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Do Cloth Diapers Save Money? Let's Calculate!

Bijgewerkt op: 13 apr.

There is always a debate ongoing on whether or not cloth diapers save money. Most of the time, the answer is, that it depends. So let's do some calculations to see if for your situation cloth diapers would save you money.


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Costs for disposable

To fairly compared disposable diapers to cloth diapers, we need to know the costs of both diapering methods. We first need to calculate how many disposable diapers we need during the entire diaper time of your baby. The exact number your baby needs may vary as not all babies are the same and some have control over their bladder sooner than others. The calculations below are just an average of the number of disposable diapers needed. Afterward, I will share different disposable diaper categories (bargain brand, premium brand, and eco brand) and how much it will set you back when you choose each of these categories to diaper your baby in.




How many diapers


First 6 months

A newborn baby requires much more diapers compared to a toddler. A newborn baby needs about 8-10 diapers a day during the first month. So let's say that a baby uses about 9 diapers per day on average to make calculations more manageable. 9 diapers per day equals to 9x7= 63 diapers per week for your newborn. As half a year has 26 weeks, this results in a baby needing 9x7x26 diapers during the first half-year of its life if we would choose disposables. This equals over 1,600 disposable diapers in the newborn stage.


The next year

When a baby gets older they grow. They eat more, the size of their stomach grows and they have a little more control over their bladder. This means that during the day you will need fewer diapers. From 6 months to about 18 months you will need about 6 - 8 diapers per day. So let's say on average you will need about 7 diapers a day. A year has 365 days so this year your baby needs 7x365 diapers. This equals about 2,500 diapers for the second baby stage.


From 1,5 years to 2,5 years

The last diapering phase differs in length for babies. While some are potty trained before 2 years old, others may need a little longer. The average is 2,5 years so we will use this in this calculation for the number of diapers we will need during this last phase. During this year your baby will need about 6 diaper changes per day as it has much better control over its bladder. This means that you will need fewer diapers but each diaper is a little more expensive as each diaper needs to be able to absorb more moisture. On average, for this last phase, you will need 6x365 is 2,200 disposable diapers.



Overall

Everyone calculates the number of diapers differently. This is because not every baby is the same and as your baby grows their poop and pee habits will change. Some babies may do this sooner than others which causes fluctuations in the number of diapers you need per day. Some say that you need about 3,000 disposable diapers in babies' first year (which is much higher than what I calculated) while other say that 2,200 diapers in the first year will be sufficient (which is lower then what I calculated). So, overall my calculations are a good average of the number of disposable diapers a baby will need in the first years of its life. In this calculations we need about 1,600+2,500+2,200= 6,300 disposable diapers.


How many wipes

When we change a diaper, we not only use a diaper, we also need a baby wipe to clean the mess. Some diaper changes will require only one wipe while some ‘surprises’ may cause you to use about 10 wipes. Let's say that on average you will need 3 wipes per change. The exact number will vary per baby but also change over time as your baby's poo and pee habits change. You may also get more efficient with the use of your wipes. These all cause the exact number of wipes to vary a little bit so 3 wipes per change is a good average.

We just calculated the number of diapers we needed for the entire diapers time and we each diaper we use we also use baby wipes so this helps us calculate the number of wipes we need. The total amount of diapers is 1,600+2,500+2,200= 6,300 diaper changes. Each diaper change requires 3 wipes so the total amount of wipes your need during the diaper time is: 6,300x3= 18,900.

Price per Diaper

First 6 Months

6 M to 18 M

18 M to 30 M

Wipes (100)

Bargain brand

$0.15

$0.21

$0.25

$1.50

Premium brand

$0.26

$0.33

$0.43

$3

Eco brand

$0.35

$0.47

$0.50

$6

Note: the costs for individual diapers may vary depending on the brand and even per location where you are purchasing your diapers. If you purchase in bulk, it will reduce the costs per diaper as well.

Total Disposable Diaper Costs

First 6 Months

6 M to 18 M

18 M to 30 M

Wipes

Total Costs

Costs per Change

Bargain brand

$240

$525

$550

$284

$1599

$0.25

Premium brand

$416

$825

$946

$567

$2754

$0.44

Eco brand

$560

$1175

$1100

$1134

$3969

$0.63

So, the costs of disposable diapers differ considerably. While you could use disposable diapers for about $1,500 per child, you could also do this for almost $4,000 per child due to differences in brands.



The hidden costs of disposable diapers

Secretly, disposable diapers cost even more than what you see here. What do I mean by this? Disposable diapers produce trash. And lots of it. Producing trashing and having it disposed of is not free. We pay for it through taxes and if we produce more trash, over time these taxes, we all pay, will increase.

