Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Save Money with Cloth Diapers

The Conscious Shopper shares her math skills

When my youngest was about six month's old, my husband and I decided we were probably maybe most likely not having any more kids so there was no reason to hang on to all of our baby stuff. So as my little guy grew out of each phase of babyhood, I thrifted, Craigslisted, and Freecycled the clothes, shoes, bottles, toys, mobile, bedding, bouncy seat, and exersaucer that had gotten me through three babies, and then I stored the rest in a box in my attic.

You know what's in that box? The treasured baby possessions that I just couldn't bear to part with?
  • the outfit all three of my boys were christened in
  • the Moby wrap I got for my last baby that sparked a Moby wrap fad among my friends
  • two sizes of Fuzzibunz diapers and Thirsties wraps
As strange as it may sound, I couldn't let go of my cloth diapers.

Cloth vs. disposables is one of those never-dying green arguments, and you can find studies to support whatever side you're on. For the record, I'm a fan of cloth, but I'm not diehard cloth for two reasons:
  1. There are enough reasons to feel stressed out and guilty as a parent without having to worry about what's on your baby's butt.
  2. We're not full time cloth users - we use cloth during the day and disposables at night.
But I am The Conscious Shopper, and one of my objectives as a blogger is not just to help people go green, but to help them go green without spending a lot of money. And when it comes to cost, cloth is the clear winner.

How much can you save by using cloth?

I sat down last night and did some math, and according to my calculations, here's the breakdown:

A disposable-diapered baby goes through appproximately 5,715 diapers in three years.
  • If you're a Huggies fan, you would spend roughly $1,285 on diapers over three years.
  • If you used the Target brand, you would spend roughly $971 on diapers over three years.
  • If you chose Seventh Generation, you would spend roughly $1,657 over three years.
There's a huge range of prices and styles for cloth diapers. Here are a few possibilities:
  • If you used only Fuzzibunz Perfect Size pocket diapers, you would spend roughly $1,242 on three sizes of diapers.
  • If you went with Fuzzibunz One Size diapers, you would spend roughly $684 on diapers.
  • If you chose Chinese prefolds with Thirsties wraps, you would spend roughly $282.
  • If you used organic prefolds with Thirsties wraps, you would spend roughly $333,
  • If you went with Chinese prefolds with wool soakers, you would spend roughly $354.
  • If you chose organic prefolds with wool soakers, you would spend roughly $405.
The savings are even greater if you use your cloth diapers with multiple kids. The amount you would spend on disposables doubles, but the amount you spend on cloth stays the same.

These prices are rough estimates, and in the the cost of cloth, I haven't included the extra water, energy, and detergent you would use to wash the diapers. On the other hand, I also haven't included the fact that most cloth diapered kids potty train much earlier than kids in disposables or the cost of the Pull Ups many of my friends have had their children sleep in for a year or two after potty training. I've never once bought a package of Pull Ups, and I've potty trained two boys.

I also didn't include that cloth diapers last and last and last. I've used mine on three kids, and they could easily last a couple more kids. And our old Chinese prefolds make the best cleaning rags.

My husband and I didn't go the cheapest cloth diapering route, we started using cloth halfway through having babies, and we still use some disposables. And yet, we've still managed to save a lot of money by choosing cloth. So while the jury is still out on whether or not cloth diapers are the greenest option, they are definitely the cheapest green option.


suzannah @ so much shouting/laughter said...

i don't think the jury is out: cloth is way greener. (and i don't say that to be judgemental. we still use them sometimes, too.)

the water used to wash cloth does not add up to the fact that landfilled diapers never biodegrade. plus, a ton of water (not to mention paper, plastic, petroleum, and other chemicals) are used to make and transport disposable diapers.

the ecological cost of producing and transporting disposables, plus chemical exposure and landfilling makes them much less green than cloth diapers that are produced once and reused for years.

Ivy said...

And old cloth diapers will last for *years* as dustrags/cleaning cloths. My mother is still using a basket full of my old cloth diapers to clean. And I'm 27.

Paula Hewitt said...

I bought a dozen terry towelling square nappies (what we call diapers) for less than $20AUS and i bought another couple of dozen from the op-shop for a couple of dollars - they lasted three kids. add in the cost of some plastic overpants and some pins or snappies (a plastic nappy fastener) - maybe another $20 or so and the startup cost is minimal. i cant believe the cost of new cloth nappies - it wasnt that hard to fold them into shape.

I often think the water/energy/soap arguements against cloth are over stated. I always washed nappies in cold water, and it only involves an extra full load of laundry every week.

another way to save with cloth - if you are using and washing cloth nappies it makes sense to use and wash cloth wipes too - i cut up and hemmed an old towel and saved hundreds of dollars on babywipes too.

knittingwoman said...

We switched to cloth diapers with baby #2 of 5. Babies 3 through 5 never wore a paper diaper. The cost wasn't the most important issue for me. It was about use of resources (trees being cut down to make paper) and about reusable items instead of single use items. There is no such thing as a disposable diaper, they don't disappear once used. I didn't buy paper wipes after baby #1 either and have used cloth pads for myself for 20 years too. I'm still using the cloth diaper wipes, they are now hankies etc. Baby #5 was quite a few years after #4 so I had to get replacement cloth diapers for her. The ones that were still useable were all passed along to a friend once we no longer needed them.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Suzannah - According to life cycle analyses, cloth and disposables come out even. Check out this article from Umbra Fisk.

Having said that, it's hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of cloth being as bad for the planet as disposables because, as you say, landfilled diapers never biodegrade. How can they measure the impact of something that never goes away?

Personally, I'm opposed to the idea of disposable in general because I think it leads people not to value things. I LOVE my cloth diapers, and who can say that about a disposable diaper?

Anonymous said...


I don't think she meant to say cloth were bad. she meant to say disposables are bad. Plus you CAN measure something that doesn't go away.. I don't mean to be rude, but I don't understand what you're saying.

If disposable diapers don't biodegrade, of course they impact the environment. You could see it. And therefore, if it keeps adding up, of course you can measure it whether it's 5 miles of diapers that are 100 feet high, or 500 miles of diapers that are about 2 feet high.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Anonymous - I was referring to the life cycle analyses that conclude that cloth and disposables are equally bad for the planet. And then I was saying that despite those studies, I agree with Suzannah that it's hard to believe that cloth could be as bad as disposables because disposables don't biodegrade. And then I was saying that even if they have the same impact on paper, I don't like disposable products because they lead people not to value things, such as how I value my cloth diapers. Does that make more sense?

Robbie said...

Thought I should put in a plug for those working moms. Working does not mean you can't do cloth. We did the math with kid #2 and realized that even going cloth weekends-only, we broke even in 6 months on costs.

And in our area, there are diaper services, so you wouldn't even have the extra laundry!

Anonymous said...

I really believe that cloth diapers are much more of an eco-friendly product than disposable diapers. Plus, some cloth diapers exist with nice patterns and drawings on them. I found some nice ones on this website:
the website has many other green products, but it offers a lot of stuff for kids and babies as well.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin