My wife and I discussed cloth and disposable diapers before we had our first child. We were both intrigued by the idea of using cloth diapers for several reasons – possible cost savings, environment, better for child, convenience of not having to run to the store a couple times per week. Of course, we had our doubts as well. How much would they cost? Would they leak? How much of a pain would it be to do laundry? etc.
So we did what we do for any other major purchase/decision. We researched it and talked to people we knew who had used cloth diapers. Let me tell you the first thing we found out: The cloth diapers manufactured today are not the kind of cloth diapers that were available when we were raised! We were concerned about having to fold the diapers around a squirming baby and fastening them with pins (not a fun sounding proposition). But cloth diapers made now may have many features that weren’t around just a few decades ago, they may have liners, plastic coverings, Velcro or button fasteners or a host of other features. In short, we were intrigued.
Benefits of using cloth diapers
Cloth diapers have the obvious advantage of being reusable. That is a great benefit for the environment, and saves you the hassle of going to the store in the middle of the night (though it doesn’t save you from the hassle of washing them, but more on that later). Cloth diapers can also be better for the baby because some disposable diapers have plastics or other chemicals which can irritate a baby’s sensitive skin.
Durability of cloth diapers
Cloth diapers can be used dozens if not hundreds of times before they wear out. Our friends have used their set of cloth diapers through three children and they are still holding up fine. And durability leads directly to long term cost savings. Obviously using them for three children will more than cover the cost of the diapers, but they should pay for themselves relatively quickly even if you only have one child.
How much do cloth diapers cost?
Prices for cloth diapers vary, from a couple dollars each, to more than $15 each. But the quality and features also vary. We currently use a one-size-fits-all model made by BumGenius, which run about $17 each at Amazon (though they can be found cheaper sometimes). We also tried a couple other brands but preferred the BumGenius brand (some companies will send you a free or discounted sample to try).
The beauty of cloth diapers is that while the upfront cost is much higher, the ongoing cost is much lower. Once you purchase them you are only paying for laundry detergent and the energy to wash/dry them. [Note: I’ve also known people who have passed along cloth diapers to other family members or bought/sold them on Craigslist, bot h of which could be a cheaper option if you are willing to do either].
The cost of disposable diapers
Contrast that to disposable diapers, which must be purchased for each use (raise your hand if you’ve ever used 3 diapers to complete one change because your baby decided changing time meant going time). Prices for disposable diapers also vary, ranging anywhere from roughly $.10 each to over $.25 each. Babies will use anywhere from 6-10 diapers per day, putting your average cost at roughly $.60-$2.50 per day, or about $20 to $75 per month (depending on brand and number of diapers used). Figure roughly 2 years or more of diapers and you are looking at $480 – $1800 literally thrown away.
Which is cheaper – cloth or disposable
Again, the upfront costs of cloth diapers are high enough to scare many people away.
$17 for a diaper?! Get out of here – I’ll buy a pack of 80 Huggies Ultra Elite Super Stopper Biodegradable disposables with a pretty print pattern, thank you very much.
And you’ll buy another pack next week. And another the week after that… and guess what, it’s 10pm and you just used your last diaper. Off to the grocery store you go.
Or, you can use this diaper calculator from DiaperPin.com and run some numbers. Enter the per unit cloth diaper cost, how many you will purchase, and the cost of your preferred brand of disposable diapers. Run the calculator and it will return how long it will take to recoup your initial expense, then show you cost savings over the following months. In most cases it should take only a couple months before you come out ahead and you should save well into the hundreds of dollars by the time you anticipate no longer needing diapers (this may not ring true if you pay for a diaper cleaning service).
Tip: if you are still concerned about cost, then be sure to add them to your baby registry for your baby shower.
Washing and caring for cloth diapers
OK, I know what you’re thinking… Cloth? Gross! Sure. But no more than any other diapers. The key is to deal with them quickly and not to let them pile up. There are several diapers bins designed specifically for cloth diapers, or you can just rinse them out immediately after use, hang them to dry over the side of the tub, then wash them in a batch of other diapers. Use a double rinse cycle if it makes you feel better, then dry them in your clothes dryer or hang them to dry. It’s not too much of a hassle, really. (tip: fasten the velcro on each diaper before washing – it will make washing/drying much easier!). More info about caring for cloth diapers.
Which diapers are better – cloth or disposable?
