18 January 2016

{Cloth 101} Cost of Extras: Cloth vs Disposable Diapers

Image credit: CafeMom
So we know that cloth diapers are cheaper in the long run than disposable diapers. But most calculations just take into account the cost of the diapers. What about all the extra costs involved in diapering your baby? The extra costs will depend on whether you go the cloth route or the disposable route. So let's break it down, shall we?

We will make the following assumptions:

- your baby will be in diapers for approximately 2.5 years or 30 months
- amounts are rounded to the nearest R5
- other assumptions are clearly noted under each category below
- pricing info used is correct at time of writing this (Jan 2016)

Image credit: ModBots

  • Wipes

Cloth wipes: 36 cloth wipes will be enough to last you until potty training and you can continue to use it afterwards

4 packs of 10 baby face cloths @ R60 each

OR you could cut up old receiving blankets and overlock the edges and have wipes for free

Total cost of cloth = FREE - R240

Disposable wipes: newborn phase - a pack of 80 a week for first 12 weeks @ R20 each
                           after newborn phase 2 packs of 80 a month @ R20 each

Total cost of disposables = R1,320
Oh Lief Bum Balm - cloth diaper safe bum cream
(Image credit: Oh Lief)

  • Bum cream

Cloth safe cream: Oh Lief Bum balm - R86 a jar and you will go through max 3 jars in total. Or use coconut oil, you will use max one jar, say R100

Total cost of cloth = R100 - R260

Disposable diapers: Bennets 300g @ R59.95. One jar lasts roughly two months. On the lower end of the price range, Clicks brand @ R14.95. One jar lasts roughly a month.

Total cost of disposables = R450 - R900
Diaper Sprayer
(Image credit: Diaper Safari)

  • Dealing with Poopy Diapers

For purposes of this comparison we will assume 1,000 poopy diapers during your child's nappy wearing stage.

For cloth you will deal with poop in one of the following ways:

Use a diaper sprayer - once off cost of approx R250
Use disposable liners - R25 for a pack of 100 (Cherubs brand) - R250 total*
Dunk & swish - FREE

You will also need at least one wetbag for storing used nappies when out & about - R85 (you can also just use a regular plastic bag which is free)

* The assumption is that liners are used in every diaper, they can be washed & reused if no poop. So I am only accounting for the number of poops

Total cost of cloth = FREE - R335

For disposables, you will probably use fragranced nappy bags to bundle the poopy diapers. 

Fragranced nappy bags - R26.95 for a pack of 150, you will need 7 packs in total

Total cost of disposables = R190

Diaper laundry

  • Washing

Washing cloth nappies uses electricity, water and detergent. 

Electricity:  R1.59 per wash* x 2 loads a week x 30 months x 4.33 weeks = R415 total

Water: 53 - 170 l per wash x 9 loads per month = 0.5 kl to 1.5 kl pm x 30 months x R15 per kl = R225 to R675

Detergent: Sunlight gel - 1 bar soap per month = R12 x 30 months = R360

* actual cost calculation for a 2.5 hour wash cycle, as measured by a member of the South African Cloth Nappy Users using a electricity meter

** average cost per kl given sliding scale of cost and assuming a total consumption of 20kl per month. City of Cape Town rates used. Cost of water and the related sewage charge was combined to arrive at the average cost of R15 per kl.

TOTAL cost of cloth = R1,000 - R1,450

Disposables: No washing of diapers required, however poopsplosions (ie poop leakage) is quite common with disposables which will add some extra costs. Because this is difficult to quantify and probably negligent in terms of cost, I am leaving it out of this comparison.

Total cost of disposables = FREE

  • Conclusion

Total cost of cloth related extras = R1,090 - R2,285

Add the cost of the cloth diapers themselves and the GRAND TOTAL (average) cost of cloth amounts to R5,890*

Total cost of extras for disposables = R665 - R2,545

Add the cost of the disposable nappies themselves and the GRAND TOTAL (average) cost of disposables amounts to R13,605**

TOTAL CLOTH SAVINGS = R7,715 OR R257 per month. Not bad! 

The savings increase further when using your cloth diaper stash on a second or third child and/or selling it for 50% of the purchase price once you're done using them. 

