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Diaper Wars: Cloth Versus Disposable

Read about the pros and cons of cloth versus disposable diapers.

Diaper Wars: Cloth Versus Disposable

Should you go with cloth or disposable diapers? Long ago in a far away galaxy, everyone used cloth diapers. Then disposable diapers came on the market, and by the 1980s nearly everyone had switched to them. As landfills became inundated with diapers, environmentalists urged a switch back to cloth diapers.

Environmental Arguments for-and Against-Cloth Diapers

Are cloth diapers better for the environment? Well, disposable diapers do make up a huge part of the garbage we dump in our nation's landfills every year. On the other hand, washing cloth diapers raises environmental concerns, too. Laundering diapers uses up a lot of energy and water, and the detergents used pollute the nation's waters. Some fans of disposables even argue that diaper delivery trucks use up natural resources of gas and oil and contribute to air pollution. Backers of cloth diapers counter that parents who make midnight runs to grocery stores and pharmacies to pick up another pack of disposables use up much more gas than diaper delivery trucks that map out the most cost-efficient route to serve their communities.

The debate over the relative impact of disposable and cloth diapers on the environment is not at all clear cut. The side you come down on in this argument depends on what aspects of the environment you value most. Disposables and cloth diapers each have their own advantages to you and your baby as well as to the environment. So what you choose to do therefore depends on which advantages you value most: convenience, cost, or comfort.


No question, disposable diapers involve less hassle. When your baby gets one wet or dirty, you just take it off, seal it up, and throw it away. The tape on the sides of disposable diapers makes them generally easier to take off and put on than cloth diapers. (Although Velcro on diaper wraps has made it much easier to change a cloth diaper than it used to be, it's still not as easy as changing a disposable.) Cloth diapers are sometimes unwieldy. No matter how you fold a cloth diaper, you may find it difficult to fit it into a diaper wrap.

You can't just throw away cloth diapers. You need to store them in a diaper pail until your weekly diaper service pick-up or until you have enough to launder. The stench, especially after your baby has begun eating solid foods, can sometimes become overwhelming. Even if you use a diaper service, you'll have to wash the diaper wraps yourself. So cloth diapers require much more hands-on (excuse the expression) dealing with your baby's poop.


Even if you do opt for cloth diapers, you will probably find it convenient to switch to disposable diapers whenever you're traveling. With disposable diapers, you have less to carry from the start and you don't have to tote around wet, soiled, and smelly diapers until you get home.

Finally, disposable diapers do not leak as much as cloth diapers (as long as you change them often enough). So if your baby wears disposables, you probably will not have to change her entire outfit (not to mention the sheets in her crib or your bed) quite so often.

The advantages of disposable diapers all center on convenience. Yet cloth diapers offer convenience, too. Parents of babies who wear disposable diapers often run out at inconvenient times. But if you use a cloth diaper service, you'll never need to drop everything at quarter of nine to fetch some diapers before your local store closes. You can order as many cloth diapers as you need every week and have them delivered to your door. Because cloth diapers are so absorbent, they also come in handy in wiping up your baby's spit up and other spills.


As long as you're using a lot of diapers (80 or more each week), a diaper service will probably be less expensive than purchasing disposable diapers. When the number of diapers you use falls to 60 or less, however, a diaper service is likely to be slightly more expensive due to the base delivery charge. Of course, if you're foolhardy enough to buy and wash your own cloth diapers, that's by far the cheapest alternative of all.


Babies who wear cloth diapers tend to get diaper rash less often than those who wear disposable diapers. Because it's not always easy to tell how wet a disposable diaper is, babies who wear disposables may sit in their own urine longer than those who wear cloth diapers, and continued contact with urine causes most cases of diaper rash. With cloth diapers, you can always tell how wet your baby is.

For this reason, cloth diapers also make it simpler to monitor your baby's urinary output. If you have any concern at all about how much food your baby is eating, you will find it much easier to keep tabs with cloth diapers.

Finally, cloth diapers probably offer your baby more comfort. If disposable diapers were more comfortable than cotton ones, we would all be wearing paper underwear. Try rubbing a cloth diaper and then the inside of a disposable diaper against your cheek. Which do you prefer?

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