Cloth vs disposable diapers… Is it worth it?

cloth vs disposable diapers is it worth it
Cloth vs disposable diapers… Is it worth it?

cloth-vs-disposable-diapers-is-it-worth-it
There has been a recent spike in the use of cloth diapers. With new brands coming out and fancy snaps and velcro replacing the old safety pin, using cloth diapers are much more convenient. Environmentally conscious mom’s swear by them. But are cloth diapers really saving you money?

Did you know disposable diapers have really only been around for about 40 years? In the 70’s disposable diapers were a convenience item only used by the wealthier parents. They were considered a luxury item well into the 80’s until disposable diapers started to take over as younger generations started making purchases. With the 90’s came a transition where disposables were mainstream and only the really poor families (or money conscientious parents) still used cloth diapers. Now in the 21st century, cloth diapers have again reappeared, newly remodeled with cute covers and easy velcro and snap closures to entice parents to use. Ironically, cloth diapers are now viewed as the luxury and are seen as expensive and difficult to manage.

As a mother of 3, I have used disposables and cloth diapers and will compare the differences from my experience. My first two children were completely disposable diaper babies. My oldest daughter had no issues with any brand, and wore them for 3 ½ years. My second child had severely sensitive skin and struggled constantly with diaper rashes, allergic reactions, and skin issues for all his diaper years. With the birth of my third child, she also immediately had reactions to disposable diapers. This time I decided to venture into the cloth world and see if this would keep the rashes down. For us, it worked! My baby girl is now 10 months and a full time cloth diaper baby. It saves me money and the worry and stress of dealing with painful rashes.

Aside from the obvious environmental impact and long term “costs” associated with them in our landfills, the big question is, Are cloth diapers really saving you money? And is that money saved really worth the hassle of extra work? Let’s break it down so you can decide for yourself!

Cost– Are cloth diapers really cheaper? Let’s look at the math first.

Disposable diapers cost around 36 cents each. One child will average around 8 diapers a day (more as a newborn and less as a toddler)

.36 x 8 = 2.88 a day
2.88 x 30 days = 86.40 month
86.40 x 12 months = 1036.80 per year
1036.80 x 2.5 years = $2592 total

According to my calculations disposable diapers can cost a total of $2592 per child. Adding a second or third child will double or triple this cost. Phew!

Cloth Diapers cost $7 per diaper (insert included). I own 20 diapers and 15 extra inserts (the padding inside the diaper).

$7 x 20 diapers = $140
15 inserts x $3 per insert = $45
$140 + $45 = $185 total purchase cost
12 cans of Nellies Laundry Detergent x $15 = $180 (I have used 4 in 10 months)
Water Usage Cost = Variable**
**I have well water and do not have to include the cost of water. I do 2-3 loads of diapers a week and run the washer twice for each load. Those who pay for water would have to allow for an extra 4-6 loads of laundry a week. Even with this extra cost, it could not come close to the several thousand dollar difference.

According to my calculations, cloth diapers cost my family a total of $365. The only reoccurring cost would be laundry detergent and water usage. The bonus is each child can reuse the same cloth diapers! There is no extra cost for each addition to the family. The downside is most is an upfront cost.

Dryness and Rash

Many wonder about the sanitary issues that are rumored with cloth diapers. Did you know that there is no real link between rashes and cloth or disposable diapers? The only real factor I have noticed is rashes were practically unheard of until the last 30 years. Ironically, the U.S. started using disposable diapers around the same time. Diapers, of any kind, should be changed on a regular basis to reduce moisture against the baby’s skin and fight rashes from developing. Cloth diapers, when clean properly are just as sanitary and clean as the clothes you wear, towels you use, etc.

Convenience vs. Hassle

It is true, cloth diapers take more work. The diapers need to be washed twice in the washer and then hung to dry. This takes planning. I usually run my first load at some point during the day and restart the washer after dinner. Then hang the diapers to dry before I go to bed (or maybe drag myself out of bed after I get all cozy). Pulling the diapers apart, washing, hanging to dry and putting them back together again takes about 8 hours total. The hands on time, however, is only about 20 minutes.

The ick factor

The stink, the hands on process, contaminating the washer… are all worries that go into the disdain of cloth diapers. Disposable diapers are so nice because each one can be wrapped up in a little ball and thrown away, never having to worry about the mess inside. Cloth diapers, need to be prepped before washing. I have found a few simple steps help to remove a lot of the ‘ick’ out of dealing with dirty cloth diapers. First, I purchased a small, cheap trashcan with a lid in which to store my diapers. I find this helps reduce 90% of the smell. I also never let them sit for more than 3 days. Secondly, the poo needs to go somewhere. I have sacrificed one of my spatulas to become a permanent poo scraper for the tough jobs and store it in my trashcan. Conveniently, I have found that most messes just fall right of the special cloth fabric and I don’t even use spatula often. Lastly, you would be amazed how well the washer does at cleaning! As long as the solid waste is removed, my washer does an amazing job with my diapers (which come out white every time).

