Monday, November 15, 2010

Diaper Talk

My brother is having a baby (!) so I was talking diapers with my sister-in-law. Like me, Hannah likes to keep things natural and cheap. But if natural isn't cheap then both of us tend to say, "Why bother?" I was convinced that cloth diapers are indeed cheaper than their pumped-full-of-chemicals, bad-for-the-environment alternatives. After our conversation I looked back through our records and let the numbers speak for themselves.

Joshua was born in 2006 and I began buying the Wal-mart brand of diapers. They worked pretty well for me, only leaking when the size was wrong or if the blow-out was particularly huge. Also, I didn't change his diaper very often because I was too cheap to throw away a half used diaper. If I was to go back I would probably be spending about 30% more because I'm now used to keeping the children's bottoms fresh.

2006 - For Joshua’s first year we spent $300 on disposable diapers. That’s really not that bad for the convenience of just throwing them away. And it’s a lot less than pro-cloth diaper people will tell you that disposable diapers cost.

2007 - The next year Joshua was a toddler so he wasn’t changed nearly as often, but we did have Lucy in diapers too for the last three months of the year. We spent about $250.

2008 - The year after that Joshua and Lucy were both in diapers for the first five months and then Joshua potty trained. Lucy continued to use disposables until August. We spent $220.

In August that year I made my first cloth diapers purchase which totaled $80.50. Esther is using those diapers now. Cotton prefolds and waterproof wraps are the most economical option and I find them easy to wash and dry.
Including that purchase, I have spent a total of $380 on cloth diapers (wraps and wipes too) and most of it is still going strong. I will be using all the diapers themselves for at least one more child and possibly another after that. The waterproof wraps that I buy are about $12 each and I use 4 for each of the three sizes.

I did buy some used wraps that I didn’t like and I ended up getting rid of them. I used other wraps when Lucy was too big for them so they stretched and wore out early and I had to replace them. I also spent a bit more on one wrap (wool to breath better since Lucy got such terrible diaper rashes). The wipes that I’ve gotten aren’t worth the extra money. If you want to do cloth wipes (disposable wipes are easy and cheap) just buy cheap flannel to cut into squares. The number above also includes the aloe that I bought to make wipes solution.

I have looked at our water bill before and after diapers and it did not go up significantly.

Realistically, if you wanted to do cloth diapers, here is what it could cost:
Infant diapers: $1.50 each x 36 = $48
Regular diapers: $2.00 each x 24 = $48
Wraps: $12.00 each x 12 = $144 (this is for three sizes so you don’t need to spend this all at once)
Total (good for about 3 kids): $240

Anyway, maybe this is more information than ant of you are interested in, but these are real numbers from our experience.


  1. Do you wash them hot? At least in Moscow electric was really high, and when I regularly had to wash things hot we saw the bill go up by about $15 a month, which is what I was told to expect for cloth--which was a major deterrent! So I now wash cold unless something absolutely requires the hot water. But the e-coli factor in the washing machine (they have done studies on this!) would keep me washing diapers hot. I'm always interested to know how other folks numbers work. Given what it would have cost to wash diapers in hot water in Moscow I wouldn't have saved much at all to date on cloth!

  2. Yes, cold rinse then definitely a hot wash. We had a gas water heater so that probably helped keep costs efficient. I line dried too whenever possible mainly to preserve the fabric from a hot tumble in the drier but also because the sun kills germs and removes stains.

    You probably wouldn't have saved for one child, but if you factor the cost of diapers out over three children, I think it ends up being cheaper.

    You just have to line up the pros and cons, count the various costs, and make the decision that will make you happy. Changing diapers is something you do A LOT so you want to do what you can to make the job agreeable.

  3. I've figured that over three (by the time that happens) I would save a bit, but not enough to really swing us! We have other ways we REALLY pinch pennies (and we do for our disposables, too), but given health factors and other things that consume more of our time than average, we're happy with this. However, every now and then I wonder and end up crunching the numbers all over again--only to come to the same conclusions for our family! I'm SO glad diapering isn't really a right or wrong issue--just a what works for you one.

  4. I'd be curious to know how much you spend on diapers. Since "the cost of diapers!" is one of the things people think about with children, I kept ours in a separate budget category so I could easily go back and see what it added up to. I was actually surprised how little it was.

  5. We spent about $250 Mercy's first year, but by 15 months we were down to four diapers a day, and by 16 we were down to two. At 17 months she went into panties. Of course, with moving, pneumonia, and my c-section, she did a couple of brief (a couple of weeks) regressions into diapers--and with all of those things going on I didn't keep up too well on cost then. With Gilead we're on track to hit about $200 for a year's worth, but that is, in part, to having been given quite a few that other's little ones have outgrown. But yes, it hasn't been much, and others are often surprise by how little it adds up to. Certainly not the $1000-$1500 sites imply!