Cloth Or Disposable Diapers: Which Ones Are Better?

Consideration #3: Convenience
For busy parents who work or simply want to avoid the hassle and “yuck” factor of washing diapers, disposables are the obvious choice. That’s exactly why they were invented decades ago-and why an estimated 95 percent of families are now opting to use them. With their advent, “mommies were no longer tied to the house to change diapers-they could be out and about with an ‘on-the-go’ lifestyle,” points out Carissa Brown, a mother of four in Dallas who has used both disposables and cloth on her kids. However, some cloth diaper advocates contend that laundering them isn’t as difficult or time-consuming as one may think. “With cloth diapers, there’s nothing going into a landfill and they’re easy to clean-one rinse and then a wash cycle and they’re good to go,” says mom Sandy Alexander of Gulph Mills, Pa.

The bottom line: You can’t get much more convenient than disposables.

Consideration #4: Cost
There’s no doubt that disposable diapers are convenient, but that convenience doesn’t come cheap. Most parents average six diaper changes a day and go through nearly 3,000 diapers during their baby’s first year alone, says pediatrician Jennifer Shu, MD, coauthor of The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Heading Home With Your Newborn. By the time your child is potty trained at age 2 or 3, you may have shelled out as much as $1,500 to $2,000 on disposables, according to Consumer Reports. If you use more “eco-friendly” disposables, such as biodegradable or chlorine-free, you can expect to pay even more-an average of $1,600 to $2,500. On the other hand, cloth diapers and accessories (such as waterproof covers and cloth inserts or flushable liners) could cost as little as $500 or up to $1,200, depending on what kind you buy. Tack on a few hundred dollars for laundry detergent, water and electricity if you’re washing them yourself. Reuse the diapers on more than one baby (or sell them after your kid is potty trained), and you’ll really be in the black. Use a diaper service, however, and you’ll probably end up spending as much or just a little less than you would on disposables.

The bottom line: Cloth diapers could save you a bundle as long as you wash them yourself and buy a more economical brand.

Consideration #5: Diaper rash
Cloth diaper proponents contend that chemicals, fragrances, lotions and other ingredients in disposables up the risk of skin irritation. But because disposables are more absorbent, they keep your baby drier and therefore are less likely to cause rashes, the disposable camp argues. Which is it? It could depend on your baby. The same NRDC scientists who examined the environmental impact of diapers also looked at the diaper rash issue-and found some babies responded better to cloth and others to disposables, explains Hershkowitz. While the incidence of diaper rash has increased dramatically since the invention of disposable diapers, most experts agree that there are many different factors that could be coming into play. We do know that excessively wet skin and contact with urine and stool can cause diaper rash-so you should be sure to change your baby quickly after she becomes wet or soiled, especially if you’re using cloth. 

The bottom line: If your baby experiences a lot of rashes, you may want to try switching to another type of diaper.