Cloth diapering: Our methods

Earlier this week you saw my nerdy breakdown of why cloth diapering really does save money, even if you wait until your kid is 18 months old to start.

Here’s a quick look at our methods (so much less complicated than it may appear when you first research all the options out there).


Diapers: Stash of 15 bumGenius 4.0, one size, snap closure

Why? This brand and particular style comes recommended by several friends. I love that they are adjustable to fit newborns up through potty training age. The snap closures are much more durable than the velcro option and should last a long time.


How do they work? The diaper has a pocket where you insert absorbent pad(s) called inserts. Each diaper comes with two inserts: newborn size and regular (adjustable) size. During the day, Corban wears them with just the regular insert. At night, he wears them with one regular insert and two newborn inserts layered inside. We have only had a couple of leaks, and those were more due to our learning curve than the diapers themselves. You can use additional flannel or other absorbent materials inside the diapers as well.


What’s the process for a diaper change? If it’s wet, change the diaper (we don’t use wet wipes on wet diapers, but may use a dry rag just to dry him off). Pull the wet insert out of the diaper and put both the diaper and insert in a reusable pail liner (soon-to-be hosted inside a small flip-top garbage can, which I have yet to make the trip to Target to purchase). If it’s poopy, we wipe Corban with disposable wet wipes (I do plan to switch to cloth wipes at some point, but we still have a bulk box of disposable wipes to use up) and throw the wipe(s) away in the Diaper Genie (relic from the disposable days, but still useful!) We dump the poop in the toilet, sometimes with the aid of some toilet paper, and flush it away. Then we pull the insert out and place both diaper and insert into the pail liner. We don’t rinse the diaper at all unless it’s really messy, and in that case we use our laundry room sink’s sprayer so as not to contaminate any sinks that we use for hygiene.

How do you wash them? Every other day, after Corban goes to bed I empty the pail liner into the washer, turning it inside out and throwing it in with the diapers. First, I do a cold rinse (15 minutes) with no detergent. Then I set it to a hot wash/cold rinse with an extra rinse cycle and 1.5 teaspoons of powder detergent. I sometimes put it on delicates, since that uses more water in a high efficiency machine and decreases the risk of leaving any detergent residue behind on the diaper, which can cause problems down the road. I’m still trying to figure out if that’s necessary. If I forget to wash them at night, our nanny will do it the next morning.

What kind of detergent do you use? There are only a handful of detergent brands that are recommended as safe for cloth diapers. You don’t want to use a detergent that has any fragrance or other additives that can deteriorate or stick with the diaper. I had a hard time at first finding any of the recommended detergents anywhere in the Milwaukee area. You can always order online, but I had already started using my diapers so didn’t want to have to wait to wash them. I finally found Country Save detergent at Outpost on Capitol Dr. in Milwaukee ($16.99 for a box that I calculated should last me almost four years!). I use 1.5 teaspoons of the powder per load – this was just a guess based on others’ recommendations for high efficiency front-loading machines, but it seems to be working well. You want to use much less than the amount you would for a regular load of clothes because it will harm the diaper’s performance and could even cause diaper rash if there is any detergent residue left on the diaper.

A pile of washed diapers is perfect for jumping into.

A pile of washed diapers is perfect for jumping into.

How do you dry them? I throw the inserts and the pail liner in the dryer on extra low, although I probably should line dry them in the interest of saving money. The diapers shouldn’t go in the dryer, so I line dry them by either draping them over hangers in the laundry room or laying them outside on our deck if it’s daytime. Letting stained diapers dry out in the sun miraculously bleaches them back to a perfect white! That still amazes me. Drying inside overnight, they sometimes are a little damp in the morning, but are good to go by Corban’s second diaper change of the day.

What will you do with the new baby? We will obviously need more diapers when we’ve got two little ones. Target recently clearanced out their stock of Charlie Banana one-size diapers, which are really similar to the bumGenius 4.0s, so we were able to snag them for 50% off! With tax, it ended up being less than $8 per diaper. We have 18 of them. I’ve heard this brand fits a bit narrower than bumGenius, so hopefully they will work well for a newborn. As soon as the baby is big enough to fit into the diapers (supposedly at around 8 pounds) we will start using them. Breastfed baby poop is water soluble and not smelly, so it should be a bit easier than with Corban’s stinkers.


Cheers to cloth diapering!

It’s all a piece of cake, really!

Does cloth diapering really save money?

Who switches to cloth diapers when their son is 18 months old? Yeah, me, apparently.


When I was pregnant with Corban, Peter and I had considered cloth diapering in order to save money, but at some point during the overwhelming time while preparing for our firstborn we decided to let it go since it just seemed too complicated. We also had read that it can end up being about the same cost as disposables.

