Friday, April 6, 2012

Cloth diaper savings?

I calculated how long it will take to break even on our cloth diapers and oof. It was not encouraging.

This post is very number/calculation heavy, seemingly unnecessarily so, but I hate it when people say “cloth diapers save so much money!!” yet won’t detail their calculations OR use per-diaper prices waaaaaay above what diapers actually cost. (For the love of God, just join Amazon mom. Free two-day shipping and Pampers cruisers are only $0.20 each when bought in the economy-size box. Way easier and cheaper than going to the store. Even Earth's Best Chlorine Free Diapers are only $0.24. Don’t try to tell me disposables cost $0.35 each!)

(Also, I don’t care what per-diaper price YOU use in your calculations as long as you explain where it came from – i.e., the diapers I like are $0.35 cents each at Target and I don’t want to buy them online – and aren’t super pushy, a la ‘Only idiots pass up the opportunity to save HUNDREDS PER WEEK by using cloth diapers’)

If you’re not interested in all the crazy calculations, I’ve bolded my conclusion down below so it’s easy to skip to.

OK, here we go.

#1 – My mom doesn’t want to use cloth diapers when she takes care of Paul. We got her hooked on A&D ointment (which has worked wonders for both kids) and she doesn’t want to stop using it. She WILL use them if we want, but…

#2 - I think a few days a week covered in A&D will do his super-sensitive skin some good. After 24 hours in cloth diapers (changed every 2 hours or sooner), he already had a contact rash from the top edge of the diaper (above where the lining stops) and a heat rash in the diaper area (while only wearing a diaper and a t-shirt). Coconut oil did nada for it and I am completely uninterested in buying every possible brand of cloth-diaper safe cream. We’re trying to SAVE money here.

#3 – I could buy disposable/flushable liners for the diapers, yes, but then we don’t save much money over disposables. For instance, GroVia liners: pretty much as cheap as disposable liners come at 5.95 cents apiece ($11.75 for 200). Say we go through 8 diapers a day, 2 at home and 6 at grandma’s (in practice, he usually uses 5 there and 2 at home). He spends 3.5 days/week there, so presumably uses 21 diapers. Disposables cost 14.90 cents each (explained later). Over the course of a week, using liners instead of disposables will save us $1.90 (14.90 cents – 5.875 cents x 21). But, we’ll have to wash those diapers twice at $0.53/wash*, reducing the savings to $0.82. PER WEEK. And that doesn’t even include the cost of the cloth diapers themselves. Plus, what if some ointment gets on the diapers? (Also, I know you can theoretically reuse the liners, but she’s not going to do that.)

So. We will not be cloth diapering while at grandma’s and I don’t think his skin can handle cloth diapers (the ones we have, at least) 24/7 anyway, so that’s probably a good thing.

For the rest of the week, the calculations don’t get much better. I was hoping using cloth diapers would enable me to eventually get down to a per-use price of .10, which was my old buy price for disposables. Yes, Amazon raised their prices, which is partly why I went for the cloth, but it’s still sometimes possible to get them that cheap if you are obsessive, which I am.

Calculating it that way was just too depressing, though, so I’m going to use 14.9 cents each, which is what I could buy Size 4 disposables (Luvs) for right now on Amazon with no coupons whatsoever (but with Subscribe & Save). That’s a little on the high end, since it’s for size 4’s and is not a sale or coupon price (did you know there are coupons on

We’re not using cloth at night, and average 6 cloth diapers in a full day, 1 on days I work. If we skip Monday nights, so diapers can be washed only on Fridays and Sundays, we’ll use 23 diapers a week. (1 Tuesday, 1 Wednesday, 3 Thursday (half-day of work), 6 each on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.) Replacing 23 disposables a week will save $3.427 ($0.149 x 23). Doing two loads of wash will cost approximately $1.06.* I buy Charlie’s soap powder for $10.19 a tub on Amazon (that’s with Subscribe & Save). Each tub has 80 loads (scoops) and I use about 1/3 scoop for a load of cloth diapers, making it 0.0424/load for diapers or 0.0849 for 2 loads. So cloth diapers will save about $2.2821/week (that’s $3.427 – 1.06 – 0.0849). (Also, this assumes I don’t put the liners in the dryer.)

