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Saving Money With Cloth Diapers?

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As I mentioned last week I'm going to be a father again. One of the things I've been doing with my spare time is to look deeper into some tips on saving money. During that search I came across Scottish Friendly's money saving tips for pregnancy. In fact, I'm implementing the "make soup" tip for tonight's dinner... as long as you consider stew the same as soup.

That article reminded me (and gave me a solid butt-kick) that I've been meaning to write about cloth diapers for some time. When we were preparing for our first born, nothing drew a bigger reaction than saying that we were going with cloth diapers. My friends from New England claimed that we had gotten too much San Francisco in our blood. Nonetheless, our my wife's research showed that they were not only great for the environment, but better for the baby. That became very important for us.

As much as we tried to go with the cloth diapers, our day care doesn't allow it. I don't know whether their policy is sound and justified, but you pick your battles and I wasn't going to let this sour our relationship with his care givers. We resigned ourselves to using disposables while he was at day care and cloth diapers at home, with the exception of the diaper he sleeps in... that needs the extra protection of the disposable diapers.

It turns out that Little Man has a very sensitive behind (he's going to love reading this years from now, I'm sure). The standard Luvs, Huggies, and Pampers diapers simply don't work for him. He gets a very bad rash. This leaves us going with brands like Generation Earth (good price at BJ's Warehouse) and Seventh Generation. Somehow adding a "generation" to the name means it is free of dyes and chemicals. While we were trying to get the rash under control, we got a doctor's note allowing us to use the cloth diapers at day care. That fixed the problem.

The next big question is whether they are practical. Everyone I knew scoffed at us and said that we'd be in disposables pretty quickly. I trust their feedback, but promised my wife we'd give it a shot. The Internet feedback said just the opposite. Having used them for nearly a year now, I can tell you that everyone I knew was completely wrong and the Internet was right. They aren't disgusting or gross. (Warning: I'm going to get slightly graphic here.) When Little Man was breastfeeding his poop was pretty marginal in size especially since it was coming very often. As we moved him to formula and food the poop has gotten significantly bigger, but that has been well contained by the cloth diaper liners, which are similar to dryer sheets. Tossing the liner in the garbage or in a toilet (they are flushable) isn't substantially different than throwing out a disposable diaper.

But do cloth diapers save money?

Fortunately Trent from The Simple Dollar has done a lot of analysis on it. There's extensive analysis here and shorter, less-detailed analysis here. It's going to vary a ton based on a number of factors. Here are a few off the top of my head:

  • The cloth diapers themselves. We opted with these FuzziBunz. Sure $200 for 12 diapers sounds like a large outlay. Looking at Trent's articles and seeing that the $1000 number puts it in perspective.
  • The brand and price of disposable diapers you would replace. The goal may be to get generics or Luvs which are cheap. That didn't work for us for long and we are buying the more expensive brands.
  • The cost of detergent. We bought Ecover laundry liquid for the diapers as it was highly recommended. It is so fantastic that we use it on all our clothes now. A bottle lasts us literally 3-4 months and that includes a lot of cloth diaper loads.
  • The Cost of the Liners. While on breast milk only, there's no need for liners, but there comes a time when you'll need diaper liners with the cloth diapers. The vest value I've found is GroVia BioLiners, which will cost you about 5.5 cents a diaper change.

All of the above depends on actually being able to use the cloth diapers. If you have to buy both to comply with day care, you most likely aren't going to save money. In our particular case, we might be doing well if we break even. Trent's conclusion is that it is largely a wash for the first child and in the second year the cloth diapers start to save money. With our second child, we'll get more use out of them.

Believe it or not, there's a resale market for cloth diapers (that sounds strange for me to even type), so maybe we can sell them when we've outgrown them, recouping a good portion of our initial investment. If that comes to pass, I think every family should definitely consider cloth diapers.

Posted on September 3, 2013.

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6 Responses to “Saving Money With Cloth Diapers?”

  1. Steve says:

    We faced the same situation, wherin our daughter’s day care would only use disposable diapers. They said it was a state regulation but who knows if that’s true or if it was just the facility’s policy. I heard that some “in home” day cares would use cloth diapers, but it seemed to be cart-and-horse to decide day care based on their diaper policy. I didn’t really do the math but I still found it valuable to do cloth diapering nights and weekends (2/3rds or more of the child’s life).

    I had never heard of diaper liners. We just shook or scraped the poop off. A friend recommended attaching a “diaper sprayer” to our toilet but we never got around to it. It seems that paying even just 5.5 cents per diaper would change the math significantly, when a whole diaper can be had for 20 cents (for normal kids/parents who don’t need eco branded diapers). I am tempted though; hypothetically, to your other point, liners could keep the diapers from getting overly stained and thus keep up their resale value.

  2. Lazy Man says:

    Not to make a messy article, well more messy, but some people do wash the liners (if it’s only pee, not poop) and reuse them. I think I read that can be used once in this manner. If this were done, and it isn’t too gross, that 5.5 cents could almost be dropped in half.

    In the end, I think it’s all splitting pennies. It’s certainly not a trivial expense overall, but whichever solution you choose probably isn’t going to save you tons… unless it’s cloth diapers with numerous kids.

  3. I’m one of five kids and we all had cloth diapers… I don’t have any bad memories.

  4. I’m a new dad and my wife and I assumed that cloth diapers were a big hassle. I never knew there were liners. We live in an apartment and doing laundry can be a hassle (waiting for a machine sometimes) so I don’t know how practical that would be. I guess it is hard to quantify but there is the cost of water and electricity (in our case we have to pay $1.25 for a load of laundry and 10 cents for 10 minutes on the dryer.)

  5. Lazy Man says:

    If you don’t have your own laundry, that might be negate any savings. I’m not sure. Liners certainly help make them not a hassle in my experience.

  6. I loved using cloth diapers for our son. It’s great to have something soft against his bum :) But I love saving the $$. He didn’t potty train until 3.5, so we got a LOT of use out of the cloth diapers. Both of the daycare centers he went to had no problem with using them.

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