Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable Diapers: Which Is Best?
Posted on June 16 2018
At some point, every expectant family eventually chooses to either cloth diaper their child or use disposables. But how do you choose?
Almost every parent that comes to our boutique looking for cloth diaper help has a mother-in-law, step-cousin or brother’s best friend’s uncle’s neighbor who has told them you can only diaper one way or the other, and they want to know which is best?
The cloth diaper vs. disposable diaper showdown isn’t brand new, but it is something that we, as a natural parenting store and community resource, feel that it’s important to acknowledge. We will always answer the tough questions, and this is a common one.
This article will include a detailed comparison of cloth diapers and disposable diapers to determine which is best?
Here are our categories:
- Environmental Impact
One of the most common questions our team is asked, by far, is do cloth diapers leak more than disposable diapers? There are a few inherent misconceptions here, but let’s compare.
Cloth Diapers: Cloth diaper leaks are the exception, definitely not the rule.
If your cloth diapers are leaking, there is always a cause. You may not have enough absorbency in your diaper, you may be having fit issues, or you may need to change baby more often.
Choosing the right amount of absorbency for your baby can be easier than you think. All In One diapers have the absorbency you need built right in, and boosters can be added to bulk them up as well.
If you have a heavy wetter, fitteds might serve your baby’s needs better. There are so many high-quality cloth diaper brands and fiber choices that there is something for everyone.
1-2 hours is the ideal time between changes, no matter what type of diaper you choose. Unfortunately, many disposable diaper companies have repeatedly advertised that babies can and should go much longer because the chemicals contained in their diapers keep baby dry. This is not ideal for baby’s skin, and neither are the chemicals found in so many disposable diapers.
Getting a good fit with your diapers is absolutely essential to preventing leaks. Achieving a great fit is fast and easy, but it can be difficult to know exactly what you are looking for the first time around.
Utilize your diaper’s rise snaps, waist snaps and/or closure and be sure that you don’t have too much or too little absorbency to get a great fit. Fit can sometimes require some slight troubleshooting in the very beginning, but once you get the hang of it, you should be leak free!
It’s not just cloth diaper leaks that are rare. Cloth diapers win by a landslide when compared to disposable diapers in terms of blowouts! Thick elastic in the waist and legs compared with the perfect fit make cloth diaper blowouts extremely rare, to the relief of parents everywhere.
Disposables: Not only is it possible for disposable diapers to leak, but when they do, you are in for a mess.
Have you ever seen the inside of a wet disposable diaper?
Millions of tiny little gel beads that have absorbed pee and then stuck to every possible surface they have come into contact with as far as the eye can see.
Has your toddler ever accidentally gotten ahold of a diaper and ripped it open?
There are not enough baby wipes on earth.
The construction of disposable diapers, namely the paper panel in the back, is also notorious for encouraging blowouts of epic proportions. There is no significant seal to hold in liquid-like solids at the waist or legs and thus, well… sometimes, one shower just isn’t enough.
The Winner: Cloth diapers take this category easily.
There’s no denying that every caregiver everywhere could use a break. Sometimes, convenience trumps cost or leaks and you just need to do what’s easiest.
Cloth Diapers: While there are so many different styles and brands of cloth diapers, there are definitely some that are more convenient than others.
All In One style cloth diapers are by far the most convenient in terms of cloth diaper choices. An AIO goes on in one simple step, comes off in one piece and cloth diapering really doesn’t get easier.
There’s no denying that no matter what style of cloth diaper you choose, at some point, you must wash your diapers. This is where the convenience factor could be greatly affected.
If you do not have access to a washer or dryer, cloth diapering doesn’t become impossible, but it definitely requires more steps. Access to clean water can also affect convenience, as well as access to quality detergent and whether or not you are traveling.
When traveling, although cloth diapering can absolutely be done, some families may not know exactly how long they will be without a washer or dryer. International trips or extended layovers may mean long hours of travel with dirty diapers in tow.
Disposables: When it comes to convenience, we’re not afraid to admit that disposables definitely have some advantages.
Unlike just a few years ago, you can find so many brands of disposable diapers in grocery stores, online, and even at Costco. Chances are, if you are a regular disposable diaper user, you can find the brand of your choice almost anywhere.
Traveling is much easier with disposable diapers as well. Many parents choose not to bring dirty diapers with them through security, airports, and road trips for the sheer convenience of throwing away a disposable diaper instead.
The Winner: Disposable diapers take the convenience category over cloth diapers due to their commonplace in retail stores and their prevalence throughout the country.
How much do disposable diapers cost?
Inevitably, at some point, we have to ask how much do diapers cost? Every parent, no matter the budget, will seek the answer to this question at some point in the course of their diapering years.
Cloth Diapers: Because there are so many styles of cloth diapers, they can range in price from as little as $300 to as much as $750 depending on the brand and type you choose.
Ideally, you are looking for 24 diaper changes, plus we like to add 2 diapers for the time that you are actually washing diapers and/or clean diapers for the diaper bag.
10 covers and 26 newborn prefolds plus 3 Snappis to secure your prefolds will cost about $220-$250. Add a wet bag or two, and you are at a $300 investment.
Styles like All In Ones cost slightly more and can range from $500-$650 for a one size style.
No matter which brand or style you choose, cloth diapers are a one time purchase, designed to last you the length of the time your child is wearing diapers.
Parents see an even bigger return on their investment when they continue to use the same set of cloth diapers for multiple children.
