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Pros and Cons of Cloth Diapers

You all know I love cloth diapers! I’ve been very vocal about the benefits of using cloth diapers, and I have been working hard to debunk some myths surrounding them. However, nothing in this world is perfect. In order to help you make the most informed decision as possible, I’m going to discuss the pros and cons of cloth diapers. I hope this will help you to have a realistic picture of what cloth diapering looks like for the average family, for better or for worse!

Note: I am a strong supporter of all parents doing the best that they can with the circumstances that they have. I understand not every family that is interested in cloth diapering will end up choosing to go that route. My hope is that I can help you make the most informed decision possible.

Pros of Cloth Diapers

There are several pros to using cloth diapers over disposables.

1. They have the potential to save you thousands of dollars.

I’ve discussed this in a few different posts already, but no matter how you spin it, it would be incredibly difficult to say that cloth diapering does not save a family money.

The only instances in which it might not save you money are if you have a shopping addiction (because let’s face it, they’re so cute and fun to buy!), or if you buy a full stash and give up on using them.

Despite how obvious it is that in the long run you save money, many naysayers still try to say that it is more expensive. I have searched and searched and cannot find any sound basis for those claims. I can only assume it is the sticker shock of looking at what the upfront investment is for cloth diapering combined with denial about what disposables actually cost.

These people might also be forgetting about gifts of diapers they received at baby showers that allow them to purchase fewer diapers on their own–it may have saved them money out of their own pockets, but it was still money spent.

2. They keep several thousand disposable diapers (per child!) out of a landfill.

landfillBabies go through on average 5 diapers (older babies/toddlers) to 10 diapers (newborns) per day. In the first year of a baby’s life, that is between 1825 and 3650 diapers. If the average age for potty training is 2.5, that means anywhere from 4562 to 9125 diapers will end up in a landfill over the period of one child’s time in diapers. That is so much higher than I would have guessed before doing the math!

The most commonly cited number for how long it takes for a disposable diaper to decompose is 500 years. I have spent time researching this because honestly, I don’t WANT to believe that. Also, hyperbolic fear-mongering claims are one of my biggest pet peeves, so even if I agree with the general premise, I try to stay away from using them. But when I was researching this issue, I simply can’t find any sources that say anything different. If I’m wrong, please tell me and send a source, I’d love to be corrected.

This is kind of a big deal! I’ve seen estimates that diapers are about 2% of the world’s waste. It doesn’t seem like much, but considering that diapers aren’t a constant expense from birth to death, not every family has children, and many more families are choosing cloth nowadays, it makes more sense.

2% may be small, but it’s actually pretty scary to me considering how many diapers we go through–that just means we generate even more waste than we realize on top of diapers. Any little bit helps, and if using cloth diapers is one thing I don’t mind doing, then I should do my part to be a good steward of the earth.

3. They’re adorable!

cute-cloth-diapersThey really are so cute. Babies with adorable fluffy butts make me so happy!

4. Fewer diaper rashes.

Cloth diapers allow for more air circulation than disposable diapers. Air circulation is the best thing for preventing and treating rashes. Also, some babies have sensitivities to certain chemicals in disposables. These chemicals may also cause rashes.

Some people say that their cloth diapers gave their babies rashes. This is very rare, and it’s puzzling without more context into people’s individual situations. There is nothing about a cloth diaper that should cause a rash on its own.

If your baby is getting a rash in cloth diapers, it’s either because they aren’t getting changed soon enough after soiling a diaper (which can happen in disposables, too) or it’s because there is an issue with the wash routine.

5. You never run out of diapers.

It is true you may run out of clean diapers and need to do more laundry, but no more realizing you don’t have any diapers left and having to run to Target before bed to get some.

As far as running out of clean diapers, I tend to compare this to running out of clean underwear. We may run out of clean underwear sometimes, but for most of us that really means running out of clean underwear we LIKE—we can dig to the back of the drawer and find an old pair that can get us by until we get a load of laundry done.

I find it’s really the same thing with diapers. You have your favorite diapers that you use more than others. You also have a couple of diapers that aren’t your favorite but can get the job done if you got behind on laundry.

Cons of Cloth Diapers (and possible solutions!)

I’m not going to pretend everything is sunshine and roses with cloth diapers. They are diapers, after all…and the key thing that comes to mind with diapers is POOP. That means there certainly is potential for some mess. I firmly believe any cons have workable solutions, or that the pros outweigh them. However, in the interest of helping you make the most informed decision possible, I will share some cons I’ve experienced over the past 5 years of cloth diapering.

