A stack of disposable diapers next to a stack of cloth diapers

Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable Diapers: Which Is Better? Pros & Cons

Baby showers and diaper parties! Nothing is quite as thrilling as opening gifts for your new bundle of joy. Many new parents receive diapers as a shower or baby gift.

The problem is, there are tons of diapers out there. How do you decide between disposable and cloth?

Each kind has its pros and cons, so expectant parents have to decide what to use. Even parents who are “pros” may use something different for a second or third child when the time comes.

A stack of disposable diapers next to a stack of cloth diapers

Taking a little time to inform yourself about the differences between disposable and cloth diapers as well as the pros and cons of each can help you make the best decision for you and your new baby.

So, without further ado, let’s get the battle of cloth diapers vs disposable diapers on the way!

What’s In A Name, Anyway?

The word “diaper” has its roots in the mid-14th century, meaning a “fabric with a repeated pattern of figures,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, possibly coming from the Old French word diaspre, Medieval Greek diaspos, or Medieval Latin diasprum.

The use of the word “diaper” as a covering for a baby’s bottom goes all the way back to the late 1500s.

No matter what people called them, diapers have been needed since the dawn of humankind. Early humans used what they had available at that time, such as plants and animal skins.

Ladies Leading The Way For Diaper Development

Maria Allen is attributed with the creation of the first mass-produced cloth diapers in 1887 in the US. Diapers followed a sort of natural evolution after this point.

When women worked in factories during World War II, they didn’t have time to wash all these diapers, so diaper washing services were born.

In 1946, Marion Donovan developed a waterproof diaper cover, slowly edging diapers into the modern era. Her diapers, called “Boaters,” were a hit when they debuted in 1949 at Saks Fifth Avenue. She then sold the patent and turned her attention to a true disposable diaper.

Unfortunately, Marion couldn’t find a manufacturer willing to take on her new product. In 1961, Victor Mills used Donovan’s ideas to create Pampers®. Donovan wasn’t deterred, however, and she went on to earn a degree from Yale University.

Modern Disposable Diapers

Modern disposable diapers have the technological edge over disposables from the 1960s.

Now, parents can expect super-absorbent polymers, elastic waistbands, urine indicators, and designer colors. Some brands include lotions and scents as well.

Disposable diapers are typically made up of several layers of material to better absorb and hold liquid wastes.

The innermost layer is often a mixture of super-absorbent polymers and paper. The layer nearest to the baby’s skin is intended to transfer moisture to the inner layer, with the package wrapped in a waterproof outer layer.

Disposable Diapers vs. Cloth Diapers: Pros of Disposables

First things first, let’s start off with a list of advantages you can benefit from when choosing to use disposable diapers that can only be used once before going in the trash bin.

For most parents, the number one pro for having your child wear disposables is the convenience. Disposable diapers are small, they are relatively inexpensive, and they are ridiculously easy to use.

Other advantages of disposables include:

Sizing Options

Disposable diapers come in many different sizes you can choose from, from preemie to toddler to even adult. Extreme versions exist on both ends of the size spectrum.

Preemie diapers fit babies weighing less than two pounds, and adult-sized diapers can handle some of the largest.

Brands

There are tons of brands out there for you to choose from.

Does your baby have a diaper rash from a specific diaper brand? Switch! You can find designer brands, budget brands, and everything in between.

There’s something for even the most sensitive little bottom. Never feel like you have to settle for less than the absolute best for your little one.

Patterns And Colors

Want pretty flowers for your darling girl? Or cool robots and dinosaurs for your handsome fellow? Baby’s diapers come in nearly any design and color you can imagine.

What? Natural Disposable Diapers?

While disposables aren’t exactly “natural,” and almost all of you reading this trying to lead that natural baby life would run away from disposables for this very reason, some brands are more forgiving to the environment.

Parents can find diapers made without chlorine, oil-based chemicals, latex, or perfumes and dyes. Some diapers use maize, bamboo, and wood pulp instead of harsher substances.

These environmentally friendly choices may help babies who are super sensitive to chemicals, but they will hit parents in the pocketbook.

If you are really concerned about using disposables, consider cloth. Reusable diapers have come a long way!

Cons Of Disposable Diapers

Unfortunately, the picture with disposables isn’t all rosy and perfect. A typical kid could use up to 10,000 diapers before they are potty trained. Almost 50 million diapers a day are thrown away in the U.S. alone.

Other cons to consider include:

Chemicals

No one knows for sure how long diapers take to decompose, and the chemicals in them most certainly cause harm to the environment.

Even the production process releases toxins that have been linked to cancer.

Expensive

The cost of disposable diapers isn’t really high, not as much as the cost of cloth diapers at least, but they still add up. An average kid can expect to use thousands of dollars’ worth of disposables before they are potty trained.

As a matter of fact, statistics have shown that having a cloth diapering system in place can end up costing you a fraction of what disposable diapers cost you over the span of two and a half years.

While a cloth system can set you back as little as 300$ to 400$ over the course of two and a half years, disposables may set you back a whopping 2500$ or 3000$.

While a pocket diaper might cost you more upfront, these do end up saving you a whole lot of money as the years go by.

So, if a priority of yours is to save money on diapers, going with cloth might be the better choice for you in the long haul as far as cost savings are concerned.

Blowouts Can Still Happen

Disposable diapers aren’t fail-proof.

Wearing an expensive blouse? That’s usually when you discover that a diaper has leaked on you.

Constant blowouts are a sign that you may need a larger size diaper.

Sensitivities

Some babies react to chemicals used in disposables. More natural brands are available, but they usually cost more.