I spent $140 on 12 diapers plus a diaper sprayer (an awesome deal) and won’t add the costs of the wet bags and coconut oil which I already owned.

Using these calculations, it will take approximately 61 weeks (14 months) to break even on the diapers ($140/2.2821 per week). Yeesh. Doable, but not exactly rolling-in-the-dough type savings.

If we used cloth diapers exclusively that would lead to a little more than double the usage (7 diapers/day * 7 days = 49/week instead of 23) and it would take 29 weeks to break even. Even rounding that to 8 months, in case you use disposables while traveling and while on antibiotics, etc. it’s very respectable. If you prefer more expensive diapers, say Earth’s Best, you’ll break even faster (though remember these calculations are based on the used cloth diapers I bought for $10 each). To be clear, I’m not saying cloth diapers don’t save money, I’m saying they won’t really save us money. Still, I bought them for (roughly) half-price and we use them about half of the time, so I assume this is about typical. 14 months isn't BAD, assuming your kid is in diapers for at least 24 months, it's just not what I was hoping for.

I’m not sorry I bought the cloth diapers because I think they’re FUN and PRETTY (or, you know, masculine or something). I’m going to think of them as a fun hobby that costs money like all hobbies do. Also, there are several other reasons to use cloth diapers (or maybe just one: better for the environment. Better for baby’s skin doesn’t seem to apply to us). We may someday break even, but assuming we do, we’ll still only be saving a whopping $2.28 per week** AND spending time washing/hanging/stuffing diapers.

*According to this post, a hot/warm load costs approximately $0.68 and further down in the post he says using cold for the rinse instead saves $0.15, so a hot/cold load would be $0.53. He lives two towns over from me, so I’m assuming energy costs are the same where I live.

**Yes, diaper prices may go up by then, leading to bigger savings, but I am the queen of buying far, far ahead, plus, as I said, the per-diaper price I used was a little high to begin with.

P.S. No one warns you when you have kids, you might start calling diapers a HOBBY.


  1. Oh, dude. You got WAY more precise than I ever did. I'm curious you think my (fuzzy, not as precise) math holds up? I mean, I didn't count washing them or each scoop of detergent, so maybe if that takes a whole year to pay for, then I'm still ahead? HRM. And I am so not the kind of buy in advance person, but I know YOU are.

    Oh! I want to analyze this more! Seriously, am I deluding myself, you think? Email me and let's discuss.

  2. I never calculated it, but I assume that cloth saved us a bunch of money since we used them exclusively for something like 28 months. I paid $300ish for mine but even that is counting that some of that $300 was from Matt's parents as a gift. Our water and power bills actually went down when Elizabeth was born, I have no idea how, so I considered the washing pretty much free since I was paying less than before.

    However. For the hobby part. YES. That is actually why I am selling mine now, even though I am pregnant and could diaper the next kid essentially for free. I want to play with them more and get more brands and more colors and more patterns.

    Don't forget in your calculations that you can resell when you are done. :)

  3. I'm surprised with the cost of the laundry estimations. I did some research for my own article on how much cloth can save you, using a special laundry calculator, and I didn't think it was nearly that high. You can look at my article here if you want some extra calculations.

    Best of luck!

  4. You just broke my brain with all that math. Want to do our taxes? :)

  5. I am too lazy to do my own math, but I know it's nice to already have all the diapers you need (for the most part) when #2 comes along.

  6. I've toyed with the cloth diaper idea off and on since Fuss was small. I always gave up based on the amount of work, plus the initial outlay is usually more than I can swing at any given time.