The Hidden Costs of Cloth Diapering and Disposable Diapering

My cousin, an avid couponer who has diapered her babies in disposable diapers for almost NO money (hi Tiffany!) raised a really great point on my site, suggesting that perhaps cloth diaperers are not completely upfront about the costs of cloth diapering a baby. We tend to focus so much on the cost of cloth diapers in general, that we leave out the extra fluff (no FLUFF pun intended!) of things like wet bags, pail liners, etc. So I want to outline some possible extra costs of cloth diapering that may not be included in cloth diaper estimates.

Now listen, I know this probably isn’t 100% accurate (and anyone who claims their estimates ARE accurate…don’t trust because it is all varied). Just know that for every number I did, I did some hunting around (NOT just on Cloth Diaper websites that would have a bias). I wanted to create as honest of figures as possible because, to be frank, my overall mission is to save people money. Please feel free to comment with some thoughts on this, but please also don’t nitpick my estimates as though I am chiseling them in stone! I didn’t have an agenda behind what I did. I was honest with myself with the numbers in trying to remove my own personal bias. In fact, what I found really surprised me…

Wipes:

For Cloth Diapers:

You can grab a yard of fabric at a store, extra fleece from making a blanket, or buy wipes. My personal favorite are my Thirsties Fab wipes and my Itti Bitti wipes, both of which I got for free by saving up my Swagbucks. You may also spend money on diaper wipe solution, although some people just use water or make their own solution by adding a drop of essential oil or baby soap.

Cost: FREE-$60

For disposable diapers:

You can buy disposable wipes for as low as .03 each (I am using what The Krazy Coupon Lady considers a good deal). That is (so very roughly!) $400 or Amazon has them not on sale for .07 each, which is roughly $600.

Cost: $400-$600 each

Finding the Right Diaper

Cloth Diapers

You may buy a diaper and it just didn’t work for your baby. Perhaps it wasn’t absorbent, there were leaks, etc. However, this may not happen at all. You may use the statistics on diapers that are sorted by baby type here to up the odds of you getting the best diaper for your baby. If not, then you may have to invest in new diapers. Avoid this cost pitfall by using the stats here, as well as not buying 20 of the same diaper.

Cost: FREE – $100.

Disposable Diapers

I actually encountered this, big time. My son is very sensitive to disposables (and my daughter was one of the ones burned by the transition to Pampers DryMax) and we also found that certain brands just didn’t work. Or maybe the kid grew out of a size a little early.

Cost: FREE – $60

Poop Cleaner:

For Cloth Diaperers

A month ago, I would have told you that this is a must, but I actually have been cloth diapering without a diaper sprayer in this new place and it isn’t that bad. I just do the dunk and swish, but am also using the Cloth Diaper Butler for soaking. I do use gloves though. Some people do buy liners to make things less messy.

Cost: FREE – $80

Diaper Cream:

For Cloth Diaperers:

It is important to get a cloth diaper safe cream. And I am going to assume a baby needs about 2 of these from birth to potty training. There are many extra variables here to consider, like if a baby gets extra rashes in disposables (as mine does) or perhaps a baby gets extra rashes in cloth while someone is trying to alter their washing routine. So I will consider these as equals here:

Cost: FREE-$18

For disposable diaperers:

Desitin is a great medicated one to use, but I know in my experience I was asked to top that off with something that had a barrier, such as Vaseline.

Cost: $3-$8

Diaper Containment

For Cloth Diaperers

Some people are simple, they just use a trash can that they got for a couple of bucks. But I generally recommend two wet bags (one for out and about, one for at home). In an ideal world, I would recommend three. One for out and about and two for at home (so you have one to put stuff in while stuff is washing).

Cost: $10-$60

For Disposable diaperers

People with disposable diapers can just toss the diapers, although some people like to have something like the Arm and Hammer deodorizer bags for out and about. So that is a possible hidden cost of disposable diapers. People would also buy a diaper pail and a  trash bag or a bag specific to that diaper pail.  Buying at Costco, regular trash bags is .10 per bag. Some diaper pail specific ones, like the Armand Hammer bag, are .70 per bag. I figure you go through two a week (roughly), so for two years I am calculating.

Cost: $30-$200

Extra Inserts

Sometimes a diaper just isn’t good enough as is, especially at night. So some people have to buy extra inserts (my favorite? The Knickernappies SuperDo), or you can just stack up two inserts. I frequently just stack two microfiber inserts. But it is a cost worth noting.

