Cloth diapers or disposable diapers? As a parent (or expectant parent) we want to make the best choices for our little ones. Perhaps you are a brand new parent (congratulations!) and have been wondering what your options are for diapering.
Or maybe you have another child on the way and want to give cloth diapering a try. Whatever your situation may be, we are so glad you are considering all diapering options! It is important to remember that what works for your family may not work for another, and that is okay.
Only you can decide what is best for your family when it comes to cloth vs. disposable diaper.
Cloth Diapers vs Disposable Diapers: Key Considerations
Here are some things to consider when choosing which type of diapers you want to use for your baby.
1. Do Cloth or Disposable Diapers Align with Your Family’s Lifestyle?
The first thing to consider is your family’s lifestyle. What is important to your family might not be as important to another. Some families want to cloth diaper part-time and use disposable diapers the rest of the time.
Others do not want to cloth diaper at all, and some do not want to use disposable diapers at all.
There will be times when you are all in with cloth diapering and then other times you may just opt for disposable diapers out of convenience. Life happens.
For example, some families just use cloth diapers at home and use disposable diapers on the go. There are all sorts of situations, and there is no “one size fits all.”
Additional questions to consider:
- How much effort are you ready to put into it to get all the physical and environmental benefits that cloth diapers offer?
- Are other caretakers on board with the benefits of cloth diapers (i.e. daycare, nanny, grandparents)?
- Is your baby going to stay at home with a family member or go to daycare?
- Would you clean the cloth diapers or will you send them to a laundering service?
- Do you plan to cloth diaper right away when baby is a newborn or wait until baby is bigger?
2. Weighing the Cost: Cloth Diaper vs Disposable Cost
Parents want to save money as much as possible. So what is the cloth diapers vs. disposable cost breakdown?
One myth is that cloth diapers are more expensive than disposables. This is true in a sense, as there is an initial upfront cost for cloth diapering. How much you spend depends on your family's budget.
For example, there are cheaper cloth diaper options (prefolds and covers—think your traditional cloth diapers). Pocket diapers can cost about $15-30 per diaper.
Although you will be paying more out of pocket at first, the investment will pay off when you factor in how many times you will use the diaper for one child, and if you plan to have more children.
You may also need some cloth diapering accessories, such as adiaper sprayer to help get rid of the solid waste, which can cost about $40.
It isn’t a necessary expense, but it may be helpful to help get rid of the solid waste. It is also helpful to have a wet bag or diaper pail to hold soiled diapers until you are ready to wash them.
Wet bags and diaper pails aren’t too costly, and can hold different amounts of diapers depending on the size. It is also important to note that wet bags and diaper pails are washable!
Depending on how many diapers are in your family’s stash, you will have to do laundry every 1-3 days or so. If you don’t plan to launder the diapers yourself you can always have it get cleaned through a laundering service.
However, this service costs about justas much as disposable diapers. The real savings comes when you wash your cloth diapers at home! You can plan to hand wash or use a washing machine.
It can get really stressful at first, like anything new, but once you find a system that works for you it is a ton of fun.
It is expected that in baby’s first year alone they will go through about3,000 diapers in total, and at an average of $0.35 per disposable diaper, it will cost at least $1,000—not including baby cloth wipes.
If you factor in disposable wipes, you can expect to spend about $2,000-3,000 total in baby’s first two years of life. Although you wouldn’t need to pay that diaper cost all at once, thediapers will add up!
And you can get some greatcloth diaper starter kits for well under $500, or even put together a dream, super-stylish and environmentally-friendly cloth diapering stash for that same $1000.
Then using those same diapers for the second year or on a second child just compounds the savings, tipping the cloth diaper cost vs. disposables decidedly in the favor of cloth diapers.
3. Environmental Impact of Cloth Diapering
An important factor to consider when looking at cloth diapers pros and cons is the environmental impact.
There’s been a lot of debate on how best to tackle the environmental concerns about diapering, but with how many years it takes a disposable diaper to decompose, something has to be done!
Disposable diapers are a one-time use and are then tossed in the trash. This is what makes it a great option for families who don’t have the time or energy to wash diapers.
However, disposable diapers take a long time to decompose, if they decompose at all, ultimately clogging the planet's landfills.
Recall that on average, one baby will use 3,000 diapers in one year. If you have three children, that means you’ll be responsible for almost 20,000 diapers in landfills! In addition, some disposables have a lot of harmful chemicals that aren’t good for baby’s bottom and system.
