Is Cloth Diapering Really Cheaper?

Okay, so the age old question, are cloth diapers really cheaper?   Because at around $23 $30 each for pocket diapers it seems awfully expensive.  Granted it is a large initial investment, but it is in fact cheaper when you think long-term….

The average child will be in diapers for 2½ years. Besides the fact that kids diapered in cloth generally potty train faster because they can feel when they’re wet, we’ll use the longer time span just for arguments sake. 

From the time your baby is born until they are fully potty trained and out of daytime diapers and nighttime pull-ups, you'll do about 7000 diaper changes. 

Multiply that by the average cost of disposable diapers (about $0.25each) and you get $1750.

This doesn’t include the cost of about 6000 wipes.  Now the quantity of wipes you go through will really vary.  Some families use wet wipe(s) at every diaper change (even pee only changes), some families only use them for dirty diapers.  Sometimes there's a poop explosion and you use half a pack for one diaper change...you get the idea. But you'll go through a ton of wipes whether you use disposable ones or cloth ones somewhere between $200-$500 generally so let's use, say, a conservative $250 in wipes for our example.

So the grand total cost to use disposables for one child is about $2000.  Keep in mind that this figure does not include the cost of gas for getting to and from the store to purchase diapers, nor does it include plastic liners for a diaper pail, Diaper Genie or whatever system you have for diaper disposal.

Now to use cloth diapers it can really vary.  You can buy pre-loved ones, you can buy covers and use flannel receiving blankets or flour sack towels in them, or you can use something more sophisticated like a pocket or AIO style diaper. 

Let's pick a cloth diaper on the expensive side at $30 each. Depending on baby's age, you'll need about 20 diapers.  20 diapers at $30 each is $600.  Note we don’t charge shipping on orders over $99 so there is no shipping cost to factor in.  Add to that the cost of reusable cloth wipes (2 packages of 12 totalling about $35). And two large wet bags (aprox. $40) depending on the brand you pick and whether you catch them on sale. So we're at $675.

But what about the added cost of laundering them yourself you say?  This is important to factor in too.  The cost of laundering your own diapers, including detergent, electricity, natural gas for heating the water, and depreciation for the washer and the dryer comes to about $430, so our grand total cost of cloth diapering is about $1105 using premium cloth diapers. 

$1105 is less expensive than $2000 for disposables.  In fact, it’s $895 less expensive.  And I don’t know about you, but I can think of a lot of things I’d rather do with that extra money than give it to large multinational diaper companies for the privilege of putting diapers in landfills and undisclosed chemicals next to my baby’s delicate skin.

Also, consider that these costs apply to only one child.  What if you have more than one?  Then you incur another $2000 for disposables (or more with inflation), but $0 for cloth, because you already have the cloth diapers and they will generally stand up to use for more than one child. So the cost of cloth for subsequent children is only the cost of home laundering.

Finally, the re-sale value of used cloth diapers is fairly high.  There are many websites dedicated to the re-sale of used cloth diapers and they can be sold through cloth diapering groups on Facebook too.  Thus you can re-coup some of your cost, making cloth diapers an even better choice. 

Cost savings aside though, can we really afford as parents to leave behind a legacy of about 7000 dirty diapers per child wrapped in plastic waste on our planet for future generations? It's about 1 ton of waste per child and our best estimates say that it takes about 500 years for a disposable diaper to decompose.

As a society, what kind of environment do we want to leave for our children's children? There are many ways to calculate the real cost of our decisions and not all of them involve dollars and cents.  

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