The price tag on some cloth diapers can be shocking. I mean $35 bucks for one diaper, come on! But if you add up the full cost of the whole time your little one will be in diapers, the truly shocking thing may just be the cost of those disposable diapers.
So, do you really save money using cloth diapers? Most of the time, yes! Cloth diapers are usually around $1 thousand to $2 thousand dollars cheaper than disposables when you add the costs over the entire time a baby is in diapers.
But let’s dive in deep and crunch the numbers.
How Much Does Cloth Diapering Cost?
Assuming an average child that will potty train at age three, and uses:
- about 10 diapers per day from 0-6 mos (1,825 diapers),
- about 8 diapers per day from 6-18 months (2,920 diapers), and
- about 6 diapers a day from 18 months to three-years (3,285 diapers),
that’s about 8,030 diapers. (You can read more about how many diapers a baby will need/use here).
Although the average cost per diaper will vary depending on location, according to Wikipedia the average cost of a disposable diaper in the US is between .20 and .30 cents each. So, using a middle-of-the-road cost of $0.25 ea means that disposables will cost a parent about $2,007.50 per child.
I repeat, disposable diapers will cost a parent about $2,007.50 USD per child!
Reusable diapers on the other hand, cost between $6 for cheap ones, to about $30 for the more expensive night-time ones if bought new. Again going with an average to make things easy, let’s assume each cloth diaper is $18.
I recommend starting off with 24 diapers at least, so that’s about $432 to cloth diaper that same baby.
This means, reusable diapers will save you about $1,575.50 per child, and most often they can be reused on the next child saving you the full cost of diapering that second child.
Reusable diapers will save you around $1,575.50 USD per child and usually can be reused on your next child.
And that’s using pretty top-of-the-line diapers. You can get less expensive diapers, or DIY some diapers up for MUCH less (I have a post outlining the 5 Cheapest Ways to Cloth Diaper here if you want more info on that).
Oh, and that’s just the savings on diapers, you can save a ton more by ditching the expensive disposable wipes and cutting up some old receiving blankets or buying some cheap washcloths at the dollar store to use as wipes.
Oh, and you can sell your used diapers later to reduce that cost even more.
Used cloth diapers are also an option if you’d like to save even more money on diapering. I have tips and information about buying used diapers here.
But Wait, Am I Forgetting The Cost of Washing Cloth Diapers?
It’s at this point where people will often tell me, “You forgot to calculate the cost of washing in the equation.”
And they are totally right; you’ll be using water and detergent to wash those diapers, and if you ‘re using an electric washing machine, you’ll also be using energy. Unfortunately those costs aren’t as easy to just map out like the costs of the diapers themselves, because they vary SO MUCH from person to person and from location to location.
Detergents cost different prices not only by brand but also by where you live and what store you buy them from. The amount of detergent you use will be different depending on your water type. Some people pay for water, some don’t. Newer washing machines use less water and energy than older ones.
There are a TON of variables.
But, though they can vary, let’s take a closer look at all of those costs to see if they can ruin the math or not.
How Much More Will You Spend on Detergent for Cloth Diapers?
It is REALLY hard to nail down how much cloth diapers will cost you. Here’s why:
- The cost of detergent varies by brand, and the amount of detergent you’ll use also varies by brand.
- The cost of detergent is very different depending on where you are in the world. The same bottle of detergent can cost you more if you live in a remote location or somewhere with high taxes (retail prices in Nunavut for example are astronomical).
- The cost of detergent can change depending on what store you’re purchasing it at and if it’s on sale.
- The amount of detergent you will need for your laundry depends on your water type. This means that two people, both using the same detergent, and washing the same number, style, and brand of diapers, may need different detergent amounts if one has hard water and one has soft water. Here’s more information on how water hardness affects your diaper laundry.
So, if we can’t figure out a solid cost for detergent to clean your cloth diapers, let’s take a look at what cloth diaper parent’s are spending in the real world.
I polled members of the Cloth Diapers for Beginners Facebook group, and here’s what they told me:
As you can see almost 90% of parents using cloth diapers who answered the poll said that they spend less than $5 per month on cloth diaper detergent, with the majority of those polled spending less than $2 per month.
Let’s say though that you’re on the high end and spending the full $5 per month on detergent; from birth to potty that’s about $180 at the very very highest end of the scale. This is much less than the thousands saved over disposables.
But let’s keep digging to make sure.
How Much Will My Water and Energy Bills Go Up from Washing Cloth Diapers?
Obviously, if you’re washing your diapers at home it’s going to mean added water and power (unless washing by hand, where your muscles are the power source).
But how much will those additional utilities cost? Again, it’s really hard to nail down an estimated cost because not only do energy rates vary by municipality, some pay for water, others don’t; some hand-wash, others don’t.
So once again, let’s take a look at what people are living right now. Since costs vary so much from location to location, I asked Cloth Diapers for Beginners if they had seen their costs rise, and if so, if it was dramatic:
So, as you can see nearly 80% of those who answered either didn’t notice an increase in their water or energy bills, or didn’t bother to look.
In fact all but six respondents didn’t notice a big difference in their water or energy bills.
So the odds are good, your energy bills won’t increase significantly.
Are There Any Hidden Utility Costs for Disposable Diapers?
Yes, disposable diapers also carry hidden utility costs, though they hide them better. What the heck am I talking about? Mostly, trash!
The average cost to landfill municipal solid waste (MSW) in the United States was 55.36 U.S. dollars per ton in 2019. (Source)
In some areas, governments charge residents for garbage removal by weight or by bags. Disposable diapers will clearly cost you if that’s the case.
But even if you don’t directly pay for waste removal, if you own your own home and pay property taxes, those taxes include the costs associated with trash removal and dump fees. The more your government collects, the higher those fees increase year to year, and therefore the higher your tax bill climbs year to year.
It’s impossible to calculate those hidden costs because waste removal is so different even from town to town, but it’s always a hard cost that the government needs to pass on to residents somehow.
More trash = more taxes, in the long run.
There’s also the cost of contaminated soil and water from the toxins in diapers, but that’s a bit too big picture for this article, which is focusing on your immediate bottom line.
Bottom Line: You’re Not Throwing Your Money Away!
At the end of the day, cloth diapers will keep money in your wallet that you’d be spending if you choose disposable diapers instead.
And don’t forget, those diapers are good for multiple babies if cared for well. To learn more about cloth diaper wash and care, click here.