Sperm Production

Even though not enough studies have been performed to come to a reliable conclusion about this issue, but one study found that disposable diapers cause higher temperature around a baby boy’s genital area than cloth diapers do – which could possibly lead to a decrease in sperm production when they grow up to become adults.

Cloth Vs. Disposable Diapers: Pros Of Cloth Diapers

So, why should you choose cloth diapers? Here’s a list that discusses some of the most important reasons you might want to go down this route.

Cloth diapers do have a slight learning curve to using them, but if you have a washing machine available, you’ll love trying them out.

Your baby will be just as snug and dry in cloth diapers as they would in disposables, so why not consider giving them a try?

There’s also services that could take care of washing cloth diapers for you, if you don’t have the time or means to do so yourself.

Better For The Environment

Cloth diapers are better for the environment than disposable ones, as they can be reused over and over again for as long as they’re in good physical condition (and then passed on to another baby).

Disposables are one-and-done, and then they sit in a landfill for hundreds of years.

Modern Cloth Diapers

Just as disposables have “grown up” so have cloth diapers. Gone are the old square of fabric fastened with safety pins.

If you’ve never used reusable diapers, there are lots of options to try. If you have used them before, you might look around to see if your diaper stash needs updating.

The thought of using a pocket diaper might make you groan, especially if you’ve ever listened to grandparents complain about using them.

Gone are the days of waking up to soaking-wet linens and mattresses. Cloth diapers are comparable to disposables in absorption power.

Cost Effective

A stash of cloth diapers does require an initial investment. But then, you don’t need anymore!

No running to the store in the middle of the night, no weekly mail deliveries. Once you have them, you’re set.

Designs

Cloth diapers are super cute. You can choose from a wide variety of colors and patterns to keep your baby’s bum dry in style.

Varying Types

There are many types of cloth diapers, from all-in-ones, to all-in-twos, to even a hybrid cloth diaper if you want one.

You might have to experiment and try a few kinds to see what you prefer. You can always sell any that you don’t want to use after you’ve made a purchase and figured out they’re not the right option for your little one.

So, whatever style of cloth diapers you’re after, there’s bound to be a suitable option for you to choose.

Easier To Potty Train

Many parents claim to have had an easier experience getting their little ones to potty train successfully when wearing reusable diapers instead of disposable diapers.

The reasoning behind this is that because some cloth diapers tend to be less comfortable than disposables, the baby is more willing to give them up and transition towards using the potty.

It makes sense for them to be more accepting towards giving up something they’re not really comfortable in, as opposed to resisting transitioning towards potty training if they’re wearing something that feels like heaven.

Cons Of Cloth Diapers

Environmental issues may drive many to want to use cloth diapers over disposables. While it’s easy to paint a “green” picture in the argument for cloth, you do have to consider the cons, including:

Time

For many working parents that are time starved and can’t afford to deal with diaper laundering, this is the biggest hurdle.

Time wise, cloth diapers aren’t as convenient as disposables. Cloth diapers require time to tend to, as well as special washing procedures, especially diaper laundry detergent designed for cloth diapers. However, diaper cleaning services are available, especially in larger cities.

If you plan to wash cloth diapers at home, you need somewhere to store dirty diapers and a good washing machine – especially if you’re trying to remove those nasty poop stains or remains from that diaper rash cream you applied on your little one last time.

Sometimes – okay, let’s be real here, almost always – it’s much easier and less time consuming to just throw that poopy diaper away and grab a new one without having to deal with the hassle of washing and drying and cleaning.

So, if the thought of cloth diaper laundry (loads of laundry if you’re anything like me) gives you nightmares, they might not be the best for you.

Ick Factor

You must clean baby’s poop off the diapers before they go into your washing machine. Depending on how sensitive your nose is, this task may be difficult for you.

If you have a particularly delicate constitution, you might be cleaning more than just the diaper!

Childcare

Your daycare provider might look at you like you have a third eyeball if you provide cloth diapers.

Daycare workers may not have the time or space to properly clean and store soiled cloth diapers, so you might want to talk to the daycare’s management about that specific point.

Should You Drop The Idea Of Cloth?

No way! Even if you can’t commit to using cloth 100% of the time, you can try to use them when it works for you.

Accumulating a small stash to use at home will still save money and keep disposables out of the landfill. Any change you can contribute to in the fight against filling landfills, even if a very small, is better than no contribution at all.

Bringing your spouse or partner on board might be challenging, so some experimentation might be needed.

You could consider waiting until your child is out of the tiny newborn stage. Sticky, watery poop can be more difficult to clean from cloth. Waiting until your baby eats solids might make the cleanup easier.

Newborns (especially if you have a heavy wetter) will also require many more cloth inserts or shells (or whichever type you choose). An older baby doesn’t wet or soil the diaper as often so you won’t need such a large stash. Just using one or two cloth diapers is a good enough starting point.

There Is No One Right Answer For Every Family

And that’s a wrap to this diaper debate, folks! We hope this piece on cloth versus disposable diapers helped you take a decision that’s in your best interest!

Whether you choose to go with disposable or cloth, your family has unique needs, and only you get to decide how to diaper your baby. We’re just here to give you the facts so you can make a well informed decision.

At the end of the day, there is no right answer – you find what fits your day-to-day needs, whether that be cloth or disposable diapers.

Disposable diapers and cloth diapers both have pros and cons, so arming yourself with knowledge is the best way to decide.

The end goal is to have a healthy, happy and dry baby. You are doing the best you can to raise your child, so don’t feel guilty about the type of diapers you use. What works for you might not be the most practical choice for someone else, and vice versa.

As technology advances, more environmentally-friendly products will hit the market, so the modern diaper may soon be a relic of the past. Till then, happy diapering!

Leave a Comment