Babies can change a parent’s life in all kinds of wonderful ways. But make no mistake, raising a child doesn’t come cheap. As many new families discover, one of the biggest costs they face is diapers.
Newborns go through as many as 10-12 diaper changes per day, and a typical disposable diaper costs anywhere from $0.20 to $0.30. This means on an average day, a parent may spend $2 to $3 just on diapers.
It’s no wonder some parents are looking into cheaper — and potentially more environmentally friendly — alternatives, such as cloth diapers. Let’s take a closer look at both types of diapers, the cost of cloth diapers vs. disposable diapers, and what the potential savings could mean for a family’s budget.
What Are Disposable Diapers?
Soft and ultra absorbent, disposable diapers are designed to hold waste products of babies and young children. They were invented in the 1940s and widely adopted in the 1980s, when they became more practical and affordable. Today, some 95% of parents in the U.S. use disposable diapers for their infants.
The three layers of this type of diaper include a soft layer against the baby’s skin, an inner layer made of a super absorbent polymer that holds moisture, and a waterproof outer layer so the diaper doesn’t leak.
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How Much Do Disposable Diapers Cost?
As the chart below shows, the cost of disposable diapers can vary widely by brand. Keep in mind that you may pay more or less for your diapers, depending on where you live and shop and whether you decide to buy in bulk.
|Total unit cost
|# of diapers
|Cost per diaper
|The Honest Company
|Mama Bear Gentle Touch from Amazon
|Up & Up Diapers from Target
|Parents Choice from Wal-Mart
Prices as of May 2023
Pros and Cons of Disposable Diapers
As you figure out which type and brand of diaper works best for you and your family, there are some general pros and cons of disposable diapers to keep in mind.
• Less laundry than cloth diapers
• Highly absorbent
• Caregivers may be more familiar with using a disposable diaper
• Can be expensive
• Contributes to waste in landfill
• May contain adhesives, dyes, fragrances, or chemicals, which can irritate baby’s skin
Disposable Diaper Factors to Consider
Price is a big factor, yes. But if you’re thinking about starting a family, there are other considerations to think about when it comes to disposable diapers.
Health and Comfort
One of the most important factors in the disposable vs. cloth diaper debate is finding a solution that keeps you and your baby happy and healthy. If you don’t have the time for extra laundry, for instance, disposable diapers may be the way to go.
Disposable diapers are convenient, especially when you’re on the move. Just toss the waste away in the nearest garbage can.
Babies go through a lot of diapers. An infant generally requires up to 12 diaper changes a day for the first year, and a toddler needs around eight. This means parents should expect to purchase around 3,000 diapers per year. How much of a dent could that put in the household budget? Let’s do the math: Disposable diapers typically cost between $0.20 to $0.30 each, which means new parents should plan on budgeting around $870 per year.
According to the EPA, disposable diapers account for more than 4.1 million tons of waste each year. Those diapers tend to end up in landfills, and the materials don’t easily degrade. If you’re uncomfortable with that thought, you may want to consider cloth versions. However, keep in mind that they require energy and water to clean.
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What Are Cloth Diapers?
Cloth diapers are made of cloth that’s absorbent, reusable, and washable. They usually have at least two layers, including a waterproof outer layer to keep the diaper from leaking and an inner absorbent layer. There are several different types:
• Flats: Flat diapers are a flat piece of thick fabric without an absorbent middle that can be folded in a number of ways around the baby. They are secured with safety pins or snaps.
• Prefolds: Prefolds are rectangular-shaped piece of fabric with an absorbent middle. They’re secured with safety pins unless snaps are sewed in.
• Fitted. Fitted diapers are an absorbent cloth diaper that’s fitted with elastic at the legs and waist but does not have a waterproof cover.
• Pockets. Pocket diapers have a pocket on the inside of the diaper for an absorbent insert as well as an outer waterproof layer.
• All-in-ones (AIO). AIO diapers have an outer waterproof layer and inner absorbency, but there is no removable insert. AIOs are the cloth diaper equivalent of a disposable diaper since all of the layers are built in.
• All-in-twos. Like a combination of AIOs and pocket diapers, all-in-two diapers have an insert, but it sits directly on the baby’s skin instead of in a pocket.
• Hybrid. A hybrid diaper has a disposable insert with a reusable cover. They create more waste and are more expensive than other types of cloth diapers.
How Much Do Cloth Diapers Cost?