Time

Cloth diapers are definitely cheaper, but is it worth it? This is where the real decision has to be made. Most parents are short on time. Life is stressful and adding one more thing might just make life too hard. So you have to decide if saving $1000 a year is really worth the 8 hour cycle twice a week.

I, personally, use cloth diapers daily, but still use disposable diapers overnight and when dropping her off at the sitters. The choice is up to you.

Also, if you want to Quadruple your savings, Make Your Own Super Laundry Sauce Detergent! You can wash 128 Loads of laundry for less than $2.00

11 Comments

  1. i do believe that cloth diapers are cheaper in the long run. but i’m not sure by how much. i don’t see any breakdown on how much electricity it costs for an extra 4-6 loads of laundry each week.

    And do you just use cold water? or warm/hot? The temperature makes a HUGE difference.

    Also, I don’t think I have ever paid over 22 cents per disposable diaper.

    • I do believe that cloth diapers are cheaper in the long run. But I’m not sure by how much. I don’t see any breakdown on how much electricity it costs for an extra 4-6 loads of laundry each week.

      And do you just use cold water? or warm/hot? The temperature makes a HUGE difference.

      Also, I don’t think I have ever paid over 22 cents per disposable diaper.

      36 years ago when my 1st son was born my husband and I lived with my parents and my father decided to see what was cheaper cloth or disposable diapers, pampers , he took electric bills and water bills for 2 months of using cloth and 2 months of using pampers and it was cheaper to use pampers. We of course used hot water to wash the diapers and dried them in the dryer due to high pollen counts in our area in the summer. Needless to say I used pampers for all three of my boys .

      • 36 years ago when my 1st son was born my husband and I lived with my parents and my father decided to see what was cheaper cloth or disposable diapers, pampers , he took electric bills and water bills for 2 months of using cloth and 2 months of using pampers and it was cheaper to use pampers. We of course used hot water to wash the diapers and dried them in the dryer due to high pollen counts in our area in the summer. Needless to say I used pampers for all three of my boys .

        when my boys were born, the women’s group at church purchased a 6 month diaper service for me (I had an emergency C-section after 12 hours of labor with my first son so this was nice) and I continued the service for the first year.

        My service didn’t even require emptying the dirty diapers, they provided a large diaper pail that had a place for the disk for odor control in the lid. They washed each load of diapers in a 14 cycle wash with rinses between each cycle. I know that not all services are this good but it is something to consider!

        So for parents with babies, this is another option to explore if you really want the healthy cloth diaper—cloth diapers breathe more than disposables which leads to healthier skin.

    • I do believe that cloth diapers are cheaper in the long run. But I’m not sure by how much. I don’t see any breakdown on how much electricity it costs for an extra 4-6 loads of laundry each week.

      And do you just use cold water? or warm/hot? The temperature makes a HUGE difference.

      Also, I don’t think I have ever paid over 22 cents per disposable diaper.

      I wondered the same exact thing and I do have to pay for water. I have a 2 year old who wears 2-3 diapers a day (only at nap and bed) and a 2 month old. I wash Diapers every day and use rockin green detergent about 1 bag every 2 months now.

      Before the new baby 1 bag lasted 6 months but I only washed every 3 days then. My water bill and my electric bill are the exact same as when I used disposables! So after initial costs of diapers I only spend about $10/month and that’s for the detergent and there are cheaper options I just like this one.
      Hope that helps 🙂

  2. i think the other thing that needs to be taken into account when one is making this decision is the impact on the environment of disposable diapers vs cloth diapers. there are pro and cons for both and each family needs to research what impact each would have on the environment in the area in which they live.

  3. i’ve been considering this as well for the future and would like to know what the process is for cloth diapers when you are out and about with the baby and they need a change…. do you bag it up for later or…?

    thanks!

    • I’ve been considering this as well for the future and would like to know what the process is for cloth diapers when you are out and about with the baby and they need a change…. Do you bag it up for later or…?

      Thanks!

      I always have a plastic bag or two in my diaper bag to contain the diaper while we are out. When I get home I just throw the diaper (still in bag) into my dirty diaper pile.

