This post is the second part of a three-part series on cloth diapers. If you missed it, check out my first post, where I talk about our routine and approach to cloth diapering. And keep an eye out for the third installment, which will cover tips for building a cloth diaper stash on a budget!
It’s no secret that choosing to put your kids in cloth diapers over disposables can save you **thousands** of dollars long term. However, the start-up costs of buying a complete diaper stash and helpful accessories can add up quickly — so today, we’re going to talk about some hard numbers! We’ll go over:
- Start-up costs — what it realistically costs to create a cloth diaper stash and to outfit yourself with appropriate accessories
- Annual costs — the recurring costs associated with cloth diapering.
We’ll also compare these costs with how much it usually costs to put your baby in disposables. Spoiler alert: cloth wins the cost-savings award by a landslide! Over the course of three years, you can save over $2,300 by going the cloth diaper route.
And lastly, I’ve included a free downloadable budget worksheet so you can number crunch and more accurately predict how much you’ll save by going the cloth route 🙂
Cloth Diaper Start-up costs
First up: we’re going over start-up costs, or one-time purchases you need to make for cloth diapering. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to exclude the expenses that overlap with disposable diapering, like diaper pails and diaper cream, but if you’re interested in my full supplies list, check out the first installment of this series.
To cloth diaper, one-time purchases will include:
- 24 Cloth diapers. There are SO many options when it comes to cloth diapering, and it really comes down to your personal preferences and family’s needs. (If you have no idea which type of cloth diaper might work best for you, my previous post explains the major types of cloth diapers). In my opinion, the absolute best value for your money is the Alva Baby pocket diapers — you can get a set of 6 for $33 on Amazon, which means you can get a full stash of 24 diapers for a grand total of ***$132.*** And since the Alvas are a one-size diaper, it means they should fit your child until he or she is potty trained. I have one Alva baby diaper, and I have been so impressed with it — it performs on par with my Bumgenius 4.0 pocket diapers, and so far it has held up perfectly. However, it did take my little six pounder at least 10 weeks to get enough chunk on his thighs to fill out the Alva Baby, so I definitely recommend buying a singleton first to make sure it fits your baby.
- Cloth wipes. There’s really no need to buy special wipes — just neatly snip up old cotton or flannel t-shirts. Snipped squares of terry cloth towels or washcloths work, too.
- 2 reusable diaper pail liners. Honestly, there’s no need to spend $20 on a special reusable diaper pail liner — I alternate between a new $20 liner and a 15-year old waterproof laundry bag, and I don’t notice any difference in performance.
- A spray bottle, filled with water to moisten the cloth wipes.
Cloth Diaper Annual Recurring Costs
- Cloth Diaper Detergent. The detergent you use is a highly personal choice — I use Allen’s Naturally and absolutely love it. It’s safe for sensitive skin, is extremely effective at cleaning, and only costs 8 cents per load. Although please note: if you’re like me and can’t find it locally, the $15 shipping brings it up to 12 cents per load. That said, 12 cents per load is still quite a bit cheaper than most of the cloth diaper detergents I found when I was researching different options. I do a load about every other day (about 180 loads each year), so my annual cost of laundry detergent is about $22.
- Washer/dryer costs. I used this super helpful calculator to estimate that the monthly cost of doing my cloth diaper laundry loads in my city — the calculator lets you fill in all of your variables, like the specific prices of your city’s water and electricity. If you don’t know the costs of your city’s water and electricity, you should be able to Google it or find it on your utility bill. Using this calculator, I figure my diaper loads cost about $8 per month (about $96 per year), not including detergent.
- Wipes solution. Again, there are so many options — we purchased this $11 dissolvable wipes solution well over 6 months ago and still have at least a third of the box left.
- Diaper liners. When your baby stops breastfeeding exclusively, you’ll need something to catch his or her poop. These liners work great, and cost 5 cents each. We have gone through them very slowly — our son predictably poos once a day in the morning, so we generally just put a liner in his first diaper of the day.
Annual Cost of Disposable Diapers
One of the the advantages of disposable diapering is that there aren’t any start-up costs — you just pay as you go! But there’s a huge long term cost you pay for this.
Diapers. It depends on which diaper you use, but disposable diapers generally average about 20 cents per diaper. People say to count on changing an average of 10 diapers a day in baby’s first year, so you can reasonably expect to pay around $730 on diapers in your baby’s first year.
I couldn’t find a good estimate for the number of diapers a child goes through annually after their first year — my fourteen-month-old still easily goes through 10 diaper changes in a day, but I’m sure some toddlers go through less (maybe 6-8?). However, larger-sizes disposable diapers are usually a little more expensive than smaller-sized disposable diapers, so I think it’s reasonable to estimate that you’ll spend about the same in subsequent years as in the first years.
Wipes. Disposable wipes are a little tricky to calculate, since there seems to be a pretty wide range of what people consume. But according to investopedia, you can expect to go through $20 of disposable wipes per month, or $240/year.
Disposable diaper pail bags. There are special disposable diaper pail bags designed to go with your specific diaper pail, but these really aren’t necessary — tall kitchen trash bags work great. Assuming they cost 8 cents each (like these) and you change your pail bag every three days, you can plan on spending about $10 per year on disposable diaper pail bags.
Cloth vs Disposable: Cost Comparison
Take a look at this chart I made:
Naturally, your first child’s first year will be your most expensive year of cloth diapering, since you have your start-up costs as well as your annual costs. In this scenario, that adds up to nearly $300 — but it’s still almost $700 cheaper than putting your child in disposables, which would cost $980! After that first year, it only costs $143 per year to continue cloth diapering your child, while disposable diapering continues to cost $980 — which means you can potentially save almost $840 per year by choosing cloth over disposable diapers. Assuming your first child potty trains by 36 months, you can save a total of $2,355 over 3 years by choosing cloth over disposables.
For all subsequent children you choose to cloth diaper, you can save over $2,500 per child — so if you have three kids and put all of them in cloth diapers, you can save over $7,300.
However, everyone’s circumstances are different — factors such as which type of cloth diaper you buy, the cost of electric & water in your city, how early your kids potty train, and the number of kids you have will all affect how much money you’ll save by going the cloth diaper route. That’s why I’m including a **free** downloadable budget worksheet to help you estimate how much you’ll save! Get it here: Cloth Diapers _ number crunched
I hope this post was helpful to you as you’re considering various diapering options — if you have any cloth questions I didn’t cover in this post, feel free to post them in the comments below!
How much will you save by going the cloth diaper route?