Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable Cost Breakdown: What’s Cheaper?

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You’ve probably heard the claim that cloth diapers save you tons of money compared to disposable costs. But is it true? Are cloth diapers cheaper than disposable diapers?

I’ve done a mix of both cloth diapering and disposables with both my babies so I have almost four years of experience comparing the two diapering systems.

Being a researcher and forever frugal, I was interested in whether the cost of cloth diapers vs disposable actually saves money. So I did a deep dive into the numbers to find out do cloth diapers save money.

As it turns out, the cloth diaper vs. disposable cost comparison is not as cut and dry as it seems!

The cost you’ll incur diapering your baby will vary a lot depending on the type of diapers you use, how many kids you have, and even how efficient your washing machine is. All of these factors play a role in whether cloth diapers are a cost effective choice for your family.

To help you figure it out, I break down cloth vs disposable diapers cost, including a comparison of budget store-brand options and higher end name-brand options. Often, claims of huge cloth diaper savings assume you’d otherwise be using premium disposable diapers, which can be misleading.

And if you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck on diapers, don’t forget to check out some of my other diaper articles. I’ve done extensive testing of disposable diaper brands to help you find the best and cheapest diaper. For example, check out my comparison of Target store brand diapers vs. more expensive Huggies.

Let’s dive in!

disposable vs cloth diaper comparison

Types of Cloth Diapers

The cost of cloth diapers vary greatly by brand and diapering system. Three popular types of cloth diapers are described below, ordered from least expensive to most expensive.

DIAPER COVERS with FLATS: The most economical diapering system is flats or prefolds with waterproof covers. Flats and prefolds are squares of absorbent fabric that are fastened to the baby and then covered with a waterproof outer layer diaper shell. Since it requires two pieces, some people find this system less convenient.

POCKET DIAPERS: Pocket diapers are stuffed with absorbent fabric between a waterproof outer shell and a fleece liner that touches the baby’s skin. While pockets are the mid-range pick compared to covers and flats, there are affordable options. People like that pocket cloth diapers go on in one piece like a disposable diaper once stuffed.

Mama Koala pocket cloth diapers
Mama Koala pocket cloth diapers

ALL-IN-ONE DIAPERS (AIO): The upgrade pick of diapering systems is the All-In-One Diaper. They most emulate a disposable in terms convenience because all the absorbent material and covers are sewn together.

There is no set number of diapers needed to successfully cloth diaper. The number of diapers will depend on how frequently your baby needs to be changed and how frequently you want to do laundry.

How Much Do Cloth Diapers Cost?

Below is a comparison of three main types of diapering systems, with an estimate for budget brands and a higher end estimate (and if you’re interested in budget cloth diapers, don’t forget to check out my review of Alva vs. Mama Koala cloth diapers).

two cloth diapers side by side
Cloth diapers

For the sake of estimating how much cloth diapers cost, we’ll assume that 24 diapers are needed to cloth diaper full time and do laundry every 2-3 days.

Costs of Cloth Diapers by Type

How much are cloth diapers? Prices vary depending on the type of cloth diapers you decide to use. The table below gives a breakdown of cloth diaper costs by diaper type.

Diaper TypeEconomical Estimated CostsHigher-End Estimated Costs
Flats/Prefolds (24) & Covers (6)$77 (Flats + Economy Covers)$157 (Prefolds + Brand Covers)
Pockets (24) & Extra Inserts (6)$146 (Economy Pockets + Flats)$551 (Brand Pockets + Hemp Inserts)
All-In-Ones$179 (Economy All-In-Ones)$647 (Brand All-In-Ones)

Note that these total cost estimates do not take into account trial and error. Many people that cloth diaper find that they try out a combination of different diapering systems and brands over the course of cloth diapering.

Babies are different and a cloth diaper that works great for one baby may not work for another. With that in mind, many people recommend getting a variety of diapers instead of a big lot of the exact same kind when starting out.

Newborn Cloth Diaper Costs

For those wanting to cloth diaper from birth, you’ll like also have to buy a set of smaller, newborn sized cloth diapers. Regular one-size cloth diapers usually don’t begin fitting until a baby is about 10 lbs or so. Newborn sized cloth diapers fit most babies from birth until about 15 lbs.

Prepare for around 12 diaper changes a day if you decide to buy newborn sized diapers. Again, we’ll estimate cost off of 24 cloth diapers to allow for a day between washes. Since these are used for a short period, I estimated costs off of the cheapest options.

Newborn Diaper TypeEstimated Costs
Prefolds (24) & Covers (6)$96
Pockets (24) & Extra Inserts (6)$136

That said, many people elect to skip newborn cloth diapers and instead use disposables until their baby fits in regular cloth diapers. This is because:

  • You can’t predict how big a baby will be and how fast they’ll grow. Some babies out grow newborn sized diapers very quickly.
  • The expense of an extra set of cloth diapers that are used for a short time doesn’t recoup the cost compared to disposables
  • Your so tired at the beginning that extra laundry can be daunting.