There’s typically a large upfront investment in cloth diapers and accessories, such as a wet bag, pail liner, or cloth wipes. Depending on the type of cloth diapering system you use and how much you’re planning to buy, you could end up spending between $390 and $1,250. Flat cloth diapers, for instance, cost around $2.50 each. If you’re planning on purchasing a fitted cloth diaper, be prepared to spend more. A typical one costs around $14.24 each.
When you’re creating a family budget, it can help to see how much you’re spending on diapers — and everything else. A spending app can help you keep an eye on your finances.
Pros and Cons of Cloth Diapers
The diaper type you choose ultimately comes down to preference and budget. However, there are some benefits and drawbacks you may want to consider as you make your decision.
• May have a smaller environmental footprint
• Produces less waste
• Softer fabric and natural fibers that may be more breathable
• Attractive designs
• Can help you decrease diapering costs, especially when going from one child to two
• Larger upfront cost
• Requires more laundry
• Require more electricity and water
• Many daycare center will not accept cloth diapers
Cloth Diaper Factors to Consider
Beyond the cost of disposable diapers vs. cloth, there are other important factors to consider.
Health and Comfort
Cloth diapers are usually made from breathable fabrics, like cotton and hemp, which can feel soft on baby’s skin. Proponents also tout the benefits of the diaper’s natural materials, which generally don’t have artificial materials, such as plastic, absorbent gelling materials, or adhesives.
While you can certainly manage a cloth diaper change when you’re on the go, it’s usually not as convenient as a disposable diaper. (You’ll need to carry the soiled diaper in a wet bag until you get home and can drop it in the washing machine.) What’s more, if you’re planning to use daycare, check if the center will accept cloth diapers — many don’t.
Cloth diapers can cost anywhere from $2.50 to $21 each. If you plan on buying 25 diapers for each size your child will need — newborn, small, medium, and large — then you could spend between $700 and $2,100 on 100 diapers.
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Cloth diapers have a different environmental impact than disposable diapers. Instead of piling up in a landfill, a cloth diaper is washed and used over and over again. However, they can use up twice as much water to produce as a disposable diaper. Plus, you’ll need to use electricity and water to launder dirty diapers, which could be an issue if you live in a state that experiences droughts or routinely restricts water or energy usage.
Cost of Cloth Diapers vs Disposable Diapers
Cloth diapers can require a significant upfront investment of anywhere from $390 to $1,250 — and that’s not including the cost of extras, such as using a diaper laundering service. However, that initial fee may end up being less than the $870 per year many parents spend on disposable diapers.
Reasons to Choose Cloth Diapers vs Disposable Diapers
As with many other parts of parenting, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to diapering. However, if cost is a determining factor — and your caregiver or daycare center is on board — cloth diapers may be the way to go. Plus, since this type of diaper is washable and reusable, it means it’s one less item ending up in a landfill.
Disposable diapers are incredibly popular among parents and for good reason. They’re convenient, highly absorbent, and, compared to cloth diapers, less expensive. On average, parents spend around $870 per year on diapers. And while it’s true that cloth diapers do require a hefty upfront investment of $390 to $1,250, they may have a smaller environmental footprint. Plus, they’re usually made of fabric that’s softer, breathable, and more natural, which some parents may prefer. All of those factors are important when you’re budgeting for a baby.
That said, diapers are just one line item in the family budget. Whether you’re saving up for their college education or looking for ways to lower monthly bills, using a money tracker app can help you manage your overall spending and saving. The SoFi app connects all of your accounts in one convenient dashboard. From there, you can see all of your balances, spending breakdowns, and credit score monitoring, plus you can get other valuable financial insights.
Is it cheaper to use cloth diapers or disposable?
It depends on how much use you get out of your cloth diaper. However, generally speaking, over time, it’s cheaper to use reusable cloth diapers, even when accounting for the cost of electricity and water needed to launder dirty diapers.
What is the average cost of cloth diapers per month?
Cloth diapers have a larger upfront cost but a lower monthly cost. If an initial investment of $500 is spread out over 30 months, for example, the cost comes out to around $17 per month.
How many disposable diapers does one cloth diaper replace?
The average baby uses 8,000 diapers by the time they’re potty trained. And let’s say you invest in 100 cloth diapers, or 25 diapers for each size your child will need until they’re potty trained. This means each cloth diaper could potentially replace up to 80 disposable diapers.
Photo credit: iStock/FotoDuets
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