Do Cloth Diapers Save Money? Let's Calculate!
Updated: Jan 20
There is always a debate ongoing on whether or not cloth diapers save money. Most of the time, the answer is, that it depends. So let's do some calculations to see if for your situation cloth diapers would save you money.
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Costs for disposable
To fairly compared disposable diapers to cloth diapers, we need to know the costs of both diapering methods. We first need to calculate how many disposable diapers we need during the entire diaper time of your baby. The exact number your baby needs may vary as not all babies are the same and some have control over their bladder sooner than others. The calculations below are just an average of the number of disposable diapers needed. Afterward, I will share different disposable diaper categories (bargain brand, premium brand, and eco brand) and how much it will set you back when you choose each of these categories to diaper your baby in.
How many diapers
First 6 months
A newborn baby requires much more diapers compared to a toddler. A newborn baby needs about 8-10 diapers a day during the first month. So let's say that a baby uses about 9 diapers per day on average to make calculations more manageable. 9 diapers per day equals to 9x7= 63 diapers per week for your newborn. As half a year has 26 weeks, this results in a baby needing 9x7x26 diapers during the first half-year of its life if we would choose disposables. This equals over 1,600 disposable diapers in the newborn stage.
The next year
When a baby gets older they grow. They eat more, the size of their stomach grows and they have a little more control over their bladder. This means that during the day you will need fewer diapers. From 6 months to about 18 months you will need about 6 - 8 diapers per day. So let's say on average you will need about 7 diapers a day. A year has 365 days so this year your baby needs 7x365 diapers. This equals about 2,500 diapers for the second baby stage.
From 1,5 years to 2,5 years
The last diapering phase differs in length for babies. While some are potty trained before 2 years old, others may need a little longer. The average is 2,5 years so we will use this in this calculation for the number of diapers we will need during this last phase. During this year your baby will need about 6 diaper changes per day as it has much better control over its bladder. This means that you will need fewer diapers but each diaper is a little more expensive as each diaper needs to be able to absorb more moisture. On average, for this last phase, you will need 6x365 is 2,200 disposable diapers.
Everyone calculates the number of diapers differently. This is because not every baby is the same and as your baby grows their poop and pee habits will change. Some babies may do this sooner than others which causes fluctuations in the number of diapers you need per day. Some say that you need about 3,000 disposable diapers in babies' first year (which is much higher than what I calculated) while other say that 2,200 diapers in the first year will be sufficient (which is lower then what I calculated). So, overall my calculations are a good average of the number of disposable diapers a baby will need in the first years of its life. In this calculations we need about 1,600+2,500+2,200= 6,300 disposable diapers.
How many wipes
When we change a diaper, we not only use a diaper, we also need a baby wipe to clean the mess. Some diaper changes will require only one wipe while some ‘surprises’ may cause you to use about 10 wipes. Let's say that on average you will need 3 wipes per change. The exact number will vary per baby but also change over time as your baby's poo and pee habits change. You may also get more efficient with the use of your wipes. These all cause the exact number of wipes to vary a little bit so 3 wipes per change is a good average.
We just calculated the number of diapers we needed for the entire diapers time and we each diaper we use we also use baby wipes so this helps us calculate the number of wipes we need. The total amount of diapers is 1,600+2,500+2,200= 6,300 diaper changes. Each diaper change requires 3 wipes so the total amount of wipes your need during the diaper time is: 6,300x3= 18,900.
Price per Diaper
First 6 Months
6 M to 18 M
18 M to 30 M
Note: the costs for individual diapers may vary depending on the brand and even per location where you are purchasing your diapers. If you purchase in bulk, it will reduce the costs per diaper as well.
Total Disposable Diaper Costs
First 6 Months
6 M to 18 M
18 M to 30 M
Costs per Change
So, the costs of disposable diapers differ considerably. While you could use disposable diapers for about $1,500 per child, you could also do this for almost $4,000 per child due to differences in brands.
The hidden costs of disposable diapers
Secretly, disposable diapers cost even more than what you see here. What do I mean by this? Disposable diapers produce trash. And lots of it. Producing trashing and having it disposed of is not free. We pay for it through taxes and if we produce more trash, over time these taxes, we all pay, will increase.
Not the mention the costs disposable diapers have on the environment when all these ingredients have to be resourced (which is mostly petroleum to make plastic) and burned when they have served their purpose.
Costs for cloth diapers
Just like for disposable, also for cloth, we have different categories for diapers. We can cloth diapers very budget-friendly with pre-folds while it can get more expensive if we would choose fitted diapers. Below are 4 systems that are most commonly used so I could give you a fair comparison of the different price ranges of each of these cloth diapering systems.
How many cloth diapers do you need?
If you want to start cloth diapers full time, you need a good number of cloth diapers to never run out. Just like for disposable, a newborn uses about 8 - 10 diapers per day on average. You will need to wash your diapers every 2-3 days (when you have a full load of diapers) meaning for a newborn you need 24 to 30 cloth diapers. In this case, you use your diapers for 2 days. These 16 to 20 diapers will go into laundry and will be line-dried (I don’t have a dryer so drying the diapers takes at least a day). The remaining 8 - 10 diapers will be used that day.
Most cloth diapering systems have one size and newborn size. A size one grows with your baby and can often be used from 3 months till about potty training. This means you only need 1 type of diaper. So lots of parents skip the newborn size diaper and start cloth diapering when the baby is a little bigger. This is usually also the time new parents have found their new routine with a newborn and they are ready to start using cloth diapers.
From 6 months on you will need fewer diapers. During this time your baby will most likely fit most one-size diapers. At this stage, they need about 6-8 diapers per day. This means you would need 18 to 24 cloth diapers for the remaining diapering phase.
The pre-folds are the most budget-friendly option on this list. These need to be folded around your baby and closed with a snappi. As a pre-fold is the absorbent material only, it needs a cover to make everything waterproof. Pre-folds come in multiple sizes as a newborn is smaller and needs less absorption compared to an 18-month-old. An older baby may need even more absorption than a pre-fold can offer therefore you also need a few inserts to prevent leaking when your baby grows.
A pocket diaper is similar in use compared to a disposable diaper, therefore it is a popular option for daycare. Pocket diapers on their own don’t absorb moisture, they need inserts for this. They need to be inserted into a pocket diaper before they can be used on your baby. For a smaller baby 1 insert might be sufficient while a bigger baby needs 2 inserts it will make it until the next diaper change. Therefore, at least 2 inserts per pocket diaper are recommended when you decide to use pockets.
An AIO diaper is similarly easy to use compared to pockets. The big difference is that an AIO diaper already has some absorbent material. This is great when you have a small baby but when your baby gets bigger extra inserts may be needed to accommodate the increase in moisture.
A fitted diaper is like a pre-fold but without the folding. A fitted diaper is already shaped like a diaper but just like a pre-fold, it needs a cover to keep all the moisture within.
Costs per Cloth Diaper
One Size Cover
How many do you need?
One Size Cover