Cloth vs Disposable Diapers: Pros and Cons

Cloth vs Disposable? We've got the lowdown. Here are the pros and cons to consider with cloth vs disposable diapers.

The final word on the big debate: Cloth vs disposable diapers

One of the biggest choices facing an expectant mom is the decision whether to use cloth or disposable diapers. Our ideas of what makes the best diapers has changed over the decades. At one time the only diapering option was cloth diapers, but with the mass production of disposable diapers entering the scene in the late 1960s, that began to change. While at first, disposable diapers were used mainly for traveling, as diaper technology improved, disposable diapers quickly became the norm. Disposable diapers dominated the diapering industry until the early 2000’s when cloth diapers began to come back in a big way. Both improvements in cloth diaper designs, and a growing awareness of the environmental impact of disposable diapers has led to a resurgence in the cloth diaper industry.

So how do you choose the washable or single-use best diaper for your baby? A careful weighing of the pros and cons of both cloth and disposable diapers will help you to decide.

How Disposables Dominate

The best diaper for convenience is undoubtedly the disposable. Disposable diapers don’t have to be laundered. Instead, they are simply stored in a diaper pail and taken out with the trash. While the very first disposable diapers were used mainly for convenience during travel, improvements in disposable diaper designs soon revolutionized diaper duty. By the late 1960s, disposable diapers were fast becoming the norm for the convenience they offered. Suddenly, women no longer had to spend a large portion of their day washing and drying diapers.

Disposable diapers are available in every major grocery store, as well as corner convenience stores and drugstores. They also can be purchased and subscribed to from online retailers.

Disposable diapers are super-absorbent and quickly wick moisture away from delicate baby skin, leaving the top layer dry, resulting in superior comfort for babies. Many parents feel that disposable diapers don’t need to be changed as often as cloth diapers because of their super-absorbency. The fitted elastic legs on disposable diapers help prevent leakage, making them the best diaper for dryness.

Disposable Downsides

With a baby using an average of seven to ten disposable diapers per day, disposables can quickly become costly, even if you stick with the store brands versus the big name brands. It’s estimated that a family will spend between $2000 and $3000 dollars on disposable diapers for two years of diapering, even if they don’t use the best diapers.

Another disposable disadvantage is the fact that if you run out of disposable diapers, it involves a trip to a store, rather than being able to simply run a load of wash.

Another huge drawback to disposables is their impact on the environment—something that has come to the forefront of discussion about diaper choices in recent years. An estimated 20 billion disposable diapers are dumped into landfills per year. That’s approximately 3.5 million tons of waste. Disposable diapers are also responsible for the cutting of 200,000 trees per year for manufacturing. Disposable don’t degrade well in landfills and can take up to 500 years to decompose.

How Cloth Controls

Cloth diapers offer family a huge savings overall on diapers. For the best diapers, a stash of 25 diapers will cost about $300 dollars and will easily last until potty training. Thanks to new designs, one size is adjustable and fits babies from infancy all the way through the toddler years. If you have more than one child, the savings multiplies because the diapers can be reused, making them the best diaper choice for large families.

Cloth diapers can be washed in your detergent of choice, whereas disposable diapers contain some chemicals that parents may be anxious about having against their baby’s skin.

Easier potty training is another benefit of cloth diapers. Studies show that babies who use cloth diapers tend to be trained earlier. It’s believed this is because they are more likely to feel the moisture when they eliminate, whereas disposables wick moisture away so quickly that babies are less aware of when they go.

Less diaper rash is associated with cloth diapers than disposables, though the reasons are unclear. It may be because they contain less chemicals, or because they are more breathable. It could also be because babies are changed more often when they use cloth diapers because they are able to feel the moisture and may become fussy. Many parents believe that cloth diapers are the best diaper for protecting sensitive skin.

Cloth diapers come with adorable patterned covers that are fun for moms to collect to suit a baby’s individual personality.

Cloth Cons and Catches

Cloth diapers involve many more loads of laundry, so they can be inconvenient for today’s busy moms. It also leads to more energy and water usage and increased utility bills.

Cloth diapers are inconvenient for traveling or any time you are outside the home and baby requires changing. Disposable diapers can simply be tossed in the trash, but cloth diapers have to be stored and brought home for laundering.

Cloth diapers can be messy and more difficult to change, especially if you use the less expensive diapers with liners. Even the best diapers that are all-in-one in cloth involve dumping the solid waste into the toilet before laundering, whereas disposables can simply be rolled up and thrown away.

Because of the laundering, some families using cloth diapers eventually turn to diaper services which adds to the total cost of cloth diapering.

Resources— TheBump, ConnectUS, HaloMama