Save a Bundle by Using Cloth Diapers

cloth vs disposable diapersBy Shannon Christman

A toddler has control of nearly $1,500 of our household budget this year. Yes, you read that right: how our family will spend more than a thousand dollars depends on the whims of a child who throws a tantrum when he’s told he can’t have any more chocolate pudding. We could use that money to buy a plasma-screen television or increase a college savings fund, but until my little boy stops resisting our attempts at potty training, that $1,500 is literally disposable income.

When I was pregnant, I failed to seriously consider the alternative of cloth diapers, a decision I am starting to regret. Every time I see my son disappear into a corner to fill his diaper, I imagine more of that cash slipping away. Our toddler is big for his age. He has worn a Size 6 diaper for nearly a year, having quickly outgrown the smaller, less expensive sizes. Of course, the most expensive brand (Pampers Cruisers) is the only one that doesn’t regularly leak on him. The lowest per-diaper price we can find on Size 6 Cruisers is $34.99 for a box of 100 at BJ’s. (With coupons, we usually pay $33.00.) He averages a dozen dirty diapers a day, so we spend about $4.00 per day on diapers, or $1,460 over twelve months. If he refuses to use the potty much longer, we will have to upgrade to Size 7 Cruisers, which sell for $15.00 for 28 diapers, and add about $2.00 a day to our diaper costs.

A week before my son was born, my friend Julie also gave birth to a boy. She had taken the time to research cloth diapers and chose to use them. Now, while we have daily battles over the potty, her son is almost completely potty trained. With the ability to actually feel a wet bottom (disposable diapers do their job far too well), he took initiative in using the bathroom.

I recently talked with Julie about what she has spent on diapers. She bought about 48 diapers total, two dozen in each of two sizes. Her son is small for his age, so other children might go through three sizes. It’s also possible to buy all the diapers in a large size and fold them to fit smaller babies, thereby reducing the total number of diapers needed to 24. Julie recommended buying six- or eight-ply diapers rather than the less absorbent kind, which sometimes require double-diapering. Her favorites are prefold diapers, which run about $2.25 a piece. Multiplying 48 diapers by $2.25 brings the price of cloth diapers for the baby and toddler years to $108. Cloth diapers also require the purchase of diaper covers. Julie needed about six diaper covers at a time and avoided the lowest-priced rubber pants because they tore easily and needed to be replaced often. The purchase of six new mid-priced diaper covers every three months adds $120 per year to cloth diaper costs.

A major objection to using cloth diapers is the need to launder them. Pre-baby, I thought I would hate having to wash soiled diapers, but I quickly learned that using disposable diapers has not exempted me from cleaning up disgusting messes. When my niece was born 25 years ago, my sister had a diaper service that whisked away her dirty cloth diapers and replaced them with clean ones. Now, disposable diapers have become so common that such services are rare (and are nonexistent in our area).

In the beginning, my friend Julie washed dirty diapers every other day. Now that her son is nearly potty trained, she washes them once a week. Allowing $0.40 per-load laundering costs (based on the defaults in the laundry calculator at and keeping a consistent interval of two days between loads, I added in $219 for laundry costs over three years.

If you’re still following me, you may already have figured that the cost of keeping a child in cloth diapers for three years (longer than many will actually be in diapers) would be about $687, less than we spend on disposable diapers for six months. Julie has probably spent significantly less than the $687, as she looks for additional ways to keep the costs even lower. She buys secondhand diaper supplies at yard sales and online, and she washes the diapers in warm water, using only a half a cup of laundry detergent, which she says is plenty. She did splurge on one “diaper luxury” – a clip to replace diaper pins, which make the diapering task much quicker and easier, particularly for squirmy children. The cost of a diaper clip is less than $5.00, and she needed only one.

Though I’m tempted to switch to cloth diapers, the thought of learning a new way to change diapers right when we’re trying to eliminate them completely has discouraged me. (I might tell you otherwise if I need to start buying those Size 7 Cruisers.) Plus, my husband, who shares the diaper-changing duty, is squeamish about using cloth diapers. However, if you are expecting a baby, I urge you not to dismiss the idea of cloth diapers before seriously considering it. If you don’t mind doing a little extra laundry (you’ll be doing more than you used to, anyway), cloth diapers will let you save a bundle on your new little bundle of joy.

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15 Responses to Save a Bundle by Using Cloth Diapers

  1. Teri says:

    I just have to add that cloth diapers have come a LONG WAY in recent years. They are really nice and convenient as a whole. Most people I find make them out to be a lot worse than they are (who have never tried them).

    My story is that I babysat for a woman in the 80s who used a diaper service. They were still using pins to attach the diapers then but I was so fascinated by the idea I decided then (at 13?) that I would use a diaper service one day. So I did just that when I had kids. LOVE IT. I wouldn’t say it necessarily saved money (might cost a little more) but the big picture is kids potty train sooner. Also, when I had my second child I had 2 in diapers for about a year and the diapers on the second child were essentially free the second year. The economies of scale are awesome with a diaper service so we paid little more for 2-3 times as many diapers.

    Not to mention trash pickup is expensive here and we don’t really generate much trash (so can use smaller trash bins to save money overall). That with the economies of scale and earlier potty training can make a diaper service a pretty good alternative – may save you a little money in the long haul and also feel good about not filling up the landfills.

    I always laugh when people are in awe I use a diaper service, about how hard it must be. I Am like, um, it is just like a disposable (just throw it in the “trash” and leave it out every week) except fresh ones get to delivered right to my front door every week. More convenient if you ask me. 😉

  2. Teri says:

    Just had to add after re-reading the post that today you don’t really need clips either. All-in-one diapers come with velcro closures. For us the diaper service provides the diapers and I bought a few liners/covers (velcro to close) that are still going strong 4 years later. Wasn’t much of an investment.

