Baby Diaper: Cloth vs. Disposable


I’ve been struggling with the decision between using cloth diapers or disposable diapers for lil Lieb. I’m assuming most moms don’t put a lot of thought into the issue since it’s pretty standard to use Pampers or Huggies. However, I’m not most moms and I want to weigh all my options, just like I weighed out my birthing options before deciding on a home birth.

Here are the 4 main points to be considered:
  • Environmental Impact
  • Cost
  • Health
  • Convenience

Environmental Impact

Studies show that disposable diapers have the same environmental impact as reusable diapers when the effect of laundering cloth diapers is taken into account. (as researched by the London-based Environmental Agency) However, reusable diaper advocates argue that depending on the way you wash and use reusable diapers the environmental impact varies. But still, it’s estimated about 18 billion disposable diapers are thrown into landfills every year.
So what are our options? One option is using biodegradable disposable diapers such as Seventh Generation however, even biodegradable diapers still take years to decompose. Then there is the option of using a diaper service means consuming even less water and energy. Some companies wash three days worth of a customer’s diapers with the amount of water used in a single toilet flush. However, the number of diaper services in the US are dwindling greatly.


Cost estimates show that disposable diapers will run approximately $50 to $80 per month, using a diaper services will cost approximately $50 to $80 per month and laundering your own cloth diapers will cost slightly less at approximately $25 to $60 per month. There is also the additional up fit cost of purchasing cloth diapers which varies depending upon what method you chose.


Some concerns about disposable diapers have been about dyes, sodium polyacrylate (the super absorbent gel), and dioxin, which is a by-product of bleaching paper. Sodium polyacrylate has been linked in the past to toxic shock syndrome, allergic reactions and is very harmful and potentially lethal to pets. Some dyes and dioxin according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is known to cause damage to the central nervous system, kidneys, and liver. The (FDA) Food & Drug Administration has received reports that fragrances in disposables caused headaches, dizziness and rashes. Problems reported to the Consumer Protection Agency regarding disposables include, chemical burns, noxious chemical and insecticide odors, babies pulling disposables apart and putting pieces of plastic into their noses and mouth, choking on tab papers and linings, plastic melting onto the skin, and ink staining the skin. Plastic tabs can also tear skin if the diaper is not properly put on the baby. However, there are organic disposable diapers which a free of dyes, sodium polyacrylate and dioxin.
On the other hand cloth diapers can cause rashes by not being changed enough or properly cleaned and sanitized after becoming soiled.


With the newer style of cloth diapers that are on the market, disposable diapers are not much more convenient that cloth diapers. The new multiple layer, Velcro fastening cloth diapers are just as easy to put on and take off as disposables. Cloth diapers do not really need to be pre-soaked, or even rinsed out. Flush-able liners can be used with cloth diapers that let you lift the soiled liner off the cloth and flush the liner and the poop down the toilet. If you don’t use liners, you can just dump the older baby’s solids down the toilet. Cloth diapers usually only add about 2 extra loads of laundry a week to your schedule.
Disposable diapers are more convenient when traveling because you can just throw the dirty diapers away without carrying them around for washing. Disposables also require fewer changes because of the super absorbent materials; but taking into consideration the increased risks of rash and the extra impact on the environment, your decision should be made with much thought.

Final Thoughts

We will probably use organic, biodegradable diapers for the first few weeks/month for lil Lieb just out of a need for convenience and less stress until we figure this parent thing out. Then we may opt to make the switch to cloth diapers after more research and learning what lil Lieb demands. My main reason for waiting until lil Lieb arrives to use cloth diapers is to eliminate buying expensive diapers that either don’t work for us or don’t fit.

Do you use/hope to use cloth diapers?

What are your reasons for using cloth diapers?


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  1. we love cloth. one load of dipes to wash equals about 5 toilet flushes. you can borrow my cloth dipes, if you want (eileen's kids have used them, too) and that would make them free.

  2. Jess Rumbold used cloth with Jada and i know she ended up changing to disposables. She used the fuzzy buns (sp?) and I know a lady in my church who used the wool covers and loved them. So, I personally life just disposables bc I worked when Luke was born and just could not put forth all the effort to manage cloth. It is always easier to see what you would really do once they are here. Plus, you are right, there is great cost involved at the beginning with cloth. my two cents…

  3. I think that often people who find cloth an inconvience are the ones who are trying to do both cloth and disposable, or just trying out cloth and only have a few. If you chose to go all the way cloth (or at least most of the time) you have enough for full loads, you quickly can change a cloth (even a prefold) as quickly as you could change a disposable and before you know it you can't remember thinking anything can be easier! Good luck what ever you choose.

  4. I do agree that the key to sticking to cloth is having LOTS of them so that you don't feel like you have to wash every night. I do think though there are times when disposable come in handy. Traveling for one is a time when I don't want to fool with cloth and washing. Also you will want to double up with wool soakers for night so that you and Joe don't wake up to a wet bed.

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