Not the mention the costs disposable diapers have on the environment when all these ingredients have to be resourced (which is mostly petroleum to make plastic) and burned when they have served their purpose.


Costs for cloth diapers

Just like for disposable, also for cloth, we have different categories for diapers. We can cloth diapers very budget-friendly with pre-folds while it can get more expensive if we would choose fitted diapers. Below are 4 systems that are most commonly used so I could give you a fair comparison of the different price ranges of each of these cloth diapering systems.

How many cloth diapers do you need?

If you want to start cloth diapers full time, you need a good number of cloth diapers to never run out. Just like for disposable, a newborn uses about 8 - 10 diapers per day on average. You will need to wash your diapers every 2-3 days (when you have a full load of diapers) meaning for a newborn you need 24 to 30 cloth diapers. In this case, you use your diapers for 2 days. These 16 to 20 diapers will go into laundry and will be line-dried (I don’t have a dryer so drying the diapers takes at least a day). The remaining 8 - 10 diapers will be used that day.


Most cloth diapering systems have one size and newborn size. A size one grows with your baby and can often be used from 3 months till about potty training. This means you only need 1 type of diaper. So lots of parents skip the newborn size diaper and start cloth diapering when the baby is a little bigger. This is usually also the time new parents have found their new routine with a newborn and they are ready to start using cloth diapers.


From 6 months on you will need fewer diapers. During this time your baby will most likely fit most one-size diapers. At this stage, they need about 6-8 diapers per day. This means you would need 18 to 24 cloth diapers for the remaining diapering phase.



Prefolds

The pre-folds are the most budget-friendly option on this list. These need to be folded around your baby and closed with a snappi. As a pre-fold is the absorbent material only, it needs a cover to make everything waterproof. Pre-folds come in multiple sizes as a newborn is smaller and needs less absorption compared to an 18-month-old. An older baby may need even more absorption than a pre-fold can offer therefore you also need a few inserts to prevent leaking when your baby grows.


Pockets

A pocket diaper is similar in use compared to a disposable diaper, therefore it is a popular option for daycare. Pocket diapers on their own don’t absorb moisture, they need inserts for this. They need to be inserted into a pocket diaper before they can be used on your baby. For a smaller baby 1 insert might be sufficient while a bigger baby needs 2 inserts it will make it until the next diaper change. Therefore, at least 2 inserts per pocket diaper are recommended when you decide to use pockets.


AIO

An AIO diaper is similarly easy to use compared to pockets. The big difference is that an AIO diaper already has some absorbent material. This is great when you have a small baby but when your baby gets bigger extra inserts may be needed to accommodate the increase in moisture.


Fitted diapers

A fitted diaper is like a pre-fold but without the folding. A fitted diaper is already shaped like a diaper but just like a pre-fold, it needs a cover to keep all the moisture within.

Costs per Cloth Diaper

Newborn

One Size

Newborn Cover

One Size Cover

Inserts

Pre-fold

$2.5

$3.5

$15

$18

$5

Pocket

-

$12

-

-

$5

AIO

$15

$20

-

-

$5

Fitted

$9

$11

$15

$18

$5



How many do you need?

Newborn

One Size

Newborn Cover

One Size Cover

Inserts

Pre-fold

30

24

8

6

24

Pocket

-

24

-

-

48

AIO

30

24

-

-

24

Fitted

30

24

8

8

24

Other costs

When you are cloth diapering there are more costs than just the diapers. There is the washing but also some other accessories that make cloth diapering so much easier.

Washing

Cloth diapers need to be washed. There is no denying that but there are different washing machines that result in different costs per washing. This site was used to calculate individual loads for both a front loader and a top loader.

The exact number may vary due to the costs of electricity and water in your area, the efficiency of your washing machine but also by the temperature in your area. If you live in a rather cold area, your machine will need to heat the water more compared to a machine that is placed in a warmer climate. The former will require more energy and therefore have a higher cost per a load of laundry.

For our calculation, we assume that we have to do cloth diaper laundry every 2-3 days. So every 2,5 days on average or 3 per week (to make calculations easier). As each year has 52 weeks and we do 3 diaper washes for 2.5 years until your baby is potty trained this means that we wash our cloth diapers 3x52x2.5 = 390 times

We will use this number to calculate the costs for washing.

The cost for washing in the table below is the average of both a front and a top loader.


