Updated on June 7, 2016
The REAL Cost of Cloth Diaper Laundry
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There are so many reasons a family might choose to cloth diaper their children. From the reduced environmental impact to having fewer harmful chemicals against baby’s skin to the cost savings, there are just SO MANY benefits thrown around about cloth diapering. Now as you’re probably aware, I cloth diaper(ed) my children full time. The Heir has been potty trained since the summer of 2014, but Petit Prince at 11 months old is still in cloth diapers. One of the most common counterpoints for the potential cost savings of cloth diapering is that the cost of washing them is astronomical. The massive quantities of water, the specialty detergent in ridiculous amounts, the stripping, and so on and so forth. Well, I’m here to blow all that out of the water for you. I’ve done the math. I have literally sat down and poured over YEARS of utility bills all in an effort to reveal the REAL cost of cloth diaper laundry. I hope you’re sitting down.
Allow me to preface this by saying I am the farthest thing from a mathematician. My area of expertise is in a teeny tiny pocket of ancient Greek and Roman history and art (and more recently, cloth diaper laundry), but what I lack in mathematical skills I make up for in research skills, attention to detail, dedication, and reliance on the calculator on my iPhone. So with that said, I apologize in advance for any egregious errors in math.
How exactly am I going to figure out the actual cost of washing cloth diapers? It’s (sort of) simple. I’ll do this by comparing my utility bills from the same calendar months in years when we had cloth diaper laundry and in years when we had a potty trained child (therefore, no cloth diaper laundry). What better way to see how that cloth diaper laundry affects the utility bill each month than to look right at the bills themselves! Since those who opt to use disposable diapers still have child related laundry that isn’t diapers, I thought it was only fair to compare months where we actually had The Heir kicking around year over year. Now, I’m a bit of a pack rat, so I do in fact have almost four full years of utility bills at my fingertips (yes, paper copies because I’m old school). What I’ve done is compared the electricity usage and the water usage in one month in a cloth diapering year to the electricity usage and the water usage in the same month in a non cloth diapering year. I hope I haven’t lost you yet. For example, I’ve taken the kWh (kilowatt hours) of electricity and cubic metres of water used in November 2015 when Petit Prince was in cloth diapers, and compared it to the kWh of electricity and cubic metres of water used in November 2014 when The Heir was not in diapers and Petit Prince was not yet here. Don’t worry! I’m not just relying on one billing cycle’s data. No no. I’ve run the numbers for other months too, so you can see a cross section of the difference in the usage and cost when cloth diapers are being washed versus when no diapers are being washed. In order to take into account that the rates for electricity and water fluctuate each month, I’ll be using the current rates as charged on my March 2016 utility bill and calculating the cost of every example using those rates. This way the only thing affecting the cost is the actual usage itself.
Let’s get right to it shall we? I have three months of examples to go through, and then I’ll average out the cost difference. Of course, the electricity and water used each month will vary on many factors. To try to keep all things equal, I’ve chosen months where (to the best of my knowledge) we did not have house guests, and we were not out of town. The first example I’ll start with is November 2015 as compared to November 2014. In November 2015, Petit Prince was 5 months old in cloth diapers and The Heir was just over 3 years old potty trained. In November 2014, The Heir was just over 2 years old and potty trained, so there was no cloth diaper laundry in that month.
As you can see in the table above, in November 2015 (with cloth diapers) there was an increase in electricity usage of 34 kWh and an increase in water usage of 3.00 cubic metres over November 2014 when there was no diaper laundry being done. Using the current electricity and water rates for Calgary (that’s $0.0418580/kWh for electricity and $1.7904/cubic metre for water), the total cost increase for cloth diapering was $6.79.
