Economics of Cloth vs Disposable Nappies

There are two main reasons why people choose to use cloth; for environmental or economic factors.

2 billion disposable nappies go into landfill every year in Australia. It takes 3 times more energy, 20 more raw materials and 2 times more water to make a disposable nappy compared to a re-useable one [1]. Even after taking into account the materials and energy used to make them initially, the energy, water and detergent required to wash them, and their final, inevitable end point in landfill, re-useable nappies are by far the better option when it comes to environmental sustainability , as well as for financial savings.

The cost of disposables from birth to toilet training (approximately 3 years of age), ranges from $1,800 (cheapest disposable nappies available approx $0.17 each), $3,000 (average cost approx $0.30 each) to $5,000 (most expensive nappies at full price $0.50+ each). This is something that can be a significant burden to parents on lower incomes, or those living at or below the poverty line. This can result in nappies being changed infrequently, simply because parents cannot afford them, which often leads to nappy rashes and in extreme cases, infections.

The Upfront Cost Of Cloth Nappies

There is huge variation on the upfront cost of cloth nappies depending in the businesses selling them, the after sales service and overall quality.

The absolute cheapest nappies available can be purchased via Aliexpress or ebay cost $3- $5 a nappy, which come with only one thin microfiber insert (this isn’t adequate absorption, and additional inserts are needed).

Flats, prefolds and covers are a very effective and inexpensive option (see Cloth on a Budget).

Moderately priced nappies eg. Alva’s cost $5-$10 a nappy, which come with thicker microfiber inserts.

Australian nappy resellers cost $10-$15 a nappy, which come with thicker microfiber inserts or bamboo inserts.

Australian/US manufactures (made overseas but to a certain design and specifications) cost $20-$30 a nappy, which are generally made with premium materials that will last multiple children.

WAHM (work at home mum’s) that hand sew nappies cost $20+ a nappy, which can have intricate designs and embroidery using premium materials.

Each category has its pros and cons, price isn’t always a good indication of quality or longevity, often you get what you paid for but experienced users can more or less use any type of nappy successfully as long as there is enough absorption. Often it just takes practice (see the Fit Guide Why am I Getting Leaks?Adding Absorbency ).

The user needs to make a choice that fits within their budget, there are cheap ways to cloth nappy (see Cloth on a Budget, and A Guide to Buying Second Hand Nappies).
Initial startup costs vary, nappies that do have adequate absorption range from $250- $1000+ (based on 24-27 nappies, see How Many Do I Need? for information).

To try before you buy read about Cloth Nappy Hire. For info on how to use cloth for newborns, see the Cloth for Newborns page.

Prefolds and flats

Flats and prefolds are inexpensive, easy to wash and dry quickly

 

Ongoing Costs Of Cloth Nappies

Detergent costs 
The cost of detergent varies from $0.25 (for both prewash and main) for cheaper detergents such as Fab powder, to $0.50 for OMO regular powder, to $0.81 for OMO Ultimate powder, to $1.05 for Ecostore powder. This is based on the average price per kg. If washing every second day for three years (549 washes) this ranges from $138 for Fab, to $275 for OMO regular, to $445 for OMO Ultimate, to $577 for Ecostore.
Please note: water temperatures required for each detergent to work at its best, vary. Plant based/eco/sensitive detergents such as Ecostore need 60⁰C to work well, 40⁰C is suitable for both OMO regular and Ultimate, Fab needs between 40-60⁰C.  See the Detergent Index and Wash Guidelines for more info.

Water costs
The average cost of water per liter is $0.0023- $0.0050/L.
An average 7.5kg top loader uses between 100-200L per wash cycle [$0.23- $0.92 per wash].
An average 7.5kg front loader uses between 70-100L per wash cycle [$0.16- $0.50 per wash].
If washing every second day for three years (549 washes) the total cost ranges from $88 ($0.16 per wash) to $505 ($0.92 per wash).

Electricity costs
Top loaders use between 0.11- 1.27 kWh of electricity per cycle, depending on the machine and the cycle (this does not factor in heating water). 0.75 kWh for an average pre wash cycle and 1.27 kWh for main wash cycle.
Top loaders don’t heat their own water like front loaders do, so water is heated by either gas or electric means.

Front loaders use between 0.15-2.4 kWh of electricity per cycle, depending on the machine and the cycle (this does factor in heating water). 0.52kWh for an average pre wash cycle and 1.36 kWh for main wash cycle, both at 40⁰C.

Dryers use between 2.79- 9.23 kWh per cycle, depending on capacity, the smaller the dryer the less energy it uses.

If solar panels are utilised this reduces electricity usage overall, including heating water for top loaders.

Cost of electricity and gas varies depending on the provider. For electricity, Australia pays $0.29 per kWh on average, this varies greatly from state to state. In 2017 SA was paying $0.47 per kWh, NSW $0.39 per kWh and Vic $0.34 per kWh.

For a front loader using 0.52 kWh for pre wash cycle, 1.36 kWh for main wash cycle, both at 40⁰C, at a cost of $0.30 per kWh =$0.564 per nappy load. If washing every second day for 3 years (549 washes) the total cost is $310.

Total average cost of using cloth for 3 years (including initial nappy purchase and ongoing costs) are:

Upfront cost of cloth $250- $800
Detergent cost $275- $577
Water cost $88- $505
Electricity cost $310 (based on a front loader, washing at 40⁰ for both cycles, line drying)

= Total cost $923 to $2192 for 3 years

For one child, if the alternative was using average costing disposables, that is a saving of $2577-$1308. For subsequent children, the saving increases because there is no upfront cost.

Time cost

It is impossible to put a monetary value on an individual’s time. When it comes to allocating a time value for using cloth there are variables. For example flats, prefolds, AIO’s don’t require putting together, whereas AI2s do. If using a dryer that removes the time required to hang for air drying.
Rinsing night and poo nappies takes approximately 10mins in the morning (for the night nappy) and 10-15mins in the evening (for poo nappies, if all are left to do at the same time).
The greatest time requirements are if air drying; hanging nappies takes anywhere between 15mins to 30mins depending on how much has been washed, and folding/snapping together and putting away, if using AI2s.

[1] http://www.australianscience.com.au/environmental-science/disposable-nappies-are-they-stinking-up-our-planet/

[2] https://www.canstarblue.com.au/about-canstar-blue/