    My smaller child has been in the same size diaper for about 18 months and will probably be potty-trained before the next size, which my older son only used a few months. The same size can last a couple of years easy – you are right on that!

  3. Mike D. says:

    12 diapers a day for a child older than 1 year? That sounds a bit crazy to change a diaper almost every waking hour? I have 1 year old twins and do about 12 a day. I think you pmight be “padding the #’s here…no pun intended. Also as bad as disposible diapers are for the environment, cloth diapers have major environmental impact: A study done by Franklin Associates, Limited, makes it unclear whether the cloth alternative is any better than the disposable. Their study suggests that there are equally harmful effects on air and water from the energy and chemicals required to launder the cloth diapers. The study concluded that cloth diapers used twice as much energy and four times as much water as disposables, and created greater air and water pollution than disposables.

  4. Mike D. says:

    Here is some more info showing that $1500/yr is a bit high: “We’ve calculated that disposable diapers can cost between $1500 and $2100 over the course of the three years it takes the average child to be toilet trained,” Diane Weathers of Consumer Reports said.

  5. MoneyNing says:


    I think that even though the studies show that it takes $500-$700 per year, it does not mean Shannon’s author) comments statement of it costing her $1500/yr is overstated. It could be that it costs her $1500/yr but other people might get by with $200/yr creating an average of $500 – $700

  6. Irmine says:

    I just have a baby and she is 2 months old . I never think that baby use that much diapers. I really like that idea about clothe diaper ,i think i am gonna start using them so i can save some money.

  7. Teri says:

    I don’t buy those studies for a second. They always leave out the environmental impact of manufacturing diapers. It’s a double-edged sword, manufacturing AND disposing of maybe 8-10 diapers, per day, per child. Cloth gets nowhere close to this, as a small amount of cloth diapers will last the lifetime of a child. There is no way there can be any comparison. It does not take that much to launder a few cloth diapers.

    As a whole I just don’t buy it. Most of the people I know who use cloth home launder and don’t use a lot of chemicals or resources towards it. The study seems really blown out of proportion overall on the laundering diaper side.

    I think though if everyone did one or the other it would make a significant environmental impact. I won’t argue that. Obviously the tables are tipped to the disposable side and I think it is nice so many people these days look to other alternatives. Water and resources used aside, the landfills teeming with chemicals and excrement from disposables can not be a good thing.

  8. Jenny says:

    Forgive me for asking a kind of gross question, but do you have to empty the cloth diapers into the toilet first before putting them in the wash?

  9. Teri says:

    Jenny – yes you would want to if you wash yourself. But like the article states, it’s not really that different than wiping a baby’s butt anyway – that in itself can be pretty disgusting. LOL.

    But if you have a diaper service – no – the service will take care of it. As the kids get older poop gets more solid so I often just plop the solid parts in the toilet anyway – why not. Not a biggie. But is the biggest difference as far as how convenient a diaper service can be.

  10. Melissa says:

    I chose to cloth diaper for money saving purposes and don’t regret it. My husband also was squeamish about the cloth diapers, but he got over it after only a few changes. I started with a bundle of prefolds from a garage sale and have been adding to my pile by sewing some using free plans from websites from inexpensive flannel bought from stores or old lady moo-moos I’ve bought from the thrift store. And I am not a good sewer; they aren’t pretty or straight, but they are serviceable. I would suggest spending some money and not scrimping on the diaper covers. I bought some inexpensive Gerber ones online and they are very poor quality. I had to resew on the velcro almost immediately after beginning to use them and they are not holding up well (daughter is 10 months today). I am considering splurging on some well made ones in the near future.

  11. Kirsten says:

    I did cloth with my daughter from birth to 4 months and loved it. I used a service so I never had to wash diapers. I did wash the covers but that wasn’t a big deal and I bought good covers, not cheapies. I never had to deal with diaper rash while she was using them. I have since gotten a few One Size BumGenius diapers and use them overnight and it has worked well. For baby #2 I am registering for more BumGenius diapers and plan to use cloth diapers longer than I did this time.

  12. Shannon Christman says:

    In answer to Mike D. and MoneyNing —

    Our average might really be more around 10 per day, but I do know that we generally buy a box of 100 diapers each week. Occasionally (once every 5-6 weeks), we can skip a week.

    My son soaks through diapers quickly, and I don’t change him unless he really needs a change. He is unusual, though — I will admit that most people would indeed spend far less on disposable diapers than we do.

  13. Cindy B. says:

    I used cloth diapers with my second child who is now 12. I purchased a Diaper Duck that let me wring out the diapers in the toilet with out getting my hands wet. I washed every other day with hot water. I used diaper covers instead of pins. The diapers are still in service as car wash rags. The covers went to my brother for his kids that also used cloth. We used disposables as a convenience when traveling on vacation, and on sleepovers with Grandma. I cringe when I see our neighbors and her 3 year old is still in disposable diapers, and they have a new baby. What a waste.

  14. Jessica says:

    We have found a site Rogers Market (unrelated to our site)that has a dozen DSQ qaulity Indian prefolds for around $1.50 each. Believe the price is $17.95 for a dozen.

    Address to the site is

    Probably have to cut and paste into your address bar.

    Just thought we’d share this money saving idea with everyone.

  15. sunny says:

    My daughter is expecting twin boys in Oct or Nov. We are considering cloth diapers to cut down on expenses but have been unable to find any water proof covers,ie. the old rubber or plastic pants. Can you help? Did you find any? Please help us…Thanks

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