Parents on both sides of the “great diaper debate” often have strong feelings about their choice of diapering. A cloth diaper parent may discuss sustainability and environmental awareness. Meanwhile, a disposable diaper parent might mention the convenience and cleanliness of disposables. But is one really a better choice for your child? Should your child use cloth or disposable diapers?
The “green” movement has focused a lot of attention on the amount of landfill space used by disposable diapers. But cloth diapers have environmental impacts as well. They use more energy and raw materials to create, and washing them contributes to air and water pollution. Studies have found that both types have an impact on the environment, but disagreed on which is ultimately “greener.”
Cloth diapers are the cheaper choice, especially if you choose to launder them yourself at home. Consumer Reports estimates the cost of using disposable diapers for the first three years of life to be around $2,500. Even with a large supply of cloths, liners, and other extras, cloth diapers will cost a fraction of that.
Using a laundry service adds to the cost of cloth diapers. But it is generally still cheaper than disposable. If you prefer disposable, buying in bulk can greatly lower your cost. But be careful not to buy too much too early—few babies stay in “newborn” diaper sizes for long.
Diaper rash can be caused by skin that stay wet or in contact with urine and stool longer. Disposable diapers typically have crystals that pull liquid into the diaper and away from baby’s skin, keeping it dry. So many people believe babies are less likely to get a rash using disposable diapers.
But some parents feel that cloth is still preferable because cloth diapers are changed immediately when they are wet. Disposable diapers keep the skin feeling dry—so both babies and parents may be less aware that a change is needed and babies may be in the diapers longer.
Disposable diapers are more convenient. Most newborns go through about 10 diapers a day—that’s a lot of extra laundry (that needs to be kept separate) if you’re using cloth. If your child goes to daycare or preschool, cloth may not be an option while at school. So a lot comes down to your situation, your lifestyle and what will work best for you.
Whichever way you lean on this debate, here are a few things to remember:
- Your baby will have an opinion too. Some babies just do better with one or the other. So if diaper rash or other issues come up, consider switching to see if it helps.
- Try different brands/types. You don’t have to stick with the brand your baby used in the hospital. But small amounts at first and reevaluate as your child grows. What worked for your newborn might not for your toddler.
- You don’t have to choose at all. A lot of families prefer a combination of both: Cloth at home and disposable at daycare or on the go.
- You can change your mind at any time. Look at this as a “for now” decision. It will take the pressure off and you’ll be more likely to switch later if it isn’t working for you.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, December 2018
- Neither is “greener” — both cloth and disposable diapers impact the environment in different ways.
- Reusable diapers are generally cheaper, especially if washing them yourself (instead of a service).
- You can use a combination (cloth at home, disposable on the go) and you can change your mind/switch at any time