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I’m often sharing how to save big on disposable diapers, but today I want to share another option—cloth diapers!
Your initial reaction, like mine, might be that it’s a lot of work and that you have to deal too closely with unsavory substances. But after talking to a lot of frugal moms who cloth diaper, it seems that many of them actually like cloth diapers for other reasons, too—they come in cute patterns and colors, they reduce diaper rash, and it makes for a great conversation starter with other new moms!
I asked my friend Amy (who uses cloth diapers on her baby girl) for her best tips and thought I would share them with you all. Remember, the goal here is to save money on whichever approach to diapering works for you and your family, not to debate which one is better.
How to Save Money on Cloth Diapers
How many cloth diapers do I need?
This depends a lot on your washing routine and the type of diaper you choose, so let’s break it down a little.
Newborns generally go through 8-10 diapers per day. This gradually tapers off to 6-8 diapers per day as baby grows. At a minimum, 12 cloth diapers allows you to wash every day-and-a-half to two days. If you want to go 2-3 days between washings, then 24-30 diapers is a good number to shoot for.
What kind of cloth diaper should I use?
The most confusing part of cloth diapering for me was deciding which type to buy from all the options. There are three major kinds of cloth diapers.
“Fitted” diapers come in sizes (S, M, L etc.) for a certain weight range, much like disposables. If you choose this type of cloth diaper, then you will have to purchase enough of each new size as your baby grows. If you decide on 20 of each size, fitted diapers can get expensive quickly.
“Prefold” diapers are the traditional piece of square cloth that many people think of when you say cloth diaper. They are fairly inexpensive, but they do require a cover to be waterproof. They also come in a variety of sizes.
“One size” or “All in One” diapers expand as baby grows using elastic and velcro or snaps. These cost a little more upfront, but you only need to buy one set that will last from infancy to potty training.
We chose one-size diapers for our family, but your choice will depend on your personal preferences. Choose diapers that work for you so that you will stick with it and not waste money on the investment. Just keep in mind that the only money you save is money that you don’t spend. Some moms like trying lots of different types of diapers and then stocking up on one particular brand; others add to their collection over time. The main thing is to set a goal for a number of diapers you are comfortable with and then buy them when they are on sale.
Note: Cloth diapers don’t always fit well at the tiny newborn stage, so many moms opt to stock up with disposables or buy XS fitted diapers to get them through the first 4-6 weeks. Using disposables at the beginning has other advantages in that mom is still trying to adapt to having a new baby in the house. Assuming 10 changes a day for 6 weeks, that would mean 420 size 1 diapers.
How can I save money on cloth diapers?
Jenny has taught us that everything goes on sale at some point, and it’s true for cloth diapers, too! The retail price for common fitted and one size diapers is around $20 per diaper. Many times you can find deals and get them for $10-$15 instead; you just have to get creative.
Although cloth diapers are gaining in popularity, it can sometimes be difficult to find cloth diapers in retail stores. They only carry two or three brands, so it doesn’t give you much selection, but you could walk in and buy them today if you needed to. (This is definitely a plus in the later stages of pregnancy or early motherhood!)
Since I tend to do a lot of my shopping online anyway, it’s easier for me to watch for daily deals instead. You can often add in a coupon code and use a cash back site to save even more.
Here are several places to watch for deals:
Zulily — Daily deals on various brands at 30-70% savings
Fuzzibunz — Often does a B5G1 sale
Cotton Babies — Often does a B5G1 free sale
Diaper Junction — Daily deals and other discounts
Green Mountain Diapers — Frequently does sales and deals
What about used cloth diapers?
Cloth diapers are reusable and durable. If you maintain them, they can even be used for multiple kiddos, which is where the real savings are with cloth diapers. Because they hold up, they are often sold used. It might surprise you, but cloth diapers retain a lot of their initial value even after a few years of use. You might not love the idea of buying used diapers, but it can save you money or help you recoup the cost of the diapers by selling them once baby has outgrown them. Cloth Diaper Trader is one option for buying and selling used cloth diapers, and you might also keep an eye on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist.
How much will water and detergent cost?
Unlike with disposables, cloth diapers require additional expense in water and laundry detergent. I can’t help you on water deals, but you can find the detergent on sale!
For most diapers, the recommended wash routine is a cold rinse, followed by a hot wash with detergent and then another cold rinse. The first rinse removes residues, allowing the hot wash to really clean the diapers. The second rinse is part of a normal wash cycle to remove detergent. This adds 3-6 extra loads of laundry each week depending on how many diapers you purchase.
Cloth diapers also require certain types of laundry soap, but that doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. Various detergents range in price from 12¢-$1.50 per load. Here is a really helpful break down of cloth diaper detergent options.
How much will it cost total?
Because there are many permutations of diapers types, number of diapers, washing routines, and detergent preferences, I’m going to share the costs I’ve estimated for the first year of my cloth diapering adventure as an example.
To give you some background, we have a water saving top-load washing machine and wash every day-and-a-half, for an average of four loads per week. I also chose to use disposables for the first six weeks until I was settled into a routine and diaper changes were a little less frequent. Following the manufacturer’s instructions on my detergent, it took me 17 weeks to get through my first 80 load bottle, which cost $12.99. From that, I estimate detergent costs at $42/yr (using coupons, this could be lower). Our local utility charges .0113/gallon for water/sewer and each load consumes 40 gallons, so this works out to $94/year in water costs. The energy consumption on our washer is $13/yr (from the little yellow sticker that came on it) and since we are basically doubling our washing, this is a good estimate. We also air dry our diapers to make them last longer, so we don’t have any added costs there.
(12) One-Size Diapers from a Zulily deal at $13.99 each = $167.88
(10) packs of Size 1 diapers purchased with drugstore deals at an average of $5 each =$50
Laundry Soap, $42/year
So for the first year, we estimate $366 for our total expenditure. The nice thing about cloth is for the second year, it goes down to $149 in washing costs and it will stay that way for future kiddos.
Regardless of whether you choose cloth diapers or disposables or a combination of each, you can save money on them.
Do you or have you used cloth diapers? Please share your tips in the comments!
To save money on disposable diapers, check out our weekly deals post!