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The Big Debate: Disposable versus Cloth Diapers

Disposable versus cloth diapers? New parents have many decisions to make and the debate over what diapers to use is, like many parenting decisions, a tough one. Mainly because it can be a very polarizing choice for parents. Costs, convenience, and the environmental impact each play a factor in the discussion. As a new parent, the disposable versus cloth diapers debate can be confusing but we try to break down each of these factors to help you make the best choice for you and your child.

Health

Early supporters of cloth diapers claimed that some of the chemicals and components of disposable diapers can cause an increase in diaper rashes. Cloth diapers, on the other hand, are all-natural. However, times have changed and most disposable diapers have eliminated many of those irritants. In addition, disposable diapers have become incredibly absorbent which is the key to preventing diaper rashes. In the case of health, the choice between disposable versus cloth is a toss-up. Both can keep your baby’s skin safe and soft as long as your child doesn’t have a specific allergy.

Convenience

Disposable diapers were made to be the ultimate in convenience. Just use and toss. But cloth diapers are no longer the complicated contraptions with pins that people remember from long ago. New versions of cloth diapers such as the pocket diaper or the all-in-one cloth diaper have made it much easier. There are also laundry services available specifically for cloth diapers so you don’t have to worry about extra loads of laundry. That being said disposable diapers still win out. There’s no folding or washing or planning. Disposable diapers are available everywhere and are especially easier when you are traveling.

Baby Diaper Change

Environmental Impact

Disposable diapers are meant to be tossed and billions end up in landfills every year. They are also not completely biodegradable so the impact is massive. However, disposable diapers have become lighter over time, meaning they are leaving less behind. While cloth diapers don’t get dumped into landfills they do utilize an immense amount of water which can have an impact on the environment in a different way. Cloth diapers are made of cotton which requires a lot more water than needed to make a disposable diaper. In addition, cloth diapers need to be washed and this can equate to cloth diapers using “twice as much water as disposable diapers do.” However, with compostable liners and more efficient washing machines, cloth diapers can be more the more environmentally-friendly choice.

Cost

One of the biggest factors in the disposable versus cloth diapers debate is cost. Babies are expensive and parents are always looking for ways to save money. Diapers are a major expense and finding a way to cut costs can have a significant impact on a family’s budget. In the first year alone, a family can go through 2,500 disposable diapers! If the average cost of a disposable diaper is $.20 that can add up to $500/year.

The cost of cloth diapers depends on the type of cloth diaper used. While a pre-fold diaper can cost less than $4/diaper, fancier and more convenient diapers like the pocket diaper or the all-in-one diaper can cost upwards of $35/diaper! You can save money buying used or by using the same set with multiple children. Laundry services for cloth diapers have an additional cost of $18 – $24/week depending on the number of diapers, frequency of washing, and where you live. Washing them yourselves is another way to save money. According to one mom’s analysis the overall savings with cloth diapers came out to only about $200 over two years and that didn’t include using a laundry service. Again these savings can be increased if you are able to use the cloth diapers over multiple children or buy a cloth diaper secondhand. 

At the end of the day, after looking at all these factors, the decision to choose disposable or cloth comes down to what you feel is best for your child and family. And it does not mean that you have to pick only one. Some families do a combination of disposable and cloth diapers such as using cloth diapers at home but disposable diapers when they are out of the house. There is no wrong answer and you can always try both and see what works best. With so many options available in both categories you will find the perfect fit.