Despite being the go-to, and truly only option for most of modern human history, cloth diaper use has fallen out of fashion in recent years. Disposable diapers stormed the scene, presenting parents with an easier and more convenient way to change their children.
However, despite 9 out of 10 families choosing to use disposable diapers in the United States today, there are still many parents wondering which option might be better. It can be a daunting choice to consider, with some people shouting the benefits of cloth diapering and insisting you are killing the environment with your Huggies, and with yet more people telling horror stories about how difficult and time consuming cloth diapering can be.
Like all parenting choices, this one should be made based on what you feel is best for your family—be it cloth, disposable, or a combination of the two. However, in order to facilitate that choice, below is a discussion on the pros and cons of both styles of diapering across a variety of subjects for you to consider.
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The Difference Between Cloth and Disposable Diapers
We are going to jump right into one of the biggest sources of contention between the pro-cloth and pro-disposable camps: the financial cost of each type of diaper.
- The major pro of cloth diapers is that they can be cheaper over the long run. Cloth diapers can be washed and reused, greatly limiting the amount of diapers you need to buy. A supply of 24 covers and roughly 50 inserts can last a child over a year, and sometimes up to two years. You will spend roughly $300 total for cloth diapers, and you can also add savings by reusing the diapers for any future children as well.
- That $300 we just mentioned? That is an upfront cost. If you are planning on cloth diapering full time, you should have no less than 24 covers and at least 50-75 inserts. Most covers cost roughly $12-$15 each, plus the cost of the inserts. Added costs can be flushable liners if you choose to use them, and the cost of washing the diapers themselves. Some parents choose to use a diaper service instead to rent, use, and wash the diapers, but that can run upwards of $2000 a year.
- When it comes to cost, the upfront amount of money needed is far less for disposable diapers. Especially if you buy cheaper, off-brand diapers, the cost goes way down. To start your baby’s life you might only need a few boxes of diapers, compared to the $300 worth of diapers you need if you are cloth diapering.
- Where you might save money initially with disposable diapers, you will lose long term. For the first two years of your child’s life, you can expect to shell out at least $2000-$3000 dollars to use disposable diapers. An average box of 200 diapers can cost $45 dollars, and when you baby needs to be changed at least once every two hours, you can blow through a box of diapers quickly.
2. Health and Comfort
Most studies have found that there is no difference between using cloth or using disposable diapers when it comes to health benefits for your child. However, some parents do fear the use of plastics, chemicals, and dyes in disposable diapers, and so cloth diapers are the winner in this category for those parents. Cloth diapers come in a range of all natural cottons and hemps to polyester fleece inserts, giving concerned parents the ability to fully customize the diaper for their concerns. Additionally, the dyes and chemicals in disposable diapers can cause rashes and allergic reactions in some children.
As for comfort, disposable diapers may win the fight, as the material is designed to wick away moisture from the skin of the baby, leading to a dryer feel and less diaper rash. This comfort might backfire, though, when it comes to potty training. A child who isn’t uncomfortable in a wet diaper might face more challenges when trying to transition into underwear.
3. Environmental impact
As climate change is a serious issue facing our world, many parents are starting to be concerned about what kind of ecological footprint they are leaving on the planet and want to make sure that their parenting decisions are fitting with their environmental goals as well.
- Cloth diapers are normally touted as being the “best thing ever” for the environment when compared to disposable diapers. Due to flushable liners and cleaning in general, your child’s waste end up in the sewage system, which is then sent to treatment facilities and reused after being cleaned. Often times water treatment plants will even separate the pure water to go into rivers, and the fecal matter to be used as fertilizer for crops.
- The downside of cloth diapers is that they will need to be washed a lot. Most parents find themselves washing inserts and covers at least every other day. This consumes a lot of fresh water (about 50 gallons per load) and they consume the energy needed to wash them.
- There are definitely not a lot of pros here for the disposable diaper crowd. Your child will produce, on average, 6000 diapers during the first few years of their lives. However, some diaper companies are releasing diapers that are more “biodegradable” for the environmentally conscious parents.
- This is the part where the argument for disposable diapers falters. As just mentioned, your child will probably produce roughly 6000 diapers in the first few years of its life, and every single one of them will end up in the landfill, contributing to the 4.2 million pounds of landfill waste caused every year by diapers. Disposable diapers also rely on non-renewable resources to make them, such as petroleum.
Convenience is the number one reason that 9 out of 10 families choose to use disposable diapers, but there are still pros and cons for each style of diapering.
- Cloth diapers show their convenience most in the middle of the night when you know you need a diaper. Because you wash them yourselves, you know how many diapers and inserts you have left, and this can be a saving grace at 3 a.m. when you have a screaming infant. Modern cloth diapers also have evolved to be easy and quick to change, reducing the difficulty associated with cloth diapers.
- In contrast, cloth diapers are still somewhat more time consuming and inconvenient than disposable ones. When out in
public you may very well end up having to carry a dirty diaper around with you until you can go home to clean it. They canbe more difficult to use, and you will probably have to train babysitters, family members, and daycare providers on how to use them.
- This is where disposable diapers shine! There is nothing more convenient than a disposable diaper. Simply take it off, wipe the baby down, wrap up the mess, and throw it in the trash! The diapers themselves are even designed to be easy to use, with the quick fastening strips from the back to the front. They change in size for your growing baby as well.
- The main inconvenience for disposable diapers is when you run out! With cloth, you know your supply, but what if your partner uses the last diaper and doesn’t tell you? Hello, 3 a.m. run to the nearest 24-hour grocery store!
In the end, the choice to use either disposable or cloth diapers is a personal ones that parents must make in the best interest of their families. It’s important to take a look at both choices to make the best decision for you.