Cloth vs. Disposable: The Great Diaper Debate

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Stacks of disposable and cloth diapers modern isolated on white background.

There are many decisions you’ll make as a parent, and one choice that will affect you daily is cloth vs. disposable diapers. Wondering which one to choose? At Twin Cities Kids Club, we know it’s important to stay informed, so keep reading for the pros and cons of cloth and disposable diapers!

As if the debate on tummy time, screen time, bottle or breast, vaccines, and more isn’t enough, we have to consider types of diapers now.

If you’re choosing between cloth and disposable diapers, you might consider cost, environmental impact, and convenience. You want to make sure your diapers fit into your lifestyle and leave your family plenty of time for fun!  (Looking for more fun? Join Twin Cities Kids Club for events and discounts.)

Stacks of eco friendly washable textile diapers and modern disposable diapers together.

Which diapers are more expensive?

The household budget for disposable diapers often shocks new parents. And with good reason! You can easily spend several thousand dollars before your child is potty trained.

But here’s the kicker: those costs are spread out over months and years.

Cloth diapers require an investment up front, but you save money in the long run. You might spend slightly more money on water and electricity (due to more laundry), but you save money ultimately when you choose cloth diapers. And you can use them again for younger siblings, too.

Are cloth diapers better for the environment?

This answer isn’t as obvious as you might think. Why?

Because cloth diapers have to be laundered. Extra laundry creates a lot of wastewater and consumes a lot of energy.

On the other hand, disposable diapers end up in landfills. According to the EPA, Americans threw away about 4.15 million tons of diapers in 2017. In other words, about 30 billion disposable diapers got tossed. That’s a lot of plastic that takes a long time to degrade.

Woman putting diaper on baby on bed in nursery room

Is it hard to use cloth diapers?

Probably the main reason 95% of Americans use disposable diapers is the convenience factor. It’s much faster and easier to buy disposable diapers and toss them in the trash when you’re changing the baby.

New parents operate on little sleep…many don’t want to add an extra 3+ loads of laundry to their weekly routine. Or struggle to pin a “rag” around a squirming baby every time the diaper is changed.

But here’s the good news: cloth diapers have become more popular. This popularity means there are more options available, and you can choose a cloth diaper system that works for you. Consider cloth diapers cut into sizes with waterproof liners and velcro closures. No scary baby pins here!

So what’s the verdict? Should you choose cloth or disposable diapers?

Feet of newborn baby on changing table with diapers. Cute little girl or boy two weeks old. Dry and healthy body and skin concept. Baby nursery

Disposable Diapers

Pros of Disposable Diapers

  • It doesn’t get easier than disposable diapers: toss them when they’re full. This option is extra convenient if you’re traveling.
  • They’re easy to learn to use, too. Cloth diapers have a learning curve, but disposable diapers are easy: just tape the sticky strips down snug.
  • Disposable diapers are also more absorbent and more breathable than cloth diapers. Waterproof liners and bands, absorbing gels, and wetness-wicking liners means the baby stays dry and comfortable longer.
  • Since disposable diapers absorb better, you can change the diaper less often when you use them. Some babies also get diaper rash less often since they stay dryer.

Cons of Disposable Diapers

  • Disposable diapers cost a lot of money. You can easily spend thousands per child. (Babies are expensive! Learn about more opportunities to save money by joining Twin Cities Kids Club for events and discounts.)
  • Disposable diapers harm the environment. Those diapers end up in the landfill where they don’t biodegrade. Manufacturing disposable diapers isn’t exactly eco-friendly, either. 
  • Those gels and chemicals that help disposable diapers absorb wetness and stay dry can irritate some baby’s sensitive bottoms. Some babies experience less irritation with cloth.
  • The pull tabs on disposable diapers are notorious for ripping off when you’re down to your last diaper and far from home. 
  • Some parents experience later potty-training with disposable diapers because they absorb wetness so well. Being slightly uncomfortable (or wet) can help toddlers learn the cues for toilet training. Disposable diapers can interfere with that natural learning process.

Sleeping baby with cloth diaper. Top view. Ecology reusable organic diaper

Cloth Diapers

Pros of Cloth Diapers

  • Cloth diapers cost less money than disposable diapers in the long run. You will have a larger initial investment, but you won’t have to keep buying diapers just to throw them away. There is an additional cost because you must launder cloth diapers, but you can choose options like air drying to save extra money.
  • Don’t forget: cloth diapers are reusable. You can even reuse them with other babies. Save them for future siblings or sell them to another new parent to get even more bang for your buck.
  • Since they’re reusable, they’re eco-friendly. You can choose a sustainable cloth option for an even “greener” choice and air dry them to use less electricity.
  • Some babies have allergic reactions or skin irritations due to the materials in disposable diapers. Cloth diapers can be a good option for babies with sensitive skin.
  • You might find that your child potty trains faster with cloth diapers. Since they stay a little wetter, some babies learn to get out of them sooner.

Cons of Cloth Diapers

  • Cloth diapers take a lot of time and effort. You may do about three extra loads of laundry per week. And the cleanup can be messy.
  • The cleanup also requires electricity, detergent, and hot water…which costs money.
  • Cloth diapers are less absorbent than most disposable diapers, so you’ll do more diaper changes. And if you don’t change often enough, it can lead to diaper rash.
  • If you use cloth diapers when you’re away from home, you’ll have to carry dirty diapers back home for cleaning. (For this reason, some parents use disposables on the road and cloth at home.)
  • Unfortunately, you can’t use most ointments and creams with cloth diapers. But some babies have less irritation anyway with cloth diapers, so it might not be a problem.

Cute chubby baby sitting on the bed with disposable diapers, dark style

Choosing Cloth or Disposable Diapers

Consider cost, convenience, and lifestyle when choosing cloth or disposable diapers. There are several pros and cons to both diaper options, so rest assured that doing what works best for your family is the best choice for your baby. 

Don’t miss out on more great information and deals! Join Twin Cities Kids Club for events and discounts.

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