Cloth vs. Disposable Diapers

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by: Lindsay Hutton
From health to convenience, comfort to cost, the great diaper debate has been raging on for decades. Read on to find the pros and cons for each, and make your decision based on what works best for you and your family.
BabyinParent'sHands
Convenience
There is no doubt that the convenience of disposable diapers is what attracts most people, especially those who are always on the go. The super absorbent material means fewer changes. When you do need to change your little one, all you need to do with the soiled diaper is roll it up, secure it shut with the tabs, and toss it in the nearest garbage can. This is an attractive option for those who don't have the time or resources to carry around a bag full of soiled diapers until they are able to wash them or send them out to be laundered.

Cloth diapers have become more convenient in recent years. Newer styles have the same Velcro tabs as disposables, making it easier to secure onto your child without the use of clumsy pins. Flushable liners also give you the convenience of flushing waste down the toilet - no stinky garbage bags full of diapers to contend with. Cloth diapers do create more laundry, but it is usually only about two extra loads per week, and there is always the option of utilizing a diaper service.

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Cost
The cost of cloth diapers can vary based on the rates for diaper services in your area and the quality of the diapers you choose. Some parents prefer to purchase high-quality diapers that last for several years, while others choose to buy cheaper versions that may only last a short amount of time.

The cost of disposable diapers varies greatly due to the wide range of brands available. Some brand names cost twice as much as store brands, so it is up to you to decide on the quality of diapers you prefer. In general, using a diaper service costs about the same as buying disposable diapers.

You can save money by forgoing the diaper service and laundering your cloth diapers yourself. The amount of cleaning and sanitizing you choose to do will have an effect on the amount of money you spend, when you take into consideration cost of electricity, soap, water, and wear and tear on your washing machine and dryer. This option is by far the cheapest, but it is not for everyone. Some would rather spend the money to utilize a diaper service than stomach the task of washing dirty diapers all week.

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Effect on the Environment
The research surrounding the impact that cloth and disposable diapers have on the environment is not clear cut. Both cloth and disposable diapers affect the environment in different ways.

The production of disposable diapers requires tens of thousands of pounds of plastic and hundreds of thousands of trees every year. The National Association of Diaper Services points out that disposable diapers are also the third largest source of solid waste that goes into the nation's landfills every year and take up to 500 years to decompose.

Although cloth diapers may seem to be the clear winner in this debate, they pose environmental concerns, too. Repeatedly washing cloth diapers uses a lot of water and energy, and the detergents and waste can pollute the water.

SleepingBaby
Comfort
Cloth diapers can be very comfortable for children to wear -- the soft cloth feels just as comfortable on your baby's bottom as it does on your hands. Also, children who wear cloth diapers tend to get fewer diaper rashes than those who wear disposables. Prolonged contact with urine causes most diaper rashes, and cloth diapers make it easier to see when your child is wet, allowing you to change him sooner. (As an added benefit to this, cloth diapers usually lead to earlier potty training, too.) Cloth diapers also "breathe" better, which allows ammonia from the bacteria in urine to escape and air to circulate to your baby's skin.

How are disposable diapers comfortable? The superabsorbent gel in most disposable diapers gives your baby the feeling of being dry, making him comfortable even when he is wet.

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Health Concerns
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that trace amounts of the toxic chemical dioxin may be present in some disposable diapers, left over from the paper bleaching process used during manufacturing. Dioxin has been shown to cause cancer, birth defects, liver damage, and skin diseases. In addition, sodium polyacrylate, the chemical used in the gel in "superabsorbent" disposable diapers, is the same substance that was removed from tampons for its link to toxic shock syndrome.

Human waste in landfills can also potentially leak and contaminate a community's drinking water, increasing the risk of spreading diseases, such as polio. To date, the Institute of Environmental Health has found no evidence of contamination in the United States. This concern tends to affect countries that do not have well-constructed landfills and proper sewage systems.

Although cloth diapers may seem to be the safer way to go, it is important to know the proper washing methods for cloth diapers to help curb the spread of bacteria and diseases. Improper washing methods can increase the risk of spreading germs and bacteria from person to person.