Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cloth vs Disposables: A Real Life Cost Study

I've had quite a few people interested in cloth diapering ask me how much I'm spending on all this cute fluff, and how much I'm saving by not using disposables.  How could such cute diapers cost less than ugly white paper and plastic ones?  Good question!  This got me thinking.  I really hadn't done a full cost breakdown of how much I was spending or going to spend in the long run.  I was mostly interested in researching all the options and making my selections of what diapers and accessories I wanted to buy.  I knew I was saving, but how much am I really saving?  I know I'm not going the most expensive rout, and definitely not the least expensive by far.  I figure I'm probably at the upper middle end of the spectrum heading towards the lower high end.  But how much?  Yes, I was going to take on the challenge and really crunch the numbers and see where I stand.  This would be by far my most time intensive post.

Time to get to work.  I'd already started a basic spreadsheet so I would know what I needed to buy.  That was a good starting point.  I just copied that list over to a new spreadsheet and worked from there.  All the other studies that I had found just took into consideration the cost of the diapers and maybe the wipes.  What about all the accessories that come along with cloth diapering?  That needs to be factored in too.  I went line by line and made sure that my pricing was correct, and my quantities were in there based on a 3 year supply (mind you, this was being on the safe side since babies that are cloth diapered tend to potty train faster than those who are not).  I also went over all the diapers I had chosen.  Which ones were one size and would last the entire time, and which ones were sized and I would need to buy additional diapers to size up?  This all had to be factored in as well.  Another big factor I wanted to include was resale value.  Cloth diapers have a great resale value.  You can normally get anywhere from 50% to 75% of your cost back if you re-sell your diapers after you are finished using them.  Of course how much you will get depends on how well you take care of them and how long you use them so I factored all diapers at 50% just to be on the safe side.  I'm almost positive I could get more from the newborn stash since I'll only be using that a couple months at the most, as well as the sized diapers that will also only be used for a short amount of time.  I factored any accessories that I thought I might sell at a 25% resale value.  This is probably on the low side, but I wanted to be safe on my numbers.  Anything that would be used up (detergent, diaper rash cream, wipes solution, etc.) I left at a 0% resale value.  I also left anything that I thought would be of no value to sell afterwards at 0% (wipes, prefolds, etc.).  The last thing I took into consideration was the cost of washing and drying all of the diapers.  This number I took from Diaper Pin's Cloth Diaper Savings Calculator since I have not yet begun this part of my adventure so I have no numbers to look upon.

After much research this is the final result that I came up with for the cost of using cloth diapers in our household.  I've broken the chart down into four categories.  My Newborn Stash, My Starting Diaper Stash, My Sizing Up Diaper Stash, and My Accessories.  My Newborn Stash are the diapers I will use for the first three months (give or take a little).  My Starting Out Stash are the diapers that I will purchase before the baby arrives and use as the baby grows into them.  These are my test diapers to see which ones work out the best for us.  My Sizing Up Diaper Stash is hypothetical.  It assumes that I will like all the diapers that I had already purchased in the testing phase and just size up with those same brands if needed.  Anything else I would need was placed under the category, Accessories.  In the Starting Diaper Stash and Sizing Up Diaper Stash I have a column labeled "Sizing".  This category states if a diaper is a One Size (OS) diaper, or a sized diaper.  If I plan on using all sizes then I just entered in the full number of sizes.  If I didn't plan on using all size ranges then I put the number of sizes that I planned on using over the number of sizes available.  If the diaper size has a star next to it then that means that I used one of the diaper sizes in my Newborn Stash.  Please click on the spreadsheet below to see a clear view of my calculations.  Overall I would be spending $2,060.56 and recoup $597.01 after re-selling my items.  In the end I will have spent a total of $1,463.55.

With my cloth diaper costs calculated, it is now time to calculate what my disposable diaper costs would be  should I decide to go that way (I know I will not though).  For my study I entered in a time span of three years.  This is how long it took to potty train my first daughter Riley, but my second daughter took three and a half years, so the costs could be more or less depending on potty training.  I also broke up the years into five spans of time.  As baby grows they need less and less diapers a day.  On my chart you can see how many diapers on average I would expect to be used in each of those spans of time.  Next on my list of things to do was go price shopping.  I wanted to give two price ranges.  The first price range is the economy rout.  This would be how much it would cost to diaper my child if I shopped at a major discount warehouse (Costco in this case), and bought their least expensive brand (Kirkland).  I know I would never go this rout, but I thought I'd put it on there just to show how inexpensive you could go.  The second price range is the high end rout.  This would be how much it would cost to diaper my child if I bought all of their diapers at the grocery store (Vons in this case), and bought their most expensive brand (Pampers).  This is what I did a majority of the time for both my daughters.  In addition to the price of diapers I also priced out wipes at both Costco and Vons.  To get quantities of wipes I figured that the average diaper change would take two wipes (less for pee and more for poop).  You can't forget accessories though.  I also factored in the price of diaper disposal.  If I wanted to be really economical I could just throw them in a trash can in the garage and dump them out when it got full.  With both my girls I used the Diaper Genie though and so I factored in for a Genie and the refills for three years.  This gave me my low and high end cost ranges of using disposable diapers at a range of $2,246.80 - $3,009.84.  Click on the spreadsheet below to see how everything breaks down for disposable diapers.

