Cloth Diapers (and Small Babies)

Cloth Diaper Summary (Based upon 2003 prices)

Costs For Twins

Note: With our front loading washer we are now washing diapers every 4 days - reducing the costs even further from what is calculated below. We also keep finding used fitted cloth diapers at amazing prices. We just bought 8 medium sized ones for $3.00. We can use them and sell them for more than that! Typically they go for $2.00 each used and 4x that new.

Cost estimates from Diapering Decisions are as follows: $2,700 for 7,349 disposable diapers for a baby from birth to 30 months. Laundering is $0.44 to $0.78 per load from Consumer Reports (water, hydro, detergent, drying). So cloth diaper laundering, per week for twins, costs $1.56 max. Disposables would cost $17.00 per week.

Another estimate (in US $$) is from a booklet "Alternatives in Diapering" by the Peace River Childbirth Education Assoc. Per load the costs for 24 diapers are: detergent $0.27, 45 gal water (180L), 20 cu ft natural gas to heat water ($0.03), dryer electicity $0.40, washer elec. $0.05, washer and dryer depreciation $0.25. This is based upon a $600 washer lasting 12 years at 6 loads/week and that the dryer lasts for 15 years. Their summary was $1.60 per load or $436 to wash 6,500 diapers over 2.5 years

Our Drier

We use our drier on the "delicate" setting - it runs with only 1/2 of the heating coils on (11.2A draw vs 22.0A draw at 240V). We don't know how much faster the clothes would dry on the normal setting - using 2x the electricty per hour.

Material costs ($243 for twins for their diaper life)

  1. flat diapers - 50 at $1.50 each = $75.00 (average 10 .. 12 diapers per child per day when they are young). Note we cut these in half as they were far too large and so have never used more than 1/2 of them.
  2. small diaper wraps - 8 at $9.00 each = $72.00 (for the 6 months .. year of life) When the kids were young we'd go thru 8 wraps every 2 or 3 days. That decreased around 4 months of age to aprox. 6 wraps every 4 days.
  3. medium diaper wraps - 8 at $9.00 each = $72.00 (for the second and later years)
  4. fitted diapers - 32 at $0.75 each (bought used) = $24.00 (mainly night-time use)

Washing Machine - Front vs Top Loader

Diaper Use Over Time

Front Loading Machine - $0.74 per wash of 50 full sized diapers

  1. electricity for washing - $0.02 per wash (measured 128 watt-hour over 51 min)
  2. electricity for drying - $0.25 per load [measured 1 hour 11A @ 230V = 2.5kwH at $0.10/kwH])
  3. detergent (noname, hypoalergenic, phosphate free) $0.15 per wash (aprox 2x the price of our regular detergent)
  4. water (112L per wash and extra rinse) - $0.17
  5. water heating (20L) per warm wash - ballpark est. $0.15 (30% of our total water heating costs)

Top Loading Machine - $1.40 per wash of 25 full sized diapers

  1. electricity for washing - $0.03 (170 watt-hour for a similar model)
  2. electricity for drying - $0.37 per load [measured 1.5 hour 11A @ 230V = 3.8kwH at $0.10/kwH]
  3. detergent (noname, hypoalergenic, phosphate free) $0.25 per wash
  4. water (210L per wash) - $0.30 per short rinse (60L cold water) and full wash (60L warm, 90L cold rinse water)
  5. water heating (60L) per warm wash - ballpark est. $0.45 (75% of our water heating costs at the time)

Washing Machine and Drier Use

Summary of Twin Diapering Costs for 9 months = 3,650 diapers

Twin Diapering Experience At 19 months

Estimated Twin Diapering Costs for 2 years = 9,900 diapers

Note: Cloth diaper costs will be lower because we'll be able to sell our used cloth diapers for perhaps 1/2 of what we paid!

Note: The local diaper service uses 3L of water / diaper for washing/bleeching/whatever. We were using around 4 L of water /diaper with the top loading washer and around 2.1 L/diaper with the front loading washer.

"Prefitted" and AIO (All In One) Cloth Diapers

Here is a summary of our experience with some prefitted diapers.

"Flat" Cloth Diapers

Standard "flat" cloth diapers are a flanelette cotton sheet 27" (69cm) square. To make a diaper these are typically folded in half and in half again to give a 13.5" (34cm) square sheet 4 layers of fabric thick. Then they are folded into thirds - the same as a prefold cloth diaper.

These diapers were very large on our children so we cut the square in half and then folded in half once to give a square. That square is 13.5" (34cm) and 2 layers of fabric thick. That has been working well past 4 months of age.

To finish the diaper the fabric is folded into thirds and one side is laid into the other giving a longish rectangle that is 6 layers of fabric thick in our case or 12 layers thick if a standard flat sheet was used.

Cloth Diaper Wraps

We recommend these Canadian companies:

A wrap is a plastic wrapping around a cloth diaper - designed to make sure that the liquids in the diaper don't soak the babies clothes.

We use both Litewraps and the Motherease Rikki wraps. The small Litewraps (rated 0 to 10 lb) and small / x-small Rikki wraps are just starting to fit our Ian (at 10 lb). Friends say that they fit their 15lb girl just fine!

We have renamed the Nikki wraps to "Icky wraps". We have 2 varieties. One is made of neoprene and fabric and it soaks when the diaper soaks. It would only be good for kids who let you know instantly if the diaper is soiled or wet. The other Icky wrap is a plastic wrap with fabric on the outside. That wrap takes forever to dry and we hate it.

But the Nikki wraps are the only ones which come anywhere close to fitting Amy (when she was <2 months old) so we had to use them.