I was so excited to use our newborn cloth diapers with our second baby and only managed to use them sporadically. They didn’t fit her well and we were just so so tired. I’d wait until your baby was born before investing in newborn cloth diapers unless you get a great secondhand deal.

Cloth Diaper Accessories Costs

Most people cloth diapering end up buying at least some accessories to make the process easier. These may include:

Cloth Diaper AccessoriesEstimated Cost (May 2022)
Cloth Wipes$10
Diaper Pail or Hamper$7 (Hamper)
Diaper Pail Liner (2)$20
Cloth Diaper Fasteners (i.e. Snappis)$10
Toilet Sprayer$27
Wet Bags (2)$10

Cloth Diaper Laundry Costs

Cloth diapering will increase your laundry expenses. Most people wash their cloth diapers in a separate loads of laundry so you’ll be using more detergent, water and electric. It is recommended that cloth diapers be washed every two to three days.

If you wash and hang dry your cloth diapers every other day, you’ll spend about $99 more in a year (180 loads @ $0.55/load). I did a deep dive into the cost of washing cloth diapers if you’d like to see more details about the cost breakdown. Drying each load will increase your total cloth diaper laundry cost to ~$189 per year ($1.05/load).

Cloth diaper laundry costs will vary based on your machine’s efficiency and local utility costs. Here is the laundry cost per cycle calculator I referenced in case you want to run your own numbers.

Total Cost Of Cloth Diapers

full cloth diaper set
Full cloth diaper set

So, how much do cloth diapers cost per year? Let’s total it all up to get the estimated costs of cloth diapering for a year:

Economical EstimatesHigher-End Estimates
Newborn Diapers$96$180
One-Size Diapers$146$551
Laundry Costs$99$99

Cloth diapers will cost you approximately $425 per year if you opt for budget-friendly diapers. If you buy higher-end cloth diapers, your cost to cloth diaper for a year is ~$914.

Assuming that you change your baby approximately 2554 times in a year, cloth diapers costs about $0.16 per diaper change on the low end and $0.36 per change on the high end.

Note that the Economical Option is calculated based on prefolds for the newborn stage and economy one-size pocket diapers; the Higher-End Option includes all-in-ones for the newborn stage and higher-end one-size pocket diapers.

How Much Do Disposable Diapers Cost?

How do cloth diapers’ costs compare to disposables? Disposable diaper prices also vary a lot between diaper brands. Many articles purporting the savings potential of cloth diapers base their analysis off of the cost of name brand diapers, inflating the possible savings. Store brands are less than 50% of the cost of name brands like Pampers or Huggies.

Store brand vs. name brand disposable diapers
Store brand vs. name brand disposable diapers

Below is a breakdown on how much you’d spend on diapers in the first and second year of your baby’s life:

Disposable Diaper Costs Per Year


Diaper SizeChanges Per DayTotal DiapersStore Brand Estimated Costs (May 2022)Name Brand Estimated Costs (May 2022)
Newborn (1 month)10300$30$72
Size 1 (2 months)8488$44$93
Size 2 (2 months)8488$49$98
Size 3 (7 months)61278$141$294
Wipes (1 per change)$26$102


Diaper SizeChanges Per DayTotal DiapersStore Brand Estimated Costs (May 2022)Name Brand Estimated Costs (May 2022)
Size 3 (4 months)5610$67$140
Size 4 (8 months)51215$158$316
Wipes (1 per change)$18$73

TOTAL DISPOSABLE DIAPER COSTS IN TWO YEARS: If you use generic diapers and wipes, you can expect to pay an estimated $533 over two years of diapering. In comparison, using name brand diapers and wipes would cost about ~$1214.

Cost of Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable

cloth diapers vs disposable diaper cost

Let’s look at the cloth diapers vs disposables costs side by side. In the first year, disposables can come out ahead of cloth diapers in terms of total costs once you take into account cloth diaper laundering and

Year 1: Cloth vs. Disposable Diapers Cost

Economical EstimatesHigher End Estimates
Cloth Diapers$425$914
WINNERDisposables ($135 savings)Disposables ($229 savings)

If you opt for the more economical store brand disposables, you’ll spend about $135 less than you would on cloth diapering. If you plan to use brand-name or eco-friendly disposables, you’ll come out ahead by about $260 by cloth diapering instead.

The money-saving scale tips towards cloth diapers the longer you use them. Most of cloth diapering costs come from the initial investment of diapers and accessories. In the second year of your baby’s life, you’ll realize more cloth diaper savings because your main cloth diapering expenses will be laundry and the occasional replacement pieces.