Now not every month is going to be the same. My next example is from February 2014 with cloth diapers, and February 2015 without cloth diapers. In those months, the electricity and water usage is a lot higher in the cloth diaper month. In this comparison, The Heir was 18 months old and still in cloth diapers in February 2014, but was potty trained by February 2015. Unlike the previous example, there is no additional regular laundry as Petit Prince had not yet arrived. As you can see in the table below, in February 2014 (with cloth diapers) there was an increase in electricity usage of 106 kWh and an increase in water usage of 4.00 cubic metres over February 2015 when there was no cloth diaper laundry being done. Using the current electricity and water rates for Calgary, the total cost increase for cloth diapering was $11.60.
Now the results above may not be all that surprising. It makes sense that if you’re doing an extra load of laundry every 2-4 days that your electricity and water usage will be higher than if you were not doing those extra loads of laundry. Maybe you’re surprised that the difference in the cost of a cloth diaper month over a non diaper month isn’t much higher? If you thought it would be much more expensive, just wait until you take a look at my next example. This time, I’ve put three years of the same month side by side. This is from March 2014 with cloth diapers, March 2015 with no diapers and one child, and March 2016 with cloth diapers and two children (note that only one is in diapers in 2016). In March 2014, The Heir was 19 months old and in cloth diapers, and Petit Prince wasn’t even on the way. In March 2015, The Heir was potty trained and Petit Prince had not arrived, so there was no diaper laundry being done. In March 2016, Petit Prince was 9 months old and in cloth diapers, and The Heir was 3 years 7 months old and potty trained. Despite the increase in diaper laundry in 2014 and 2016 as compared to 2015, the cost of the utilities in 2015 when there were no cloth diapers being washed was the HIGHEST. Imagine that.
In the table above, you can see the differences in the electricity and water usage in March 2014 (with cloth diapers), March 2015 (no diapers), and March 2016 (with cloth diapers). Perhaps surprisingly, the month with the highest electricity and water usage is the month when no cloth diapers were being washed and there was only one child in the house. In March 2014, 103 kWh LESS electricity and 3.00 cubic metres LESS water was being used than in March 2015 despite all the cloth diaper laundry that happened in that month. There are similar results in March 2016. In March 2016, 63 kWh LESS electricity was used than in March 2015, though there was 1.00 cubic metres more water used in 2016 than in 2015. What does that do to the cost difference? It means it cost $9.69 LESS with cloth diapers in March of 2015 and $0.85 LESS with cloth diapers in March of 2016 than it did in March of 2015 when no diapers were being washed.
So what does that all mean? Well, if we take the increases and decreases and add them up to figure out the average increase in utility costs in cloth diapering months vs. no diaper months, then we get an average monthly increase of $1.96. That’s right. On average, it costs just under $2 a month to add cloth diaper laundry to your monthly utility costs. Calculate that over 24 months of cloth diapering and it costs $47.04 more in utilities to wash cloth diapers than it does not to be washing cloth diapers. How many packages of disposable diapers does $47.04 buy you these days?
Now I know a lot of you are thinking that I’m missing one really big cost here. What about cloth diaper detergent? Can I let you in on a little secret? You don’t have to use “cloth diaper safe” detergent to wash your cloth diapers. I know. Shocking. I’ve already written about choosing a detergent for cloth diapers, so I won’t get into that here, but I will tell you what my detergent costs are. I use Tide Original HE powder to wash my cloth diapers. I buy it at Costco when it’s on sale for $21.49 for a 150 load box. One “load” is line one on the Tide detergent scoop that comes in the box, so it costs $0.14 per “load”. I use line one in my prewash, and line four in my main wash. Line one weighs 51 grams, and line four weighs 88 grams. So one full cloth diaper wash routine of detergent weighs 139 grams, and costs $0.38. I wash every four days, so that works out to 91 cloth diaper wash loads per year. So it costs me $34.58 for a year’s worth of detergent to wash my diapers. For two years, it’s $69.16. Add that to the additional utilities cost over two years of cloth diapering and you get $116.20.
So there you have it. The REAL cost of two years of cloth diaper laundry is $116.20.
Are you surprised at the increased cost of washing cloth diapers? Is it less or more than you thought it would be for two years of washing cloth diapers?