Is switching to cloth diapers worth it? I crunch the numbers and do the math comparing the cost of cloth diapers vs. disposable diapers.

Bringing Chloe home was an exciting and confusing time. After surviving the long drive home from the hospital (which was scary as heck with a 5lb baby), everyone went into action. Carl dashed to open the door, I leaped to unlatch the car seat, and Chloe pooped her pants. We didn’t have cloth diapers at the time.

Who knew such a teeny tiny preemie could make such a big mess? Awesome.

To deal with The Awesome (which was scary as hell considering Chloe was only 5lbs), I reached for the newborn-sized Pampers given to us by the hospital. Chloe must have been comfortable in her new home, ’cause before I could secure the fresh diaper to her nether regions, she peed on it.

cloth diapers
Now this wasn’t just your average pee. Nope. This was a tidal wave of pee. A flood of pee. Heck, this was the biggest preemie pee to meet a Pampers disposable diaper in the history of pees. I needed Noah’s Ark for survival. But with no lifeboat on the horizon, the Pampers withered in defeat.

Actually, the defeated diaper bubbled in excitement. What the heck is in the blue gel pee-absorbing stuff anyways? Gross. Tossed the sucker.

With a bare bottom staring back at me, I did what any new parent would do — I reached for a fresh diaper. I figured the ‘Battle of the Baby’s Bottom’ was over since both bladder and bottom were empty. My second diaper would be victorious. Right? Wrong.

Chloe fired again. This time I shall not say, but the diaper died a miserable death. Again.

Chloe: 2
Pampers: 0

Wearing a hazmat suit for my third (and final round) of combat, I managed to corner the target and secured the troops. Victory. Chloe was diapered, for now.

But the damage was done. At this rate of diaper disposal, I’d go through at least ten or more diapers a day. How much did these disposable diapers cost? And how much garbage would my baby’s bottom produce? Grumble.

So I did what any new parent (in the Squawkfox household) would do — I created a money crunching diaper spreadsheet, people. Could I win the war on disposables by forking out the cash for a stash of reusable cloth diapers?

Squawkfox: 1
Pampers: 0

You bet your bottom dollar, and my cost-crunching results might just make ya pee your (cloth lined) pants.

From newborn to potty trained.

Babies grow fast, but on average it takes girls 29 months to embrace the potty and boys 31 months to get toilet trained. Many diaper forums cite 30 months as a good age to go by, while big-brand diaper companies prefer you start toilet training just before the kids head off to college. Sigh.

Bottom Line: Let’s go with 30 months for $hits and giggles. Oh, and there are 30.4 days in the average month (365 days in a year ÷ 12 months = 30.4 days).

How many diapers die?

Expect to change around 7,354 diapers before your kiddlet learns to flush the toilet. That’s an average of about eight diapers a day, and all the spare time you thought you had.

How many cloth diapers to buy
How did I arrive at the 7,354 diaper number? Check out my disposable diaper spreadsheet for numbers and references. I Googled around to see what more experienced diaper changers (yeah, real parents) and diaper sites had to say. Turns out babies and kiddlets need fewer diapers as they grow through their ages and stages.

Newborns could bottom out at 16 diapers per day, while toddlers may need around 6 diapers to get them through the next 24 hours of driving you crazy.

Bottom Line: An average of 7,354 diaper changes are in your baby’s future. Sorry to dampen your drawers.

The cost of disposable diapers.

The unit price of various disposable diaper brands (and sizes) can vary across Canada and the United States. Buying in bulk or using coupons can cut your daily disposable diaper cost by a few bucks. My survey around North America averages the sizes and brand differences into one tidy lump sum of 26 cents per diaper. Holy crap.

cloth diapers
Ready for the mathy math?

Bottom Line: Pamper or Huggie your kid in 7,354 disposable diapers over 30 months and you’re paying $1,912 to throw away baby doo (7,354 x $0.26 = $1,912.04).

That’s $63.73 per month, or $2.10 per day. It’s kinda like that Latte Factor, but with less coffee and more pee.

The cost of garbage removal.

Good luck taking out the diapers with the trash. Many municipalities burdened by too many bags of garbage now charge a fee for that extra bag sitting on your curb. Rates can vary, but it can be as little as $2 per extra bag (like in Vancouver) and up!