Year 2: Cloth Diaper vs. Disposable Costs

Economical EstimatesHigher End Estimates
Cloth Diapers$99$99
WINNERCloth ($144 savings)Cloth ($430 savings)

In the second year of use, cloth diapers come out ahead of disposables. You are essentially only paying for washing costs in the second year of cloth diapering. Compared to store brand diapers, you’ll save about $144 using cloth diapers instead.

Total: Cloth Diapers vs Disposable Cost

Let’s put it all together and look at the overall cost of disposable diapers vs cloth. Here are the total estimated costs of cloth diapers vs disposables over the first two years of a baby’s life:

Economical EstimatesHigher End Estimates
Cloth Diapers$524$1013
WINNERDraw ($9 difference)Cloth ($201 savings)

Comparing the economical options, the cost of cloth diapers and disposables is essentially the same over two years of use. If you opt for premium diapers, you’ll save a couple hundred dollars with cloth diapers.

Do Cloth Diapers Save Money with a Second Child?

If you use your same set of cloth diapers for additional children, the savings over disposable diapers is much greater. Here are the total costs for two years of diapering a second child:

Economical EstimatesHigher End Estimates
Cloth Diapers$198$198
WINNERCloth ($335 difference)Cloth ($1016 savings)

Laundry expenses are the biggest expense to cloth diapering a second child. Cloth diapers will save you about $335 compared to generic disposables and $1016 compared to premium disposables over two years.

Save Money: Buy Cloth Diapers Secondhand

The estimated costs calculated above assume you’re purchasing cloth diapers new. Many people opt to buy their cloth diapers secondhand to realize greater savings compared to disposables. As a general rule of thumb, used cloth diapers should not cost more than about 50% of the retail price. Discounting our cost estimates above by 50% gives us these rough estimates for used cloth diaper costs:

Diaper TypeSecondhand Newborn Lot (Estimated May 2022)Secondhand Regular Lot (Estimated May 2022)
Flats/Prefolds (24) & Covers (6)$48$39-79
Pockets (24) & Extra Inserts (6)$68$73-276

The table below shows what our cloth diapers vs. disposables costs would look like if the cloth diapers were bought secondhand. These estimates were calculated assuming a 50% price reduction on cloth diapers and accessories, and two years of diapering.

Economical EstimatesHigher End Estimates
Used Cloth Diapers$361$606
WINNERCloth ($172 difference)Cloth ($608 savings)

Used cloth diapers beat disposables and potentially save you hundreds of dollars. That said, used cloth diaper savings will vary by availability and condition. I have got secondhand cloth diapers for a fraction of the cost of new, some even for free.

Related Post: How To Buy Used Cloth Diapers

However, buying secondhand cloth diapers does require extra work searching for deals. It also includes the risk of making a bad purchase. Be mindful that some people sell used cloth diapers for even more than retail cost and may not sell good condition diapers.

Always verify that the diaper’s elastics and outside waterproof cover are in good condition. Check out this complete guide to buying secondhand cloth diapers, which includes for other things to watch out, ideas of where to find good deals and details on how to properly sterilize them.

Saving Money Reselling Cloth Diapers

Similarly, you may also be able to recoup some costs by selling your used cloth diapers once you potty train. If your diapers are in very good condition, you may be able to get about 50% of the retail costs back if you resell. Depending on the cloth diaper value, this could be additional hundreds of dollars of savings by using cloth diapers compared to disposable diapers.

Related Post: 7 Tips for Selling on Facebook Marketplace

Conclusion: Are Cloth Diapers Cheaper?

So, do cloth diapers save money? It depends! In a baby’s first year of life it may actually be cheaper to use store brand disposable diapers vs. cloth diapers. After two years, it’s a wash – cloth diapers and generic disposables costs are essentially the same amount.

  • If you use store brand disposable diapers, the costs are almost identical to cloth diapering over two years (and may be cheaper in the first year!)
  • You see more savings from cloth diapers the longer you use them (think multiple kids)
  • Buying cloth diapers secondhand is a great way to increase how much money you save on diapers

Still, cloth diapers can offer greater savings if:

  1. They’re used for more than one kid
  2. You would otherwise buy premium disposable diapers
  3. They are bought secondhand
  4. You resell your cloth diaper stash once you potty train.

As a final note, cloth diapering does not have to be an all or nothing decision. You can get a smaller amount of cloth diapers that you use part-time. I personally cloth diaper part-time and find it helps our family strike a good balance between savings, costs, and convenience.

And if you’re interested in cloth diapers but don’t want to take on all the laundry work, don’t forget to check out my cloth diaper service cost breakdown.

Are disposable or cloth diapers cheaper?

About the Author

Elizabeth Jon is a Ph.D. researcher whose work focuses on pregnancy and education. At Shoestring Baby, she uses her skills to research baby name trends, in-depth baby gear reviews & money savings ideas for parents.

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