A Realistic Disposable/Cloth Diaper Cost Comparison

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This is the third post in a series on my transition from grossed out by to loving cloth diapers.

hen I first considered cloth diapers, my main concern was cost. And while I initially thought cloth was not the more frugal choice for our family, I was wrong.

In fact, you can save loads of money by cloth diapering even if you arrive late in the game.

I started using cloth when my kids were one and almost three; even if we don’t have a third baby to use the diapers on, I will still have saved hundreds of dollars. For reals.

The Bottom Line

(The pun is always intended)

Some disposable cost estimates claim that families spend around $1000/year on diapers. This was not my family. We were Costo/Sam’s club shopping, brand-disloyal parents with a daughter who pooped only every other day. Hence, our diaper expenditures were lower than average.

However, after realizing that even a potty-trained toddler will likely still need diapers while sleeping* and getting tired of spending around $40/month to diaper two toddlers, I crunched the numbers again.

*Unless you want to use Pull-ups or some other kind of disposable nighttime underwear, in which case you’ll be spending lots more. A generic brand size 5 diaper is $0.20. A generic Pull-up is nearly twice that. To avoid this cost, I chose to use diapers at naps/nighttime and simply explained to our toddler that diapers are only for sleeping. She started potty training at 27 months and was never confused by this.

Some Notes on the Disposable Calculations

In an effort to make sure these numbers were realistic (or at least to err on the low side):

  1. I used the cheapest disposable diapers I’m aware of–Sam’s Club Simply Right brand. Costo’s Kirkland brand would be very comparable. These are way cheaper than Pampers, even Pampers ordered on Amazon.
  2. I tried to use very realistic numbers of diapers worn per day at each age range. Newborns may use a dozen+ diapers in a day, but that period doesn’t last for long, so I kept my 0-6month average daily diaper usage to 9. Older babies use much less per day, so I accounted for that as well.
  3. I took into account that the cost per diap increases as the size increases.
  4. I used a potty training age of 2 1/2, but assumed that from 2 1/2-4 years there would be a need for at least one diaper per day. Obviously, this can vary. As with other aspects of this data, you can input your own numbers to make it more accurate for your family.

Rock-Bottom Disposable Costs

*Cost for birth-6months old, using an average of 9 diapers per day: 1,638 diapers (9 x 182 days) x $0.15 (cost of size 1) = $245.70

*6  – 12 months, using 7 diapers per day: 1,281 diapers (7 x 183 days) x $0.17 (cost of size 3) = $217.77

* 1  – 2 ½ years old, using 5 diapers per day: 2,735 diapers (5 x 547 days) x $0.20 (cost of size 5) = $547

*2 ½ – 4 years old, using 1.5 diapers per day (during nap/nighttime): 820.5 diapers (1.5 x 547 days) x $0.20 (cost of size 5) = $164.10

Total Disposable Diaper Cost: $1,174.57

Why you will probably spend way more than this:

  • You won’t always buy the cheapest diapers possible. Most disposable-using moms I know have a brand preference and it usually isn’t the Sam’s or Costco generic brand. But, even if you’re committed to getting the best deals, there will be occasions (travel, convenience, etc.) on which you’ll buy more expensive ones.
  • This figure is for one child and you will likely have more than one child.
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Cloth Diaper Costs

*15 Bum Genius 4.0 One Size Pocket Diapers ($16.95 each with no tax and free shipping from Abby’s Lane) : $254.25

*A couple of diaper pail liners or a hanging wet/dry bag for dirty diapers: $16-32

Total Cloth Diaper Cost: $286.25

Total Savings Using Cloth: $888.32

How This Number Could Vary (You Could Save More!):

  • You could go much cheaper by buying prefolds. I used the one size pocket diaper here because of it’s popularity and convenience. There are also more expensive (and more convenient) options, such as the all-in-ones.
  • You could buy more or less diapers. In talking to my cloth diapers friends, 15 seems to be a mid-range number of diapers to have. It allows you to go 2-3 days between washes, depending on how many diapers your baby uses. We started with 12, which was doable, but not super easy.
  • You could buy a toilet sprayer for about $35. So far, we haven’t and we’re doing just fine.