The life of your cloth diapers depends on the quality of the brand you choose and how you care for your investment. High-quality diapers will last you years, and a great wash routine will protect your investment for even longer.
Disposables: At the time of publish, the lowest regular price in the country of the most popular disposable diaper brand on the market would leave you spending $1800.00 to diaper your child for 24 months, given that you always purchased in bulk at these prices and are able to potty train your child at 24 months.
More realistically, let’s assume that your kiddo spends 36 total months in disposable diapers. This leaves you spending about $2650 (This total jumps to $3500 if your child spends 48 months in diapers).
That’s assuming that you always catch the very lowest price every time you have to purchase diapers and always buy in bulk.
Since I can’t even remember to get my kid to hockey practice on time once a week, it’s safe to say that you will probably spend a little more if you ever had to grab a pack here or there for the days you weren’t 1000% prepared.
Mom hack: Wet bags make great kits to combat forgetful mom syndrome. Two or three extra dipes, a small pack of wipes, and an applesauce pouch (trust me) is all you need.
Shove the wet bag under the seat of your car and forget about it. The next time you leave the house with nothing and baby is in desperate need of a change, grab your emergency kit, change baby, put all the dirty stuff in the wet bag and open an applesauce pouch for the oh so patient toddler. Then group text your friends about what an awesome mom you are.
Also, share this mom hack with them so they can feel awesome too.
The Winner: Cloth diapers will save you far more money in the long run. Take care of your investment, and then spend the extra money on the hundreds of snacks that seem to be required for every toddler extracurricular activity ever.
Accessibility is a category changing rapidly in the last three years, for both cloth and disposable alternatives.
Cloth Diapers: Specialty retailers and natural parenting stores will always be the cloth diaper gurus of the reusable diaper world.
While these boutiques can be small, few and far between, they are making cloth diapering more accessible across the country. Our natural parenting store ships to customers all over the country every day.
As strange as this is to hear from us, we also have to point out that there is now a large selection of cloth diapers on Amazon and in other big box stores like Target. While these stores provide zero cloth diaper education and have no experience or customer support to offer, they are making cloth diapers more accessible to more of the country.
Disposables: What if you can’t wait for something to be shipped?
Disposable diapers can be found in almost every grocery store and even convenient store around the country. And not only can they be found there, but there is a larger selection in these stores than there has ever been.
And brick and mortar retailers are not the only places customers are finding disposable diapers. Online sales of disposable diapers are expected to rise from 5% to 7% over the next three years with a projected 1% annual revenue increase per year across the market. In a $62 billion dollar industry, that’s accessibility that’s hard to ignore.
The Winner: Disposable diapers are by far more accessible than cloth diapers nationwide. But don’t worry, we are working hard to change this.
Longevity will be a quick race, to say the least.
Cloth Diapers: Properly cared for cloth diapers can last through multiple years, and even multiple children.
Choose high-quality cloth diapers made by reputable manufacturers. Purchasing cloth diapers is absolutely a purchase that gets you exactly what you pay for.
Having a slightly larger collection of cloth diapers will mean less wear and tear on your diapers and using a washer and dryer in good working condition will improve longevity as well.
Using a good detergent, an effective wash routine and purchasing high-quality diapers will ensure you get years of use out of your cloth diaper collection and save you thousands of dollars along the way.
Disposables: In recent years, diaper companies have increased their lines to offer larger packages and bulk price packages of disposable diapers.
Although the bulk price packages are newer for some lines, they only provide temporary relief to the longevity problem. Even a bulk package buy will only last parents a few weeks, if that, and they will be back in the market for more diapers.
Beyond purchase longevity, the fact is that a disposable diaper, no matter the quality or brand, can only be used once. Every use means spending more money to reach for another brand new diaper.
The Winner: Cloth diapers win our longevity category by a mile. Disposable diapers just cannot compete with the reusable alternative.
Cloth Diapers: Cloth diapers are an eco-friendly option that prevent the buildup of waste in landfills and can be reused again and again.
Many parents find that they are able to successfully use the same collection of cloth diapers for multiple children, effectively reducing their carbon footprint even further.
Many cloth diaper manufacturers use little to no packaging or exclusively use recycled materials to package their products. And since cloth diapers reduce the occurrence of rashes, they also help to reduce the need to use rash creams and other treatments.
Disposables: On average, Americans dump 20 billion disposable diapers in landfills each year. That accounts for 3.5 million tons of waste.
Such a huge amount of yearly waste is staggering. And it’s also preventable. What’s even more shocking is the fact that it takes about 500 years for even one disposable diaper to decompose.
And manufacturing disposable diapers? Takes about 200,000 trees each year, 3.4 billion gallons of fuel oil and about 20 times more raw materials in total, than disposable diapers. It also takes two times more water and three times more energy to produce disposable diapers than cloth diapers.
If all this waste weren’t enough, disposable diapers can also contaminate our groundwater as they leach toxins into the soil.
The Winner: This one is no contest. Cloth diapers reduce pollution, waste and toxins, winning the environmental impact category easily.
Never to be ones to shy away from the hard questions, this comparison is an honest look at how diapering can affect different elements of your lifestyle.
Cloth diapers prevent leaks, save you money, last for longer than your baby is in diapers and help to protect our planet. We didn’t even mention how ridiculously cute they are either…
For more information about the cloth diaper styles mentioned in this blog, visit us online or follow us on Facebook and Instagram. For an even more in-depth look at the components of a cloth diaper, how much it costs to cloth diaper and some of our favorite cloth diapers of the year, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for all our latest blogs!