Cloth vs Disposable Diapers – The Accountant’s Way

One of the reasons I chose to be an accountant was because it is a career with a set of skills. Which I can use to benefit me both professionally but also in the home. One of those is the ability to perform a cost benefit analysis. And with some changes coming in my household I applied the same type of cost benefit analysis strategy I would to helping a business owner make a decision, to making a personal decision within our home. Cloth vs Disposable diaper.

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I read 15 to 20 articles comparing the cost of cloth to disposable diapers. And I’d be lying if I said that over half of them were diaper retailers (Cloth or disposable), because everyone wants to sell you something. So, in the interests of doing my own due diligence, I performed the following analysis, and thought I would share it.

I’m simply a curious accountant who is going to be a dad again. And I wanted to get some real answers. In that spirit, if you find a major hole in my analysis, let me know. I did this to learn, and will be happy to continue to do so.

My disclaimer, before we begin:

  • The question of diapers, relates to a lot of other topics related to parenting which are quite sensitive. Including but not limited to: potty training, breastfeeding, and carbon footprint. I have briefly touched on them, but more than anything, I have not made any assumptions within based upon my ideas of the right or wrong way to raise a child. If I went earlier or later on a particular area of interest, it is because I’m estimating conservatively. I would rather err on the side of spending more in an estimate than not. This is an estimate after all. The size of your baby or the speed it grows could throw this entire analysis off base, it is meant to be a guideline to help aide in making a decision.
  • My hope is whoever reads this understands the bulk of my analysis is fiscal, not moral or ethical. This topic is convoluted enough without getting into all that stuff. And I wanted to lend some clarity to one aspect of the conversation.

Key assumptions

  • Baby wipes not included
  • Child in diapers until 3 years old. We are projecting conservatively, and based upon normal American babies. Based upon culture or region age of potty training can change. Some believe that cloth diapers potty train children earlier. And we gradually reduced diaper usage from full to near zero by the 3rd birthday. Again, please don’t be sensitive, we erred conservatively.
  • Based upon children in 50% quartile
  • Does not account for premature babies
  • Reasonable effort to find best deals made, not accounting for big box stores, or coupons. Nor does it consider buying used, or selling when your baby outgrows their diapers. But those could affect your decision.
  • Brands we selected were meant as a benchmark for market niche, each representing a market segment: discount, organic, baseline or other. We don’t have a preference for any brand. For disposable pricing we did go on Amazon, and in full disclosure, we have a Prime membership. This is mentioned because we understand lower income families don’t have access to discounts through Amazon, or Big box stores where they can leverage the heavy discounts, but for the purposes of picking a price, we needed to start somewhere.
  • Assumes perfect inventory usage, and by unit cost. If you over purchase, or purchasing in large containers there may be excess. Let’s be honest, there will be excess, because in inventory management, and especially with babies, we are making our best guess.
  • Cloth diapers purchased in the beginning are used throughout entire span of child’s life. Additional purchases will change this potentially significantly. What this means is, keep your wife out of Target and off the internet from buying “really cute” diapers and trying to tell you they are an investment.

Disposable Diapers:

  • Disposable costs at year 1
    • Luvs – 447.6
    • Huggies – 785.4
    • Seventh Gen – 1,247.40
    • Bambo Nature – 1,496.40
  • Disposable costs at year 2
    • Luvs – 324
    • Huggies – 626.4
    • Seventh Gen – 885.60
    • Bambo Nature – 1,144.80
  • Disposable costs at year 3
    • Luvs – 156
    • Huggies – 382.20
    • Seventh Gen – 366.6
    • Bambo Nature – 390
  • Disposable costs overall
    • Luvs – 927.60
    • Huggies – 1,794
    • Seventh Gen – 2,499.60
    • Bambo Nature – 3,031.20

There are both fixed and variable costs associated with Cloth diapers. We accounted for a toilet sprayer, and spray reducer for initial purchases in addition to the diapers. Liners come in both disposable and reusable we included both options in our considerations. We also calculated in the additional laundry requirements. Because you will not be throwing them in with the normal wash.

For the purposes of calculating initial number of diapers to purchase we assumed about 40 diaper covers. For inserts, our projection was 40, because babies are small waste factories. For cloth diapers without inserts we selected 40, based upon 18 being used every 2 days, which is a reasonable wash cycle, with a lot for flexibility. The number of diapers used daily will go down, but the wash cycles won’t go down proportionately, as dirty diapers need to be washed. Additionally, with a set of 40 being purchased, there will be flexibility if some are damaged for whatever reason down the line.

We also know that life happens, and that disposable diapers are not going to be eliminated so we calculated a 90% success rate on usage of cloth diapers and used Luvs brand for those 10% times we aren’t using cloth diapers.

  • Fixed costs
    • Spray hose – 40
    • Splash guard (Spray pal) – 25

Cloth Diapers

Cloth diaper costs include the fixed cost of the purchase of the first 40 covers, and 40 liners, or if no liner is required, 40 cloth diapers. Variable costs of disposables used, laundry, and disposable liners were also added in. As the choice of liner is separate and based upon individual need or preference, that has been broken out as a separate fixed cost.