At one month of age (aprox 7.25 lb) Ian is starting to fit into the "Lite wraps (0 to 10 lb)". They are starting to fit around his leg although you still have to overlap the waist bands to get it snug enough. At 4 months, even when Amy was almost 10 lb, she still didn't fit well into the Litewraps. With Ian the waist band tabs touch in the middle and with Amy they overlap!
At 4 months (11 lb) Ian is still "starting to fit" into the Litewraps. Neither those or the XS MotherEase Rikki wraps are large enough to cover fitted diapers. At nighttime (3+ months onward with Ian) we use fitted diapers with "small" MotherEase Rikki or Kooshies small (these things are huge!!) wraps.

What You Need

Here are our recommendations for people using cloth diapers.
  1. Do not buy any large quantity of cloth diapering equipment until you have tried them out for yourself. In particular avoid AIO (All In One) cloth diapers until you have some experience. Check local used clothing stores and papers for used cloth diapers. It is possible to spend more on cloth diapers than on disposables by buying brand new cloth diapering equipment that doesn't work for you.
  2. Flat cloth diapers are easiest and cheapest at $1.50 each. Buy 20 per baby and cut some of them in half if the baby is under 12 lb. We prefer to use a 1/2 sized flat as the basic diaper with another 1/2 or 1/4 sized one folded into thirds, in the middle, as a "soaker".
  3. Fitted diapers start to work well for babies >11 lb. Pick up some used ones for nighttime use. They typically come in two sizes.
  4. Diaper wraps. Get four MotherEase XS Rikki wraps for kids <8 lb and Small Rikki wraps for babies over 8lb. Avoid Kooshies except for fitted diapers and kids > 11 lb.
  5. Use a hypoallergenic laundry detergent without phosphate (use use the No Name brand) or Ivory with about 1/4 to 1/2 of the recommended amount per wash. Avoid Tide as it is one of the harshest detergents and known to cause rashes.
  6. Remember that cloth diapers do come in several sizes. Typically wraps come in 2 or 3 sizes and the diapers come in 2 sizes. Typically "soakers" are added to handle larger wettings during night time. If you have small ( <8 lb) babies then you will likely have to get the extra small wraps and those wraps can not be used with fitted diapers (and you may want to use only fitted diapers since they're a bit more convient than flat diapers).

Costs and Benefits

  1. We find that we are using aprox. 12 cloth (aprox 3/4 of a flat diaper) diapers per child per day. Full sized flats (27" square) weigh 80g each - the same weight as a typical small fitted diaper.
  2. After over three weeks of daily use and washing, our cloth diapers have few stains and generally appear to be in excellent condition. Stains are very easily removed with sunlight (even thru windows). The stains are yellow and likely due to the biliruben (breakdown product from blood). Since biliruben breaks down readily in sunlight (they use light therapy on jaundice babies [biliruben buildup in the skin]) we're guessing that the stains are primarily that. Also green stool is due to bile (used to digest fats) not be absorbed before the stool is released. This simply means that the food is going thru the baby quickly - but it's nothing to worry about.
  3. After almost 5 months of use our cloth diapers are fully de-fluffed and they have some stains but still work quite well. They show no signs of wearing out yet.
  4. Flat diapers dry 20% faster and wash better than pre-folds as they open up completely. The flip side of that is that you must fold them back up when they're dried. Of course that is also mostly true for pre-folds as they're only partially folded for you. The All-in-one diaper should be the worst; taking the most time to dry. We've been warned many times to avoid diapers with a built in plastic wrap as the plastic dramatically slows down the drying time.
  5. Flat diapers sell for $15 for 10 or $1.50 Cdn each. By cutting them in half they cost $0.75 each. In comparison a disposable diaper costs $0.25. Given that a standard load of laundry costs about $1 and can wash 40 standard or 80 of our reduced diapers - the cost per diaper for laundering is very small compared to $0.25.
  6. Disposable diapers wick moisture away from from the babies skin and as such the baby tends to stay drier for several wettings (not soilings). Because of this it is not fair to say that every change of a disposable diaper is equivalent to one change of a cloth diaper - you really end up changing cloth diapers more often.
  7. Given this cloth diapers break even in cost by 7th or 8th use and our reduced size ones break even by the 4th use.
  8. We've had leakage past the cloth diaper several times and we've also had leakage with disposable diapers (we've used 100 disposables so far).
  9. Amy, at 4.75 lb, did not fit wraps very well so we used cloth on her without a wrap. That means that at every soiling or wetting she also needs a new jumper suit and possibly a blanket (we use a rubberized blanket under her). Ian at 5.5+ lb fits into the MotherEase Rikki wraps or Litewrap Newborn size.
  10. At 4 weeks old for Ian and 5 weeks for Amy - they are now using 3/4 size flat diapers. That is to say a 1/2 size flat with a 1/4 sized flat on top of each other. The full sized flats are way too large and this gives extra absorbency. We've been increasing the capacity of the flat diapers this way - and also by making inserts sewn from scraps of fabric or old towels.
  11. I am hating diapers with velcro fasterns with a passion as they always end up sticking to something in the wash. With the older MotherEase all-in-one diaper; they all end up sticking to themselves so when I found one I'd pull them all out of the wash! I also don't like the split flap in the older MotherEase AIO (All In One) diapers as they don't necessarily open up in the wash (and therefore don't get washed!) and because they take longer to dry. The "Sweet Lou's" fitted cloth diapers have a single large flap that can be folded in half and those diapers wash well and dry quickly. "Indisposable" fitted diapers work quite well. The Diapering Decisions "Lite Wraps" have a different, flatter, type of velcro which doesn't stick to fabrics as much.
    I do not recommend All-In-One (AIO) diapers with a built in plastic layer to anyone. But fitted diapers are more convient than flat diapers.

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Last updated November 2004