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?
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.