Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable Diapers

21 Mar

The point of this post is not to demonstrate that one type of diaper is better than the other, but to review the differences between them.

Blowouts of cloth diapers are rare, blowouts of disposable diapers are common

The elastic used in cloth diaper covers is stronger than the elastic used in disposables because it doesn’t make economic sense to put heavy elastic in a single-use product. The result of this is more leaks, particularly of the notoriously runny breast-milk fed baby poo. Many mothers have told me about poop “up the back and into the hair,” but I never experienced this with cloth diapers.

It is more convenient to deal with dirty disposable diapers than dirty cloth diapers when away from home

When mother & baby are out of the house and baby has a dirty disposable diaper, all mom has to do when the diaper is changed is throw the dirty diaper away. A dirty cloth diaper goes in a wet bag (a smaller, zippered version of a pail liner) and back in the diaper bag. When mother & baby arrive home, mom has to remember to get the wet bag out of the diaper bag and add it to the diaper laundry.

Cloth diapers are more environmentally friendly than disposable diapers

Disposable diapers go in the landfill after one use, cloth diapers are used until they are worn out, and then used as household rags, before they go in the landfill. The water, electricity, and detergent used to wash cloth diapers do have an environmental impact, however. There are compostable diapers, but due to health concerns, they can only be composted in special facilities that are pretty rare.

Cloth diapers give baby a big diaper butt, while disposable diapers are trimmer

Some brands of clothing are more roomy in the bottom, and thus more cloth-diaper friendly. However, most baby clothing is made with the assumption that the baby will be wearing a disposable diaper. The trick to this is to buy pants one size larger than the baby is currently wearing, and to roll the cuffs.

Cloth diapers are cheaper in the long run, but there is a significant up front cost.

The people at Diaper Decisions have come up with a great comparison of the costs of various types of cloth diapers here. The most expensive cloth diapering option is (sized) Knickernappies Pocket Diapers, with an estimated grand total of $1677.66, or $0.23 per change. The closest approximation to the system I use is fitted diapers with covers, which totals at $1262.84, or $0.18 per change. The cost for disposable diapers has an estimated grand total of $2577.35, or $0.36 per change. And if the cloth diapers are used for multiple children, the cost per change will go down even further.

Both cloth and disposable diapers are work, just different kinds of work

The work associated with cloth diapers is keeping up with the diaper laundry every three days (or so), and ordering new if the family is using sized cloth diapers and the baby is starting to outgrow the current size. Diaper laundry involves carrying the laundry bag to the washer, then soaking, washing, and drying the diapers, unloading the dryer, sorting and stacking the diapers, and putting them away. The work associated with disposable diapers is either purchasing them at regular intervals through the grocery store or a delivery service like Amazon and taking out the trash. Different things appeal to (or repel) different people. I like doing laundry, and I don’t like going to the store, so the work involved with cloth diapers meshes with my personality.


This is part three in a five part series.

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