The Cost Comparison of Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable

Posted by Jason Rector on

Saving money is on the minds of all new parents. When you're suddenly responsible for another human life, you start pinching pennies wherever you can. One of the biggest expenses for babies is diapers. Should you use disposable diapers for convenience or cloth diapers to save cash?

Cloth diapers can save you over $2,000 in the first year compared to disposables. That's enough for a family vacation or to start a college fund. Still, disposable diapers might be worth it for the convenience and time savings.

It all comes down to your priorities and how much you value your time and money. Read on for a full cost analysis of cloth vs. disposable diapers so you can choose the best fit for your family. Your baby and your bank account will thank you.

How Much Do Cloth Diapers Cost Vs. How Much Do Disposable Diapers Cost (Purchasing)

When it comes to cost, cloth diapers and disposable diapers are quite different. Disposable diapers are convenient but can cost a small fortune over two years, while cloth diapers have higher upfront costs but save money in the long run.

On average, you will pay an initial investment between $25 to $40 for a pack of disposable diapers that will last you about a week. Over two years that can add up to $2,000 to $3,000 per baby. Cloth diaper bundles, including covers, inserts, and other accessories, typically range from $300 to $1,000 upfront, depending on the brand and materials.

With disposable diapers, you have to buy a new pack every week, which continues to cost between $25 to $40 each time. The only ongoing cost for cloth diapers is diaper detergent and increased water usage to wash them, averaging $10 to $20 per month.

How Much Do Cloth Diaper Accessories Cost? (Inserts, Covers, Etc.)

Cloth diaper accessories may seem like an added cost, but many are optional or can be purchased over time. The initial investment in cloth diapers themselves typically provides enough diapers for full-time use.

Inserts

Diaper inserts add extra absorbency for heavy wetters or overnight. You'll want a variety of inserts for different needs. Microfiber inserts are very absorbent and inexpensive (around $20 per pack) but may not last through multiple children. Hemp or bamboo inserts are more eco-friendly, absorbent, and long-lasting (around $32 per pack). For overnight, you'll want at least two inserts per diaper.

Covers

Diaper covers, also called wraps, go over the cloth diaper and inserts to prevent leaks. Covers can cost between $5 to $20 each. You'll want at least 2-3 covers per day. Covers can typically be reused unless soiled, so you don't need as many covers as diapers. Covers that use Velcro or snaps are convenient but may wear out faster than pull-on covers.

Other Accessories

Other useful accessories include:

  • Wet bags ($5-$75): For storing dirty diapers and transporting them to the wash. You'll want 2-3 bags.
  • Diaper pail ($20-$40): Holds dirty diapers in between washes. Look for one with an odor-controlling lid.
  • Diaper rash cream ($5-$15): Use a natural, cloth diaper-safe cream to prevent or treat rashes.
  • Snappis or diaper pins ($3-$5): Only needed if you have pre-fold diapers. Help secure the diaper.
  • Liners ($5-$10): Disposable or fleece liners can make diaper changes easier. Optional.
  • Laundry detergent ($10-$35): Use a free & clear, scent-free detergent that's safe for cloth diapers.

How Long Do Cloth Diapers Last?

Cloth diapers can last for years and through multiple children, which significantly reduces the cost over time versus disposable diapers. Most high-quality cloth diapers will last 2-5 years with normal use and proper care. 

Some families even use the same set of cloth diapers for multiple children, spanning 6-10 years. The exact lifespan depends on the specific diaper brand and materials, how often they're used, and how well they're cared for. But in general, you can expect:

  • Prefold or flat diapers: 3-5 years. These are very durable and long-lasting.
  • Pocket or all-in-one diapers: 2-4 years. With inserts replaced every 6-12 months.
  • Covers: 2-4 years. Replace elastic every 1-2 years for the best fit.

To maximize the lifespan of your cloth diapers:

  • Wash them on a gentle cycle using a baby detergent that's free from dyes and fragrances, then air dry or machine dry on low.
  • Avoid bleaching or using fabric softener.
  • Repair any holes or seam issues immediately to prevent damage from worsening.

Compared to the ongoing cost of disposable diapers at $70-100 per month, investing $200-500 upfront in a full set of cloth diapers means you'll break even in just 6-12 months. And any baby after that is essentially diaper-free!

How Much Money Do You Save Using Cloth Diapers On Average Per Year?

On average, you can save between $500 to $3,000 per year using cloth diapers instead of disposables. The more diapers you use, the more you save. Here's how the numbers break out:

  • Disposable diapers cost an average of $0.20 to $0.30 each. If you change your baby 6-8 times per day, that's $4,000-$6,000 per year. Cloth diapers have a bigger upfront cost of $300-$500 for a full set to get you started, but they can be reused for subsequent children and resold to recoup some of the cost.
  • With cloth diapers, you'll also need a diaper pail, liners, detergent, and pay for additional laundry costs, which can add $200-$500 per year. However, cloth diapers are very durable and can last through multiple children. Properly cared for, a set of cloth diapers may last 5-7 years.
  • Factoring in all costs, you can expect to save at least $500-$1,000 per year using cloth diapers. The more diapers you use, the higher your savings. For example, if you have twins or change diapers very frequently, your annual savings could reach $3,000 or more.

Saving Money One Cloth Diaper at a Time

While disposable diapers may seem more convenient, cloth diapers can save you a ton of money in the long run. When you add up the costs over the 2-3 years, most babies wear diapers, and cloth diapers are clearly the budget-friendly choice.

The small upfront investment in cloth diapers, a diaper pail, and a diaper rash cream will pay off big time. And don't forget the environmental impact - using cloth diapers reduces waste and is better for the planet.

If cost and the environment are important to you, cloth diapers are really a no-brainer. Making the switch to cloth diapers might take a little getting used to, but your wallet and the earth will thank you.


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