My wife and I discussed cloth and disposable diapers before we had our first child. We were both intrigued by the idea of using cloth diapers for several reasons – possible cost savings, environment, better for child, convenience of not having to run to the store a couple times per week. Of course, we had our doubts as well. How much would they cost? Would they leak? How much of a pain would it be to do laundry? etc.
So we did what we do for any other major purchase/decision. We researched it and talked to people we knew who had used cloth diapers. Let me tell you the first thing we found out: The cloth diapers manufactured today are not the kind of cloth diapers that were available when we were raised! We were concerned about having to fold the diapers around a squirming baby and fastening them with pins (not a fun sounding proposition). But cloth diapers made now may have many features that weren’t around just a few decades ago, they may have liners, plastic coverings, Velcro or button fasteners or a host of other features. In short, we were intrigued.
Benefits of using cloth diapers
Cloth diapers have the obvious advantage of being reusable. That is a great benefit for the environment, and saves you the hassle of going to the store in the middle of the night (though it doesn’t save you from the hassle of washing them, but more on that later). Cloth diapers can also be better for the baby because some disposable diapers have plastics or other chemicals which can irritate a baby’s sensitive skin.
Durability of cloth diapers
Cloth diapers can be used dozens if not hundreds of times before they wear out. Our friends have used their set of cloth diapers through three children and they are still holding up fine. And durability leads directly to long term cost savings. Obviously using them for three children will more than cover the cost of the diapers, but they should pay for themselves relatively quickly even if you only have one child.
How much do cloth diapers cost?
Prices for cloth diapers vary, from a couple dollars each, to more than $15 each. But the quality and features also vary. We currently use a one-size-fits-all model made by BumGenius, which run about $17 each at Amazon (though they can be found cheaper sometimes). We also tried a couple other brands but preferred the BumGenius brand (some companies will send you a free or discounted sample to try).
The beauty of cloth diapers is that while the upfront cost is much higher, the ongoing cost is much lower. Once you purchase them you are only paying for laundry detergent and the energy to wash/dry them. [Note: I've also known people who have passed along cloth diapers to other family members or bought/sold them on Craigslist, bot h of which could be a cheaper option if you are willing to do either].
The cost of disposable diapers
Contrast that to disposable diapers, which must be purchased for each use (raise your hand if you’ve ever used 3 diapers to complete one change because your baby decided changing time meant going time). Prices for disposable diapers also vary, ranging anywhere from roughly $.10 each to over $.25 each. Babies will use anywhere from 6-10 diapers per day, putting your average cost at roughly $.60-$2.50 per day, or about $20 to $75 per month (depending on brand and number of diapers used). Figure roughly 2 years or more of diapers and you are looking at $480 – $1800 literally thrown away.
Which is cheaper – cloth or disposable
Again, the upfront costs of cloth diapers are high enough to scare many people away.
$17 for a diaper?! Get out of here – I’ll buy a pack of 80 Huggies Ultra Elite Super Stopper Biodegradable disposables with a pretty print pattern, thank you very much.
And you’ll buy another pack next week. And another the week after that… and guess what, it’s 10pm and you just used your last diaper. Off to the grocery store you go.
Or, you can use this diaper calculator from DiaperPin.com and run some numbers. Enter the per unit cloth diaper cost, how many you will purchase, and the cost of your preferred brand of disposable diapers. Run the calculator and it will return how long it will take to recoup your initial expense, then show you cost savings over the following months. In most cases it should take only a couple months before you come out ahead and you should save well into the hundreds of dollars by the time you anticipate no longer needing diapers (this may not ring true if you pay for a diaper cleaning service).
Tip: if you are still concerned about cost, then be sure to add them to your baby registry for your baby shower.
Washing and caring for cloth diapers
OK, I know what you’re thinking… Cloth? Gross! Sure. But no more than any other diapers. The key is to deal with them quickly and not to let them pile up. There are several diapers bins designed specifically for cloth diapers, or you can just rinse them out immediately after use, hang them to dry over the side of the tub, then wash them in a batch of other diapers. Use a double rinse cycle if it makes you feel better, then dry them in your clothes dryer or hang them to dry. It’s not too much of a hassle, really. (tip: fasten the velcro on each diaper before washing – it will make washing/drying much easier!). More info about caring for cloth diapers.
Which diapers are better – cloth or disposable?
After 6 months of parenting, I can tell you this: Cloth diapers are great. We have only had one or two instances of leakage, which is about the same as what we have had with disposables. But we don’t use them exclusively. We typically use cloth diapers throughout the day, then use disposables at night, and anytime we plan on being away from the house for an extended period of time – especially overnight trips. We have no desire to carry dirty diapers with us, and asking friends or relatives to use their washing machine to wash dirty diapers probably isn’t the most polite thing in the world. Which is better? I think they are both great and I encourage you to try cloth if you have young children. The cost and environmental benefits will make it worth your while. Then use disposable diapers for what they were intended for: a convenience.