Front loader
Washing machine

Doing laundry in a front loader is generally more energy-efficient. They also use less water, are more gentle on the clothes, and can be stacked, making them suitable for small spaces. The average cost of one load of laundry is $0.56 so over 2.5 years this is 0.56x390= $218

Dryer

Also for a dryer, there is a big difference between a front and a top loader. The speed of the spin cycle on front-loaders is much faster compared to the spin of top-loaders. That means your clothes come out drier, resulting in less drying time and therefore it uses less energy. The average cost of one drying cycle of a front-load dryer is $0.46 so over 2.5 years this is 0.46x390= $179

Top loader
Washing machine

A top loader washing machine has an average cost of $0.65. Over 2.5 years the costs of doing laundry are 0.65x390=$253

Dryer

A top loader dryer has an average cost of $0.50. Over 2.5 years the costs of doing laundry are 0.50x390=$195



Detergent costs

Just washing your cloth diapers in hot water is not enough. You also need decent detergent to get your diapers clean. The average cost of detergent for 1 load of laundry is $0.25 per load. This will vary per brand but also because of the amount you will need to use to the hardness of the water in your area. However, for this calculation, $0.25 per load is used.

So for all the cloth diaper laundry, you will be doing during diaper time, it will set you back about 0.25x390= $97.50 for the costs of detergent.


Cloth diaper accessories

When you are using cloth diapers some accessories make cloth diapering a lot easier.

Reusable baby wipes

When you are already cloth diapering and doing lots of laundry, reusable wipes are not very difficult to add to your laundry. I have about 50 wipes which are more than sufficient. They are about $1 each so the cost for a set of reusable baby wipes is $50.


Wet bags

Wet bags are great to store dirty diapers until you have to do laundry. I have 2 sizes. Large ones I use at home and smaller ones I use on the go or for daycare so they can store the dirty diapers somewhere dry.

A large wet bag will set you back about $15 a piece (I have 2) while a smaller one will cost about $8 (I also have 2 of these). So the total costs for wet bags are ($15x2)+($8x2)=$46


Liners

I recommend closing between a diapers sprayer and liner to deal with the poop in diapers to avoid lots of it ending up in your washing machine. In this calculation, I choose to use liners which is what I have been using.

Every diaper a baby wears needs a liner but I only discard the liner when our girl pooped in it. If it was only wet, I washed it with the diaper so I could reuse it. On average, about 20% of the diapers are soiled with solid waste which means during a diapering time of 2.5 years I need 6,300 (the total amount of diaper changes) x20%=1,260 liners. A roll of liners contains 100 liners so in 2.5 years I need 13 packs. They will set you back about $7 a pack so the total cost for liners is 13x$7=$91.


​Total Costs

NB

One Size

Covers NB

Covers One Size

Inserts

Accessories

Wash (& Dry)

Total (incl Dry)

Costs per change

Pre-fold

$75

$84

$120

$108

$120

$187

$333 ($520)

$1027 ($1214)

$0.16 ($0.19)

Pockets

-

$288

-

-

$240

$187

$333 ($520)

$1048 ($1235)

$0.17 ($0.20)

AIO

$450

$480

-

-

$120

$187

$333 ($520)

$1570 ($1757)

$0.25 ($0.28)

Fitted

$270

$264

$120

$108

$120

$187

$333 ($520)

$1402 ($1589)

$0.22 ($0.25)

Costs for 3 months of disposables

Most parents who want to cloth diapers wait a couple of months after the birth of their baby. This means that for the first 3 months they will use disposables. As cloth diapering mothers often care about the impact they have on our planet, they choose eco disposable diapers.

For the first 3 months, a baby needs about 10 diapers per day. A week has 7 days and 3 months are 13 weeks so for the first 3 months we need 10x7x13= 910 diapers. As we say above, an eco newborn diaper costs about $0.35 per diaper. This brings the costs of 3 months of eco disposable diapers to $320,-

​Total Costs

3 M Disposable

One Size

Covers One Size

Inserts

Accessories

Wash (& Dry)

Total (incl Dry)

Costs per change

Pre-fold

$320

$84

$108

$120

$187

$333 ($520)

$1152 ($1329)

$0.18 ($0.21)

Pockets

$320

$288

-

$240

$187

$333 ($520)

$1368 ($1555)

$0.22 ($0.25)

AIO

$320

$480

-

$120

$187

$333 ($520)

$1440 ($1627)

$0.23 ($0.26)

Fitted

$320

$264

$108

$120

$187

$333 ($520)

$1332 ($1519)

$0.21 ($0.24)

Note that I choose a decent brand to make these calculations with. I don’t recommend using the ‘China cheapies’ as you are unsure whether or not child labor is involved in the manufacturing of those diapers.


