. Badass.

OUR TOTAL SAVINGS:

first year of cloth diapering: $216 (diapers) + $43.50 (water/electricity/detergent) = $264.33 for cloth vs. ~$365 for cheap disposables // save $105.50

second year of cloth diapering: $43.50 (water/electricity/detergent) for cloth vs. ~$365 for cheap disposables // save $321.50

Factor in using the diapers for multiple babies or reselling them after potty training, and the savings increase.

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Now, all that being said, I do see how for some people, cloth diapering can be much more expensive. We only bought 15 diapers, and bought them at a discounted price. I’ve noticed lots of cloth diaper advocates out there get carried away with buying the latest styles and cutest prints, trying every different brand out there and ending up with a huge stash of diapers. It’s apparently an addictive habit, and one that gets expensive really fast!

But 15 diapers is perfect for one toddler. It gives us more than enough to get through two days plus a few extra while they’re being washed and dried. You are supposed to wash them every other day, so any more than that is unnecessary.

Anyway, if you made it through all of the above, you see not only that I am crazy with all my ridiculous calculations, but that you can save a lot in the long run by cloth diapering. Since we plan on having more kids (one coming very soon!) we figured we might as well switch to cloth now.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, after cloth diapering for about a month, I love it and wish we had done it from the beginning! I’ll write more later this week about our methods and the things I’ve learned so far. I’m happy to report that cloth diapering is much less complicated than it may appear!

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10 thoughts on “Does cloth diapering really save money?

  1. I love our cloth diapers too! We’ve been using them pretty much exclusively for the past month or so. Though we still use disposables for when we’re out of the house for a while or when we’ve travelled. And while Monica will be using disposables at daycare, we know using cloth will make more sense/cents in the long run. And thanks for sharing your calculations! I’m a big numbers nerd too.

    • That’s great that you’ve been able to use cloth from such a young age! I am hoping to start using cloth as soon as possible with the new baby, but I don’t really know what to expect with one-size diapers on a tiny baby.

      • Don’t stress yourself out with using cloth right away! Even though Monica was a bit bigger when she was born (9 pounds 1 ounce), I didn’t even attempt cloth until she was a few weeks old. Even then, it was a bit overwhelming and we switched back to disposables. We tried again a few weeks later (a little after she was a month old?) when we felt more comfortable with things and she was a bit bigger.

  2. Did you have a coupon code for Cotton Babies? (A 12-pack looks like it comes out to $16.95 each.) I’m planning on jumping on the cloth diaper train in the next couple of weeks once we run out/grow out of our big stash of size 1 disposables.

    • When I bought them, both Cotton Babies and Kelly’s Closet had buy five get one free sales on bumGenius. It sounds like maybe that particular sale comes back every so often, so I would keep checking if you’re not in a huge rush. I’ve also heard good things about buying “seconds” from either site, but again if they don’t have any right now you’d have to sign up to get alerted when they are in stock. My other advice is to see if there’s a cloth diaper Facebook group in your area. People are always posting diapers for sale on the one I’m in, and it’s a good place to get advice and learn more about all the options out there. Good luck!

  3. Babies and bellies boutique in Bayview is a great local resources for clothe diapers, they have many different options of diapers as well as clothe safe detergents and classes for people interested in cloth diapering. They also have a natural birthing center. Well rounded maternity.

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