Working out exactly how much you may or may not save using cloth diapers is complicated. Not only do both cloth and disposable diapers vary significantly in price, but so do the detergents, electricity, and water we use to launder our cloth.
Then, suppose you want to get really specific. In that case, you should also factor in the cost of diaper creams, liners, toilet sprayers, diaper pails, and other optional accessories for disposables and cloth.
However, if you want a rough calculation, you can try our fun cloth diaper savings calculator, and if you want to know how we make the calculations and why they are only a rough guide, details are below.
This is How We Calculate
To work out the rough cost savings, we have used the average price per diaper of budget, mid-price, and premium disposable diapers.
- Budget diapers include brands like Luvs, and we used 25 cents per diaper
- Mid-price diapers include brands like Pampers, and we used 32 cents per diaper
- Premium diapers include brands like Dyper, and we used 50 cents per diaper
Then we averaged out to nine changes a day and a 30 day month. This takes into account the fact that some months are 31 days long, the differences in changing frequency for different age groups, the extra changes when your child is ill or reacts badly to a new food, etc., and those random times they pee into a diaper while you’re still changing.
Why We Used Those Figures
Exactly how much one family may spend on disposable diapers is almost impossible to calculate. To do so, you would have to take into consideration:
Diaper Change Frequency
Babies tend to let you know they need changing more quickly in a cloth diaper than in a disposable. Disposable diapers have an absorbent gel and a stay-dry liner that holds more fluid and keeps that fluid away from the skin for longer.
Consequently, a baby can often feel wet and uncomfortable more quickly in a cloth diaper than they will in a disposable.
To take this possible difference in changing frequency into account, we used figures for the changing frequency of disposable diapers rather than cloth.
The Cost Per Diaper
First, you have to calculate the average cost per diaper for each age range. This is because each size of diaper works out at a different price per diaper. For example, using today’s cost on Amazon for a months supply, Pampers cost:
- Size 0 = 29 cents per diaper
- Size 2 = 27 cents per diaper
- Size 4 = 33 cents per diaper
- Size 5 = 35 cents per diaper
- Size 7 = 57 cents per diaper
Then, you have to take into consideration what size pack you buy. Generally speaking, even in the same size of diaper, the larger the box, the lower the cost per diaper.
Finally, there’s the fact that the same size and pack size of diapers will vary in price according to where you buy them, and whether there are any promotions that reduce the cost.
The Size of Your Baby
You may be surprised to hear, but even the size of your baby will affect how much you spend on diapers.
For example, if you have a premature baby, they might start out in preemie diapers, which illogically cost more than sizes 0 to 2. On the other hand, if your newborn is exceptionally large, you might start out with size two diapers.
And yes, it may surprise you to know that this is a thing. Our oldest son was just short of 12 lbs. when he was born, and my husband had to rush out and get a pack of size two diapers to see us through the first few days.
Kids Are Different
Children don’t reach their milestones at the same age or even in the same order. One family may find their child is potty trained at two while another isn’t ready for this step until three.
Meanwhile, you may have an Olympic class urine machine that needs changing frequently or a child that stays dry for so long at a time that you begin to wonder if something is wrong.
This brings us to the most random issue of all. Life.
You might decide that using cloth diapers when you travel is too much of a hassle and opt for disposables during vacation. If you do that three times, you could be looking at over one hundred bucks in disposables.
Or you may plan to stay home with your little one but find that you need to go back to work and can’t use cloth diapers in daycare. If you use a cloth diaper and disposable diaper hybrid model, the savings will be less than for exclusive cloth use.
Then there are those times you:
- Have to throw a disposable away because you ripped the closure while putting it on.
- Discover your child has decided to take off their own diaper, rendering it useless.
- Lay your baby on the diaper just in time to have them pee and poop on it, so you have to grab another one.
You get the picture.
How Much do Cloth Diapers Cost?
The cost of using cloth diapers isn’t much easier to calculate. Cloth diapers vary in price, perhaps even more than disposables. These are some of the things you have to consider.
Which Style of Diaper?
In general, all-in-one diapers cost more than other styles, and flats are the least expensive. However, you also have to consider that with flats, you will also have to buy covers, and fasteners, which, while not expensive, throw another variable into the mix.
Then, like disposables, different brands, pack sizes, and retailers can have different prices.
New or Used?
While cloth diapers tend to hold their value, it is generally more affordable to buy cloth diapers second-hand than to purchase new ones. The exception to this is sought after, limited edition prints, which can command a higher resale price.
Caring for Cloth Diapers
For an accurate comparison between cloth diapers and disposables, you have to consider how much you’ll spend on laundering your diapers.
This is difficult because there are, again, many variables.
First, there’s how much electricity and water you use. This varies according to:
- The make and model of your washing machine and the wash program you choose for each wash.
- Your specific wash routine - for example, how many rinses you use.
- How often you wash your diapers.
- Whether you use a dryer or air dry.
- The hardness of your water - which can necessitate stripping your diapers on a semi-regular basis.
Then you have to take into account how much you pay for electricity and water, and how those costs vary over time.
Next, you have to look at which detergent you use and how much you use in each wash, plus whether you use laundry additives.
You may or may not use a toilet sprayer, disposable diaper liners, or a diaper pail for cloth diapers. You might buy extra inserts for pocket diapers, flour sack towels for added absorbency, and more.
Then, if you want to get really specific, you could consider how many diaper creams recommended for cloth diapers tend to be more expensive than standard diaper rash cream.
Exact Figures Are Impossible
So there you have it; these are the main issues that make an accurate cost comparison between cloth diapers and disposable diapers almost impossible.
There are so many variables that the best thing you can do is say “on average” a lot and base your figures on two imaginary people who have babies who are born the same size, with the same rate of growth, and who change diapers at precisely the same time and frequency.