The REAL Cost of Cloth Diaper Laundry

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.

The REAL Cost of Cloth Diaper Laundry

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.

The REAL Cost of Cloth Diaper Laundry

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.

The REAL Cost of Cloth Diaper Laundry

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.

The REAL Cost of Cloth Diaper Laundry

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.

The REAL Cost of Cloth Diaper Laundry

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?

The REAL Cost of Cloth Diaper Laundry

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?

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37 Comments on “The REAL Cost of Cloth Diaper Laundry

  1. Nice job of calculating the family’s cost for diapering. However, the real cost should include environmental issues: how much does it cost us as a society to produce throw-away diapers?
    There is the cost of production, the cost of the garbage man, and the cost of environmental clean-up umpteen years later.

    • That’s true! The environmental impact of simply producing disposable diapers is pretty hefty, add in the impact of all that garbage? It’s a lot!

  2. At 4cents a kw for electricity your numbers form accurately represent what the vast majority of the continent pays for in electricity.in BC we have some of the lowest rates nationwide at 9cents

    I feel like you should make statement alluding to this fact. Tho you may have and the screaming child pulling in my hair made me skip that park

  3. How many diapers per load do you wash? Won’t line 4 make it too sudsy? Our HE washer stops washing and displays SUDS if above line 1. I wash 12-15 diapers per load.

    • I wash between 18-24 in a load. Do you bulk your drum in between cycles so it’s 3/4 full (using small laundry items)? Have you checked the drain trap (you often need to remove the lower front panel of the machine if there’s no access hatch for it)? Baby socks sometimes get trapped in that drain trap, and when there’s a blockage the machine can’t drain properly and it often leads to SUDS errors. So, check that trap! Also double check that the detergent you’re using has the HE symbol on the front of the box.

    • It depends on how hard your water is, too. So many variables. That’s why there is no “ONE” washing routine. 🙂

    • bulk up your load, it’s subs because to little too wash

  4. For some reason I always thought the cost of cloth diaper laundry over 18 months for one child was around $600. I have nooo idea how I got that number. However, I have discovered that potty training a child who for the first 3 months of the process would not wear diapers or trainers at all was much much more expensive in laundry costs. I was washing many loads of bed sheets and/or comforters every week, sometimes twice a week :O children simply make for more laundry.

    In Ontario we pay almost double the electricity rates during “peak” hours vs 7pm to 7am. So my laundry costs just vary too much based on when I’m doing laundry and I’ve stopped caring. Haha. Thanks for doing the detergent math though 🙂

    • I’ve heard of this “off peak hours” pricing! We don’t have that here in Calgary, and apparently our floating electricity rate is super low! I had no idea.

  5. I just water alone, cloth diapering costs us an extra $900 per year. We wash diapers every other day with 15-20 diapers in a load.

    3.5 loads per week × approx 40 gal = 140 gal.
    140 gal × 52 weeks = 7280 gal

    We are charged about $124 per 1000 gallons of water after our minimum usage allotment, which we always go over.

    So, 7280÷1000×$124= $902 per year.

    That is just water alone. Factor in half as many dryer loads (we hang dry when weather permits), and detergent…

    We aren’t saving any money in our utility costs, but I’m OK with that. The impact that disposables have on the environment is good enough cause to wash out cloth.

    • Sorry your math seems off to me. Dont you mean you are charged $124/ 10000 or ten thousand gallons. That would be an astronomical bill if ypur paying $124 for omly one thousand gallons of water. Why not use the actual cost per gallon ? That woild be more accurate.

  6. Thank you for this. I have two in cloth, I need to find a way to lower my water and utility bills. Maybe I will start hanging my cloth to dry!

  7. Wow, That’s way lower than I expected. That’s great! I want to look back at my own costs now to see

    It won’t change your numbers much, but you should also add sewer costs on – in Calgary sewer costs are billed based on the amount of water you use…

  8. You did a nice job of calculating the family’s cost for washing diapers. I believe it was a big job. And, of course, impressive. I’ve never imagined that it could cost so much money. But I think diapers alone cost much more than washing diapers. I believe that cost must be higher in my country. Actually, I’ve never calculated it, but now I’m really curious. I wonder could I save some money if I do washing instead of buying disposable diapers. Well, I believe that washing diapers would be a help for environment because of amount of trash. These days it is very important to reduce non-recyclable trash, so washing diapers is a really great solution to take part in protecting environment. Thank you for sharing your calculations and helping me to consider about washing diapers.

  9. Not mentioned, but significant in my opinion, is that many people have issues with “blowouts” in disposable diapers, thereby increasing their laundry costs. Many people do not factor that into the cost of diapering.
    I personally have used both CD and disposables on my 7 children (except #7, who has yet to wear a disposable since she was 7 days old). I found that some of my babies required 2-3 changes of clothing per day while wearing disposable diapers, and those in cloth only required one. A definite reduction in laundry costs IMO 🙂

    • Definitely agree with this. The few times I used disposables on my son while on vacation he had leaks and blow outs almost every diaper change. He was going through 3-4 outfits a day, cloth diapering is still way cheaper.

