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Cloth Diapers vs. Disposables

Cloth diapers vs. disposables:  It seems to be one of the great mom-debates of our generation, right up there with breastfeeding, sleep training and vaccinations, to name a few.

If you found this post, I’m assuming you’re either considering using cloth diapers, are curious about the benefits of cloth, or are looking to be swayed one way or another on the issue.

But rather than give you an “all or nothing” type of answer, I want to weigh in with a balanced opinion on this debate so that you can make the choice that’s right for you.

Cloth Diapers vs Disposables

You see, people are unique, their families are unique and their circumstances can be pretty unique as well.  So that means in all things parenting, there’s generally not a cookie-cutter solution for any one of us.

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I’ve written before about my quest for a more “natural” lifestyle (a definition that can vary by many standards!), and how it’s been a slow journey.  And I’m totally ok with that.  I like to read the information out there on a particular subject, digest it, think about it some more and then decide how I want to apply that knowledge to my own lifestyle habits.

With that said, here’s some important things to consider if you’re wondering if cloth diapering is right for you.



Cloth Diapers vs Disposables: 7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Decide

#1.  What’s Your Goal?

If you’re hoping to save money by cloth diapering, you can save money.  But you’ll have to be disciplined and make smart choices.  I suggest doing a lot of research before diving into the cloth diapering world because the cost of cloth diapers vary A TON and some will net you much greater savings over disposables than others.

One option are the very unexpensive unbranded diapers that some refer to as “China cheapies”, found on Ebay and Amazon.  I have tried these in the past and had terrible leaks within one hour of use on a newborn.  However, spending more on a cloth diaper does not always mean it will be leak-free OR a good fit for your baby.  Much of this comes through trial and error.

My personal recommendations for economy cloth diapering that worked well for us: prefolds or flats with inexpensive covers; Flip Stay-Dry inserts with Flip covers; and Imagine brand or Nicki’s brand diapers (all types).  You can also find good deals on used diapers at resale sites like clothdiapertrader.com.

Some other things to keep in mind are the accessories you’ll need such as a diaper sprayer, a reusable diaper pail liner (you’ll likely need 2 of these), wetbags and “doublers” or extra liners for nighttime absorbency.  You’ll also have to avoid the “buy all the prints” craze if you truly want to save money!

To be honest, I had to un-join all of my cloth diaper Facebook groups because I always felt tempted to buy more diapers than I needed after someone mentioned a new print/ brand / accessory that I MUST have.  Stay strong, frugal mama.  😉

If your goal is to be more “green” and avoid toxins, then cloth diapering might be a good fit for that sole reason.  Obviously, not contributing a few extra thousand disposable diapers to your local landfill each year is a compelling reason to cloth diaper.  Keep in mind though, that cotton is considered a “dirty” crop, and is generally bleached and treated with pesticides – so you’ll want to look for cloth diapers or prefolds that are considered “organic” and “unbleached”.  (Bumgenius diapers, such as the Flip diaper inserts mentioned above, use certified cotton free of toxins.)

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If your goal is to avoid rashes, this may be possible with cloth diapers.  Knowing my two oldest daughters had sensitivities to several disposable diaper brands, I was eager to try cloth diapering for our third baby.   And for us, cloth diapering did mean far fewer rashes than we experienced with disposables.  However, they do require more frequent changes (every 1.5 hours is not uncommon for heavy wetters), or rashes can become a problem even with cloth.

Also, if you have a rash-prone child, you will need to be careful with your washing routine and choose detergents that are gentle and formulated for sensitive skin – yet are powerful enough to clean your diapers efficiently.  This can be a tough balance.

While I use “free and clear” detergents for all of our clothes, I found through lots of trial and error that basic Tide original powdered detergent worked the best for getting cloth diapers squeaky clean and did not irritate our baby’s skin (although it’s probably not the “greenest” option out there).

Some of the “green” detergents did not work well at all on our diapers (such as Charlie’s Soap and Bumgenius detergent), and this alone can lead to ammonia build-up and, you guessed it – rashes.  Your water hardness and type of washing machine will also determine what detergents will work best for cleaning your diapers.

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#2.  Are you easily grossed out?

People who love cloth diapers (or who sell them) will tell you, it’s no big deal!  Cloth diapering is no different than using disposables, you still have to deal with poop no matter what.

Well…not quite.  Sorry to burst your cloth-lovin’ bubble, but there is a big difference between rolling up a dirty diaper and tossing it, and spraying the poop off with a diaper sprayer or dunking it in the toilet.  If your baby is exclusively breastfed, then it is a breeze until they start solid foods.

Afterwards, though, you have to do something with the #2 mess because it can’t go into your washing machine.  So you’ll have to think about logistics:  making sure you can transfer the diaper easily from the changing table to the restroom, and decide what method you’re going to use to remove any solid materials from the diapers.  Then you have a dripping diaper to transfer to a diaper pail until wash time.  (The Spray-Pal did help this process for me, to an extent.)

Some people choose to use disposable liners or even paper towels to make this process easier, but this will add to the cost.  Also, I can’t imagine that sitting on a paper towel would be that comfy on a baby’s bum?  (And then there’s chemicals in paper towels to consider too.)

 

I’ll fully admit my bias here:  after four kids and a stubborn, late potty trainee, I was SO OVER the poop.  You just have to decide what you’re willing to handle.  For many others, this is a non-issue after weighing the benefits they find from using cloth.