There are cleaner disposable diapers out there, even some that are biodegradable, but when you compare the price of those diapers to regular disposables, the amount of money you spend adds up even more.
Remember that by choosing reusable cloth diapers over disposables, you're also playing a part in reducing waste. For example, if you build a larger stash of diapers (say 20-24), you'd only need to wash them every 2-3 days. This cuts down your laundry days, saving water and electricity.
Also, drying cloth diapers in the sun instead of using a dryer is another great way to conserve energy. While producing cloth diapers does require resources, many are made from materials like cotton, bamboo, and hemp that have less environmental impact compared to the production of disposable diapers.
Reusable cloth diapers, on the other hand, reduce the amount of waste in landfills. Cleaning them does require water and electricity, whether you wash them yourself or through a laundering service. There are ways households can limit the amount of water and electricity used.
First, you can minimize the amount of time that you have to do laundry by building a larger stash of diapers. For example, if you had a stash of only 10 diapers, you would probably wash every day, whereas with a stash of about 20-24 diapers, you only need to wash diapers every 2-3 days.
Furthermore, instead of drying your diapers in the dryer, you can save electricity and hang-dry them.
Something else to consider is the energy it takes to produce cloth diapers. Many cloth diapers are made of cotton, and it does require water and additional energy to produce the diaper before it gets to you.
But there are also lots of othercloth diaper fabrics to make cloth diapers an even greener alternative.
4. Exploring Diaper Styles & Function: Beyond the Basics
Many people think that cloth diapers are just plain and boring, but this is a myth. Today, there are a huge selection of cloth diapers to choose from. While there are still those old-school plain flat diapers and prefolds, they’re paired with diaper covers, which can come in a wide array of fun colors and patterns.
There are also newer styles of cloth diapers—pocket diapers, all in ones, and all in twos, as well as the variety of fabrics for cloth diapers, such as hemp, bamboo, cotton, and polyester. So if you’re still picturing cloth diapers as a flour sack with a pin in it, think again!
Cloth diapers today come with different closures, so no need for safety pins. There are so many options—snaps, hooks, velcro. Try each and see what works best for you!
Cloth diapers also come in a variety of sizes. These cloth diaper sizes can range from newborn through toddler sizes, and can be adjusted to specifically fit your baby no matter their weight.
There are also cloth diapers that can grow with baby, ultimately saving families money by not worrying about having to purchase new diapers when baby grows a size up. Because of the easy fit, this reduces the number of leaks compared to disposable diapers.
However, cloth diapers tend to be a bit bulkier than disposable diapers, meaning baby may have to wear looser clothes to wear over the cloth diapers. Cloth diapers also aren’t as absorbent as disposables, so you will have to change baby more frequently.
It can also be harder to tell when baby has a wet diaper, since cloth diapers do not have any exterior tab to tell you when the diaper is wet, like some disposable diapers do.
Disposable diapers usually are sometimes more breathable for the baby and can more absorbent, which means you won’t have to change the baby's diaper as frequently as with cloth diapers.
Some also do have the diaper wetness indicator, so you can tell by looking at the diaper when the baby needs to be changed. Because of the single use factor of disposable diapers, you can easily toss the diaper after it’s soiled; however, it is another diaper added to landfills.
These disposable diapers are also more likely to leak because of the tabs and the way they fit. Some babies are also prone to skin irritation and diaper rash with disposables because of the dyes and gels they put into the diapers.
In Summary: Weighing the Cloth Diaper Cost vs Disposable
The debate between cloth diapers and disposable ones isn't about finding a one-size-fits-all solution. Your family’s lifestyle, budget, and environmental consciousness are key determinants in making this decision.
There's no harm in trying both options to find out what suits you and your baby best. You could opt for a combination of cloth and disposable diapers, or choose one over the other entirely based on your experience. After all, it's about what's best for your family, your budget, the planet, and most importantly, your little one.
Additionally, consider the cloth diaper cost vs disposable over the long haul. Not only do cloth diapers present significant savings if you plan to have more than one child, but they also hold their value reasonably well. Many parents sell their used cloth diapers after their children have outgrown them, recouping some of the initial costs, which isn't an option with disposable diapers.
Moreover, cloth diapers today are nothing like the ones our grandmothers used. They have evolved to become easy to use, quick to clean, and designed to fit perfectly, all while coming in a variety of fun prints and colors to suit your baby's style.
Remember, whatever choice you make in the cloth diapers vs disposable debate, it's important to ensure that it works best for you, your baby, and your entire family.