Diapers Choices for the Homesteader:
Cloth or Disposables for your Baby?

Crystal Miller


Funny how this topic can create so many varied emotions. People defend their choices based on environmental or emotional positions and sometimes economical positions. I have done the same thing myself. I diapered 5 of my 8 children in cloth diapers, the other 3 in disposable. I spent 18 years changing diapers and often had two children and at one point had 3 in diapers at the same time (one was in night time only diapers). I have seen it from both sides. My thoughts on this topic are coming from a more homesteading view of life. As homesteaders we strive to live a productive life that is not consuming as much as it is providing for the needs of our families.

As homesteading homemakers one of our common traits is being frugal. We typically are working on a tighter income than most and so analyzing the cost of anything we do is important.

Another aspect of homesteading is being independent in as many areas as possible. It is much more independent to go and wash a load of diapers than to rely on the grocery store. We may be independent in other areas of our life. For instance, we may bake bread instead of buy it. We may raise our own eggs or milk. What a great feeling I get every time I am in the grocery store and I am able to walk right on by the milk and egg aisle. Or we grow gardens and walk right on past the lettuce and cucumbers and tomatoes in the store all summer long. So this idea of being independent in diapers fits right in.

Let’s talk about cost. Often the cost of using cloth diapers is nebulous. I hear women say, “I am sure if you add up the cost of the soap, electricity and all it would be about the same cost”, or “I feel like the costs are about even”. Conclusions based on guesses or feelings will most likely not give an accurate picture. One needs hard evidence to make a choice. You need to know what the numbers are so you have something factual to help you make this choice.

In order to analyze the cost of anything we must be willing to search out the numbers. This is not difficult to do; especially once you get the hang of doing it, then you will find it fun!

One of the things I have learned over the years of living on one income is that I can either choose to grumble, spend, and complain there is not enough or I can be proactive and thankful for what I do have and learn to be frugal! Frugality can be a wonderful and certainly worthwhile challenge!

Now back to diapers. I have been out the diaper loop, so to speak, for a long time. But I chat with lots of women of different ages and am aware that the diaper issue is still alive and well!

So what is the cost and how do you figure this out?

First would be the cost of the cloth diapers themselves. The latest trend in cloth diapering is the form fitted type diapers that look very similar to disposable diapers. I do think these are cute and if you can afford to invest in them they may be a good choice. But if your budget is tight you can do what I did and buy prefolded diaper service quality diapers. Gerber makes these (and probably other manufacturers) and they are durable and last a long time and the cost is much less than the more fancy diapers. Then there are more options in diaper covers, pins, etc. If frugality is one of your main reasons for choosing cloth then the best choice for diapers covers is old fashioned rubber pants (actually they are made of vinyl not rubber :) ) and basic diaper pins. These will last you a long time and be very easy on the budget.

Then finally to really know the actual cost of cloth diapers you need to know how much you are spending on electricity to dry them and soap to wash them. So I did a little research and math to help you know what you are spending on your dryer and soap. You will have to plug in your own numbers based on your dryer and your cost of electricity and the cost of your laundry soap.

My husband Tobin is great at deciphering the unit cost of just about anything. So I went to him to get some help in knowing what it is costing to run my dryer. He said that most electric dryers have a 5000 watt (also referred to as 5 Kilowatt) element in them (1000 watts equals 1 Kilowatt). Every dryer has a data plate, usually on the inside of the door. This will show you exactly how many watts your dryer is using.

The cost for us per kilowatt hour is 6 cents (you can find out what you are paying by looking at your last electricity bill). You pay for electricity by the kilowatt hour.. so...

5 kilowatt dryer x .06 centers per kilowatt hour = .30 cents.. That is what I would pay to run my dryer for 1 hour.

Now if your electricity is higher in cost than ours, say .08 to .09 cents then you would multiply that by 5 (kilowatts). On the high end of .09 cents the cost would be 45 cents per hour to run. However as my hubby pointed out that would be the maximum cost per hour because a dryer element is like a thermostat in that it cycles on and off and does not run continuously through the whole drying time. So the numbers calculated would be on the highest end.

If you round the cost to 50 cents and hour and a load of diapers takes 1 1/2 hours to dry then the cost would be 75 cents per load to dry. I would think most large capacity dryers would dry a load of diapers in less than 1 1/2 hours.

If you dry 2 loads of diapers a week, that would be $1.50 a week in dryer cost. At this rate it would cost about $6.00 per month for dryer time. Now even if your cost per kilowatt hour was higher than that it still would be way less than what the cost of disposable diapers would be.

Now the laundry soap: If you wash diapers with homemade laundry soap that works out to 1 cent per load. If you would like to see how I calculated this cost and the recipe for making your own laundry soap you can read that HERE.

A scoop of Oxy Clean for each load is .. Sorry I don't have those numbers off the top of my head! ~smile~

I used old fashioned bleach, which is much, much less expensive than Oxy Clean. After a couple of babies I usually needed to purchase another dozen diapers due to the bleach use. The older diapers made great burp cloths and I cut the centers out of some of them as well to make nursing pads. I cut the shape and size I needed (I used a disposable pad for the pattern) and zigzagged around the edges. They worked better than anything else I had ever tried.

Now the last thing to keep in mind when finances are tight and you are looking at ways to save money is that actually you are saving more than just the cost of the diapers alone.

Your husband has to work and from his wages taxes are taken out. So if a package of disposable diapers cost say $10.00 then he actually has to make more than $10.00 to pay for this item... because out of his wages comes Social Security (at the very least), Federal and sometimes state income taxes depending on where you live. Of course there is also sales tax in most states to pay for the disposable diapers when you buy them and finally the cost to dispose of them.

If you are trying to decide on cloth verses disposables and finances are an issue for you then you now have the tools and knowledge to make an informed choice for your family. And you can have the satisfaction of providing this for your babies and your home and not relying on the diaper corporations (which sell billions of diapers so you know this is huge money maker for them.. we get poorer while they get richer.. ok enough of my rant :) )

And of course there are a lot of environmental reasons why cloth diapering is a better choice. Being a good steward of God’s planet is also an important factor in the decisions we make.

So in conclusion, if following the above advice on diaper type, covers and soap, cloth diapers are less expensive then disposables. However, I do know that this may not always be the overriding factor for many mom’s who do choose to use disposables (remember I used them too for my last 3 children). Sometimes life is a struggle in more ways than financial and you have to make choices based on financial means and sometimes your own sanity. There are times when maybe something else has to give in a budget in order to keep your sanity (~smile~).

If you sew, and you choose to use cloth diapers for you baby and would like to look into making some of your own diapers you can see my web page
HERE for instructions on how I did this for my oldest daughter.

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