I played around with numbers in a spreadsheet today to figure out just how much money a family would save by exclusively using reusable cloth diapers and reusable wipes for a child, from birth up until 30 months of age, compared to using disposable diapers over the same period. The graph below charts the cumulative costs for each option over the 30 month period:
For the disposable option:
- from birth to 6 months, the child goes through 9 diapers/day, at $0.30 each diaper
- from 7 months - 12 months, the child goes through 8 diapers/day, at $0.33 each diaper
- from 13 months - 18 months, the child goes through 7 diapers/day, at $0.35 each diaper
- from 19 months - 30 months, the child goes through 6 diapers/day, at $0.38 each diaper
- the child goes through $8 of wet wipes per month, for the first 12 months, and then $6 of wet wipes per month, from 12 months - 30 months.
For the cloth diaper option:
- the initial set-up costs at birth are: 20 cloth diapers x $25 each, $20 in wet bags, $15 in reusable wet wipes, and $50 for an optional (but helpful) diaper sprayer (total set-up costs: $585).
- laundry detergent costs are $5/month (note that this is a generous estimate; on average you'll be spending less on detergent costs)
- the washing machine is run 3 times a week to wash cloth diapers using a hot water wash cycle, followed by 60 minutes drying time in the dryer, resulting in $8/month in electricity costs for laundering the cloth diapers (note that these costs will be halved if you line-dry the diapers).
As you can see from the above comparison, while there are some initial set-up costs associated with using cloth diapers, the cloth diapers started paying for themselves after 7 months. Over the 30 month period, the disposable diaper option cost a total of $2422, which is about $1450 more than the cloth diaper option ($975). The cost savings would be even greater for subsequent children, since the cloth diapers can be reused so that you will not have to spend any money on the set-up costs for further children.
Cloth diapering can be done for even less money than the above scenario would suggest. If you purchase prefolds or flats instead of more expensive pocket or all-in-one diapers (which is what the above cost calculations were based on), or purchase a used set of cloth diapers from another family, then your initial set-up costs would be significantly less then as depicted above. Alternately, if you have basic sewing skills and access to a sewing machine, you can make your own cloth diapers for a fraction of the price. To make reusable cloth diapers and wipes, you can even upcycle materials that you have around the home, such as old cotton terry towels or washcloths and flannel pajamas.
If you wish to use cloth diapers, but are struggling to make ends meet and do not have the funds to afford the set-up costs for cloth diapering, then you may be eligible for a cloth diaper loan from Cloth for a Cause.