Baby showers and diaper parties! Nothing is quite as thrilling as opening gifts for your new bundle of joy. Many new parents receive diapers as a shower or baby gift. The problem is, there are tons of diapers out there. How do you decide between disposable and cloth?
Each kind has its pros and cons, so expectant parents have to decide what to use. Even parents who are “pros” may use something different for a second or third child when the time comes.
Taking a little time to inform yourself about the differences between disposable and cloth diapers as well as the pros and cons of each can help you make the best decision for you and your new baby.
What’s In A Name, Anyway?
The word “diaper” has its roots in the mid-14th century, meaning a “fabric with a repeated pattern of figures,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, possibly coming from the Old French word diaspre, Medieval Greek diaspos, or Medieval Latin diasprum.
The use of the word “diaper” as a covering for a baby’s bottom goes all the way back to the late 1500s.
No matter what people called them, diapers have been needed since the dawn of humankind. Early humans used what they had available at that time, such as plants and animal skins.
Ladies Leading The Way For Diaper Development
Maria Allen is attributed with the creation of the first mass-produced cloth diapers in 1887 in the US. Diapers followed a sort of natural evolution after this point.
When women worked in factories during World War II, they didn’t have time to wash all these diapers, so diaper washing services were born.
In 1946, Marion Donovan developed a waterproof cover for diapers, slowly edging diapers into the modern era. Her diapers, called “Boaters,” were a hit when they debuted in 1949 at Saks Fifth Avenue. She then sold the patent and turned her attention to a true disposable diaper.
Unfortunately, Marion couldn’t find a manufacturer willing to take on her new product. In 1961, Victor Mills used Donovan’s ideas to create Pampers®. Donovan wasn’t deterred, however, and she went on to earn a degree from Yale University.
Modern Disposable Diapers
Modern disposable diapers have the technological edge over disposables from the 1960s.
Now, parents can expect super-absorbent polymers, elastic waistbands, urine indicators, and designer colors. Some brands include lotions and scents as well.
Disposable diapers are typically made up of several layers of material to better absorb and hold liquid wastes.
The innermost layer is often a mixture of super-absorbent polymers and paper. The layer nearest to the skin is intended to transfer moisture to the inner layer, with the package wrapped in a waterproof outer layer.
Disposable Vs. Cloth Diapers, Which Is Better? Pros & Cons Of Each
Pros Of Disposable Diapers
For most parents, the number one pro for disposables is the convenience. Disposable diapers are small, they are relatively inexpensive, and they are ridiculously easy to use.
Other advantages of disposables include:
Disposable diapers come in many different sizes you can choose from, from preemie to toddler to even adult. Extreme versions exist on both ends of the size spectrum.
Preemie diapers fit babies weighing less than two pounds, and adult-sized diapers can handle some of the largest.
There are tons of brands out there for you to choose from.
Does your baby have a rash from a specific diaper brand? Switch! You can find designer brands, budget brands, and everything in between.
There’s something for even the most sensitive little bottom. Never feel like you have to settle for less than the absolute best for your little one.
Patterns And Colors
Want pretty flowers for your darling girl? Or cool robots and dinosaurs for your handsome fellow? Diapers come in nearly any design and color you can imagine.
What? Natural Disposable Diapers?
While disposables aren’t exactly “natural,” some brands are more forgiving to the environment.
Parents can find diapers made without chlorine, oil-based chemicals, latex, or perfumes and dyes. Some diapers use maize, bamboo, and wood pulp instead of harsher substances.
These environmentally-conscious choices may help babies who are super sensitive to chemicals, but they will hit parents in the pocketbook.
If you are really concerned about using disposables, consider cloth. Cloth diapers have come a long way!
Cons Of Disposable Diapers
Unfortunately, the picture with disposables isn’t all rosy and perfect. A typical kid could use up to 10,000 diapers before they are potty trained. Almost 50 million diapers a day are thrown away in the U.S. alone.
Other cons to consider include:
No one knows for sure how long diapers take to decompose, and the chemicals in them most certainly cause harm to the environment.
Even the production process releases toxins that have been linked to cancer.
Diapers aren’t terribly costly, but they still add up. An average kid can expect to use thousands of dollars’ worth of disposables before they are potty trained.
As a matter of fact, statistics have shown that having a cloth diapering system in place can end up costing you a fraction of what disposable diapers cost you over the span of two and a half years.
While a cloth diapering system can set you back as little as 300$ to 400$ over the course of two and a half years, disposables may set you back a whopping 2500$ or 3000$.
While cloth diapers do cost you more upfront, they end up saving you a whole lot of money as the years go by.
Blowouts Can Still Happen
Disposables aren’t fail-proof.
Wearing an expensive blouse? That’s usually when you discover that a diaper has leaked on you.
