I started disposables with my first baby, but when I got pregnant with my second, I switched to cloth diapering for both. The end game was simple: save money.
At that point in my life, it wasn’t about which one took more effort, which was better for the environment or what was more efficient. To be 100% real with you, it was all about saving as much money as possible with two babies and one income.
With our first in disposables for the beginning months of her life, the cost of diapers seemed unnecessary but justifiable. When the thought of a second in diapers came into the picture, the idea of $60-70 dollars, on average, 1.5 times a month became completely unreasonable. If we were able to spend the absolute bare minimum on diapers, grab a cheaper kind and find sales here and there, it still comes in around $1000 dollars a year (for two). And that’s being very optimistic.
The reel of things we could be putting $1000 toward each year continued to play in mind constantly: 1.75 months of rent, over half a year of electricity bills, the majority of our annual cable/internet, 1/4 of our grocery bill each year or just a nice damn vacation from diapering two poopy kids every day. And to really put it in perspective, most people spend above $1000 a year in disposable diapers for more than one baby. That’s just for one year–babies are generally in diapers for 2-3 years.
So to compare my experience with cloth diapering versus disposable and see which is worth the effort, I’ll separate into three key components: cost, environment and laundry/time spent.
Cost of Cloth
Cloth diapers (for 20): $100
I started with 20 Alvas for $100 and added 5-6 other more expensive brands that I stumbled across and liked over time. So it is 100% possible to get between 20-30 cloth diapers for a total cost of $100-150, depending on the brand you go with. Alvas are not considered the highest quality, but I personally had no problems with them. A slightly more expensive brand I’d recommend that is still great price for stellar quality is bumGenius (check out why via my interview with founder Jennifer Labit here). Or you can easily find cloth diaper buy, sell and trade groups on Facebook for good prices, too.
Detergent (per year): $30
A fairly common misconception is that you have to use a special type of detergent for cloth diapers… that’s incorrect. Most bleach-free detergents are actually fine to use with cloth diapers. However, to take it a step further, we made our own. It was insanely simple, cost $30 and lasted us over a year. We used this detergent for all our clothes–not just cloth diapers. Check out this tutorial to find out how. Although I’ll include detergent as part of the cloth diaper cost total, keep in mind it was not actually an extra cost for me and doesn’t have to be for you either.
Water bill (extra cost annually): $50
This cost was not something I added up, specifically, but based on the Environmental Agency analysis estimate, it is the average extra cost per year. I did a load of cloth diapers every 2-3 days, depending. Sometimes I would dry them, other times I’d hang them to dry on a drying rack, but either worked well for me.
The important extras, in my opinion, are a small wet/dry bag, a large wet bag and a diaper sprayer. A good diaper sprayer is generally around $30, large wet bags are around $15 and small wet/dry bags between $12-$15 (sometimes even for a set of two). It’s important to keep in mind these costs are only one-time costs.
Cost of Disposables
Disposables for one (per year): $584
According to Mint, the average cost of disposables per year is $584, which already puts me quite a bit over what cloth diapers cost altogether. Obviously, there are deals and coupons available or other ways to save here and there that can possibly bring that number down for your family, as well.
The only extra I really used with disposables was a diaper pail. They run anywhere between $40-$75+. If you use a diaper pail, you generally also use pail refills. For the cheapest option, I found it’s $20 for a four pack. We’ll say that lasts around a year with one child. Another option is to use trash bags instead, but it doesn’t lock the smell out as well.
Cloth Diapers Total: $240
Yearly Expense: $50
The yearly expense is due to the average extra water expense from laundry. No detergent was added in, as our homemade detergent lasted a year for all of our laundry. However, if you purchase detergent, I’d in an extra $30-$50 buffer for the extra cloth diaper loads.
Disposables Total: $644
Yearly Expense: $584
The $584 is repeating each year, per child, for disposable diapers.
A few environmental facts in regards to cloth versus disposable:
- “Disposable diapers are the third largest single consumer item in landfills, and represent about 4% of solid waste. In a house with a child in diapers, disposables make up 50% of household waste.” –Real Diaper Association
- It’s estimated that a disposable diaper takes anywhere from 250-500 years to decompose. –Real Diaper Association
- During infancy, the average baby uses 12 diapers a day. –Earth911
- “A disposable diaper is 70 percent paper pulp. The remaining 30 percent is made from petroleum, which is a finite resource and one whose combustion is closely tied with escalating climate change.” –FIX
- 250,000 trees are used to produce diapers for American babies each year. –FIX
This one is difficult, because although it seems like so much more effort, when I actually think about it, it’s not. It’s essentially an extra load of laundry every couple days. However, to be fair, if a cloth diaper contains poop, I do have to wash it out in the toilet for an extra minute before throwing it into my big wet bag in the laundry room. If it’s just a wet diaper, it goes straight in the wet bag–same time and effort as a disposable diaper into the trash.
Really, the answer to this one is on a very family-by-family basis, as everyone handles their laundry differently. So for the most part, I’ll speak for myself on the extra laundry and time spent that comes with cloth diapering.
- I recommend getting primarily all-in-one diapers, so you never mess with stuffing inserts into pockets (click here to find out the difference). It only takes a few extra seconds, but it is an extra step. I generally only used pocket diapers at night, so I could stuff more inserts in, and we wouldn’t have to deal with anyone peeing through in the middle of the night.
- I found it easiest to do cloth diaper laundry one day and clothes laundry a different day. When my son was a newborn, I did one load of laundry a day: regular clothes laundry one day, cloth diapers the next and continued on with that pattern every other day. That may seem like a lot, but really the only effort on my end was throwing a load in the washer and switching them over to the dryer–two minutes tops. After cloth diapers were dry, I threw them all in my cloth diaper basket and placed them back in the baby’s room. Done. (Regular clothes were actually far more time consuming because they had to be sorted, folded and put away.)
- Once I was out of the newborn stage and using less cloth diapers a day, I switched to doing a load of cloth diapers about every third day. I also stopped doing laundry in general daily and just went to doing regular clothes laundry on the weekends. Mostly, this was because I started working out of the house, and although it was something I could’ve easily continued doing, I just didn’t want to.
- All-in-all, I feel I spent maybe an extra 5-10 minutes daily cleaning out cloth diapers to put in the wet bag. Beyond that, it was just the extra loads of laundry as explained in #2, which consisted of maybe 2-3 extra minutes of actual effort on my end (throwing diapers into the washer, switching them over and placing them into a basket) and an extra wash cycle in the washer.
To even it out, this is the outlook of another cloth diaper mom who says they use about seven hours a week for cloth diapering. She includes wash time in that, which is five of those hours. So, in reality, the effort she actually puts into cloth diapering is two hours a week. She also uses pocket diapers and pre-stuffs, which I don’t do and saves me a few extra minutes. Either way, not bad for saving roughly $584 a year per child + a few trees and some significant landfill space.
No judgement here–what are your thoughts? Have you tried both? I have plenty of mom friends who would much rather avoid the extra effort and use disposables.