Cloth Diapers vs Disposable

The typical baby produces a number of wet and dirty diapers that seems disproportionately large compared to their little bodies. No doubt about it, you can plan to change your baby literally thousands of times before they learn to use the potty.

When they think of a diaper, most people probably automatically picture a disposable product.

While many parents do choose to use disposable diapers, the cloth options on the market today offer improved fit and smart designs that can make them a great choice for many families.

Since diapers will be a part of your daily life for quite some time, it makes sense to learn about your options and which type of diaper might work best in your family. Here is a breakdown of the benefits, drawbacks and differences between cloth and disposable diapers that can help you make your decision.

Diapers

Cloth Diapers

Cost

The amount parents invest in cloth diapers can vary greatly depending on which brand they choose and how many diapers they buy. The typical cost of cloth diapers, outer covers, laundry soap and electricity for your washer and dryer usually comes to about $600 to $900 for your child’s first year.

This figure may sound high, but keep in mind that the biggest cost savings become apparent after your child’s first birthday. Once your baby enters their second year, cloth diapers have usually paid for themselves and you essentially pay for only cleaning costs.

Laundering your cloth diapers about three times a week increases your utility bill by a small amount, and purchasing specialized laundry soap is an additional cost.

Even though cloth diapers end up costing much less over the time your child wears them, they still require a sizable up-front investment that could present a challenge for some families. As opposed to buying just the amount of disposable diapers your child needs for the week, you need to be prepared with a full supply of reusables from the moment of your child’s birth.

Some parents choose to register for cloth diapers and covers for their baby shower. You can also purchase a few diapers or covers at a time throughout your pregnancy to help spread out the cost over several months.

Construction and Style

In recent years, a growing number of parents have opted to go the reusable diaper route, and cloth diaper manufacturers have responded to this increased demand with innovative designs, improved performance and wider availability in stores and online.

The cloth diapers of today are not the ones you may be remembering from the past few decades. Older styles of cloth diapers almost always consisted of a pre-folded cotton diaper with simple closures that allowed for only one or two points of adjustment. Elasticized rubber or vinyl outer pants served as a cover and usually came in a few standardized sizes.

Modern cloth diapers offer parents several options. For the inner diaper itself, you can choose a washable cotton pad, while other brands have a biodegradable single-use insert.

The biggest difference between older cloth diapers and modern designs are the waterproof outer covers. Many brands offer covers in bright, fun patterns: Whether you prefer graphic prints, floral patterns, vibrant solids or playful motifs, you should be able to find a design you love.

In addition to being adorable, new styles of outer covers also let you customize the fit to your baby with multiple snaps or Velcro closures. Some brands have a variety of cover sizes, and you will need to purchase larger ones as your child grows. Other brands offer an adaptable design that grows with your baby by using multiple snap configurations.

Even though the new designs on cloth diapers are sleeker than older styles, they are still significantly bulkier than disposables. Plan to dress your child in pants that are about one size bigger than they would normally wear to fit comfortably over the diaper. During warmer months, some parents just dress their child in a shirt and let a colorful diaper cover double as a regular bottom.

Due to a cloth diaper’s design and material, your baby could be more prone to diaper rash or having difficulty clearing up irritation. Since reusable diapers have a waterproof layer in the outer cover, they lack the airflow of a disposable. Additionally, natural fibers do not wick moisture away from the skin as efficiently as absorbent synthetics. Some parents find that switching to disposables for a short time while their baby has a rash or irritation helps the skin heal more quickly.

Laundering

As opposed to simply folding up and throwing away a messy disposable diaper, be prepared for a little more exposure to your child’s solid waste. Since you don’t want large pieces of solid waste in your washing machine, you will need to empty any solid material into the toilet and rinse the diaper out as soon as possible after a change.

A good rule of thumb is to plan for one load of diapers every two to three days. Letting soiled diapers pile up can lead to odor and stains that are difficult to remove, so having fewer diapers that you wash more often is usually a wise idea. One recommendation suggests that 25 to 30 diapers should be about right as long as you wash a load of diapers several times a week.

Most parents prefer to wash a dedicated load of dirty diapers separately from the rest of the family’s laundry. Purchasing a laundry soap specifically designed for washing cloth diapers can be helpful in breaking down waste and reducing odor.

You need to have a plan for dealing with soiled diapers when you need to change your child away from home. Having a good wet bag is essential for keeping your dirty diaper contained. If you are on the go often, choosing a brand that has disposable inner inserts may be your best choice.

Although cloth diapers do require more work, they can be easier in their own way. Especially if you live in an area where making an emergency trip to the store isn’t quick or convenient, having all your supplies already at home can make your life a little simpler.

Pros

  • They are less expensive in the long run.
  • Outer covers have cute, fun patterns.
  • Multiple brands are becoming more widely available.
  • Smart designs are easy to use and comfortable for your baby.
  • Having all your supplies at home can be convenient.

