It's All About The Money, Honey . . .

Okay, the post for which you've all been waiting with bated breath! (I kid, I kid.) The cost analysis breakdown for cloth diapers vs. disposables!

Now most cost analysis posts assume that you are just paying one flat fee for cloth diapers, and you'll never have to pay another dime. But unless you would buy cloth-diaper friendly diaper cream and cloth-diaper-friendly cleaning supplies even if you were using disposables, that is not the case.

Unfortunately, cloth diapers do require you to buy special products for washing and to treat rashes, and these products do cost more than the type Derek and I would normally buy.

So my cloth vs. disposable cost analysis is not focusing on the amount spent on the diapers themselves, but the amount spent on each option at the end of the year. I haven't really seen another website compare costs in this way, so I did the math myself.

I'm just going to say right now that I did, in fact, skew my numbers a bit. I figured up the absolute least I would spend on disposable diapers, and I factored a very realistic or over-estimate of the amount I would spend on cloth. I'm one of those worst-case-scenario types. I wanted to know the least amount of money I would save. Just know that most likely we'd save more than the amount I listed.

Other Things To Keep In Mind

These are approximate costs only! I am not claiming complete accuracy on prices or ultimate costs - this is just to give me (and you) an idea of how much would be spent on each option.

This is not the amount that Derek and I are paying for cloth right now. Since I have a limited stash at the moment, I'm washing more often and I'm paying more in laundry costs than I normally would. These numbers are based on what I estimate we will spend once we are cloth diapering full-time.

This is based on the assumption that I'll be doing a load of laundry every other day. That may be an over-estimate.

I did factor in the fact that newborns go through more diapers, and that you get more diapers for your money in smaller sizes for disposables. The laundry numbers for cloth diapers didn't change, because I'm still assuming that laundry is done every other day.

The total number of diapers for each year is an under-estimate. I really couldn't remember our average diaper usage in the early days, so I just guessed, and the numbers always vary alot from day to day.

The first-year numbers are a projection of what we would have spent or saved if all factors had been the same from when Wyatt was born. For example, if we had used the same brand of disposables, got the current discounts on disposables, or started cloth with the same detergent for his entire first year. Obviously this is not what really happened, I'm just estimating.

These numbers are based on the estimated average frequency of use and cost of diapers and other products that Derek and I would use. Obviously this will be different for each family, so if you really want to know your own personal costs, you have to do the math yourself.

Note: Derek and I have a well, so we do not pay for our water usage. If you do have to pay for your water, you have to factor that in to your end-of-year costs for cloth diapering.

Also, we will obviously need to spend more in special situations, for example, if Wyatt gets a really bad rash and we need more heavy-duty diaper cream. I'm not taking into account these situations.

And finally, there are a million different products, and a million different ways to do cloth diaper laundry. This cost estimate is just based on one set of products, and couple of many ways to do cloth diaper laundry. My numbers may be way off for your family because you don't do laundry the way I listed. I would appreciate any tips on how you save money further, but keep in mind that I'm just going off of the general recommendations I found, and once again, it's just an estimate.

The Products

-CJ's Butter diaper cream - $12.25/12 oz.
-Bac-out - $35.99/gallon
-Rockin' Green Hard Rock formula (we have hard water)- $15/90 loads

-Pampers disposable diapers - prices varied, I took the standard prices on Amazon when buying in bulk for the first set of numbers and the best deal I could find for the second set.

-Petroleum jelly (which is what we use for diaper cream with our disposables) - $2.28/ 13 oz.
-Munchkin/Arm and Hammer diaper pail liners - $6/10 liners

The first three items are not actually what we are using right now to wash our diapers, but these are the products we plan on using in the future. I did research after the fact, and the above products seemed most cost-effective for us.

For example, at the moment I'm using water softeners in addition to detergent since we have hard water, which is costing me more. The Rockin' Green hard water formula will eliminate some of the cost for me in the future.

I did not include the cost of diaper pail deodorizers in this analysis - I'm planning on just using baking soda to start with, and since that's what I use for disposables anyway I didn't add it into the cost.

The Basis For The Numbers

Okay, now for the actual numbers! I calculated how much I thought we would spend per year on each of the above products based on an estimate of our average usage (like I said, this isn't completely accurate, it's just an estimate for our family).

