How Much Does It Cost to Wash Cloth Diapers?

If you are considering cloth diapers, you should be aware that there are a few cloth diaper-specific costs you won’t face with disposables. The biggest of them is laundry. Cloth diapers are washed frequently and with it comes extra utilities and detergent expenses. But how much does it really cost to wash your cloth diapers?

There is not one set number because washing costs will vary based on whether you are washing at home, in a laundromat, or through a diaper service. For home washing, expenses can range depending on your machine’s efficiency and local water and electric rates.

Most people wash their cloth diapers every 2-3 days, yielding about 180 extra loads of laundry in a year. Cloth diapers can go through the dryer but are also easily line dried to increase their lifespan.

Below I break down estimated costs of washing cloth diapers for a year depending on whether you wash at home, in coin-operated machines, or with a diaper service. I also look at the cost differences depending on if you are using a top or front loading washing machine.

How Much Does It Cost to Wash Cloth Diapers At Home?

Washing your cloth diaper laundry at home will see increases to your detergent, water and electric bills. However, the cost increase will vary a lot based on whether you are using a top- or front-loading washing machine, and local utility rates.

The following calculations assume that you’ll do a separate load of cloth diapers every other day (180 loads in a year). I referenced this calculator to estimate costs per load of laundry.

I also assume an even mix of hot, warm and cold cycles. People swear that you have to wash cloth diapers in hot washes, but your normal hot water setting likely doesn’t get hot enough to actually sterilize. Your dryer will get hot enough to sanitize, or you can sun dry to get the same sterilization benefits since using a dryer is both more expensive and hard on fabrics.

The heavy lifting of cleaning is done through agitation and your detergent, and modern detergents are designed to clean just as well in cold water. I primarily wash with cold as it is cheaper, more environmentally-friendly, and increases the longevity of the cloth diapers. I’ll occasionally run a hot wash if it seems like the diapers need a deeper clean. Consumer Reports has a rundown of the misconceptions about washing in hot here.

How much does it cost to wash cloth diapers?

Cloth Diaper Laundry Costs in a Top-Loader

Top loading washing machines are less efficient than their front-loading competition. They use more electricity and a lot more water, which makes the cost per load higher. That said, many people feel that top-loading washing machines are more effective at cleaning clothes.

While it is common practice to wash cloth diapers in separate loads of laundry, some of us with top loading machines can get away with sometimes washing our cloth diapers with our regular laundry. This keeps both your costs down and reduces the environmental foot print of your cloth diapering. I personally do this by doing a quick hand wash on the diapers and occasionally running them in a separate load for a deep clean.

Here is a breakdown of estimated costs using a top loader to wash cloth diapers:

Cost Per LoadMonthly (15 loads)Yearly (180 loads)
Detergent (Tide Powder)$0.19$2.85$34.20
Wash Cycle$0.47$7.05$84.60
Dry Cycle$0.50$7.50$90.00
TOTAL – Hang Dry$0.66$9.90$118.80
TOTAL – Wash & Dry$1.16$17.40$208.80

Overall, you’ll spend about $119 a year washing cloth diapers in a top loader washing machine. Were you to wash only in cold water, the cost would drop to $81 a year. Hang drying also saves you about $90 a year compared to using the dryer.

Cloth Diaper Laundry Costs in a Front Loader

Front loading washing machines are estimated to save 40-75% more water and 30-85% more electricity than their top loading brothers. While the environmental and cost saving benefits are great, front loaders are known to have mold issues and have less agitation (agitation = cleaning power). Cloth diaper users with front loading machines seem to have more washing challenges than those with top loaders.

Estimated costs to washing cloth diapers in a front-loader washing machine:

Cost Per LoadMonthly (15 loads)Yearly (180 loads)
Detergent (Tide Powder)$0.19$2.85$34.20
Wash Cycle$0.25$3.75$45.00
Dry Cycle$0.46$6.90$82.80
TOTAL – Hang Dry$0.44$6.60$79.20
TOTAL – Wash & Dry$0.90$13.50$162.00

In a year of washing cloth diapers in a front loader, you’ll spend about $79. This is a $39 savings compared to a top-loading machine. Washing in cold would be even cheaper – only $55.80 in a year. Even with a more efficient dryer, you’ll almost double your laundry costs if you dry your cloth diapers in a dryer.