So there you go.  That's a cost savings of $1,546.29 ! ! !  Mind you, there are a lot of factors that could alter this number for the better or the worse (mostly for the better).  I could sell my diapers for more than I've listed.  I could buy my diapers on sale for less than I've listed (I've already bought a lot of these diapers on sale, some as much as 40% off), I could hang dry a lot of my diapers saving on energy, or I could decide to have another child and be able to cloth diaper that child for FREE !!!  I could also become a cloth diaper addict and buy a lot more diapers than my baby needs.  Even so, I really doubt that I would ever get to the point that I would have spent less using disposable diapers.  This makes me feel great in my decision to use cloth and adds to the long list of reasons that drive me in this direction.

I hope this study has given you some real life insight into what cloth diapering might cost.  Of course you could go a lot less expensive and use prefolds with covers with less accessories.  You could also go more expensive and use the most expensive brands you can find and keep buying them with no end in sight.  This study isn't meant to show exactly how the costs will break down for you, as that will be different for everyone, but instead it's a little peak into another part of my Adventures In Fluff.

Here are a couple other sites that might help you when trying to figure out the costs of cloth vs disposables.


  1. Fantastic post!

    I've never priced out what I spent... but I think by looking at your chart, that I've spent less than you even. Yippee!!

    I did get most of my stash on sale or used, though, so that helps. I think my best score was 3 dozen Econobum OS prefolds for $30 dollars. And then I avoided buying any diapers that were over $20, other than a Nifty Nappy fitted, and a $28 custom embroidered one from Chunky Monkey Diapers. :)

    And I thought the $800 I spent was kinda bad...so thanks for pointing out just how much I'm actually saving over disposables!

  2. Oh, and you should change your comment settings so that people don't have to fill out a "captcha" to comment... .it's annoying. ;)

  3. Thanks Selina! Yeah, I was pretty surprised at how much I was saving and I knew I was spending a lot. Awesome deal on the 2 dozen Econobum OS for $30!!! I'm trying to look for sales wherever I can. I'll probably buy more diapers when the 4th of July sales come out.

    Oh, and thanks for pointing out the captcha. I'll remove that.

  4. Great Job!! I love it!! I was making my list of what I want to buy, and I kept coming back to this blog to "see what Chana's getting" !!!

  5. Haha! You are too funny Angie. I'd love to see your list. I'm always wondering what others are getting.

  6. I sent you an email w/pdf of my list - to your email address on your profile here. hopefully it didn't get spammed

  7. Looks like you've got a great start to your list Angie. Awesome that you got so much of your stash used to save money. Wish Brian would let me do that, but he's got a phobia on that kind of thing. Guess I'll just be looking for the sales.

  8. You always hear that it saves money, but it is nice to see it broken down!

  9. I know you did this a long time ago, but is there a way to blow up your list a little bigger or make it downloadable? I'd love to compare to see if I'm on track with expectations. Or could you do a follow up post to track how much you've spent in reality?

    I want to follow the advice of everyone to "try one of everything" first before committing to a brand because all babies are different shapes, but I'm worried it will be super expensive! For example, I have 18 different brands of AIOs or AI2s on my list, along with 7 brands of covers, 2 kinds of fitteds, and 8 different types of prefolds/inserts/boosters. If we got one of each of these, we'd be spending over $600 just for the diapers (not counting accessories; also, I'd be okay with used, but who knows if we can get everything we need that way). Most on my list are one-size, but some of them are just the smallest size option, which would have to be replaced with a bigger size eventually. I don't have any specific newborn diapers on the list. If half of them don't work for our kid and I need to sell those and buy several more of the few types that did work, it gets even more expensive! So much for convincing my husband we'll save money (okay, I know it's still cheaper than disposables, but it's a lot to shell out at one time, or even spread out over a pregnancy)! Any advice? Since both my husband and I work outside our home, the kid will be in daycare, so we really do need to have enough "easy" diapers for 2-3 days, otherwise I'd be fine with prefolds!

    Thanks so much for your site, it's one of my go-tos for info! Obviously I'm new to this, and just trying to plan before this kid shows up!

    1. I keep trying to fix this, but it keeps messing up. Sorry about that. Back to the drawing board. As far as how much I've spent in reality... LOL! You should never ask an addict that. I've spent way too much. If I wanted to save... and get a nice stash... what would I do? I would rent the newborn diapers. I would rent newborn fitted diapers and buy some covers to go with them. Then I would sign up for a trial program where they ship you one of each different type of diaper. At the end of the trial you just ship them back. You can really get a sense of what types of diapers you will like this way. I will say that my likes change over time, but for the most part a trial will really help. Here are a few:




      My only miff about these trials is that a lot of my favorites are not on them. If possible you really should try SoftBums. TotsBots is also nice and they are on some of the trial programs. Oh, I like the new Thirsties AIO's also... not sure if I saw them on the trials, but they should be. It would be an awesome daycare diaper. Super easy. Tots Bots is easy too though.


Thanks so much for taking the time to show your support with a comment! I LOVE reading all of them and will try and answer any questions that you might have. :)