I'm including four sets of numbers.

1. What we would spend on disposables at retail value if buying in bulk (which we actually haven't been until recently, so our actual costs are more than this, but this is just an estimate).

Includes price of diapers, liners, and petroluem jelly for diaper cream.

2. What we spend on disposables at the moment. I discovered an incredible deal for diapers with Amazon Mom and the "Subscribe and Save" option - so we pay 15 cents per diaper for Pampers right now. Which is incredible. Normal retail value for these diapers bought in this quantity is at least 21 cents per diaper, and more if you don't buy in bulk. I wish I had signed up for this sooner, but se la vie.

We have paid much more than this up to this point, but I'm projecting how much it would cost if we were able to get the "subscribe and save" deal throughout the diapering years. The price even with the deal is always changing, but I wanted to see if we would still save money with cloth. This deal is a big reason why I broke all the finances down this way in the first place.

Includes price of diapers, liners, and petroleum jelly for diaper cream.

3. Cost of cleaning cloth diapers when spraying Bac-out on every diaper. Some people recommend using a spray of Bac-out on each diaper after each use, and some people recommend just putting a few squirts in your first rinse when doing laundry. Which method you choose makes a big difference in how much you spend.

Includes cost of Rockin' Green Laundry detergent, Cj's Butter, Bac-out.

4. Cost of cleaning cloth diapers when you use 3 squirts of Bac-out per wash. This is assuming you use it this way every time you wash your cloth diapers, which I hear may not be necessary.

Includes cost of Rockin' Green Laundry detergent, Cj's Butter, Bac-out.

Costs Per Year

1st Year (Estimated 2257 diapers)

1. Disposables at retail value when buying in bulk: $583.56/year
2. Disposables with great deal: $423.07/year
3. Cloth when using Bac-out on each diaper: $228.56/year
4. Cloth when using 3 squirts Bac-out per wash: $89.40/year

2nd Year (Estimated 1825 diapers)

1. Disposables at retail value: $532.18/year
2. Disposables with great deal: $423.72/year
3. Cloth when using Bac-out on each diaper: $194.00/year
4. Cloth when using 3 squirts Bac-out per wash: $89.40/year

Now, you have to add to these numbers the start up costs for diapering. This would be 35-40 bucks added to the disposables for the diaper pail, but I'm not adding that because our diaper pail was a gift.

My estimates as of right now (I'll probably post how much I actually spent when I feel I have enough diapers to go full-time) are to add $300 in start-up costs for cloth diapers to go full-time. This estimate includes 2 large wet bags, 1 small wet bag, diaper sprayer, and 15 cloth diapers averaging at $15 each.

If you are cloth diapering a newborn you'll probably need more diapers, and if you have two in diapers you will obviously need more. I will probably need to add more diapers to this stash in order to cloth diaper my next child.

I'm being optimistic here, it may cost more than $300. If you want to see some good estimates on how much it would cost to go full-time with different types of cloth diapers, you can check out this blog post at Musings Of A Homemaker.

Costs For First Year (Includes Start-Up Costs)

Okay, I'll add $35 dollars to the disposables for the diaper pail, just to be fair.

1. Disposables at retail value: $618.56/year
2. Disposables with great deal: $458.07/year
3. Cloth with Bac-out on every diaper: $528.56/year
4. Cloth with Bac-out only when washing: $389.40/year


The first year is the most expensive when you are doing cloth diapers. You may not be saving anything depending on how much you would spend on disposables, and how often you use Bac-out.

You have to approach cloth diaper laundering with a strategy, or you may not save as much money. Obviously we will be going with the 3 squirts/wash Bac-out method.

The good thing? Even though the first year you may not actually be saving anything, for each subsequent year, and with each subsequent child, you do save significantly with cloth diapers.

I'm estimating that we will save about $1,170.30 (as a minimum) if we were to have two more kids and they were each in diapers for only two years. This is assuming we would continue to buy disposables in bulk with the discount if we weren't cloth diapering. And that is accounting for the money I'm losing in start-up costs the first year, and the approximate cost of another 15-ish diapers should I need that many (about $500 total in cloth diapers).

Are the savings as drastic as some claim? Not when you take into account laundry costs.