Average Cost of Washing Cloth Diapers

Averaging across our front- and top-loader cost estimates, here are general estimates of how much it costs to wash your cloth diapers at home per week, per month, and per year:

Cloth Diaper LaundryWash & Hang Dry CostsWash & Dryer Costs
Per Week (3 loads)$1.65$3.15
Per Month (15 loads)$8.25$15.75
Per Year (180 loads)$99.00$189.00

How Much Does It Cost to Wash Cloth Diapers in a Laundromat?

Not everyone has a washer and dryer in their home. Should you still consider cloth diapering if you rely on a laundry mat or coin-operated washing machines?

There are three possible costs associated with relying on coin-operated laundry machines for cloth diapers:

  1. You could do more loads of laundry in the laundry mat.
  2. You could buy more cloth diapers to go longer between cloth diaper laundry loads.
  3. You could buy a mini washing machine or manual home washing machine. For a more affordable option, consider using a salad spinner for washing at home.

Costs of washing cloth diapers at a laundromat

Assuming an average cost of $2.00/load of laundry (source) at the laundry mat (excluding transportation costs) and assuming usual cloth diaper laundry frequency (every other day), it would cost the following to do cloth diaper laundry in coin machines:

Laundromat Cloth Diaper CostsWash & Hang DryWash & Dryer
Per Week (3 loads)$6.00$12.00
Per Month (15 loads)$30.00$60.00
Per Year (180 loads)$360.00$720.00

A cost of $360 is more than the $290 you’d pay for a year’s worth of store-brand disposable diapers (for more details on the cost of disposables, check out this comparison of cloth diaper vs. disposable costs). These costs also don’t account for the lost time doing cloth diaper laundry outside of your home. For most people, washing cloth diapers in shared washing machines is not worth the inconvenience or extra costs.

Costs of Cloth Diaper Laundery Services

If you like the idea of cloth diapers but don’t want to deal with laundry, you may consider a cloth diaper service. Cloth diaper service companies handle all the washing for you and provide the cloth diapers. Each week you receive a set of clean diapers and your dirty ones get picked up for laundering.

Cost of cloth diapers services

This is a convenient option for those hoping to cut down on their disposable use without added work. They are also an alternative for those who don’t have a washing machine at home. If you are cloth diapering for environmental reasons, cloth diaper services generally wash more efficiently than home washing machines.

Cloth diaper services were more common in previous generations but many closed as disposable diapers became more accessible. With less competition, the ones that remain are on the pricier side. You may also face some additional costs outside the weekly laundry service rate, include buying diaper covers or renting a diaper pail. Only some diaper service companies offer (more expensive) All-In-One cloth diapers, which are often required if you want to cloth diaper at daycare.

I priced out 10 different cloth diaper companies to estimate how much it costs to have a cloth diaper service wash your cloth diapers.

Avg. Weekly RateMonthly RateYearly Rate
Pre-folds only$29.50$118$1534
Mix of Pre-folds & All-In-Ones$44.50$178$2314
All-In-Ones only$52.50$210$2730

It is expensive to use a cloth diaper service. When I analyzed the total costs of cloth diapers compared to disposables, I found that you could use store brand disposables for a year for $290. Buying a whole lot of cloth diapers new and washing them would cost about $425 (or even less if you buy your cloth diapers used!). You can save over a $1000 handling diapering yourself.

Summary

In conclusion, washing your own cloth diapers at home is the most economical way to wash cloth diapers. For those without an in-home washing machine, both washing in a laundromat or using a cloth diaper service will be more expensive than using generic disposable diapers.

If you are looking to keep both your costs and energy use low, consider sometimes washing your cloth diapers in cold water and hanging them to dry. Hanging diapers in the sun is a free and energy efficient way to sterilize your diapers.

How did you wash your cloth diapers? Do you have any tips for saving more on laundry costs?


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