Diapers have been a high-cost item for over a decade.
The National Diaper Bank Network was formed in 2010 with the sole purpose of providing relief to communities in need and raising awareness of this national issue.
Their efforts are spread throughout the U.S., but even the most successful diaper banks experience shortages and cannot provide enough supply to meet demand.
The National Diaper Bank Network also states that one in three families struggle to afford diapers, which seem to be continuously increasing in price.
This issue directly affects so many families, yet most states don’t have any legislation in place to provide aid.
Let’s find out why diapers are so expensive.
Why Are Diapers So Expensive? (10 Reasons)
1. Increase In Demand
Similar to many other products on the market, diapers have been experiencing a shortage in supply which has led to higher demand as desperate families search for extra stock.
Housebound consumers, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, experienced a surge in demand for entertainment goods including televisions, furniture, and exercise equipment.
While seemingly unrelated to the demand for diapers, it is important to note that manufacturers can only produce so many goods at one time.
If their focus is pushed to producing more televisions (or other goods) to meet demand, there is less space and dedication for the production of daily necessities like diapers.
There are diaper banks across the nation that try their hardest to supply diapers to local communities.
However, the demand is so great that these diaper banks will never fully be able to “break-even”.
Many banks also experience lapses in donations due to donor fatigue.
2. There Aren’t Many Policies To Help Offset The Costs
Poverty is a global issue, in fact as stated above there are one in three families struggling to afford diapers.
Poverty affects all aspects of life including a parent’s ability to purchase clean diapers for their baby.
Many families rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to provide sustenance to their families.
However, it is not so commonly known that diapers are not included on the list of approved purchases.
There are very few policies and bills in place to help these families desperate for diapers.
Single mothers make up a large portion of family households in the United States, and they would benefit from policies to aid them in purchasing necessities like diapers.
There are a variety of foundations and organizations providing aid to single women, including the Women Infants and Children program, SNAP, Child Care Subsidies, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
However, the options for obtaining diapers are almost nonexistent, causing many families to resort to reusing diapers at the cost of their babies’ health.
This, in addition to the lower pay women receive in general, creates a huge problem for the nearly 9.5 million single-parent households throughout the United States in 2020.
The most popular diaper brands, like Huggies, Pull-Ups, Pampers, and Luvs, all publicly announced in 2021 they would be increasing the prices charged to retailers in response to the inflation of commodity costs.
This in turn results in retailers increasing purchase prices as well.
Unless any legislation changes occur, many families will continue to feel hopeless and desperate for help when it comes to this issue.
3. Acrylic Acid Shortage Resulting From Chemical Plant Disruptions
One product commonly used in many diapers is acrylic acid, which is a chemical that helps with the absorption properties of the middle core of the diaper.
In February 2021, Texas experienced record-breaking winter storms which resulted in electricity shortages that closed many chemical plants down.
These plants were important because they played a part in producing the acrylic acid necessary for diapers.
This shortage came in addition to supply chain shortages already occurring since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
The ongoing supply shortages combined with the shutdown of necessary chemical plants resulted in price surges of products using these chemicals.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas reported that this storm affected refining and petrochemical sectors with the strength of a hurricane, but with less warning than a hurricane would have offered them.
It took several months for operations to begin again and some had lasting damage.
4. Companies Increase Prices To Offset Costs Associated With Production
As the price of materials used to make diapers has been increasing, the companies who produce them are making less of a profit.
For these companies to break even and even bring in a profit, they have had to resort to increasing the retail costs they charge the stores that sell them.
Additionally, some manufacturers may attempt some of their own cost-saving methods by using less quality materials in their products.
The overall design of a diaper is relatively simple with only three layers.
However, for the diaper to be of good quality and able to keep the baby dry, there are specific requirements.
Not all companies use the same ingredients and the FDA doesn’t require manufacturers to disclose these ingredients, so knowing exactly what ingredients and materials are within diapers is difficult.
Cheaper, lower-quality diaper brands, may seem like a better deal but often have less than average absorption, and therefore your baby will require more frequent changes.
This may eliminate the upfront cost savings if it’s necessary to use double the number of diapers.
Primary Materials Used In The Production Of A Diaper
There are three main components of a diaper: the inner layer or top sheet, the absorbent core, and the waterproof outer shell.
The inner layer or top sheet is the material that sits directly on the baby’s skin.
The quality of this layer will impact the frequency of rashes or skin breakdown.
The absorbent core is the mid-layer that has the primary function of absorbing and trapping fluids.
This core is very important.
A core that does not function well may release fluids when the diaper is twisted during the baby’s normal movements.
Fluids that rest on the skin for an extended period also lead to rashes, skin breakdown, and urinary tract infections in babies.
The absorbent material is composed of fluff material and chemical crystals called a Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP).
The fluff is typically made out of wood pulp, wheat, or corn-based materials and distributes the fluid across the surface of the diaper.
The fluff and SAP work together to keep fluids trapped.
Many diaper brands also use the chemical acrylic acid which aids in absorption.
This absorbent core is so important because if made with toxic chemicals and leaks, those chemicals and materials can potentially be absorbed back into the skin.
The outer layer is a waterproof shell made up of a petroleum-based plastic or a plastic-treated material.