Save even more with cloth diapers

You could save even more money with cloth diapers. There are several ways to do this.

Buying second hand

To some, this idea doesn’t seem very appealing but there is a big market for secondhand diapers. If you purchase your diapers pre-loved, you can save even more money. Lots of people purchase a complete set of cloth diapers and then find out it is not their thing. This means you could purchase a whole set for a lot less compared to the new price.

Note that these total costs calculated here do not take into account trial and error. Many people who cloth diaper find that they try out a combination of different diapering systems and brands for cloth diapering. Therefore I recommend purchasing several brands and different types of cloth diapering systems second-hand to try what method you like and what fits your baby.


Second (third, fourth, etc) child

The calculation above shows you the costs for cloth diapering one child but if you decide to have a second child or even more children, you can use the same diapers on all of your children saving you even more money. The only costs that are left are laundry and liners

Selling your diapers

Like I mentioned before, there is a big market for second-hand cloth diapers this means you can not only purchase your diapers cheaply, you can also sell them after your child is potty trained. This reduces the costs of cloth diapers even further.


Conclusion

So, do cloth diapers save money? It depends. Lots of factors are involved in determining if cloth diapers save you money. What cloth diapering system are you using, are you purchasing your diapers new or secondhand, how many children are you planning to have, and to which disposable diapers are you comparing cloth. Overall, cloth diapers are cheaper compared to disposable diapers.


Comparing costs per diaper change

Disposable Diaper

1 Child

Type of Cloth

Cloth for 1 kid

Cloth for 2 kids

Bargain brand

$0.25

Pre-fold

$0.21

$0.12

Premium brand

$0.44

Pockets

$0.25

$0.14

Eco brand

$0.63

AIO

$0.26

$0.15

Fitted

$0.24

$0.14

How much did I save on cloth diapers?

I want to give you a real example of how much someone can save with cloth diapers. Therefore, I will share with you how much I saved on cloth.

Some kids are potty trained before they reach the 2-year mark while others take a bit longer. Some say that cloth diapering will help your baby to be potty trained sooner. I can’t say I have that experience as it took my daughter 3,5 years to be potty trained. This means that I have to compare cloth diapering for 3,5 years with using disposables for 3,5 years.

The type of disposable I also had on the backup was an eco-friendly brand. My mother told me that when I was a baby I was severely allergic to most common brands and she also put me in an eco brand to avoid rashes. So I did the same for my daughter. I also wanted to avoid chemicals around my baby's bum as much as possible and avoid plastic when I can so an eco brand it is.


We used disposable for the first 2,5 months as I was still recovering from the breech birth and getting used to the new situation. This set us back about €300.


Cloth diapers

I had 2 different sizes of fitted cloth diapers. The one-size fitted diaper we tried did not fit my girl nicely so we went to another option. These size one fitted diapers we used for about 15 months (usually these fit less long but my baby was really small).


So I had 25 size 1 cloth diapers.

25 pieces a €10,- = €250,-

10 cover a €15,- a piece= €150,-


After these 15 months, we switched to a size bigger

20 pieces a €10,- = €200,-

With 10 covers €10,- a piece = €100,- (I had a great deal for size 2 diapers and covers)


Bringing the total costs for diapers to €700,-


Accessories

The accessories I used with my cloth diapers are similar to the ones mentioned above. So 2 large wet bags, 2 small wet bags, 50 reusable baby wipes, and disposable liners. Bringing the total for accessories to about €100,-

I cloth diapered longer so I needed more liners, increasing the costs for accessories compared to above.


Costs of washing

Cloth diapering for 3,5 years, doing diaper laundry 3 times a week results in 3x52x3,5= 546 times laundry.

We calculated before that doing 1 load costs €0,56 (I have a front loader) and detergent is about €0,25 per load. This brings the total costs for laundry to 546x(0,56+0,25)= €442

Total cloth diaper costs

The total expenses I had for my cloth diapers are: €300+€700+€100+€442= €1542


Disposable

To make a fair comparison of how much I have saved we compare the costs of cloth to an eco brand disposable diapers as a more regular brand did not fit my lifestyle.

We diapered for 3,5 years which equals about 8500 diaper changes.

We calculated above that an average diaper change for an eco brand was 0,63. This brings the total costs of disposables to 8500x0,63=€5355.

How much did I save?

So overall I saved €5355-€1542= €3813 by using cloth diapers.

This is mainly due to my daughter taking a rather long time to be potty trained but in the end, cloth saved me so much money as even though it took her a bit longer, I did not have to purchase disposables during this time.


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