3.02.2011

A (mountain) man’s take on cloth diapering

A reader asked for the Mountain Man’s take on cloth diapering, so instead of just emailing back I decided to officially interview the Mountain Man and post it!

Mama: What do you think about cloth diapering?

Mountain Man: So far I don’t really care about it. I don’t care about poop wraps.

M: What do you like about it?

MM: Nothing.

M: What do you dislike about it?

MM: They were a little weird to put on at first, and I don’t think they all fit that great. I think it should be noted that I have never and will never wash or clean out a cloth diaper, but I support you in your desire to have and use cloth diapers.

M: What reasons would you give for CD over disposables?

MM: I don’t know, maybe the environmental reasons. I’m not entirely convinced that they’re more environmentally friendly than disposables. I would like to get some actually fact-based research on that. They’re a lot more work for somebody though.I also don’t really know if they’re that much cheaper than disposables.

M: What reasons would you give for using disposables?

MM: They’re easier. You don’t have to clean them, they’re easier to put on. Disposables are more absorbent so you don’t have to change them as frequently.

M: So it sounds like you’re not really a fan of cloth diapering.

MM: Eh. I guess I don’t really care. But I wouldn’t chose to do it.

It doesn’t really sound like the Mountain Man is sold. He doesn’t like that it makes more work for me, and he isn’t convinced that it’s remarkably more environmentally friendly. I’ve written about that before- it does require a lot more water and electricity use in my home than disposables would, but the electricity and water use that goes into making the disposables is a big unknown – at least to me. I don’t have to pay those bills, but it’s making an impact on the per-unit price of the diaper and is making an impact on the planet.

Additionally, since my strategy has been to buy used and locally hand-made, my footprint for my purchases has been small. Diapers have not been shipped from China to distribution centers in Iowa or Kentucky and then to local stores. I bought what others in my town were done using, or what someone nearby made at home.

I think that the cloth diapers are a larger up-front investment, but are less expensive in the long run. For instance, a Costco case of newborn size diapers (which go up to 15 pounds) is about $50 for 216 diapers, or about $0.23 per diaper. Looking at only the investment to purchase cloth (and not laundering) and choosing frugal options as I have, I’ve not spent more than $20 on a single diaper, and my average is probably more like $10, considering I bought used and handmade, some covers & prefolds, some fitteds & soakers, some pockets & inserts. So let’s say I got an average of 5 diapers for $50 – I would have to use each cloth diaper 43 times in order to make the price about equal. Using each diaper 2-3 times a week, I will need to use them for 17 weeks or about 4 months.

Because of the extended wear- time necessary to make cloth diapering cost-effective with the first baby, I chose to start with prefolds/covers & one-size diapers which will fit the longest time. Sadly as diapers get bigger, costs increase as well, so larger size disposables cast closer to $0.30 each, and if I diaper for 2.5 years, with 8 diapers per day, the cost for cloth diapering could be as little as $200 - or 20 one-size diapers (enough for 2.5 days using 8 diapers a day), which cost about $10 each. This could be my total expense for all 912 or so days of diapering.

With disposables, let’s split the difference in prices and call each diaper $0.25. So if we’re using 8 diapers a day at $0.25, that’s $2 a day. Not bad, right? For 912 days though, the cost would be $1,824.

Of course these numbers are real generalizations – diaper costs are different depending on brand and store, you use more in the newborn phase and fewer as the babies get older. Cheap diapers don’t absorb as much so you need to use more of them, expensive diapers may need to be changed less frequently.But the real cost-effective moment comes with a second baby – if you buy gender-neutrals, keep your diapers in good condition and save them for a second child, there is zero investment for diapering.

So for 912 days of diapering a second child, changing an average of 8 diapers a day and washing every 2-3 days, the cost for purchasing diapers could be $0.

I asked the Mountain Man what he thinks of that.

MM: I think if a person has the discipline to not buy every cute diaper cover, it is actually cost-effective. And I can spend that money on something else! Like an education fund.

DSC_0832 I must confess, I am getting close to the $200 investment in diapers, and I didn’t start using cloth right away. I think I’ve spent around $160. And I also use some disposables, so costs are slightly increased because of that. Although I really try to focus on the frugal, all the extra research that goes into finding the most inexpensive option requires looking at a whole lot of cute diapers. I don’t anticipate that I’ll make it out of my diapering days for $200, but I’m sure I’ll save well over $1,000 in purchase prices.

All these numbers don’t take into consideration the cost and time of washing – water, detergent, electricity, and the value of my time. But I think the initial expense works out to have enormous potential for savings of environmental impact and dollars. I don’t know the environmental cost of the water, electricity, bleach and chemicals that go into making disposables, but I imagine it’s immense.

And one largely overlooked issue with disposable diapers is that putting human waste in the trash is actually illegal in most places. With cloth diapering, solids are dumped in the toilet before the diapers are washed. I don’t know anyone who uses disposables who does that. Maybe there are people – I just haven’t seen it.

This info is also skewed for a SAHM. A mom working away from home may not be able to use cloth at her daycare, and may not have the time to wash extra loads of wash multiple times a week. For some, the solution is buying more diapers, allowing more time between launderings. That becomes slightly less cost-effective.

Although I’m not certain that I will have a second baby, if I do I have already made a significant investment that will seriously pay off. If I don’t have another, I will still have saved some money.

Before we had a baby we figured some diapering costs and budgeted for it. Before we had decided to do cloth, we were budgeting $122 a month for diapering. I come in way under that. I feel like it’s frugal and it’s green. Although it’s more laundry to wash, laundry is a chore that’s no stranger to a new mama. 

The Mountain Man likes the idea of having another baby. And of not buying it any diapers.

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