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HomeFamilyWhy We Use Cloth Diapers, and How We Made the Switch

Why We Use Cloth Diapers, and How We Made the Switch

One question I remember being asked a lot when I was pregnant with our first baby was what diapers we would be using – disposable or cloth?

My answer was always that we would use disposables when E was a newborn, then change to cloth. It satisfied both parties and if I’m anything, it’s a people pleaser.

Truthfully, I didn’t want to use cloth. The thought of additional work in the form of extra loads of laundry made me feel tired and plus um ew poop?

But then …. our stash of diapers we’d received as gifts from showers slowly dwindled and the cost became a factor. The nature of the beast with disposables is that, well, they’re disposable. You’re always running out of them. And diapers are not cheap. We switched from Pampers to Huggies to save a few bucks but we were still spending a lot of money on diapers, and it wasn’t a cost that would not be disappearing any time soon.

switching from disposable to cloth diapers

If you consider the fact that you’re potentially using diapers until your child is 3 years old (and possibly a little longer depending on how night potty training goes) that’s a lot of diapers. Not to mention, every child is different in terms of how wet they can stand to be so that may mean more diaper changes and more diapers you’re having to buy.

We watched our diaper budget slowly creep up. E typically used 5 diapers/day (not including nighttime) since he was around 3 months old or so which meant we were going through about 155 diapers per month, give or take. Yikes! Even with buying diapers on Amazon, we still found ourselves spending around $60 or so a month on diapers, and that did not include the cost of nighttime diapers which are sold in smaller quantities at a higher price. Daytime diapers alone would be costing us close to $2,200 over a spread of 3 years, but likely that number would be slightly higher since we went through a greater quantity of newborn diapers.

Why We Use Cloth Diapers

Anyway, the point is if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s repeatedly paying for something over time instead of doing a one time payment and being done with it.

That is how I eventually came to look at cloth diapers. Disposables were like a constant monthly subscription I was paying. If I could keep the cost of cloth diapers under my estimated total cost for disposables, I would be saving myself thousands of dollars over time – money that I could put into something else, like coffee. I love saving money more than I hate doing laundry so, that was my main motivation for making the switch.

switching to cloth diapers from disposables

The How of Switching to Cloth Diapers

One advantage disposables have over cloth (at least in terms of money) is that you don’t think you’re spending that much…and really that isn’t much of an advantage. The cost is spread out over such a long period of time that you end up not realizing how much you’ve spent.

I had to figure out a way to make our monthly diaper budget work to build up our cloth stash over time while still keeping costs down as we transitioned from disposable to full time cloth. We budgeted $65/month for diapering needs but I still needed a portion of that for a couple months to buy disposables. The reason? I didn’t really want to waste the water and soap washing 2 or 3 diapers, and I really didn’t want to add 2 or 3 dirty diapers to a load of clothing.

We started this switch when E was 6 months old and my goal was to be using cloth full time by his first birthday – and we did reach that goal, while staying on a budget.

Here’s how we did it:

I first had to figure out just how many diapers I needed, so I knew how much money I’d likely be spending.

There are two factors to consider when planning out your Magic Diaper Stash Number. They are –

A – How many diapers does your child go through per day? (Just consider the day time because nighttime needs are usually different).

B – How often can you realistically wash your diapers? This number shouldn’t be any higher than every 3 days, because anything beyond that you risk stains setting in (not to mention stink factor).

Take the number from A (your daily diaper amount) and multiply it by 7 to get your weekly diaper requirement.

For example, in our case, E went through roughly 5 diapers a day which meant I needed 35 diapers per week. That’s a lot of diapers! But wait…. we aren’t done yet.

Next, subtract 7 from B (your frequency of washing – Every 2 days? Every 3? Pick a number and go with it).

I wash every three days, so 7 – 3 = 4.

Take your result and multiply it by your daily diaper need. In my case, 4 x 5 = 20.

That means, in our scenario, 20 was our Magic Diaper Number: how many diapers needed in the stash to cover for the whole week, including wash days.

The number will be higher the more you’re washing because you’ll have more diapers in and out of your stash to cover for wash days and to make sure you don’t wear your stash out faster.

A real life example with a magic diaper number of 20 would be –

Sunday, little Johnny uses 4 diapers which means you’ve got 16 clean diapers remaining. On Monday, he uses 5 diapers, leaving 11 clean diapers in your stash. Tuesday, he goes through 5 again so now you have 6 clean diapers. Wednesday is wash day (the third day) – you have 14 dirty diapers to wash. On Wednesday, Johnny ends up feeling ambitious and uses all 6 clean diapers, but that’s okay because when Thursday rolls around your 14 diapers you had in the wash are now fresh and clean and ready to go. You won’t be washing again until Sunday.

switching to cloth diapers

The Math Behind Using Cloth Diapers

In our case, 20 was our magic number. But with the average diaper costing around $17.95, that meant we would be spending around $360 for our stash, not including tax and shipping. That’s a lot of money. Or is it?

Let’s take the really popular diaper, bumGenius 4.0. New (at the time of this writing), one of these diapers is $17.95. Let’s do some math to figure out the true cost of this diaper.

Assuming you will use this diaper about 2 times a week (depending on how often you’re washing diapers and how big your stash is) that means you’d be using it 104 times a year. That means the first year you use this diaper, it costs you $0.17 per use.

