Baby Care: A Guide To Choosing Cloth Or Disposable Diapers

The pros and cons of cloth verses disposable diapers, including environmental, daycare and budget concerns as well as baby health and convenience for parents.

Many new parents or parents-to-be find themselves trying to decide between cloth diapers and disposable diapers. This article will compare several aspects of each diapering system to help you decide which is best for your family.

Environmental impact

This is perhaps the most difficult area to make a comparison. Disposable diapers fill up landfills, they use crude oil in the manufacturing process, and they are shipped in gas-guzzling trucks and purchased by parents who must go to the store weekly for more diapers, using up even more gas. Cloth diapers must be washed, using water and detergent. Diapers washed through a diaper service are treated with bleach, which is not good for the environment, either. Though there are studies suggesting that each diapering system is better for the environment, none of these studies have been unbiased or conclusive.


Many parents assume that disposable diapers are the most convenient option, and they may be for some families. But each diapering system has advantages when it comes to convenience. Families who use disposables, of course, simply throw the diapers away when they are dirty. However, they have to be vigilant about keeping enough diapers in stock and sometimes need to make emergency trips to the store for more diapers, which can be a hassle with a baby. They also must take dirty diapers outside daily or be faced with overwhelming stink. Families who use cloth diapers need to keep up on laundry (about 3 loads each week) but never have to go to the store for diapering supplies. Families who use a diaper service have it even easier - they can leave their dirty diapers out for the service and fresh diapers are delivered to their door. Considering that most people do not relish laundry and that today's rush-rush society demands that things be quick and painless, disposable may have a slight advantage here.


Many daycare providers will balk at caring for a baby in cloth diapers. This is usually due to a misunderstanding of how cloth diapering works, but it is something to consider if you must place your child(ren) in daycare.


The two diapering systems are fairly equal in terms of time. Disposable diapers must be purchased at a store, which does take time. Cloth diapers must be washed, which also takes time. However, the washing machine and dryer will (usually) run by themselves, so the time invested in minimal, and comparable to the time invested in running to the store to buy diapers.

Diaper Rash

Cloth diapers actually win out here. Babies who are diapered in cloth get diaper rash less frequently than babies diapered in disposables. There is a common misconception that cloth diapers cause diaper rash, but this has been proven to be false in recent years.


Cloth wins out here, too. Cloth diapers are made of cotton or hemp. Disposable diapers are made of paper, plastic, crude oil, and chemicals. It is healthier for a baby to have cotton next to their skin than to have wet chemical-laden paper next to their skin.


This depends on where you want the cost. Cloth diapers are an investment initially, but are cheaper in the long run, even factoring in laundry costs. They are particularly cheap if you buy used or have more than one child. Disposable diapers are relatively cheap initially, but you must keep buying them for many years.

Practical Reality

When it comes to the practical day-to-day application, the two diapering methods are about equal. Neither type is more or less stinky. Urine and feces smell, whether they're in a disposable diaper or a cloth diaper. Neither type is more or less leaky. Quality cloth diapers in quality covers will not usually leak, but sometimes they do, particularly when a baby is not changed frequently. Quality disposable diapers will not usually leak, but sometimes they do. Cheap cloth diapers and cheap disposable diaper will usually leak.

As you can see, the two diapering systems - cloth and disposable - are fairly similar to each other in most aspects. If you don't mind tossing three extra loads of laundry into the washing machine every week, consider choosing cloth. If you don't mind filling up landfills and taking garbage out daily, consider choosing disposables. If you're still uncertain about which choice is best for you, find friends who use each type of diapering system and see what they have to say!

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