Some companies may use plant-based plastic to obtain the waterproof coating, called polylactic acid.
5. The Demand For More Environmentally Friendly Products
Disposable diapers are the most common type of diaper used around the globe, due to their ease of use.
However, environmentalists in the last decade continue to raise the red flag about our environmental health.
Society’s general awareness of chemical and toxic ingredients has been increasing.
Therefore, many diaper manufacturers have had to change the way they make these disposable diapers.
This trend towards a more biodegradable and sustainable diaper future is a positive step in the future of our health.
However, the change in greener materials and manufacturing processes also indicates a step toward a higher price range.
Some of the more environmentally friendly diaper options are chlorine-free and perfume free.
One option, Babyganics, is one of these brands considered to be more eco-friendly and chlorine free.
Its cost per diaper is also less than some competing brands.
It is important to note that while some environmentally friendly diapers, like Babyganics, may seem cheaper initially, that cost is made up in the form of shipping fees.
It’s common for these eco-friendly diapers to have limited availability in stores and must be purchased online.
Other eco-friendly diaper brands, such as Eco by Naty are more expensive upfront which is disadvantageous for consumers wanting a healthier option but unable to afford them.
Another disadvantage of these greener diapers is that they may offer less durability than their counterparts.
This can lead to increased leakage, rashes, and more frequent diaper changes.
Another environmentally friendly diaper option is cloth diapers.
Cloth diapers are often expensive upfront, due to the amount of cloth necessary to be purchased at one time.
These are often made of industrial cotton, bamboo, wool, or unbleached hemp.
These are materials that are thicker and more durable.
However, this mom calculated the cost of one year’s worth of reusable and Huggies disposable diapers.
She found that the reusable diapers saved $216.
This may indicate that cloth diapers are a more cost-saving method.
Expenses do have the chance to add up with more frequent water, electricity, gas, and laundry detergent used to clean these diapers.
It is a personal choice, and some may determine the trade-off in appliances and energy prices may not be worth it.
6. Shipping Cost Increases
In 2021, the Suez Canal experienced an unprecedented event that has negatively affected shipping costs and has had an effect lasting longer than anyone could have expected.
A ship moving through the Suez Canal struck ground and became stuck sideways, blocking all traffic from moving in and out of the canal.
The quarter-mile-long ship was stuck for several days before being cleared.
This cost thousands of delays in goods being routed to businesses throughout Asia, Europe, and North America.
S&P Global Panjiva reports that container shipping costs for imported goods within the U.S. have increased by over $3 billion since this event in February 2020.
These rising expenses have affected consumers’ ability to purchase goods and have added pressure to inflation.
Ports around the globe are full of ships waiting to dock and unload, with very slow progress being made to do so.
7. Companies Experiencing A Shortage Of Workers
Shipping ports play a pivotal role in ensuring our stores are stocked with goods.
Unfortunately, many ports are understaffed.
This plays hand in hand with the increase in shipping costs, as ships are left in the port with limited staff to unload them.
The increase in demand mentioned above makes this even more of a challenge.
The Port of Los Angeles processed almost 800,000 containers in February 2022, according to Phillip Sanfield.
This is a record-breaking amount of ships being emptied, which takes significant time and labor.
The shortage of goods combined with the additional shortage of workers makes for an unfortunate combination.
8. Air Freight Has Become More Prevalent, For A Higher Price
Due to the shipping delays, some companies have taken to transporting their goods on airplanes.
However, air freight is more expensive than sea-based shipping.
This also plays an impact on the cost of diapers.
It is common for goods to be transported in the lower loading area on passenger planes, however, this method of transportation also experienced a decline during the coronavirus pandemic.
Businesses were forced to pay extra to have their stock put on fewer flights or to pay for their own transport planes.
The price to transport air cargo has gone up since 2020.
Price is estimated by the weight and volume of the cargo and now ranges from $4 – $8 per kilogram.
Air carriers may charge based on volumetric weight or actual weight.
9. As Diaper Size Increases, So Does The Price
Like all clothing and shoes, there is a difference in price between baby, youth, young adult, and adult options.
The same goes for diapers.
The difference in price between a newborn diaper and size 4+ isn’t something consumers necessarily think about until standing in the aisle faced with the choices and price tags.
Parent’s Choice, a very popular diaper brand found at Walmart, has an 11-cent difference between their newborn and size 7 options.
Target’s Pampers Swaddlers have an even larger price difference of 34 cents between newborn and size 7 options.
Babies grow quickly, and spend less time in that newborn diaper stage (the cheaper option) and more time in the higher sizes which cost more money.
10. Diaper Purchasing Is Not A One-Time Thing
You will be purchasing a lot of diapers as the parent of a newborn.
This mom kept count and found that in her baby’s first month they changed more than 300 diapers, for an average of 8 diapers per day.
Luckily, the amount of diapers used per day does go down as your baby ages.
The mom mentioned above also created a chart for the first 12 months of her baby’s diaper usage.
They experienced a decrease from 350 in month one down to about 100 per month by the end of the first year.
No matter the age though, parents have to buy a lot of diapers.
No matter how much research is done to find the best quality diaper for the cheapest price, it’s still a fact that they need to be purchased frequently, and overall that causes the cost to add up quickly.