Disposable vs Cloth Diapers: A Beginner’s Guide

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Are you going to use cloth or disposable diapers with your new baby?

Um…what? I didn’t even know that was one of the questions to consider. I thought the real question was Huggies or Pampers or even Honest Company? Cloth diapers? Really?

My mom used cloth diapers with my oldest sister out of complete necessity. She was a single mom barely making ends meet. The decision for her was completely economical. If you want the financial impact of your baby to be minimal, you breastfeed and use cloth diapers.

Honestly, I didn’t think that (hardly) anyone even considered this option anymore. None of my good friends went this route. Then one of my co-workers who became a mommy last year asked what my plan was. She told me that she was using cloth diapers and loved it. Besides being way more environmentally friendly, it was much cheaper in the long run compared to disposable diapers.

Once I started looking into the cloth vs disposable battle, I quickly realized that cloth diapers have not only come a long way, but there are a lot of options. For something so simple, it was rather overwhelming for this soon-to-be mommy.

When it comes to making decisions on these kinds of things, there are three factors that I take into account. I call them the three “E’s” which stand for Economical, Easy (Convenient), and Environmentally Friendly. When decision-making, it is usually in this order for me, but not always.

Before going into more detail with cloth diapers, let’s take a brief look at disposable diapers and review the benefits and disadvantages.

Pros and Cons of Using Disposable Diapers

Let’s start out with the main reasons why moms and dads typically pick disposable diapers over cloths or hybrids:

– Convenience

There’s no denying it. Changing diapers is a necessary, but sometimes disgusting task that all new parents must endure. The fact that you can just wrap up a diaper and throw it in the trash is liberating in itself. Out of sight, out of mind. Using disposable diapers is probably the quickest and (debatably) easiest way to change a diaper.

– Less Leaks

Apparently there’s something to that extra-absorbent gel that is now used inside disposable diapers. Although some new parents question the ingredients and chemicals used in disposable diapers, it seems no one questions it’s absorbency power. The more absorbent the diaper, the less leaks are likely to occur.

– Dad is Probably On-Board

Unless dad is particularly environmentally conscious, it seems that many dads are a little bit weary of cloth diapers. After reading through many mommy blogs on the topic of cloth diapering, the idea seems to be taboo to more dads than moms. In most places, disposable diapering is the socially acceptable option.

Seems pretty good, huh? Well, let’s look at the two biggest reasons why some parents are making the switch.

– Disposable Diapers are Expensive

It is estimated that a child will go through between 6,000 – 7,000 diapers from birth to potty training. That is a lot of diapers. The cost of disposable diapers is based upon two main factors – brand name and size of box. With diapers, you definitely save money by buying in bulk so go this route whenever you can.

For a generic brand diaper (such as Target – which has great reviews), you can expect to spend between $1,500 – $2,000 before your baby reaches potty training age. If you use a common brand such as Pampers, Huggies, etc. the cost can range from $1,800 – $2,500. For those who are looking for a more eco-conscious diaper (such as Jessica Alba’s – The Honest Company), the cost can be as low as $2,700 or as high as $3,500.

– Disposable Diapers are Bad for the Environment

There’s no sugar-coating it. For each child that you have in disposable diapers, you are adding 6,000 – 7,000 diapers to a landfill. Supposedly, these diapers can take up to 500 years to decompose. That’s a lot of waste.

According to environmental blogs, disposable diapers are the 3rd highest waste contributor overall in landfills. That’s a big footprint for the next generation to carry.

Now, let’s learn a little bit about the cloth diapering.

Pros and Cons of Cloth Diapering

Starting with the positives, here are a few reasons why cloth diapering is becoming the “trendy” thing to do:

– Cloth diapers are cheaper (WAY cheaper most of the time)

Depending what kind of cloth diaper you go with (we will go into the many different types in a different post), the average cost of cloth diapers can range from $250 – $500. It is more expensive if you alternative disposable liners, but this is a good estimate for strictly cloth usage.

– Cloth diapers are better for the environment (even with the water used for laundry – it’s still a better deal for Mother Nature)

No landfill pileup here. For parents who want to be “greener” in their homes, cloth diapers are the obvious choice. There are even many used cloth diaper websites available, where the cloth diapers can be resold after your baby is potty trained. Now, that is double duty.

– Cloth diapers are natural (no chemicals or questionable “gels”)

Many moms and dads are uncomfortable with the chemicals used in disposable diapers. With cloth diapers, it is a chemical-free alternative and really no different from wearing other type of clothing.

– Less Blowouts…Maybe

According to reviews (believe me, I have read hundreds at this point), many moms suggest that although cloth diapers may be more prone to leakage, they are better suited to handle blowouts. For those new parents out there, this is not the equivalent to needing to change a tire on a car.*

Sounds great, right? Well, let’s take a look at some of the disadvantages of cloth diapering before you make up your mind.

– More Laundry

More cloths mean more clothes. More clothes mean more laundry. As a new mom or dad, you probably feel pretty overwhelmed as it is without the additional load (or loads) of having extra chores. Typically, if you plan on cloth diapering your new baby, the cloth diapers have to be washed every 2 – 3 days. That can be enough right there for many to say, “no way!”

– More Leaks

Disposable diapers have been reviewed over and over again as superior to leakage against cloth diapers. Perhaps it’s the gel or fabric used for absorption, but either way, this is a big pro for disposables. Many cloth diapering moms will double-up fabric inserts to absorb more, but it still doesn’t get the high marks of the disposable.

– Less Convenient

When you are out in public and have a wet bag handy, cloth diapering can be no big deal. Throw the wet or dirty diaper in the wet bag. Place the wet bag in your diaper bag and go about your business. When traveling for several days at a time, this can become a pain (remember the additional loads of laundry that is required every 2 – 3 days?). Plus, although you will become a pro within time, initially it will probably take you a little bit longer to get the hang of cloth diapering making the task take a little bit longer.

– Socially Misunderstood

Depending where you live and how environmentally progressive your region is, cloth diapering will sound very strange to some. As with many decisions regarding your baby, people will have an opinion on it. With disposable diapers still being the more popular option, be prepared to explain or defend your decision (if you choose).

If you are considering cloth diapers then your selection is just beginning. There are many different kinds of cloth diapers out there from the old-school flat diaper to a hybrid with a disposable-like insert. Each has its own advantages and the preference is really based on the parent. In our next installment of cloth diapers, we will go through each of the options and you can decide if this is the best route to go for you and baby.

Until then, we would love to hear from the moms out there. How did you decide between disposable or cloth diapers? What are your favorite brands?

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