  • One Size (No liner requirement)
    • Rumparooz
      • Initial investment – 560
      • Year 1 – 874.76
      • Year 2 – 212.40
      • Year 3 – 195.60
      • Total – 1,272.76
  • All in one (Liner required)
    • Laimala
      • Initial investment – 159.93
      • Year 1 – 587.02
      • Year 2 – 395.89
      • Year 3 – 261.86
      • Total – 1,244.77
    • Bumgenius
      • Initial investment – 1,078
      • Year 1 – 1,505.09
      • Year 2 – 395.89
      • Year 3 – 261.86
      • Total – 2,162.84
    • Blueberry Organics
      • Initial investment – 1,318
      • Year 1 – 1,745.09
      • Year 2 – 395.89
      • Year 3 – 261.86
      • Total – 2,402.84
  • Pocket Diaper (Liner required)
    • Mama Koala
      • Initial investment – 266.6
      • Year 1 – 639.69
      • Year 2 – 395.89
      • Year 3 – 261.86
      • Total – 1,351.44
    • Thirsties
      • Initial investment – 733.33
      • Year 1 – 1,160.42
      • Year 2 – 395.89
      • Year 3 – 261.86
      • Total – 1,818.17
    • Bumgenius
      • Initial investment – 742.13
      • Year 1 – 1,169.22
      • Year 2 – 395.89
      • Year 3 – 261.86
      • Total – 1,826.97

Liners

We considered Disposable liners to support solid waste when the baby begins to transition into solid food. Disposable for solid waste, reusable liner for liquid waste. We marked it at 6 months. Every family is different, this was just a very early point, leaning toward being conservative.

  • Nora’s Nursery (10 pack)
    • Initial investment – 99.88
  • Naturally Nature Charcoal reusable (12 pack)
    • Initial investment – 131.88
  • Naturally Nature Bamboo Reusable (12 pack)
    • Initial investment – 103.88
  • Grovia Disposable Liner (200 pack)
    • Year 1 – 123.33
    • Year 2 – 183.49
    • Year 3 – 66.26
    • Total – 372.08

Variable Costs

Cost of laundry assuming .75 per load and laundry 20 times per month. We played with the numbers on this, it is the largest continuous expense related to cloth diapers after the initial purchase and anything that can be done to keep it down, either considering efficiency of laundry machine, or cost of soap, looking at it from a per load perspective. But if you aren’t conscious of the costs related to laundry than the savings from cloth diapers can be lost. As well as any environmental impact.

  • Laundry costs
    • Year 1 – 195
    • Year 2 – 180
    • Year 3 – 180
  • 10% disposable usage
    • Year 1 – 44.76
    • Year 2 – 32.4
    • Year 3 – 15.60

Final summary

Based upon our assessment:

On a cost basis, Luvs is cheapest overall. But not every baby can tolerate Luvs and it may not be as capable of handling the serious business of diapers that is needed to make it the core of diapering within your family. Family dependent of course.

The most expensive diapers are the disposable eco friendly and sensitive skin brands. If you have a baby with sensitive skin, it may be best to go with a cloth brand, for cost purposes. It will be important to wash thoroughly and consider laundry detergent with the cloth diapers though.

On a cost basis, we choose the Pocket Diapers over the All in Ones, there may be some non-cost based benefits, but when looking at the numbers we lean toward the pocket diapers, they are a few hundred cheaper. The One sized is middle of the road, but for hygiene reasons, we may lean away from these.

When it comes to liners, we would lean toward the charcoal, this is where the rubber meets the road (Or some other awkward analogy) and the extra $30 for a full 48 set isn’t a bad deal.

Our overall decision is a close call between Huggies and Cloth Diapers. They are within a couple hundred dollars lifetime cost, which could be flexibility on either end. Things that could impact your decision either way, is how hard do you want to work? Cloth is harder to maintain, between all the laundry, and rinsing, whereas disposable is a drop in the trash can. There is an argument, a really solid one for the impact upon the environment (A complex question, here is a link that discusses it.). If it were a simple matter of cost, were I comparing the two I would lean more toward Huggies disposables, they are similar cost and less effort. However, if the baby shower supplied a significant portion of the reusable diapers, or if our baby had sensitive skin I would definitely go with cloth.

It may also be worth considering, that if your family is worried about the initial investment in cloth diapers, buying early can save money. Stores take advantage of people in an emergency. So, look for families selling used cloth diapers or stores with big discounts and stacked deals prior to the birth of your child. Spreading out the initial cost in the 6 months prior to the birth of your child saves you money later on, than it is money well spent.

A few final questions we wanted to answer.

If you have been using disposable, when is it too late to switch?

Our simplified answer is that our numbers for disposable are based upon our assumption that it will steadily decrease from full to almost no usage from 2 – 3. This will be heavily dependent upon the child and the parents. If you are rolling with Luvs or Huggies don’t switch.

If you are using either the eco friendly or sensitive skin brands you could still save money if you switched in the first 6-7 months. This is purely a cost based answer, there may be some intangible reason to switch. The thing to keep in mind is that from newborn to 2 years old there is a 40% decrease in diaper expenditure per month, and potentially a 91% decrease from 2 to 3 years old. The sooner you invest in cloth diapers the better.

Does the answer change if the child potty trains sooner?

Yes, looking at Huggies to Pocket Diapers at the 2 year mark, it is cheaper to go with Huggies.

If cloth diapers potty train faster than disposable than are they still worth the difference in cost?

Yes, this because if you didn’t purchase the cloth diapers you would be using the disposables. Which would increase in total expenditure over time. If you were using Huggies for 6 months more in the last year compared with being satisfactorily potty trained in cloth diapers that is a difference of almost $300. Additionally, you would save the $149.82 worth of laundry, liners and extra disposables calculated into the cloth diapers.

Here is the link to my Google Sheets where I did my calculations.

 If you want to see how we can help you solve your business related problems, here is a link to our calendar. We would love to talk with you. No diapers, please. 

Disclaimer: The information contained in this document is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as financial or tax advice. It is not intended to be a substitute for obtaining legal, accounting, or other financial advice from an appropriate legal professional, financial adviser or for the purpose of avoiding U.S. Federal, state or local tax payments and penalties.

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