Recently I have been challenged to prove that using cloth diapers is actually cheaper than using disposables. I'm not sure why anyone would question that it is cheaper to reuse something (anything!) than to throw that same thing away, but it's been done. It seems fairly obvious that using cloth diapers is cheaper than disposables, but how much money will I actually save? Turns out it's not as major as one might think because of one thing: Laundry. Figuring out the cost of laundry took a bit of time for me to do, but I finally did. We go through about 8 diapers a day, so that's the number I'm going to use for my analysis. So, here's the breakdown:
My friends can find 240 newborn diapers for $40.99 - This is the cheapest I could find them on Amazon.com, which I hear is the cheapest place to buy diapers, and the cost will go up per diaper as the sizes get bigger, but let's use this as our baseline for the cost of diapers which is 17.1 cents a diaper. (Size 4 diapers cost 24.5 cents per diaper, but I'm going to give my disposable-using friends a head start in this race and use 17.1 cents for comparison.)
My stash of 20 cloth diapers cost $400, but I didn't pay for half of them, as I got them as gifts for my shower, but as we're assuming that most people will have to buy their diapers, we'll include this cost. My diapers are one-size diapers which will fit Eleanor from about 1 month old till potty training. Yay for not having to buy more (unless I really want to!). :) At 8 diapers a day, we will use each diaper 146 times in a year (wow!), so that's a start-up cost (for only 1 year) of 13.7 cents a diaper. After that, the start-up cost goes to zero (we're assuming paying off the diaper in the first year).
Now, each time we use a diaper, we have to wash it. I looked at the cost of my laundry detergent, my washing machine's energy usage, and my electric and water company's rates and figured out that it costs 32 cents to wash about 20 diapers. This is a cost per diaper of 1.6 cents. We also use our dryer, but you wouldn't have to. So, if you line dry your diapers, your costs end here. Our dryer costs us approximately 3.5 cents for each use, so .2 cents per diaper. Thus, washing and drying costs 1.8 cents per diaper.
Okay. So we see that for the first year, our startup costs and washing and drying costs together cost 15.5 cents per diaper. This is $451 for one year of cloth diapering, which would be $495 for disposables. Year 2 (and 3 if needed) our cost per diaper is 1.8 cents. For year one, then, disposables (if you get the cheapest you can find and your baby never grows out of the newborn diapers) end up costing only $44 more than cloth, but for the next year, cloth saves significantly. If the baby wears 8 diapers a day, then the savings in year 2 (and subsequent years or more kids) is $443. However, this is not even quite fair to cloth. As mentioned, we're assuming newborn sized diaper prices. In year two, a disposable-clad baby is going to be wearing 25 cent diapers, and in that case, the savings is actually $684.
To sum up:
Disposables: 17-25 cents per diaper
Cloth (year 1): 15.5 cents per diaper
Cloth (each following year): 1.8 cents per diaper
The savings doesn't really look like much in year one, but what it really looks like to us financially is that we don't have to spend our grocery budget on diapers. Instead, we have diapers already on hand (practically free since they're already paid for), and we just spend an extra $4 a month in electricity/water/detergent (total!) to use our diapers. This makes a big difference. Also, most people don't get their diapers for as cheap as my friends get them on Amazon. Go into a Wal-Mart and check out the price on diapers there and how much per diaper and you can see it's a little more significant a savings (when I looked, I couldn't find diapers cheaper than 22 cents for the newborn size). Other costs to consider are a diaper genie and refills (not necessary, I suppose, but a lot of people get them) and diaper rash cream, which more disposable-clad babies need than cloth-babies. For cloth, you'll probably buy one or two wetbags for storage, but again, these are one-time costs (as opposed to diaper genie refills and diaper cream).
Let me know if I've missed something in this analysis; I want to be able to give the most correct, up-to-date information on cloth diapering possible.