Cloth Diapers vs. Disposables Costs: Do Cloth Diapers Save Money?

Cloth Diaper Savings Analysis

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

I dove into the numbers to find out how much money cloth diapers really save. As it turns out, the cloth diaper vs. disposable comparison is not as cut and dry as it seems!

What kind of disposable diapers would you use? How many kids will you eventually diaper? How efficient is your washing machine? 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 diaper and disposable diaper costs by more economy options vs. higher end options. Often, claims of huge cloth diaper savings assume you’d otherwise be using premium disposable diapers, which can be misleading.

Here are some key bottom lines before we get into the details:

  • 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

Let’s dive in!

How Much Do Cloth Diapers Cost?

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.

  • Flats/Prefolds with Covers: 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.
  • Pockets: 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 more expensive than covers, there are affordable options. People like that pocket cloth diapers go on in one piece like a disposable diaper once stuffed.
  • All-in-One diapers (AIO): The most expensive of the 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.

For the sake of estimating cost, we’ll assume that 24 diapers is needed to cloth diaper full time and do laundry every 2-3 days. Below is a comparison of three main types of diapering systems, with an economy estimate and a higher end estimate.

Costs of Cloth Diapers by Diapering System

Diaper TypeEconomical Total CostHigher-End Total Cost
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.

Are cloth diapers more cost effective than disposable diapers?

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 TypeTotal Cost
Prefolds (24) & Covers (6)$96
Pockets (24) & Extra Inserts (6)$136
All-In-Ones$180

It is hard to predict how big a baby will be and how long it will take them to reach one-size cloth diapers. Some babies out grow newborn sized diapers very quickly. Because of this and the expense of an extra set of cloth diapers, some people elect to use disposable diapers until their child is big enough for regular cloth diapers.

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
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
TOTAL$84

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).

Related Post: How Much Does Cloth Diaper Laundry Cost?

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 Diapering for a Year

Here are the total estimated costs of cloth diapering for a year.

Economical OptionHigher-End Option
Newborn Diapers$96$180
One-Size Diapers$146$551
Accessories$84$84
Laundry Costs$99$99
TOTAL$425$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.

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

YEAR 1

Diaper SizeChanges Per DayTotal DiapersStore Brand CostsName Brand Costs
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
TOTAL2554$290$685

YEAR 2

Diaper SizeChanges Per DayTotal DiapersStore Brand CostsName Brand Costs
Size 3 (4 months)5610$67$140
Size 4 (8 months)51215$158$316
Wipes (1 per change)$18$73
TOTAL1825$243$529

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

Cloth Diapers vs. Disposables Costs

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 accessories.

Are cloth diaper costs cheaper than disposable diapers?

Year 1: Cloth Diaper vs. Disposable Costs

Economical OptionHigher End Option
Cloth Diapers$425$914
Disposables$290$685
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 OptionHigher End Option
Cloth Diapers$99$99
Disposables$243$529
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. Disposables Costs

Putting it all together, here are the estimated costs of cloth diapers and disposables over the first two years of a baby’s life:

Economical OptionHigher End Option
Cloth Diapers$524$1013
Disposables$533$1214
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 come out a couple hundred dollars ahead with cloth diapers.

Second Child: Cloth Diapers vs. Disposables Costs

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 OptionHigher End Option
Cloth Diapers$198$198
Disposables$533$1214
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.

Saving Money Buying Cloth Diapers Used

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 LotSecondhand Regular Lot
Flats/Prefolds (24) & Covers (6)$48$39-79
Pockets (24) & Extra Inserts (6)$68$73-276
All-In-Ones$90$90-324

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 OptionHigher End Option
Used Cloth Diapers$361$606
Disposables$533$1214
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

How Do Cloth Diaper Service Costs Compare?

An alternative to cloth diapers for those who like the environmental benefits but not the extra laundry is a cloth diaper service. Cloth diaper service companies supply you with cloth diapers each week and pick up your dirty diapers for laundering.

Cloth diaper services were more popular in previous generations but became less prevalent with the rise of modern disposable diapers. Because there are fewer companies available, cloth diaper services can be pricey depending on your area.

I priced out 10 cloth diaper service companies whose pre-fold diaper services ranged from $22-$36/week, with an average cost of $29/week. Five companies also offered All-In-Ones (often required by daycares) for a higher price of $40-$55/week.

How much do cloth diaper services cost?

Let’s see how these cloth diaper services costs compare to disposables or washing your own cloth diapers.

Cloth Diaper Service vs. Washing Your Own Cloth Diapers vs. Disposables Costs

Diaper TypeTotal Cost Per Year
Cloth Diaper Service$1508
Disposables$290-$685
Wash-Your-Own Cloth Diapers$425-$914

Cloth diaper services are much more expensive than washing your own cloth diapers or disposables. Cloth diaper services cost over $1000 more a year compared to our economy disposables or cloth diaper options. Even on the higher end, you’ll come out hundreds of dollars ahead doing it yourself.

Summary: Are Cloth Diapers Cost Effective?

So, are cloth diapers cost effective? 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.

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.

How much did you initially invest in cloth diapering? Do you think cloth diapers have saved you money compared to disposables? Let me know in the comments!


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