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Cost Comparison: Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable Diapers

I am not a “crunchy” mama. I shave my underarms, tend to leave the water running while I brush my teeth, and would never deign to compost. But I have embraced one tenet of the environmentally-friendly lifestyle: using cloth diapers. While many parents try cloth diapers in an effort to go green, however, I’ve pursued this path merely to save green.

Yes, before my son was born, I decided to give up names like Pampers, Huggies, and Luvs in hopes of keeping names like Washington, Lincoln, and Hamilton in my wallet. I’d used disposable diapers with my first child, so I had a baseline for this cost comparison. Just how much did I save? Here’s the breakdown:

My History With Disposable Diapers

For the first 18 months of my daughter’s life, I’d believed the hype that a pricy diaper was a good diaper. For that reason, I took the sample of Pamper Swaddlers given to me by the hospital when I gave birth and ran with them. When my daughter was an infant, a case of Pampers cost $45.99. The number of diapers in each case varied depending on their size – as many as 234 diapers for size 1 diapers or as few as 112 for size 6 diapers. I never paid full retail, often using sites like Diapers.com or Amazon to score the best deals or free shipping. Still, over that first year and a half, I spent just shy of $1,250 – or about $70 a month – on disposable diapers.

Preparing For Cloth Diapers

My first exposure to cloth diapers came from a friend, who had decided to cloth diaper her son. Far from the cloth diapers of old, the new models were not only easy to use and mess free, but didn’t require a diaper service. There are literally hundreds of different cloth diapers out there, sold by everyone from large companies like gDiapers to individual proprietors who sell their cloth diapers on sites like Etsy. Taking the lead from my friend, I opted to buy cloth diapers from Cotton Babies. This company makes three lines of cloth diapers: BumGenius, Flips, and Econobum. Think of the BumGenius, called BGs for short, as the Lexus of Cotton Babies’ lines; Flips is the Toyota Camry, while the low-cost Econobum is the Tercel. All are one-size-fits-all, using a series of snaps to fit babies from six to 35 pounds. I bought the following quantities:

  • Six BumGenius. The latest version of this pocket diaper is the BG 4.0; I found the older version, the BG 3.0, on sale for $16.95 each. When I bought six – each of which comes with two inserts – I qualified for a special promotion, giving me six additional inserts for free. Because I spent more than $50, shipping was free. I didn’t have to pay sales tax either, since my order was processed out of state. Total cost: $101.70 for 6 shells and 18 inserts
  • Six Flips. This is the pared down version of the BG pocket diaper. Instead of a true pocket, however, you simply place the insert on top of a waterproof shell. BGs, Flips, and Econobums all use the same Cotton Babies inserts. I found a buy five get one free deal online, so I bought five for $14.95 each and got one for free. Total cost: $74.75 for six diapers and 12 inserts
  • Three Econobums. Econobums are the cheap diapers of the group. While they offer the same design as the more expensive versions from Cotton Babies, they don’t come in the array of colors – white is your only option. I bought a starter pack, which came with three shells and 12 inserts. The advertised price was $49.95, but I had a $10 promo code and qualified for free shipping. Total cost: $39.95 for three shells and 12 inserts

Totals:

  • 15 shells
  • 42 inserts
  • $216.40

Washing Cloth Diapers

I was concerned that washing cloth diapers would force me to use markedly more water and electricty, causing my utility bills to skyrocket. The washing instructions on my cloth diapers directed me to rinse them (Cotton Babies advised me to buy their water sprayer, which attaches to your toilet, for $19.95; my husband and I opted to use the backyard hose instead) immediately after use, then store them in a dry location. When I was ready to launder them, I was supposed to first rinse them in cold water, then put them through a hot cycle to disinfect.

I quickly realized, however, that I was rinsing my diapers twice. I noticed no difference in the smell, appearance, or performance of the cloth diapers when I skipped the cold water cycle on my washing machine. I was also able to use virtually no detergent in the washing machine, since detergents can build up in the diapers, giving them a bad odor; this prevented me from spending extra money on detergent.

Even better, I realized that when I dried my cloth diapers outdoors on sunny days – even if it was 35 degrees outside – the sun naturally removed any stains and deodorized them at the same time. The result? As long as I wash cloth diapers when the sun is shining, I don’t use any energy to dry them.

Cost Comparison

My son is now ten months old, and I’ve been using the same 15 shells and 42 inserts since he was two weeks old – or nine and a half months in all. Here’s my cost comparison:

  • Average monthly cost for disposable diapers (based on my daughter’s usage): $70/month
  • Average monthly cost for cloth diapers ($216.40/9): $23/month
  • January 2011 water bill (this was my “control”): $0.33 a day, or $10.23 (this excludes the $5.00 monthly base charge)
  • January 2012 water bill: $0.37 a day, or $11.47 for the whole month
  • January 2011 power bill (again, my “control”): $94.95
  • January 2012 power bill: $101.12 **

**My electric company raised its rates 3% in October 2011; had this rate increase been in place in January 2011, the bill would have been $97.80.

In all, I’m spending roughly $4.56 more each month in utility costs now that I cloth diaper. However, that’s wiped out by the $47 a month I save using cloth diapers instead of disposable diapers, giving me a net monthly savings of $42.44. Even if I switched to cheap diapers (and I mean in terms of cost, not quality) – like Target’s Up&Up house brand, which retail for half the cost of the pricier brands – I’d still be saving $7.44 a month. What’s more, my cloth diapers are holding up exceptionally well; I don’t anticipate having to buy any additional shells or inserts for the foreseeable future. That means the average monthly cost for the cloth diapers themselves – based on my original purchase price – will continue to decrease as time goes by, increasing my profit margin.

The Verdict

Cloth diapering has absolutely been a win for my family. It is only slightly less convenient than disposable diapers, and it puts more money in my pocket every month. On top of that, my son has had fewer leaks and pooplosions (every parent’s mortal enemy) than my daughter did wearing disposable diapers. That, in and of itself, makes cloth diapers worth it!

How much do you spend on diapers for your kids? What steps do you take to reduce the expense?

 

One Response to Cost Comparison: Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable Diapers

  1. Great post about the true cost to cloth diaper. We are currently using disposables, but are thinking about giving cloth a go. It isn’t so much the chemicals or environmental issues that are motivating me, but the long term cost. I have to admit that the cute patterns paired with a simple sundress make cloth diapers pretty alluring. Thanks for sharing your experience and a breakdown in price.

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