Totally ignoring the fact that there’s no way you could stretch a 104 count of disposable diapers over one year, if you compare the cost per diaper of a 104-count box of disposables to the cost of the single bumGenius 4.0, the bumGenius still wins. Amazon.com has a 104-count of Pampers Cruisers Ultra Diapers (size 5) for $43.19 which means the cost per diaper is $0.42.

My one bumGenius 4.0 has blown that out of the water and, again, I’m not even considering the fact that (A) I couldn’t stretch that box of disposables over 1 year and (B) the larger the diaper size, the smaller the count becomes per box which means your cost increases.

Looking at it another way, E’s rate of 5 diapers per day meant that he would go through that box of Pampers Cruisers in approximately 21 days, or three weeks. So if I compare the cost of the bumGenius diaper for three weeks of use to the box of Pampers, the cost/use of the bumGenius is $2.99 (6 uses over three weeks time). That’s a lot better than spending $43.19.

This doesn’t even take into account the fact that I’ll be using that one diaper for a longer period of time than three weeks, or even one year. Likely, I’ll be using it for two and a half years (since we started cloth diapering at 6 months). The true cost of this one diaper is actually $0.07. How did I come up with that number?

2 uses per week (at 52 weeks per year) = 104 uses per year.

2 and a half years (130 weeks) of two uses per week = 260 uses

The cost of the diaper – $17.95 – divided over each use = $0.07 (rounding up)

Were I to add in extra detergent or water costs to my total I am still saving money. In our particular case, we saw a $5-8 increase in our water bill and I use coupons to buy detergent (and since the detergent I use is only for cloth diapers, I don’t go through it quickly at all). These costs have added pennies to the total per diaper which means it’s still cheaper to do cloth versus disposable.

Pretty unbelievable, huh?

So, if we’re on a budget of $65/month for diapering how did I grow our stash from nothing to 20 diapers over 6 months time?

It was difficult at first, but as the cloth diaper stash grew it became easier because I needed disposables less and less.

  • The first thing I did was to figure out what type of cloth diaper I wanted to try. I was lucky enough that my really good friend was already a pro at cloth and she let me try out a few different brands to see what I like. If you don’t have someone you can do this with, Diaper Junction offers a “cloth diaper test drive” program that lets you try some of the most popular brands without making a huge commitment.
  • Once I was settled on what brands I wanted, I had a better idea of what I would actually be spending. The next step was to save on the cost of disposables to free up money each month to put toward buying cloth. We were already using Huggies and I scored a pretty big box of diapers on sale at Babies R Us and that was a major help. If that wouldn’t have happened, though, I would have switched to our generic store brand. Do whatever you can to save – use coupons, buy on Amazon.com, etc…
  • I joined a few Buy/Sell/Trade groups on Facebook for cloth diaper brands I was interested in filling our stash up with. In my stash, I actually only have 1 brand new diaper and three inserts that I paid the full price for. Everything else I either bought on sale, from my friend who let me try out a few brands, or I bought from a b/s/t group. Even better, once you get involved in a group like that it’s an easy way to offload diapers you no longer are interested in or just aren’t working out for your child
  • Keep an eye on special deals or “Seconds” sales. Earth day is a great day to look for deals on diapers, as is Black Friday. If you’re really into bumGenius, their retail website (Cottonbabies.com) has Seconds sales a couple times a year. A seconds sale is merchandise that’s offered at an extremely discounted rate, that couldn’t be sold at full retail because of a slight imperfection or defect. Normally this means the seam wasn’t sewn perfectly straight or the color is slightly off. It’s kind of like the TJ Maxx of diapers.

baby in best bottom diaper

The one cloth diaper I’ve paid full price for, and it was totally worth it, Best Bottom “Fox Trot”

So how much did I actually spend on our stash?

I spent about $264 total on our diaper stash. Not bad at all, considering I was initially thinking it would be in the ballpark of $360. Not to mention, I met our goal of cloth diapering full time two months sooner than I anticipated, which means we have been cloth diapering on a regular basis since E was 10 months old. I think I’ll give myself a pat on the back, *pat pat pat*.

My hope is that this post can help if you’re considering switching to cloth (or even if you’re starting your stash before your baby is born) – please let me know in the comments if you’re a fellow cloth diapering mama, or if you’re more into disposables (I don’t judge! :)). Thanks for reading!

9 Comments
  • June 7, 2013

    for me, the most magical cost savings for cloth diapers came into play when we had baby #2. We already had all our diapers (we have 22 BumGenius 4.0 pockets)!! So the money we spent in 2009 was all the money we were ever going to spend on diapers!

    I still keep a case of Target disposables around for trips and longer outings and things, but whew! Second child using cloth diapers is amazing!

  • July 1, 2013
    Elizabeth

    We knew from the get-go we were going to use cloth, so we didn’t have to work to build our stash so much–cloth diapers are in that great baby-shower-gift price range 🙂

      • July 10, 2013
        Elizabeth

        We used Thirstie covers w/ Bumpkins prefolds from 0-4 months, and then switched to BumGenius OS. We registered for both, since we knew we were planning to switch. OS diapers just seem so big for tiny babies! I know some people start there though.

        And, aww, it’s fun to think about more Rosen babies 🙂

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