Do you still save money? Yes. In our case, we will still save quite a bit.

Is it worth the hassle? That's something each person has to decide themselves. For me, I think it is, because I am saving money in the long run, and I actually am finding the whole cloth diaper thing kind of fun.

There is some value to the cuteness factor too, after all.

P.S. I would just like to say a big thank you to Leanna at Thoughts And Whatnots for talking me down off the edge of the cloth diapering bandwagon. When I thought about all the extra costs I was about ready to jump off, but she was very encouraging and gave me some good information! It helped me stick with it long enough to do the math and realize it wasn't so bad.
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Natalie said...

Wow you did a lot of work here!!
Now, maybe it'll be more necessary when she's eating solids, but we don't use Bac-Out or anything like it and have not had any kind of stink issues.
We just use Bum Genius detergent and it's been just fine.
Also just an FYI-we use California Baby diaper rash cream that you can buy at Target and it's just a little cheaper than the one you listed (maybe $1-$2) but it works really well and smells great. When I notice her bum getting a little red I usually put it on 1-2 diaper changes and it's back to normal. And it's really creamy so just a little goes a long way-I would guess the tube will last us at LEAST through the first year-if not longer (and if it doesn't expire?)

Brittney Galloway said...

Very interesting- I'd love to see a breakdown including water and power costs too- I've always wondered!

For me, my time is worth more to me than the money saved, and more time means more time with my baby girl!

LeAnna said...

This is so in depth and comprehensive! You did a great job, Callie. I had NO idea bacout cost that much MSRP! I pay $16 for a gallon when it's on sale. You need to check out and see if there is a route near you. One other option is to dilute it (because it is a concentrate) and put it in a spray bottle. Mist down each diaper before it goes into the wetbag.
Working on replying to your email, too. So glad you're doing this. I think so many are intimidated by cloth diapering, and are afraid that it takes too much time. It's just as quick as a disposable, and I hardly agree that it takes time away from my children. Laundry is a necessity of life. One more load doesn't promote depravity. ;)

Unknown said...

hmmm this is very interesting, and you did A LOT of work to figure this out! Thank you for doing this!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting! I will say that Bac-out is something that you might not need. We used it for awhile, but don't consistently use it. Also, from what I've heard baking soda on cloth diapers is not recommended. So maybe do some research on that? Just a friendly suggestion. :) Also, to those that think cloth diapering takes up alot of time, it doesn't. It's just 2-3 extra loads a week. And I don't stand by the washing machine while it runs. :) So extra wash doesn't bother me. Two minutes to load. Five minutes to stuff and put away. Done. Money saved. :)

Liz said...

New reader here...

You are speaking my language. As a former math teacher and full time cloth diapering mommy, I found this post to be very interesting and informative. Thanks! :-)

Claire said...

Wow, Callie! Thanks for doing all this work! This is such a great resource and I'm definitely going to share this post with some of my momma friends! My mouth dropped open when you compared the costs... we really could be saving a lot! Especially with 2 in diapers!!! and more kids to come! This is definitely one of those posts I'll be recommending for a while! Great job doing all that research!

Lauren said...

Nice work! I've been hoping to do an in-depth analysis like this too! Thanks :-) I haven't looked into Bac-out at all or heard about it much. Will have to look into it.

Amanda said...

Great job on the analysis. As a financial analyst I can appreciate the time you spent on all those calculations! :) And I learned a lot from the comments, too! The title of this post sounds like what I keep reiterating to Alex. Money savings is my main reason for CDing when Natalie is born. He's not so sure about it, but I think he'll come around. Now I just have to get the rest of our supplies ready and we'll be all set to give it a try!

Anonymous said...

This is great! You put a lot of work into this, well done!

I did cloth diapering with my little one for a few months, but I kept having horrid stink and repelling problems with our BumGenius 4.0 One-sizes. We have insanely hard water and I even used Hard Rock Rockin Green detergent to fix the problem, but I still had repelling issues. And so I stripped them with the blue dawn dishsoap but that didn't entirely fix the problem. I need to do more research and see if there's something else I can do to get them back in working order, they're so cute & for us they would certainly save money!

Kelley said...

great break down here! Although it is appealing bc of costs...I can't get my husband on board with cloth diapering....heck I'm not sure I'm on board either!

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