Unsexy sustainability: Why you should consider cloth diapering

in #sustainabilitylast year

I am not a content expert for many aspects of parenting. My experience as a dad consists mostly of shooting from the hip. After a mess of babies, I am however experienced at cloth diapering and wanted to share my experience if you are considering this frugal and sustainable option.

Why cloth diaper?


A child wears between 5,000-8,000 diapers before being potty trained. Disposable diapers are made from paper pulp and polyethylene plastic. They can take 400-500 years to degrade. 3.5 million tons of diapers end up in American landfills annually, an incredible source of waste and source of infection.

Depending on disposable diapers also makes one less self-reliant. If one’s home is far away from town or supply chains are disrupted by weather or other calamity, many parents are only a couple days away from having a real problem.


We have a saying that the shortest way into a farmer’s heart is through his wallet, and the incredible cost of disposable diapers is what persuaded me. But the upfront cost of cloth diapers is comparatively larger, which makes me wonder:

are they really a better deal?

To answer this, I analyzed the cost of cloth vs. disposable diapers. For the cost of the cloth diapers, I used the kind and brand of diapers that we use, GroVia. For disposable diapers, I used the cost of the store-brand diapers at Wal-Mart as these are significantly cheaper than the premium brands. I analyzed an infant’s life in 3 month intervals and estimated the number and size of disposable diapers during these periods. As children get older, they use fewer diapers but the price per diaper is higher (e.g., a size 6 costs 1/3 more than a size 1).

I estimated the number of diapers based on my the experience of my children—your mileage may vary if your kids are smaller or less, er, messy. Finally, we use disposable diapers from birth to about 3 months. In my next post, I will speak to how to cloth diaper and the reasons for this, but I included the cost of disposables for 3 months into the cloth diaper model. I also estimated our energy and laundry detergent costs.

Comparison of cloth vs. disposable diapers


The green line represents the cloth diaper model; the red line represents the disposable diaper model. As you can see, you will break even around 18 months for just one child. If you have more than one child, you start to have a really good ROI. We have been continuously using our GroVia diapers for 5 years, with usually 2 children in diapers, and have not had to replace a single diaper in that time.


Money isn’t everything (though it feels like that sometimes when you are trying to manage a household budget!) For us, we wanted to teach our children to take care of things, work hard to make wise financial decisions, and be good stewards of the environment. We now see the fruit of that with our older children who help do the laundry, put diapers on the line, and fold diapers.

Why not cloth diaper?

1. Time

For some parents, the cost savings may not be enough to justify the time it takes to cloth diaper. While we spend 60 to 90 minutes a week doing laundry, some families may not have the time or would suffer a significant opportunity cost devoting this amount of time that would reduce their ROI

2. Don’t cloth diaper to virtue signal

Being a parent is hard work. And sometimes I perceive, maybe uncharitably, an air of elitism around cloth diapering. When I am cleaning baby poop off diapers at 11:00 PM and my hands are shaking from fatigue I don’t feel particularly proud. For us, it was the right decision for our family. We don’t have a lot of money, and it was a good investment that has paid for itself many times over. But for your family, it may not be the right decision, and that's fine. You are doing a very brave and adventurous thing having a child.

A good option for stewardship and self-reliance

For us, there were large net benefits to cloth diapering, and we never regretted the decision. We couldn’t afford to buy the diapers all at once, so we accumulated our collection over the first six months after our first child was born. But, if you are happily expecting or are a hard-bitten parent already, you may want to consider making this investment.

Next post: HOW to cloth diaper

Thanks for reading, Briach

Image and figure my own. The latter I created in R.



I cloth diapered my son from day 1 until he potty trained at about age 3. (stubborn little cuss...) I didn't use prefolds. I think we started using a diaper service for cleaning towards the end, but I don't remember. They probably had prefolds.

I used the diapers as dust rags and just ran out of them. He's 28 now...

Cost was a big concern back then.

Great post, I appreciate both the $ analysis and the straight talk. I know my parents used cloth diapers but for whatever reason my wife and I didn't even really consider it. Maybe one of the reasons is the small mountain of disposable diapers we got at our baby shower (seriously, many, many boxes in the first couple of sizes - it was like a years supply).

We just finally used up the diapers from our first shower since we just use them at night. It took 5 years!

GREAT post! I cloth diapered my girl 99.9% - I used 2 packs of disposables in 2.3 years for flights and seriously official-constrained space situations - and then one day my girl refused to let me diaper her and self-selected for potty training. She had 2 accidents in the first week and then it was done. Toilet trained. Too easy. Must say I have NEVER seen such exotic cloth diapers though! LOL. Here in Thailand they are thing muslin squares ony - I used a toweling pair of pants over them, when is what local people use. Thai children in villages wear NO diapers at all are are usually happily self-toilet trained by the time they can walk.

So much wisdom and simple learning in other cultures - so many layers of BS and expense in so-called "first world".

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This is a really important point. You get faster potty-training with cloth. My boys, who are very willful, just stopped around the age of your daughter. Thanks for your support and sharing your experience. It is easy to forget how spoiled we are in US. We have the muslin clothes too but most people just use them as burp clothes!

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