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Diapers: Cloth or Disposable?

Updated on January 30, 2017

Over the years there have been heated debates over which type of diapers a parent should use, cloth or disposable. Odds are good that if you are pregnant and trying to decide which type of diaper is right for you, you have received a large amount of advice from multiple people on what to do. There is always going to be one relative or friend that used cloth diapers that acts like it is the only possible choice you have to make about your baby. They seem to be most knowledgeable about it and seem to condemn anyone that uses disposable.

Over time, the amount of money you would spend on disposable diapers is far greater than the amount you would spend on cloth. It is very easy to run to the store in the middle of the night and buy a package of disposable diapers when you run out but the cost adds up. The average cost of disposable diapers over a baby's diapering years is roughly $2400, per baby; where as, the cost of cloth diapers is roughly $350 and they can be saved to use for another baby or given to a friend that wants to use cloth. The cost of both diapers can be drastically cut if you purchase online.

Disposable Diapers

Disposable diapers are the most convenient way to diaper. Simply remove and throw away the soiled diaper, take a clean one from the package and place it on the baby. You can even wrap up used wipes in the soiled diaper. There are dozens of brands of disposable diapers to choose from. The prices vary based on brand. Some brands are more expensive but have rewards programs that give you coupons or toys for points earned. With disposable diapers, they do not get reused and you do not have to worry about the smell of baby poop filling your diaper bag or laundry room.

Disposable diapers do, however, the effect of sitting and rotting in a landfill. They take decades if not centuries to disintegrate. The outside is made of non-woven fibers, usually plastic, nylon, or polyethylene which keeps moisture and fluids from leaking outside the diaper. The inside is made of an absorbent pad composed of a super absorbent polymer and usually wood pulp. Disposable diapers are designed to hold 10-15 times their weight in liquids. Some babies have skin so sensitive that the materials disposables are made of make it impossible for them to wear them without breaking out into a rash. Reactions can also occur based on the brand you choose, the cheaper diapers will have been cheaper to make therefore the quality is not as good. Switching to another brand may solve that issue; if not, consider switching to cloth.

Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers are a hefty investment at the start if purchased in stores. You can do a quick search online and discover much cheaper sets. Cloth diapers have different benefits and disadvantages than disposable. First, cloth diapers are reusable and machine washable. When you remove a soiled diaper, you must dispose of the solid waste in either the toilet or trash can; using the trash for poo disposal can result in an awfully smelly situation. After removing the solids, you can spray them off in the shower, sink, or purchase a special sprayer for a delicate's sink, if you have one. Next, place them in a bag of soiled diapers and liners until you have enough to wash. Do not use bleach, as this can cause an allergic reaction or a rash on your baby.

Second, cloth diapers come in an assortment of colors and styles that you can usually use from newborn through potty training. The majority of cloth diapers have multiple snap sets on them allowing for growth of the baby, though there are some for specific sizes such as newborn. Most cloth diapers have a pouch on the inside to place a removable, washable cloth liner. When diapering a baby that sleeps through the night, it can be best to place a secondary liner on the inside of the diaper, directly on the baby's butt. Cloth are not nearly as absorbent as disposable but the risk of diaper rash and material allergy is greatly decreased.

Diapering on the go with cloth can be a bit tricky. You can purchase plastic bags to store the diapers in until you can get them home to add to your dirty pile or you can keep a few plastic grocery sacks in your diaper bag, since just about everyone has a surplus stored at home. Cloth diapers need to be checked and changed more frequently than disposable, especially than the ones that have a color changing spot to indicate wetness. For your first baby, the newborn disposable diapers that have a wetness indicator are the best way to go until you get the hang of it; nobody wants to clean the tar-like newborn poop from a cloth diaper anyway.

When using cloth diapers, always make sure that you have a supply washed and ready. Some families are fortunate enough they can afford a diaper service, which will come to your house 2-3 times a week, collect your dirty diapers and return them to you washed and ready to go. Those services generally prefer that you use their specific brand of diapers. They are machine washable and can go in the dryer or out on the line if the weather permits. To best be prepared for diaper changes, pre-stuff the clean diapers with a clean liner so you aren't scrambling to do so while the baby is on the changing table. Cloth diapers are a little more bulky than disposable, making their butts look puffier in their cute little baby clothes. Should your baby develop a rash or reaction to cloth, first try changing the detergent you are washing them in. Just because they do not have a reaction on the rest of their skin from their clothes being washed in the same stuff, does not mean they won't have a reaction from detergent on their sensitive baby bottoms.

Rashes and Potty Training

Sometimes, babies get diaper rash no matter what type of diaper or detergent you use. Several products out there exist to treat diaper rash. From creams to lotions to baby powder, you have to find what product works best for your baby and your budget. Cornstarch baby powder with aloe seems to work the best for most. It is 100% natural, contains no talc, and for some babies can cure a rash in a matter of hours, where as some creams can take days. Apply a generous amount to the rash affected area, after cleaning, and diaper like normal. If you prefer, you can let baby crawl around on a protected or washable surface and let their butt air dry.

Potty training tends to be easier for babies that have been using cloth diapers because they feel the moisture quicker. Disposable diapers are designed so that once moisture hits it, it wicks it away from the skin to keep the baby as dry as possible, for as long as possible. With cloth diapers, they feel quicker when they are wet so they get uncomfortable quicker. Disposable diaper companies have had to create special potty training diapers that change temperature when they get wet to help babies realize they need to head to the toilet instead.

Using Cloth Diapers


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No matter how you decide to diaper your baby, do not EVER let anyone tell you that you are a bad parent or made the wrong choice. Your baby is first and foremost, your baby. They have no right to tell you how or what to do. If they want to offer advice without being condescending, by all means let them. But, do not let anyone talk down to you for doing what you feel is best for you and your child.


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    • Randy Heick profile image

      Randy Heick 

      22 months ago

      We use liners in our diapers. The solids are easily thrown out and there is less stains to remove. I get mine here


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