18 months later, I revisited the idea, did some more research and realized:

1) It would be totally doable with our lifestyle. Our nanny cloth diapers and loves it, so she was on board. Honestly, she does all of Corban’s laundry and changes most of his diapers during the week anyway. But even if I were doing it all myself, I’ve come to realize that baby laundry doesn’t really bother me, and the added laundry was a main factor in our decision not to cloth diaper when C was born.

2) It would definitely save money, even this late in the game. We were pretty cheap disposable diaperers – we used Target Up & Up brand, which is cheaper than on-sale name brands – and only change about five or six diapers a day, but that still adds up to about $1 a day in diaper costs alone (when Corban was younger, the sizes were cheaper per diaper, but he probably went through a few more diapers each day, so I figured $1 a day across the board was reasonable). For others, I’m sure this cost is much higher.

Cloth diapers are expensive, but less so if you know where to buy them. I bought three very lightly used bumGenius 4.0s for $14 each including shipping on Cloth Diaper Trader. Then I found them new for $14.50 each (including shipping) and bought 12 more on Cotton Babies and Kelly’s Closet (I would recommend Cotton Babies since they are the manufacturer, they shipped quicker and they include a sample of bumGenius detergent). So, total diaper cost: $216. That will pay for itself in 216 days of use, or a little more than seven months. I also learned as I hunted for diapers that cloth diapers hold their value really well, especially bumGenius and some other hot brands. So even if Corban were the only child of ours to use these diapers, it would still save money since I could re-sell them for probably 75% of what I paid for them if I kept them in good condition. Since we will use them for Baby #2 and other future children, they will definitely save a lot of money.


3) It would save money, even factoring in water, energy and detergent costs. A cloth diapering myth out there, at least in my experience, says that once you factor in all the extra laundry, detergent and time spent on cloth diapers, it ends up costing the same as disposables. This is definitely false for us.

You use very little detergent for cloth diaper loads – if you use too much it will build up in the diaper and make it less absorbent. For our high efficiency front-loading washing machine, I’ve found 1.5 teaspoons of powdered Country Save detergent to be the right amount. The diapers come clean and don’t smell at all. If I notice them becoming less absorbent at some point, I’ll try even less detergent and see how it goes. But when I break that down, it costs just over 2 cents per load. I wash them every other day, so that comes to $4.83 per year in detergent (and it will take us almost four years to go through one box of detergent! haha).

As far as water/energy costs, it’s tough to calculate exactly how much more we’re spending, but I think of it this way: since the diapers will have paid for themselves in ~7 months, after that point our water and electric bills would have to go up by more than a dollar a day in order for cloth diapering to not be cost effective. Our quarterly statements would have to be $91 more than pre-cloth diapering for that to happen. By my estimated calculations (taking the kWh usage of our washer multiplied by our electric rate), it likely costs about $3.52 more per quarter in electricity (I line dry the diapers and can line dry the inserts or tumble dry with other laundry). Taking a more average look at it, using average high efficiency kWh usage for hot/cold cycles according to Mr. Electricity* and multiplying by our electric rate, it comes to $6.51 more per quarter in electricity. Using Mr. Electricity’s calculator (our rates and basic info, but average high efficiency washer kWh usage) our total water, electric and detergent costs should be something like $10.87 more per quarter. I have a feeling it is actually less for us, but however you look at it, it’s a far cry from $91.

To think of it in yearly terms, that’s $43.50 more per year in electricity, water and detergent vs. $365 more per year to buy disposable diapers.

*Mr. Electricity has an awesome site with lots of great info. He also looks a lot like Weird Al. And he has a page dedicated to calling out all the media organizations who have misquoted his info. Badass.


first year of cloth diapering: $216 (diapers) + $43.50 (water/electricity/detergent) = $264.33 for cloth vs. ~$365 for cheap disposables // save $105.50

second year of cloth diapering: $43.50 (water/electricity/detergent) for cloth vs. ~$365 for cheap disposables // save $321.50

Factor in using the diapers for multiple babies or reselling them after potty training, and the savings increase.


Now, all that being said, I do see how for some people, cloth diapering can be much more expensive. We only bought 15 diapers, and bought them at a discounted price. I’ve noticed lots of cloth diaper advocates out there get carried away with buying the latest styles and cutest prints, trying every different brand out there and ending up with a huge stash of diapers. It’s apparently an addictive habit, and one that gets expensive really fast!

But 15 diapers is perfect for one toddler. It gives us more than enough to get through two days plus a few extra while they’re being washed and dried. You are supposed to wash them every other day, so any more than that is unnecessary.

Anyway, if you made it through all of the above, you see not only that I am crazy with all my ridiculous calculations, but that you can save a lot in the long run by cloth diapering. Since we plan on having more kids (one coming very soon!) we figured we might as well switch to cloth now.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, after cloth diapering for about a month, I love it and wish we had done it from the beginning! I’ll write more later this week about our methods and the things I’ve learned so far. I’m happy to report that cloth diapering is much less complicated than it may appear!