When I mentioned to a colleague that my husband and I planned to diaper our son in cloth, she looked at me as if I were crazy and wished me the best of luck. I shouldn’t have been surprised by her reaction—there really is no contest in terms of convenience when you compare cloth with disposables, but I was thinking about other factors than convenience. Environmentally, I felt more comfortable with reusing something over and over. Health wise, I liked the idea of diapering my son in something natural—cotton—rather than something chemical. And I thought that cloth was the better financial choice. However, after an initial investment of nearly $200 for 10 Fuzzi Bunz diapers, I wasn’t so sure about the money part, so I decided to give this some more thought. Here are the financial facts about cloth vs. disposable diapers:
With a hefty initial investment, cloth diapers are difficult to justify on the front end. However, the 10 diapers I purchased (plus the additional eight or so we received as gifts) are one-size diapers, meaning they will fit my peanut from birth to potty-training (at about age three.) In addition, these diapers should be good to go for any future peanuts we have, so theoretically I could get even more years of use out of them. Many of the modern cloth diaper companies offer warranties on their products, so if a snap breaks or elastic fails, you can receive a replacement.
However, once you’re using cloth diapers, you will also need to launder them. Unlike in the olden days, diaper services are harder to come by, but it is still possible to send your diapers out for someone else to clean. These services generally cost anywhere from $20 to $60 per week. Multiply that out to three years, and it will possibly cost as much as $9000 (!!!) to have someone else clean your diapers.
Even though I launder our diapers on the hottest wash setting, the cost per load is relatively cheap. (This website can help you determine how much each load of laundry costs you.) According to the site, each load costs my family approximately $0.65. Add in the fact that I line dry the diapers in warm weather (which both helps with stains and smells, and guarantees that my neighbors will be able to embarrass my son when he’s a teenager), and it brings down the cost per diaper change a great deal.
I was pleasantly surprised at how little a package of disposable diapers cost when I first bought some for the peanut. I was able to get 50 newborn size diapers for under $8. (Full disclosure: I almost never buy name brand. This was a store brand package that was at least $2 less than the similar Huggies, Pampers, etc.) However, a newborn goes through 10-12 diapers a day, and that 50 pack will only last a portion of a week. As babies grow, they need fewer diaper changes, but you’ll notice that the number of diapers in the packages goes down, too, so you’re still spending about the same amount. Ultimately, it will cost anywhere from $50 to $80 per month to diaper your child exclusively in disposables. After three years, you could spend up to $3000 on diapers alone.
However, disposables do have one cost advantage that cloth diapers do not. Coupons! If you are squeamish or living without your own washer, you can still feel fiscally responsible with your choice of disposable diapers. Clipping Sunday coupons and signing up for coupons with the major diaper manufacturers can help you to never pay full price for a package of Luvs. In addition, you can buy in bulk and scope out the internet for diaper promotions. There’s generally no need for brand loyalty—most kids don’t notice what they’ve got on.
For us, it was important enough environmentally to commit to cloth diapers, no matter the financial difference. Luckily, cloth diapers do tend to have a slight financial edge over disposables, provided you are willing and able to launder them yourself. But you can’t beat disposables for convenience, and we certainly couldn’t travel, take our son to the babysitter, or even have a long day out, without disposables.