Cost: FREE – $30

Washing

For Cloth Diapers

I have researched several different websites, including various utilities websites, and have come to the conclusion that there isn’t a clear cut estimate. The closest I have been able to get through my own calculations is that you should plan for up to $100 in washing energy/water costs, but I want to overshoot that a bit because I think it could be low. You may also take into account costs of buying cloth diaper safe detergents (although you know me, I think Tide does just fine). So to be totally basic you hand wash with a non cloth diaper safe detergent. To splurge you get the absolute top of the line cloth diapering detergent and you also may strip a lot. Those with hard water and front loaders may expect to spend more money cloth diapering as they may have to strip diapers more often. It may also cost some money to try and figure out the right laundry routine. Some people buy drying racks for line drying–I personally use hangers from around the house, but I want to account for those racks as well.

Cost: $80-$500

Disposable Diapers

Obviously you don’t need to wash disposable diapers, BUT, I do want to briefly make note of the fact that you may need to wash out some poopsplosions (you know, the up the back poop messes that happen with disposables). I know my friends who use disposables encounter this a lot. But I’d be pushing it if I said this were a huge expense to wash, but since I am trying to account for ALL hidden costs, I am going to budget a bit here for the cost of laundering this.

Cost: $5

Cost to Transport Diapers

For Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers are generally sold online, so there may be some shipping costs if a person is buying from there, but many online retailers have free shipping or free shipping with a certain amount. To see who has free shipping, you can type in “free shipping” at www.clothdiaperretailers.com to see who has those deals.

Cost: FREE – $20

For Disposables

I have to tell you that I have had at least 4 instances (in the 4 months I disposable diapered) where I had to run to the store to get diapers. So I know it happens and we should at least consider a little bit of the cost in here. But maybe you are Ms. Ultra prepared and never have that happen!

Cost: FREE – $20

Addiction

I would be a complete liar if I didn’t admit that there are cloth diaper addicts out there who have spent as much on diapers as those with disposables. Definitely true. So that’s worth considering. However, those people could still turn around and sell those diapers for up to 50% of what they bought them for. But still, it’s worth noting. So my estimates can’t include those addicts, just like my numbers can’t account for disposable diaperers who are addicted to buying cute clothes. It’s just a different hobby.

TOTAL HIDDEN COSTS (ROUGHLY!)

Cloth Diapers: $100-$850

Disposables: $520 – $900

Add that to the estimates for cloth diapers ($100-$400)  vs disposables ($1500-$2500) and you are still saving a bunch of money using cloth diapers (assuming you don’t get addicted to diapers). That’s not to mention that the cloth diapers can be re-used, you can’t get back the money for disposable diapers. You can go to my calculator here to get a rough estimate of the not-so-hidden costs.

Don’t forget that you can turn around and use cloth diapers again on additional babies or, if you don’t have any more, you can sell them for about 50% of their retail value.

But remember my cousin I was telling you about? She really does a great job of finding disposable diaper deals. She fills out many surveys that give her cash and Amazon money so that she buys her diapers that way.  Granted, you could use the same Amazon money to buy cloth diapers, but I wanted to give you a heads up on that option as well. My aim in this article isn’t to prove a point or convert anyone. I honestly don’t care what someone diapers their baby in–as long as it is something that works best of them. My biggest passion is in the fact that I think there is a lot of misinformation about cloth diapers and if more people knew how easy and economical they were, they’d make the switch.

Sources Consulted

www.babycenter.com

www.diaperdecisions.com

Changing Diapers: The Hip Mom’s Guide to Modern Cloth Diapering by Kelly Wels

www.mint.com

www.smud.com

www.pge.com

www.amazon.com

www.thekrazycouponlady.com

The awesome followers on my Facebook page

* Numbers are for birth-potty training

Tara Porter

Tara Porter began using cloth diapers in 2011 when she felt that using disposable diapers was costing too much money. The problem was, a lot of the highly recommended diapers weren’t working for her baby. What she finally discovered was that her baby was skinny and a heavy wetter, and that diapers worked differently for those baby types. Because of her professional work with survey design and statistics, she designed Padded Tush Stats as a way to determine how different cloth diapers worked on different babies.

Tara moved on to other career endeavors in 2014 but can still be found online blogging about health and fitness at Fit Baby Steps.
  • Tiffany T

    I really enjoyed reading this! :-)

  • http://havahbreathes.blogspot.com Jeanne

    Good article, but you did leave out one hidden but very important cost for disposables: increased garbage costs! Locally, we’re charged (for curbside garbage) different rates for different volumes. Our current rate for our 35-gallon can being emptied every other week is $14/month (admittedly, some families would need it emptied every week at about $17/month). However, the volume of garbage we put out when my eldest was in full-time disposables was closer to a 64-gallon can each week at $21/ month! That’s about $120-$210 over the average course from birth to potty training (2.5 years). In my mind that always helped to balance the cost of laundering cloth. Just sayin’ … ;-)

    • http://www.makingitworkblog.com/ Carolyn Russell

      That is a REALLY fascinating thing you pointed out! I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re right – where I live as well, the more garbage you produce, the more you pay!

