Saving Pennies or Dollars is a new semi-regular series on Money360, inspired by a concerning frugal tactics that might not really save that much money. I’m going to take some of the scenarios described by the readers there and try to break down the numbers to see if the savings is really worth the time invested.
Calista writes in: Does making your own baby wipes (paper towels, water, baby soap & baby oil) save pennies or dollars? We used the recipe at a group home where I worked, and by the time you purchase quality paper towels, which are necessary, it didn’t seem like we were saving much money.
Making homemade wipes can certainly save you some money. The problem is, as Calista noted, you have to base them on high quality paper towels or you end up with a mess. Of course, I consider many of the low-end wipes to be “not worth it,” either, and I prefer to use rags.
What’s the best approach, then? Buying wipes? Making your own wipes? Using rags? Let’s run some numbers.
First of all, I did an extensive calculation a while back and discovered that the cost of using rags is about two cents per use. This includes the cost of obtaining them and cleaning them. It’s going to basically be impossible for wipes to approach this cost, but rags come with a cost themselves: they require the most work. You eventually have to launder them.
So, what about normal baby wipes? If you’re willing to buy them in bulk, they can be found in large quantities for as low as about two and a half cents per wipe at a warehouse store.
So, what’s cheaper? After you use about a hundred rags or so, you’ll have to invest the time to do a load of them in the laundry. However, using those hundred rags (along with a spray bottle of water) will save you about fifty cents. If you’re also using a spray bottle with a few teaspoons of vinegar and a few drops of dishwashing soap, you might eat up another nickel of that savings. Would you do a washer load of rags for forty five cents? I can’t make that call for you, but I will say that I prefer rags from a usability and an environment standpoint.
Now, let’s add in making your own wipes. You can make this by mixing ten parts water with one part baby shampoo. Mix this gently. I usually suggest putting several squirts into a large bottle, then stirring it gently and keeping it in the fridge.
Then, take a roll of paper towels and cut that baby in half the long way. What you want to end up with is two U-shaped half-rolls of paper towels. Then, cut these U-shaped rolls into two equally sized rolls. At this point, you’ll have four U-shaped piles of paper towels. You’ll also need a container that these wipes will sit in easily, preferably one with a lid so they don’t dry out.
Put one of those half-rolls into the wipe container, then slowly pour the wipe solution on top. Keep pouring until the paper towels are no longer sucking up the liquid. Close up the container, then put the remaining solution in the refrigerator.
A single roll of paper towel gives about 240 of these wipes, based on my own practice. You need good paper towels for this to work. At our local warehouse club, you can purchase twelve rolls of Bounty for $19.45, giving you a cost per wipe using this method of roughly two-thirds of a cent per wipe.
This is clearly the cheapest method. However, it has a few problems. For one, you need a container that stays closed or else the wipes will dry out. Even with a closed container, you’ll probably have to re-soak the wipes every once in a while. Also, between the cutting (which has to be done pretty regularly) and the extra soaking, this is clearly the most time-consuming of the three methods.
We’ve used all three of these at various times. The pre-packaged wipes were the most convenient, but they cost the most. The do-it-yourself wipes were the least expensive, but the least convenient. The rags were the most environmentally friendly while being in the middle for convenience and cost.
Whichever way you go, unless you’re running a center with lots of people with wipe needs, you’re going to be talking about pennies, not dollars.