After 6 months of parenting, I can tell you this: Cloth diapers are great. We have only had one or two instances of leakage, which is about the same as what we have had with disposables. But we don’t use them exclusively. We typically use cloth diapers throughout the day, then use disposables at night, and anytime we plan on being away from the house for an extended period of time – especially overnight trips. We have no desire to carry dirty diapers with us, and asking friends or relatives to use their washing machine to wash dirty diapers probably isn’t the most polite thing in the world. Which is better? I think they are both great and I encourage you to try cloth if you have young children. The cost and environmental benefits will make it worth your while. Then use disposable diapers for what they were intended for: a convenience.
Whether you choose cloth or disposable, diapers are part of the parenting experience.
Newborn babies can go through 10 or more diapers every day, and the average child won’t begin potty training until about 21 months old. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the average baby will use 8,000 diapers before potty training.
Fortunately, there’s no right or wrong decision when it comes to diapers. You can choose one or the other or a combination of both if that suits your baby, lifestyle, and budget.
Here’s what to know about cloth and disposable diapers to make the right choice for you and your baby.
Today’s reusable cloth diapers come in a number of styles.
Most options feature a waterproof cover or outer layer and an absorbent insert or inner layer. Some inserts are snapped into the cover, while others fit into a pocket. There are also all-in-one diapers that combine the cover and insert in one system.
There are a few different materials for the inner and outer layers of a cloth diaper.
This material is derived from plants or animal materials. While they may be more expensive, they wash well.
This is a man-made option. They can be less expensive than natural fibers, but may hold on to odors.
The material from which it’s constructed impacts a cloth diaper’s absorbency.
Cover options are typically constructed of the following.
- Polyurethane laminate (PUL)/thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU): These covers are made from lamented polyester. They’re widely used and affordable. They’re waterproof, but not particularly breathable.
- Microfiber: These diaper covers are made of soft polyester.
- Cotton: These PUL/TPU options are covered with cotton for softness and come in a variety of prints. This option is more prone to leaks.
- Fleece: Another polyester option, fleece covers allow for more air circulation.
- Wool: A naturally antimicrobial choice, wool covers are breathable and quite absorbent.
- Nylon: This option typically offers a good mix of breathability and absorbency.
Diaper inserts come in a range of materials as well, including:
Some inserts are disposable, which can be a good option for parents who want to use cloth diapers as inexpensively as possible. Absorbencies will vary depending on the material.
To care for cloth diapers, follow the individual manufacturer’s instructions. In general, solid waste is dumped in the toilet and the insert and cover are rinsed in cold water, then soaked in a mild detergent and bleach solution before being washed. Be sure to wash cloth diapers separately from the rest of your laundry.
Disposable diapers are available from many manufacturers, but the design doesn’t vary. It’s a single construction made of a soft liner that wicks wetness, an absorbent core, and a waterproofing outer layer. Today’s disposables are very thin and light. After use, they simply go in the trash.
There’s an environmental toll — all disposables go to the landfill. The production of disposable diapers can be environmentally costly as well. Nearly 70 percent of a disposable diaper is made of paper, and that comes from trees. The other 30 percent is often derived from petroleum, which is a nonrenewable resource.
Eco-friendly brands of disposable diapers are free of ingredients like perfumes, latex, and chlorines. Some of them have a percentage of compostable materials as well. These diapers are more expensive than traditional diapers, but tend to be more responsibly manufactured.
The Pros and Cons
Cloth diapers are a one-time purchase.
According to Consumer Reports, you’ll save hundreds of dollars over disposable diapers. Disposables can cost between $1,500 and $2,000 or more in the few years your child wears them, and it’s even higher for eco-friendly brands.
If you choose to use a cloth diaper service that washes and returns the soiled diapers, you’ll also save on the cost of water, power, and detergents for your laundry machine. But diaper services can be costly because you pay more for the convenience factor.
With cloth diapers, you aren’t adding to the landfill. That’s where disposable diapers end up, and they don’t all biodegrade quickly.
According to the EPA, disposable diapers will be in landfills for centuries. Cloth diapers, meanwhile, require a lot of electricity and water to keep them clean.
Modern cloth diapers are quick and easy to use, just like disposables. However, they aren’t as readily available for purchase, and you’ll need to say organized to keep clean diapers on hand. If you’re out and your baby soils a diaper, you can’t just throw it away like a disposable.
Comfort and Health
There have been reports of children reacting to ingredients in traditional disposable diapers.
However, there are many brands that are free of chlorine, latex, perfumes, and dyes. With cloth diapers, you can be certain of what materials you’re using. But because cloth diapers are less absorbent than disposables, children can be more prone to diaper rash. No matter which diaper you use, don’t leave your baby in a soiled or wet diaper for too long.
Choosing the right diaper is a personal decision. It’s important to consider the pros and cons of each to decide what will work best for you.