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  • Debbie

    Very interesting. I used cloth on my first two, exclusively. Disposables on my last four, again exclusively. I would never go back. The mess, the rashes, the leakage…..would spend so much more even, for the convenience and ease of use with disposables. I appreciated the info, however.

    • http://www.makingitworkblog.com/ Carolyn Russell

      How long ago was it that you were diapering those first two? I wonder if things would have worked out differently if you could have used the current diapers with them! But I’m a big believer in doing what works best for you, no matter what kind of diaper that is (though I am sorry your experience with cloth wasn’t great!) :(

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  • Ashlea

    This is great information. Thank you for putting it all out there so we can compare.

  • Katie W

    This article was a great help when I first started looking into cloth diapers. (great ideas for your baby registry for folks that aren’t so CD friendly.) I recently did the math, and we would have broken even on our CD investment about two weeks ago… If I could stop buying diapers. The addiction is a force to be reckoned with.

  • http://twitter.com/mleerx Michelle Lee

    Yeah, think of all the money I’d be saving if I could just stop buying all those adorable new prints lol.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=514888987 Sasha Oystrakh

    Great article. I wanted to add that in the 5.5 months I used disposables I payed WAY more in laundry costs because of the blow outs. In the first 3 months I would have about 3 outfits a day to launder because of blowouts!!! Also I agree with you about how much variety there is, some buy cheap diapers, some buy expensive- some change 10 diapers or so a day even with a 6 month old or up some dont, personally I used about 4 rash creams in the 5.5 months using disposables! Also he grew so quickly I have so many 1/2 box extras left over! (not like you can guess how fast baby will gain or buy a SUPER small pack)

  • Laurie Skiles

    Great article! I used disposables on my first two daughters. I am cloth diapering my son now and I LOVE it. I would never go back. He does not have nearly as many rashes as my girls did, he SMILES when I put his diapers on and I love the fact that in all the months that we have been cloth diapering we have yet to have a blow-out!

  • Deborah Hammons

    I’m speaking as a grandmom that has my daughter & granddaughter living with me. I love having them here. We have used the pocket diapers since she was 3 months. We have town water but also have a HE washer so I have not seen an increase in the water bill. Since we use the pocket diapers there has not been but 3 blow outs (our fault for not putting on correctly) and she is now 6 months old. She has not had any rashes. We do keep her changed because we figure we always have more at no extra cost. I wish we had these kind of diapers when mine were little. We made our cloth wipes out of receiving blankets because we had so many($0). So, cloth diapering can be inexpensive or very expensive if you get additicted or if you buy the very expensive or the more reasonable priced ones.

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  • Miranda

    Great article! I, too, use hangers around the house to dry the cloth diapers. We have a line outside, but on rainy days or at night, we just put them on hangers and hang them up in doorways.

  • Vicki Hall

    Good point you can end up spending more if you become addicted to having the newest styles and prints . lol

  • Melisa Darnieder

    It’s great to see this confirmed. I feel like I’ve been spending a lot more than advertised, but I’m still hopefully I can get my money back by selling diapers when I’m done with them. I still love cloth diapering, though!

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  • Cassie

    I realize I’m late to the conversation, so sorry for that! I am just starting to learn about cloth diapers and their benefits/costs for our first baby coming this summer! Has anyone used the disposable liners with their cloth diapers? Do these add significant cost, or is it still more economical than disposable diapers?

    • http://www.makingitworkblog.com/ Carolyn Russell

      I’ve definitely used the flushable liners, and I’ve hunted for the best deal on liners, but I’ve never tried to calculate the cost of cloth diapers plus liners versus disposables :( My guess would be that it’s still more economical than disposables (particularly if you’re going to be able to use the diapers on more than one child!) but you might find other ways to deal with the poop besides the liners, if the cost of those is a concern. Newborn poop can be rinsed away by the washing machine, and older children often have poop that is easy to plop or roll off the diaper into the toilet (frequently called “ploppable poop,” LOL!) or if you have kids with less helpful tummies (like I do) then there is always the diaper sprayer! So, if the cost of liners is turning you off, you could look into one of those options! :)