Since I live in the middle of a forest in the middle of nowhere, I don’t qualify for city garbage pickup. My disposal site changes a tidy $3.36 per bag ($3.00 + tax = $3.36) so Carl and I are super-careful when it comes to creating garbage since it pays to be garbage-free.

Bottom Line: Assuming one garbage bag stuffed full of diaper waste per week at $3.36 per bag, and you’re spending $14.56 each month. Over 30 months, that’s $436.80 to haul your baby’s $hit away.

TOTAL COST OF DISPOSABLE DIAPERS: $1,912.04 (diapers) + $436.80 (garbage removal) = $2,348.84

The cost of cloth diapers.

There are a dizzying number of cloth diaper systems, brands, and fabrications available on the market today. The good news is there’s A LOT of choice for choosy consumers. The bad news is learning the cloth diaper lingo (AIOs, pockets, fitted, prefolds, wraps, etc.) and choosing the right system for your dollar and kid’s bottom can be daunting. Bummer.

To unpack all the fluff on the costs of cloth I created a cloth diaper series to help! Cloth Diapers 101: How to build a cloth diaper stash on any budget is a three-part illustrative guide that explains the lingo, costs, and benefits to the many different types of cloth diapers.

cheap cloth pocket diapers
In this series I show you my cloth diaper stash hits and misses (leaks and catches?) and introduce you to the systems and fabrications available. But for now, I’ll reveal that you can kit your kid in cloth for around $450.

Bottom Line: Bet your bottom dollar that a simple cloth diaper stash can be had for an average of $450. Sure, you can spend less on certain systems (prefolds with wraps) or more on others (AIOs, wool, pocket diapers), and even less if you’re buying used, but let’s go with a middle ground so everyone can budget somewhere in the center for a new stash of cloth diapers.

The cost of cleaning cloth diapers.

It’s a dirty job. But not terrible. I launder Chloe’s cloth diapers every other day, and so far that’s around 17 diapers per load. Looking into my future of 7,354 diaper changes, I’ll have completed 433 loads of cloth diaper laundry.

wash cloth diapers
By using the dryer infrequently and hang-drying most of my diaper loads (the diaper shells will last longer), one load of laundry averages about $0.75, including cloth-safe detergent.

cloth diaper laundry

Bottom Line: My total laundry cost is around $10.83 per month, or $324.75 for 30 months of washing (433 loads x $0.75 = $324.75).

TOTAL COST OF CLOTH DIAPERS: $450 (cloth diapers) + $324.75 (laundry) = $774.75

Reselling cloth diapers.

There’s a fun catch when it comes to the value of cloth diapers — people love to buy used diaper stashes. Try reselling your used disposable diapers. You can’t.

cloth diaper prefold
The going rate seems to be around 50% for all cloth systems in good condition, and 70% for newborn diapers.

So let’s assume you can sell your cloth stash for 50%, ’cause you can.

Bottom Line: Reselling your $450 cloth diaper stash at 50% brings $225 back into your pocket ($450 x 50% = $225).

NEW TOTAL COST OF CLOTH DIAPERS: $774.75 (cloth diapers and laundry cost) – $225 (resale value of diaper stash) = $549.75

Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable Diapers.

This is where my husband nearly crapped himself by volunteering for 433 loads of laundry.

cloth diapers
Cut the crap: Cloth diaper your kid and save $1,799 (77%) over disposables.

Bottom Line: Stop hugging your Huggies — making the switch from disposable to cloth diapers could save your family a stunning $1,799.09 (or 77%) on diapering a single child.

Diaper a second child in the same cloth diapers and you’ll save an additional $2,024.09 since you’ll reuse and wash your stash, thus avoiding disposables altogether.

So where am I going with this?

This post may be about saving money with cloth, but there’s an environmental impact to keeping disposable diapers out of the landfill. A few diaper facts to consider:

From U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

  • In 2010, disposable diapers accounted for 3.7 million tons (2.3% total) of municipal waste.

From Environment Canada:

  • 1.7 billion disposable diapers are used each year.
  • Disposable diapers represent 3% of residential waste.
  • Over 4,000,000 disposable diapers are discarded per day in Canada.

From Green Living Tips:

  • Disposable diapers take about 450 years to break down in the environment, possibly much longer in a landfill.

Check out Cloth Diapers 101: How to build a cloth diaper stash on any budget to see what’s in my kit. What’s in your cloth diaper stash, and how much did you spend? Are cloth diapers worth it?