* 21 day nappies @ R150 each plus 3 night nappies (fitted & cover) @ R350 each = R4,200 total cost of cloth diaper stash + average cost of extras R1,690
** 30 months @ R400 per month = R12,000 + average cost of extras R1,605 (R400 per month is the average actual spend I could see looking at comments on various parenting articles and facebook pages)


  1. Excellent food for thought!! Thankyou for vindicating my love for cloth!

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  3. Just a few thoughts from a fellow cloth mom -

    We use about a jar of bum every two to three months excluding what the daycare uses as we apply with every nappy change so cost of bum cream is more for us.

    The cost of electricity should include the geyser heating up the water which will be more than the R1.59 which is just what the machine uses.

    There is an additional water cost when using cloth wipes as well as with the poop sprayer as it sometimes takes quite a bit of spraying to get the nasties removed.

    Disposable liners are usually used with every nappy and cannot be washed.
    The average cloth mom may not use the sunlight gel so probably not true reflection of general detergent costs.

    21 day nappies will probably not be enough to wash only twice a week as they would then have to dry over night to have them ready the next morning, 3 night nappies are also not realistic if taking into account poopsplosions or odd spills or wees etc. Of course using flats and covers would probably bring this cost down.

    So the comparison is good but the saving may not be as big as illustrated here.

    1. Thank you for your input, you raise a few good points.

      I did obviously make quite a few assumptions in these calculations and obviously it would be impossible to have a 100% accurate calculation that is applicable to every situation as electricity and water costs vary from machine to machine and municipality to municipality. Furthermore the cost of cloth diapers, as you know, vary tremendously depending on what you buy. For the most part I tried to base these calculations on what the average mom does and choose, eg a full stash of pocket diapers vs flats and covers.

      Same thing with bum cream usage - I have tried to take into account what the average cloth mom would do which is not use cream with every change. The average cloth mom from what I see wash and re-use liners when it was just a wee nappy, hence my choice to only calculate the cost of liners for poopy nappies. I also used the liners most freely available for purchase (ie not needing to order it online) to calculate costs.

      Regarding the gel - I do realise that not all moms use this, however this is what I use and hence it was the most practical thing to use for calculation purposes as I know exactly how much I use per month.

      Most modern washing machines heat the water up themselves, so the geyser would not be involved. Therefore the R1.59 cost is the total cost of electricity, which includes heating up the water.

      Again, these costs will not be 100% accurate for everyone, however I think it is a good general indication and at the very least a good start for your own calculations as most other calculations I've seen do not take any of these costs into consideration. :-)

  4. are Cherub liners flushable? I already have a stash of cloth diapers, but after looking into the cost of some fancy bamboo flushable liners (about R1,40 per liner) it didn't really seem worth it, as I can buy disposable for under R2 each (and I use fewer disposable per day than I would cloth nappies....)minus labour, minus water, minus electricity.....

    1. Cherub liners clogged our pipes, I wouldn't recommend flushing them. You can also opt to use a nappy sprayer instead of liners. :-)

  5. Both my kids are now fully potty trained but when we use to cloth diaper, we used the Mother Nature liners. For 100 liners it was R60. I use to cut them in half to fit into the nappy comfortably. I would then rewash them if only a wee nappy. They are super strong and durable. I worked out that I could wash one 10times before falling apart. My lg, once she started solids,only pooped once a day, so a pack like that lasted us for ages.

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  7. I really think its important to also take the environmental cost of both options into account (landfill, plastic pollution vs water degradation / waste and electricity generation). In the South African context, where we generate majority of our electricity from coal and don't recycle grey water, citizens has to take into account the impact on the environment and sustainable use of our natural resources. This is a very important factor to consider over and above the cost.

    1. Excellent point yes!

      Did you know it takes more water to manufacture a disposable nappy than to wash a cloth nappy? In fact I did the calculations, my total water consumption in a month (this includes showering, washing all laundry not just cloth, etc) is less than the amount of water it would take to manufacture the amount of disposable nappies my son would use in a month. Disposable nappies are being manufactured locally (in CT and JHB), so local resources are being used.

      Recycling grey water is definitely a must in our current drought situation and we are currently reusing our grey water in an effort to reduce our consumption even further.

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