Diaper Wars: Cloth ver$u$ Disposable

Hi, everybody, today we are going to talk about diapers. We’re going to talk about cloth versus disposables. We’ve run some numbers on the economics of cloth versus disposable, and I want to — Yeah! I wanted to share that with you. So stay tuned.

Before we jump into the economics and the number crunching, I want to share a bit of interesting history I found with you guys as we prepared for this video. Diapers have been around since babies started showing up on this planet. I’m sure they’ve probably changed shape and form, but as long as there’s been babies, there’s been something to wrap around their little tushies.

Before the introduction of washing machines, mamas were hand washing these things, yeah, hand washing, so imagine not having a washing machine and you scrubbing diapers. That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun to me, which segways into the next point in the history of diapers. Obviously, that was a huge incentive to get a baby out of diapers ASAP because ain’t nobody got that kind of time to scrub diapers. That’s part of why cloth diapering works well for us. I have a washing machine and don’t have to hand wash. Plus, I’ve got the time. In the past there was a huge incentive to get babies out of diapers.

Honestly, there are lots of other cultures that potty-train a lot sooner than we do. That’s a subject I know very little about, so I’m not going to talk very much about it. It’s called elimination communication. Basically you start potty training early in a baby’s life, picking up on subtle cues about when baby needs to go potty and putting them on a toilet.

Culturally, we might be a little on the slow side of potty training. Looking the numbers, we found that in the United States, potty training ages have progressively gotten older and older. In the 50s, for example, 95% of all children were potty trained by 18 months. My dad, for example, was potty trained by 18 months. Moms got tired of washing diapers and so at that time it was a parent-led potty training process instead of a child-led process, which I believe is presently where we are now.

In the 1980s, with the introduction of disposable diapers, there was a decrease in cloth use. Probably still about 50% were using cloth and those 50% had the luxury of using a washer and dryer. However, disposables, let’s be honest, they’re disposable. They’re easier. I mean, you wrap them up and throw them away. With a decrease in cloth diapering and an increase in disposable diapers, the potty training age inched up. Probably only about 50% of kids as opposed to 95% of kids, were trained by 18 months.

Now, I would say that there’s 10% or fewer doing cloth diapering, although I think that cloth is making a bit of a comeback, which is awesome. And by now only 10% are potty-trained by 18 months. Why is that? Well, maybe because I don’t have to hand-wash diapers every night in preparation for the next morning on top of all the other things that I would be doing as a 1930s, ’40s, ’50s housewife.

Disposable diapers have helped push the potty training age up past the 18 months of bygone years. I’m not saying that’s wrong, I mean, whatever. It is what it is. However, it is interesting from a historical viewpoint when today’s pediatricians and doctors say, “Oh, no, no. Children shouldn’t. They’re not ready to potty train before a certain age.” That may be true for some kids, but it makes me wonder about those kids in the 1950s? They did it. I mean 95% were potty-trained by 18 months. So it’s possible. However, it has become more favorable to wait until kids are older.

All right, guys. Here’s the amazing spreadsheet my dad helped put together. This is basically the economics of cloth versus disposable diapers. We’re working on some averages. We’re not claiming that this is 100% perfect, but let’s start here with some assumptions. We have a high-end and a low-end and we’re going to start off with average changes per day. High, 10 changes; low, 6 changes and this is going to be stretched out over a duration of 36 months, which is also on the high-end. We have 18 months on the low-end.





So if you’re thinking, “Well, my newborn is going to pee more than 10 times a day.” You might be right, but this is an average stretched out over 36 months. We figure the number of changes required here are going to fall somewhere between 10,800 and 3,240, regardless of whether or not this number is accurate for a newborn. This will be our average.










We’ll first start with disposable diapers. Average cost, high-end, 30 cents per diaper to low-end, 12 cents per diaper. Then we’re going to state the total cost of disposables for both one child, then two children. So we a have high price and low price for both one and two children. Total disposable cost for two children is high a of $6,480 and the low cost is $778.

Moving down to cloth diapers, equipment and supplies, we have newborn, small, medium and large diapers. You’ll see that we’re talking about prefolds because that’s what I have experience with. Obviously, you’re going to see on the low-end, that there’s going to be mamas like me who are going to say, “Okay, I’m going to go with small and large diapers and omit the medium.” And that’s cool. We’ve tried to show there’s going to be some variations in the size of diapers you choose along with the diaper sprayer and shield. Also take note; you’ll need a wet diaper pail, diaper liners, and fasteners. The subtotal for one kiddo high-end is $568, and the low-end is $385.