Constant blowouts are a sign that you may need a larger size diaper.
Some babies react to chemicals used in disposables. More natural brands are available, but they usually cost more.
Even though not enough studies have been performed to come to a reliable conclusion about this issue, but one study found that disposable diapers cause higher temperature around a baby boy’s genital area than cloth diapers do – which could possibly lead to a decrease in sperm production when they grow up to become adults.
Pros Of Cloth Diapers
Cloth diapers do have a slight learning curve to using them, but if you have a washing machine available, you’ll love trying them out.
Your baby will be just as snug and dry in cloth diapers as they would in disposables, so why not consider giving them a try?
Better For The Environment
Cloth diapers can be reused over and over again for as long as they’re in good physical condition (and then passed on to another baby).
Disposables are one-and-done, and then they sit in a landfill for hundreds of years.
Modern Cloth Diapers
Just as disposables have “grown up,” so have cloth diapers. Gone are the old square of fabric fastened with pins.
If you’ve never used cloth diapers, there are lots of options to try. If you have used them before, you might look around to see if your stash needs updating.
The thought of using cloth diapers might make you groan, especially if you’ve ever listened to grandparents complain about using them.
Gone are the days of waking up to soaking-wet linens and mattresses. Cloth diapers are comparable to disposables in absorption power.
A stash of cloth diapers does require an initial investment. But then, you don’t need anymore!
No running to the store in the middle of the night, no weekly mail deliveries. Once you have them, you’re set.
Cloth diapers are super cute. You can choose from a wide variety of colors and patterns to keep your baby’s bum dry in style.
There are many types of cloth diapers, from all-in-ones, to all-in-twos, to hybrids.
You might have to experiment and try a few kinds to see what you prefer. You can always sell any that you don’t want to use after you’ve made a purchase and figured out they’re not the right option for your little one.
Easier To Potty Train
Many parents claim to have had an easier experience getting their little ones to potty train successfully when wearing cloth diapers instead of disposable diapers.
The reasoning behind this is that because some cloth diapers tend to be less comfortable than disposables, the baby is more willing to give them up and transition towards using the potty.
It makes sense for them to be more accepting towards giving up something they’re not really comfortable in, as opposed to resisting transitioning towards potty training if they’re wearing something that feels like heaven.
Cons Of Cloth Diapers
Environmental issues may drive many to want to use cloth diapers over disposables. While it’s easy to paint a “green” picture in the argument for cloth, you do have to consider the cons, including:
For many working parents, this is the biggest hurdle.
Cloth diapers require time to tend to, but diaper cleaning services are available, especially in larger cities.
If you’re washing at home, you need somewhere to store dirty diapers and a good washing machine – especially if you’re trying to remove those nasty poop stains.
Sometimes – okay, let’s be real here, almost always – it’s much easier and less time consuming to just throw that dirty thing away and grab a new one without having to deal with the hassle of washing and cleaning.
You must clean the poop off the diapers before they go into your washing machine. Depending on how sensitive your nose is, this task may be difficult for you.
If you have a particularly delicate constitution, you might be cleaning more than just the diaper!
Your daycare provider might look at you like you have a third eyeball if you provide cloth diapers.
Daycare workers may not have the time or space to properly clean and store soiled cloth diapers, so you might want to talk to the daycare’s management about that specific point.
Should You Drop The Idea Of Cloth?
No way! Even if you can’t commit to using cloth 100% of the time, you can try to use them when it works for you.
Accumulating a small stash to use at home will still save money and keep disposables out of the landfill. Any change you can contribute to in the fight against filling landfills, even if a very small, is better than no contribution at all.
Bringing your spouse or partner on board might be challenging, so some experimentation might be needed.
You could consider waiting until your child is out of the tiny newborn stage. Sticky, watery poop can be more difficult to clean from cloth. Waiting until your baby eats solids might make the cleanup easier.
Newborns will also require many more cloth inserts or shells (or whichever type you choose). An older baby doesn’t wet or soil the diaper as often so you won’t need such a large stash. Just using one or two cloth diapers is a good enough starting point.
There Is No One Right Answer For Every Family
Your family has unique needs, and only you get to decide how to diaper your baby. We’re just here to give you the facts so you can make a well informed decision.
At the end of the day, there is no right answer – you find what fits your day-to-day needs.
Disposable diapers and cloth diapers both have pros and cons, so arming yourself with knowledge is the best way to decide.
The end goal is to have a healthy, happy and dry baby. You are doing the best you can to raise your child, so don’t feel guilty about the type of diapers you use. What works for you might not be the most practical choice for someone else, and vice versa.
As technology advances, more environmentally-friendly products will hit the market, so the modern diaper may soon be a relic of the past. Till then, happy diapering!