  10. You’ve forgotten to include things like start up cost of cloth diapering, and other assorted replenishable accessories that go with cloth. Seems only fair, since you’re comparing only the washing of the diapers, to the cost of disposables.

    • This post is just about the cost was laundering cloth diapers. I will be putting together a post about the cost of cloth diapering overall, but haven’t had the time to do it yet! I know many people tried to discourage me from using cloth diapers on account of the cost of washing them alone. This post was to prove those people wrong! It isn’t crazy expensive to wash cloth diapers!

    • Start up cost could be TINY. Depends on your preferences and how obsessed you get with buying new prints. z

      If you’re washing every other day, you could spend about $120 (assuming you’re buying new covers instead of preloved)

      http://www.fluffloveuniversity.com/brand-new-baby/cloth-diapering-a-newborn/

      Personally, I have 16 pockets diapers and 32 inserts, half the stash is new, and I’ve spent $70.

      The cost can be even lower if you’re doing flats and are lucky enough to reuse covers several times. (unless they’re soiled, you don’t have to change).

      You can also cloth wipe, which saves money in “replenishables” after that, it’s all about ensuring you properly care for the diapers, particularly the elastics. You could realistically only need to replenish detergent.

      • Yes! I was thinking about that, too. It could vary if you are doing AIO diapers vs. flats. That is part of why I am thinking now I would rather do covers w/prefolds, maybe with some pocket diapers, but not ALL pockets or AIOs like I originally thought! One person posted somewhere about how they even just wash their diaper covers by hand and only have to do the inserts in the machine every couple/few days. And not only is laundry cheaper, but the diapers themselves are cheaper that way!

    • interesting point but these extras don’t need to cost a lot and I’m sure lots of people have their own routines so that would be difficult to calculate. I’m in the UK and I bought approximately 15 pocket nappies to start with, super cheap £3.50 per nappy x2 10 packs of inserts approx £20, x3 wash bags £10, I cut up old pjs to use as wipes and make my own solution for washing bum. I know people who’ve done it much cheaper and used prefolds and wraps.

  11. Great examples! Thank you! I will be pinning this one for others to find 🙂 I’d like to argue the other way, that your water used for cloth is even less than calculated because added bodies = added baths/showers/ toilet flushes/etc. So not all that extra water is even JUST for washing diapers. Cloth really is more cost savings! Unless, as Melody pointed out there, you get obsessed with buying all the latest prints 😉

  12. I too checked my utility bills for usage rather than cost and found the months when I was washing cloth diapers (or nappies as I’m down under in Australia), we used less electricity for the cloth diaper months than the NO cloth diaper months too.

    Out of cloth again now, electricity bill went back up last month!

    Goes to show the extra amount used to wash cloth is so insignificant it hardly effects utility bills at all.

    I should say, I wash cloth with other things that need washing, so not doing whole extra loads of just diapers. A few diapers in a load we are already doing, so no big deal. As a family of 5 we already wash most days anyway 🙂

  13. I get an 1100-load pail of Nellies from Costco.ca for $95 or something like that. I use it for all my laundry & it takes me about 1.5 yrs to use it all.

    Where I live, our sewer is paid through property taxes & (so far) we don’t get charged for water, either. Makes cloth diapers the obvious choice, as far as I’m concerned.

  14. I live that you took the time to do this!! It’s something I’ve often wondered. My cost would be even less because my water is a fixed cost. I think the cost was about what I expected. Again thanks for doing this!

  15. I live on an AirForce base and we don’t have to pay for electric or water costs. Cloth diapering is the perfect choice for us

  16. Im surprised at the very little difference in cost!! I would’ve expected so so much more!! But compared to the amount spent monthly on disposeables its not even close!!

  17. Thats impressive that you diligently went through all those bills and collected that data. Great work! I’m impressed how low it comes out to be.

  18. Thanks for doing the math, I wasn’t expecting it to be so cheap! Our water usage has definitely gone up with a baby, but for the first couple of months it was all blow outs and tons of burp cloths. We literally had to do a load of laundry every day or be forced to use dish towels as burp cloths! We use cloth now, but I don’t feel like we are doing more laundry than those first months with disposables. Thankfully our water is covered in our HOA dues, although they were wondering why the water usage went up for the building after my son was born, haha!

  19. I’d like to guess that when people have lower water usage when their little ones are in cloth diapers it’s because they don’t have time to shower as often or as long

  20. I’d like to guess that when people have lower water usage when their little ones are in cloth diapers it’s because they don’t have time to shower as often or as long As in they’re busy taking care of babe in general.

  21. One major difference is the kind of washing machine you use. We have an HE machine, and it uses hardly any water and is energy efficient as well.

  22. Also if you do flats you can hang dry super easy since they dry so fast. Meaning no extra electricity for the dryer. With my HE washer I doubt there would be much difference in adding 2-3 washes a week. Also anyone who sees a spike in utilities when beginning cloth diapering should consider they are doing more baby clothes as well.

  23. This is a great analysis if you have your own washing machine. I live in an apartment building where laundry costs $7/small load. I’ve got twins so I’m assuming 7 diapers/day per kid = 14 diapers per day is pretty close to one load which amounts to a whopping $2,555/year not to mention my time. It makes total sense when you have your own facilities but maybe not when my building charges so much!

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