Now for replacement supplies. So for example, when our second baby came along, there were a few things that I needed to replace. So we’ve a high-end replacement cost of $170 and the low end cost is $39. We’re assuming a 30% and a 10% replacement cost. therefore, our second subtotal, if you’re diapering for two kids is $738 and $424.

We also need to remember there’s a laundry cost so we must figure for diapers per load, number of loads, and laundry cost per load. We have our subtotal for both one and two children. We’re assuming the same laundry cost for each child. We have the number of loads and number of diapers that are going to be washed in each load, then we’ll move down to the total cost of cloth for one child and total for two children.

High-end for two kids is $1,746 and the low end is $527. Here’s the money, right here, with the comparison of cloth to disposable diapers. For one kiddo, disposable diapers on the high-end is $3,240, low-end, $389. Cloth diapers, high-end is $1,072, low-end, $437. So the basic savings using cloth on the high-end is $2,168. And on the low-end, you see that it is a -$48. Now let’s move to two kids, which is where I’m at. Disposables, high-end is $6,480 and high-end for cloth is $1,746. My savings using cloth on the high-end is going to be $4,734. Savings on the low-end will be at $250.









Somewhere, probably in the middle is where you’re going to find the amount of your savings with two kids. Because I have two kids the savings with the two children is the part that is super exciting for me. These are the numbers, this is the spreadsheet my dad mostly put together. Yay, dad! Lots of good information, but there’s more to this than just numbers.

Disposable diapers create more solid waste. In fact, about seven times more. However, cloth diapering also has an environmental footprint and it largely depends on how we wash and handle the diapers as to what kind of footprint we leave. Here are a few suggestions to help minimize the environmental footprint. Obviously, one of them is going to be line-dry cloth diapers when possible. I live in a location, where in the summertime, it is like living on the sun. Line dry. Awesome! Another advantage to line-drying is the sun helps bleach them out, and keeps them smelling wonderful. So line-dry when possible and use your dryer as little as possible. Winter time where I live is rainy and junky, so I am going use my dryer. But if you have the option of not using your dryer, then don’t. Line-dry!

Use HE (high-efficiency) equipment if possible. It’s just another small way to help keep that footprint light. Again, if you don’t have HE stuff, that’s okay, but if you do, great. That’s minimizing the footprint just a little bit more.

Another suggestion is to not wash your diapers at temperatures over 140 degrees Fahrenheit, 60 Celsius. That’s going to help with your hot water tank temperatures and resulting energy bills. If you can use fuller washing machine loads it also helps. I have a lot of cloth diapers, so I am able to wait three days between washings to get a really full load. As long as I do laundry that day, I’m good. Full laundry loads are energy saving.

Another thing, obviously, is to help your child potty train as soon as possible. Some sources I’ve read suggest that cloth diapering may actually helps kids move towards potty training a little bit earlier. Our first daughter, was making moves towards potty training earlier but then she backed off. I was like, “Okay, whatever.” But with hindsight, I think the reason for that was my using disposable diapers which wicked away the moisture so that she didn’t actually feel the wet. With cloth your child will feel the dampness more. Having a wet or poopy diaper next to their skin may encourage some children to potty train earlier.

Lastly, reuse cloth diapers. My cloth diapers have already been used with one baby and now I’m using them with our second child. That helps, as you saw in the numbers listed above. It reduces the amount of money spent and the overall environmental footprint. But having said all of that, I definitely want to put this out there. It’s not just the numbers, and  the money, or environmental concerns. Because to be perfectly honest, I’m on about month three of mostly using disposables. We’ve got some things going on in our lives right now that make it not feasible to keep up with laundering cloth diapers. So we’ve been using disposables.

In another month or two when things have settled down, I’m probably going back to cloth diapers. Having just shared that, obviously, there’s no judgment on which ever way you choose to diaper your child. I mostly wanted to put the numbers out there and show you what we discovered.

I’m happy with our compromise. We have disposables and we have cloth. When I use the cloth I feel great because I love freshly laundered diapers and when I use disposables, I feel great because it’s quick. I like having options. So either way, whatever works for you, your family, your finances, and your time because you have to factor all those things in before you make a decision to put down the money for cloth diapering and make the commitment to doing it.

That’s it. This is our video – diaper wars; cloth versus disposable. Which one will you choose? Perhaps you’ll use both, as I do. Thanks for joining in today. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments. I would love to be able to help you if I can. I’m not a pro, but, I’ll tell you what I think I know.

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See you next time!

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