      I have a small trash can with a lid that I put all my soiled diapers into and leave them there until time to wash… No pre soaking.

  4. cloth diapers all the way. they are more convienent in that you don’t have to make a run to the store when you run out. you also don’t have to scrounge up money to buy diapers when you have the cloth ones just waiting to be washed.

    the only problem i have really had is that you have to change them in the middle of the night as your baby gets older. when you change a diaper while you are out just put the used one in the handy little waterproof zip case that comes with most diaper bags. when we go on long trips recycle those plastic bags or bring a plastic garbage bag to put them in until you wash them.

    for really long vacations or trips get a hotel with a laundry room. there is never really anyone in there. i have 30 or so of the Bumgenius and I have to wash them 2-3 times a week.

    People are so impressed and have so many questions for you when you use cloth. At my baby shower I offered a raffle ticket for a handmade quilt for every cloth diaper brought, just like people do for packages of disposables. Then I used gift cards to purchase the rest of the diapers I figured I needed on the website.

    I also hit a good sale on that website too. So for approximately $260 I have diapers for whole time.

  5. i wanted to use cloth diapers when my son was a baby. i even started using them but even though i tried to be careful and not let him set in a wet nappy he developed a diaper rash so bad it was bleeding. i took him into the dr. and he told me that unless i was willing to boil the diapers every time i ashed them this would continue to be a problem.

    i ask about bleach and was told that because the rash was caused by a yeast that even if i killed the active yeast there would still be spores in the diapers that could start growing and continue to cause problems. i reluctantly went to disposable diapers. i am not saying you shouldn’t use cloth diapers but watch your kids hinny! i didn’t use any heavy duty ointments on him like zinc oxide maybe that would have helped.

    good luck

  6. i used cloth diapers for all 5 of my children. They were born in the years 1975 thru 1989 and were all totally breast fed for the first year to prevent asthma which is highly prevalent in my husband’s family. My babies all had very loose bms so disposable diapers just weren’t practical.

    i had problems with the bm oozing out the sides no matter how quickly i changed the diaper. with my youngest who is 7 years younger than the one before her I tried disposables again because they now had the nifty elastic but they didn’t work any better and I was, instead of washing the diapers, washing the clothing, the blankets, my clothing, the sofa…..etc.

    This was my method for those of you completely new to diapering. I didn’t rinse the diapers but dumped the solids and put them into a covered bucket filled with water and borax to soak. Every other day I emptied the entire bucket into the washer and ran it on the highest water level with cold water.

    Next I washed the diapers with detergent, water softener (because our water is very hard) and bleach in hot water and finally an extra rinse with cold water and water softener.

    At the time I was diapering I was able to figure out how much it cost me to use cloth and it was cheaper than the 25 cents per diaper I would have been paying then. Also I didn’t work outside my home during that time so there wasn’t the issue of having someone else change cloth diapers.

    I wanted to use cloth diapers when my son was a baby. I even started using them but even though I tried to be careful and not let him set in a wet nappy he developed a diaper rash so bad it was bleeding. I took him into the Dr. and he told me that unless I was willing to boil the diapers every time i ashed them this would continue to be a problem.

    i ask about bleach and was told that because the rash was caused by a yeast that even if i killed the active yeast there would still be spores in the diapers that could start growing and continue to cause problems. i reluctantly went to disposable diapers. i am not saying you shouldn’t use cloth diapers but watch your kids hinny! i didn’t use any heavy duty ointments on him like zinc oxide maybe that would have helped.

    good luck

    often this problem is caused by the particular laundry soaps you use or not rinsing thoroughly enough. in my case there were certain disposable diapers my children couldn’t tolerate that caused terrible rashes. in those days i believe it was luvs i had so much trouble with.

    so if you are trying to use cloth play about with soaps and fabric softeners to see if that helps.

  7. i’m a stay at home grandma raising grandson. i love the new cloth diapers. i used old style cloth on my own children back in the 70’s with disposables when we were out.

    I find the poo usually falls off the new diapers very easily with no mess. I store them in a closed diaper pail till wash day. I then soak them in my washtub with borax and a Tbsp of homemade soap for a few hrs This takes care of any residue that may have been left on the diapers.

    Then toss them in the washer with another Tbsp of soap and an extra rinse with a Tbsp of vinegar in the final rinse. This results in nice white, clean diapers and no extra clean up needed for the washer. Washtub water empties down the drain and rinses out easily.

    I do this twice a week before bed and pop them in the dryer in the morning. Easy, and you never have to worry about running out of diapers, and they look and fit so much better than disposables. And you can sell them once baby is trained.

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