Cons

  • They cost more up-front.
  • The “ick factor” can be greater.
  • Require more work to clean and combat odors.
  • Less convenient to use away from home.
  • Your baby could have more frequent or stubborn diaper rashes.
  • Adds bulk under clothing.

Disposable Diapers

Cost

Plan to spend about $800 dollars during the first year of your child’s life, and budget roughly half that amount for the second year. Depending on the brand you choose, how many diapers your child goes through daily and whether retailers in your area offer good sales, your cost for disposable diapers could be significantly higher or lower.

Typically, the average newborn goes through 10-12 diapers every day for the first several weeks of life. Starting at around the age of three months, most babies start having more infrequent bowel movements, and their daily diaper requirement should gradually decrease as the months go on.

Although cloth diapers cost less over the long run, they do require you to make a sizable initial investment. One of the benefits of using disposables is your ability to spread the cost out by purchasing as few or as many packages as your weekly or monthly budget allows.

Check to see if retailers in your area offer sales or coupons. If so, take advantage of these deals to stock up and make the most of your diaper budget. Additionally, find out if any stores you regularly shop at offer a loyalty or rewards programs that you can combine with sales or coupons.

Construction

Diaper manufacturers are continually working to come up with materials and designs that promote airflow, prevent leaks and are comfortable for your baby to move around in.

Many disposable diapers have a soft outer layer that resembles a woven cloth. The weave allows for air movement and can help keep your baby’s skin dry and comfortable.

The absorbent material in the typical disposable diaper can hold a surprising amount of liquid without getting too bulky. This inner layer contains wood pulp and the highly-absorbent polymer sodium polyacrylate.

Parents have raised concerns in the past that these materials and other chemicals often used in disposable diapers could lead to skin irritation or other problems. However, these fears appear to be groundless: Most potentially problematic substances are present in such tiny amounts that they rarely lead to a reaction.

Many disposables have stretchy side panels that maintain a comfortable and snug fit even when your baby is crawling or running around. Velcro-like tabs let you reposition the closure as many times as you need to.

Convenience

Disposables are great for changes in tight spaces or on the go. The car, a bathroom stall or any semi-private public area can all be the perfect place to wipe your child clean, roll up the mess in the used diaper and put on a new one. After the diaper change, you can usually find a trash can to throw away your wrapped-up dirty diaper with minimal effort.

Disposable diapers are also readily available in most areas. Even if you are traveling, you should be able to find diapers for sale at mass retailers, grocery stores and most gas stations. They may even be available in vending machines at highway rest stops.

You may find that easy availability to be a blessing more than once. You wouldn’t be the first parent to sleepily reach into the diaper bin in the middle of the night and suddenly realize what you forgot to pick up at the store.

Pros

  • They are convenient and easy to change.
  • Comfortable design is less likely to leak.
  • Better airflow could lead to less diaper rash.
  • Widely available in almost all areas.
  • Requires a smaller initial investment.

Cons

  • They cost more over time.
  • Some parents may want to avoid synthetic components.
  • You may need to make an emergency trip to the store if you run out.

Environmental Impact

In terms of sheer waste created, cloth diapers are the clear winner.

The typical baby produces upwards of 4,000 wet and soiled diapers before they are potty trained.

A few brands offer compostable diapers, but the vast majority of disposable diapers end up in landfills. Since these diapers are almost always wrapped in a plastic garbage bag away from air and sunlight, it can take up to 500 years for the average disposable to decompose. Additionally, the manufacturing waste and pollution associated with disposable diapers often increase the negative environmental impact.

While they certainly make for less garbage ending up in the landfill, a surprising side of the environmental issue is that cloth diapers may negatively affect the planet in other ways.

Most cloth diapers are made of cotton. Cotton requires a tremendous amount of water to grow, and it is also one of the most heavily-sprayed crops worldwide. Chemicals from cotton fields leaching into the groundwater of local communities and workers receiving unfair wages are legitimate concerns. Cloth diapers also require electricity and water to clean.

The good news is that among both cloth and disposable diaper manufacturers, some brands are pledging to reduce waste and energy consumption, use responsible production methods and pay fair wages. No matter what style of diaper you choose to use, researching the manufacturer’s policies can help you can make a choice that is better for the planet and local communities.

The best diaper for your child is one that best fits into your lifestyle, schedule and budget. No matter which diaper route you choose to go, you have the freedom to adapt your plan if your opinion or life situation ever changes. You can always switch from disposables to reusables if you think it would be a better fit for your current circumstances or vice versa. You could also choose a hybrid method and use cloth diapers at home and disposables when you plan to be away.

Modern designs of both cloth and disposable diapers offer a great fit and performance. By taking a close look at the many good options available today, you can find the one that you feel good about and that works best for your child.

What brand of diapers is your favorite? If you have tried cloth diapers, what did you think of them? Let us know in the comments!

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