Remember, this number is for one child. Assuming the diapers hold up well (and I’ve heard they do), you can use them for future children and the savings simply compounds. If you start from birth with number 1 and have 3 children, your savings will be around $3100, and that’s accounting for buying a few extra cloth diapers.

The cloths on the left are pre-folds. As a CD newbie, this was news to me. Photo By
The cloths on the left are pre-folds. As a CD newbie, this was news to me. Photo By

How It’s Going as a Cloth Diaper Newbie

We chose the Bum Genuis 4.0 One Size Pocket Diaper for the convenience they afford (compared to options like pre-folds) and because I didn’t want to buy multiple sizes. These fit 8ish-pound babies as well as my three year old, with room to spare.

While there was an initial fear factor of ruining the diapers, with the help of more seasoned CD friends, I had a good start. My daughter no longer has diaper rash, I’ve not had any issues with leaks, and they’re super cute. I’m also loving not spending $40+ per month on diapers for two toddlers.

My wet bag keeps the smell contained so well that my only problem seems to be remembering to wash them…but I’m sure there’s some sort of alarm or app I could use for that.

So, if I’ve persuaded you to at least consider making the cloth switch, come back next time when my friend Laura (the cloth diap guru) will show you how to get started!

About Jenn

Jenn is a mommy of three and wife to her best friend. She enjoys good books, dinner guests, elevenses, and proper apostrophe use.

  • Julie

    Hey Jen!

    Great post. Love the diaper comparison. We use BG 4.0s and so far I’m pretty pleased. I’m kinda in my groove now with them and its just become as much a part of my life as cooking meals or doing any other laundry. The one thing I’ve heard people argue in favor of disposables that I don’t see reflected in your calculations is the water and energy cost for the diaper cleaning. Don’t know if that’s even possible to calculate, but do you have any thoughts on that? Would be interesting to include. Thanks for doing the calculations! I’ve always been curious (have heard numbers thrown about here and there), but never motivated to calculate myself! 🙂

    • Thanks Julie! And I agree with you about getting into the groove of it; it was daunting at first but now just part of our routine.

      Yeah, I just had a Facebook question about the same issue. In the four months of cloth diapering we’ve done, I don’t believe there’s been much of a change in our bills; perhaps having high efficiency appliances and using warm, not hot water (at least most of the time) has helped with that. However, I’ll look into it more!

  • Alex Sudan

    jenn…stop, you’re tempting me over here…. 😉 not sure if i can add CD into the mix of craziness that my life is about to be with moving and all that jazz, but maybe after we settle into our groove i’ll re-read these posts and we can chat about it.

    • Al, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it in the midst of a move + adding #2 either! If you get to the place where you think it’s the best choice for your sweet fam, drop me and email and I’ll tell you what (little) I know. And then I’ll probably send you to Laura Stiller 🙂

  • Thanks for this great post! You’re right about saving with multiple kids, too, that’s where the real bargain starts!

    • No problem, Julie! I actually enjoyed crunching the numbers–it was eye-opening for me. And yes, it’s crazy how the bargain increases–that’s why I’m hoping for a #3. Ha :).

  • Hooray!! My boys are now 11 and 9 years old. I began using cloth diapers when my youngest boy was an infant. My son would cry because he was irritated from the Disposable Diapers and would stop when I would leave his diaper off. So I switched to cloth diapers and it was the best thing I could have ever done for him and me. I highly recommend cloth diapers! I also think that he needed the softness against his skin. Because now he goes barefoot and shirtless most of the time so I really think it explains his crying as infant in disposables. Cloth diapers are softer and less restricting on their skin. In hindsight, I wish I would have known about cloth diapers with my first son…because he would have been a cloth diaper kid too!! Great Post!