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#3.  Do you have time for a cloth diapering routine?

This is a big consideration that many moms underestimate.  If you’re a full-time working mom, this will mean a pile of wet/dirty cloth diapers will come home with you each night in a wet bag and you MUST remember to transfer them to the diaper pail or washing machine.

Even if you work part-time or work at home like I do part of the week, the extra laundry needs to be addressed.  Although most people can get by with washing their diapers every other day (maybe 3 days at most), this is still an extra 2-3 loads of laundry per week.  Not only that, but they require an extra wash or rinse cycle, so you’ll likely be tying up your washing machine for an extra 30-45 minutes for each load.

So think about your family size, how much laundry you do in a week, and make sure the time investment is worthwhile and manageable for your lifestyle.

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#4.  Is your husband and/or babysitter(s) on board?

My husband was actually the one that saw an article on modern cloth diapering 5 years ago and suggested we try them out before baby #3 arrived.  However, once I actually started using them he wasn’t quite sure if he wanted to participate, if you know what I mean.  🙂

If your husband is like mine, it’s helpful to have all-in-one diapers that don’t require a lot of extra steps, if you’re wanting to exclusively cloth diaper.  Prefolds and covers are going to be too much for a lot of people, including most babysitters.



I was fortunate that my babysitter was very willing to work with cloth diapers even though it was new to her, but I made sure to pack only pre-stuffed or all-in-one diapers to make the process easier.

Even if you’re a stay-at-home mom, you’ll probably need an occasional sitter or help from a relative, so it’s important to think about who else might be diapering the baby and whether they’ll be on board.  If not, I think it’s wise to have some disposable diapers on hand because even if you’re super excited about your pretty cloth stash, others might not see eye-to-eye on your decision.

And in my opinion, that’s ok, especially if you value their help!

#5.  What will you do when you’re out of the house?

There are LOTS of choices in wet bags these days which can make cloth diapering easier when you’re out and about.  You can throw the wet/dirty diaper in the bag and a good quality wet bag should not leak.

I’ll be honest though, I didn’t find one particular bag that totally kept the stink at bay completely.  This is something to consider if you’re going to be gone for several hours, or you’re at the grocery store, or really anywhere.



If you travel frequently with your baby, you’ll have to decide if hauling around a stash of diapers is worth your time and sanity.  Some people choose to use disposables when they leave the house.  I’ll also point out that the more “part-time” you cloth diaper, the less it will save you in the end because you’ll need almost the same number of cloth diapers plus the added expense of disposables.

#6.  How many kids are you planning or hoping to cloth diaper?

Because I chose to cloth diaper to save money primarily, I believe that cloth would have been a better choice for our family if I had started it with baby #1 instead of baby #3.  Most cloth diapers like the ones I recommended are meant to last over several years and several babies.

When you divide up the cost of a cloth diaper stash, even with the cost of water and detergent, you clearly net a significant savings versus disposables with each additional kid you cloth diaper.

However, if you’re very frugal and choose to have a smaller, less expensive diaper stash and wash more frequently as some do, you can still save money even cloth diapering one child.

#7.  Do you mind the fluff-bum look?

One thing I did NOT expect was just how fluffy some cloth diapers can be, especially on a tiny newborn.

You need to know that you will likely have to size-up one size in pants in order to accomodate the fluff-bum.  Some people don’t mind this at all.  Baby leggings are very popular in the cloth diapering world because many moms like to show off their cute diapers anyhow.  You can pair a t-shirt with some baby legs and forgo pants all together if you choose.

The fluff-bum was a little bit of a hang-up for me!  This was especially the case with baby #4, who was tiny and had the tiniest rear-end ever.  No matter what kind of diapers I tried, they always looked really bulky under clothing.  It was less of an issue in the warmer, dress-wearing months.

As I’ve said before, the choices you make in parenting are yours!  Do your research, think it over and do what you feel is best for you, your baby, and your budget.  At least that’s part of my decision-making process.

Whatever you decide, leave some room for flexibility.  When I first decided to cloth diaper my son, I was determined to save money and use ONLY prefolds and covers.  I remember being so exhausted with a non-sleeping newborn, fumbling with Snappi’s and struggling to snap those snaps in the middle of the night…and I just about snapped myself.

Eventually, I found some easier night time options and I was even ok with using disposables overnight so that I could get some rest.  It’s ok to make adjustments as you go; don’t stress over the little things.

Having time to enjoy your babies is oh-so-important in these fleeting months, so focus on this, first and foremost!  You’ll figure out the details as you go and find a diapering routine that fits your family’s needs, over time.

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2 comments on “Cloth Diapers vs Disposables: 7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Decide”

  1. LOVE this! We have been doing cloth off and on for 6 years and have baby number 5 coming soon and we will be cloth diapering her. I appreciate how up front you are because it truly is a commitment! Its not always FUN but it has really been a good thing for our family. Thank you for sharing!

    • 6 years, that’s awesome! I’m glad it has worked out well for you. I’m afraid this article might have came off as a bit of a “turn off” to those thinking of cloth diapering, unintentionally! I think the reason is because I never read much about the reality of it before I started the process and I felt a need to explain it, lol. But to clarify for anyone that is wondering – I actually teach classes on cloth diapering occasionally and I’m still a big proponent of it – it’s a great option especially if you’re budget-conscious.

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