1. Large upfront investment.

Depending on the style of diapers you go with, your upfront investment may be anywhere from $300 to over $1000. For families on a very tight budget, this may seem unattainable.

Solution: There are ways you can save money on quality cloth diapers. You can shop sales and use coupons. You can also buy your diaper stash used. A lot of people think that is gross, but diapers are able to be sanitized. As long as they were treated well by previous owners and are in good condition, buying used is a perfectly good way to create your diaper stash on a budget. Buying used is also a great way to lessen your environmental impact!

2. You have to clean poop off of them.

Yes, there’s no way around it: cloth diapers require you clean the poop off of them before washing if your baby is eating solid food. However, cleaning the poop off cloth diapers is really not as gross or difficult as it sounds.

Solution: Try different methods of poop removal to see which you like the best. Every family ends up finding a method that they can use with ease.

3. It creates extra laundry.

I know the thought of extra laundry sends many people in a tizzy. After all, laundry is hard enough to keep up with as it is, right? In reality, it adds 2-3 loads of laundry a week. If you are the kind of person that does laundry once a week or even less, this may seem like a lot.

Solution: Get yourself into a good laundry routine. In my home, we aim for one load a day. Between my husband, the kids, and myself, we definitely have plenty of clothes to wash throughout the week. When you factor in towels and sheets, there’s another load or two.

We try to throw the laundry in the washing machine in the morning, get it in the dryer after work, and put it away before bed. Doing one load a day also means the loads aren’t overflowing (I’m a big believer in not overstuffing your washer–it doesn’t get your clothes as clean and can actually break your washer) which means that folding clothes is a MUCH easier feat. Our laundry schedule may look like this:

  • Sun: 1 load of adult clothes
  • Mon: 1 load of kids’ clothes
  • Tues: 1 load of diapers
  • Wed: 1 load of towels or sheets
  • Thurs: adult clothes
  • Friday: diapers
  • Saturday: anything that needs it, or take a day off!

4. Daycares aren’t always super excited about them.

I have used two different daycares and have been fortunate that both have allowed cloth. However, I know the laws are different in every state, and some daycares may have their own policies against them.

Solution: Be upfront as you interview daycares about the fact you want to cloth diaper. Ask what their rules are surrounding cloth.

If they haven’t used cloth before, ask if they would be willing to try if you make it as simple as possible for them (that means having some pockets or all-in-ones to send so they can go on the same way a disposable would). Tell them you will dispose of the poop at home and they can just roll up the diaper and put it in the wet bag.

If you send diapers that are easy to put on and tell them they don’t have to clean solids off the diapers, most daycares will be flexible with you unless you have a law in your state that prevents them from being so.

5. Cloth diapers also require the use of some resources.

Sometimes, pro-cloth diaper companies and individuals will focus on all the resources used to create disposable diapers and why that makes cloth a better alternative.

It wouldn’t be fair to say this without making note that there are resources involved with the manufacturing and care of cloth diapers, too.

If you are looking for a resource free solution, that would probably be elimination communication, which I know very little about and won’t discuss here.

The fact of the matter is that babies and people in general will have some sort of impact on the planet. All we can really do is just do what we can to lessen that impact.

One thing that we can say about the resources involved in using cloth diapers is that they are almost always less. There are some myths floating around about how disposables use less resources when you factor in the water and energy used to clean cloth, but that really isn’t true. Disposable diaper manufacturing uses lots of water, and some estimates are as high as 9 gallons per one diaper.

Solution: If you want to purchase natural fiber diapers, consider organic to lessen the impact of chemicals on the environment. You can also choose to purchase diapers made from synthetic materials like PUL, which the majority of cloth diapers are made from nowadays.

What do you think?

What do you think after reading through this list? What are some of your concerns about cloth? What are some of your favorite things about cloth? Share them in the comments!

the-pros-and-cons-of-cloth-diapers

Holly Lee

I'm Holly and I'm the mom of two awesome young boys. We have been cloth diapering for 5 years. My family and I live in Minnesota with our dog, Ruby, and cat, Gherkin. Outside of Rocking the Cloth, I am also a middle school teacher. Thank you for visiting Rocking the Cloth--feel free to email me at holly@rockingthecloth.com if you have any questions or concerns. I'd love to help!

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20 Comments

  1. Lawrence says:

    Oh man I love you momma Holly Lee.

    Our two children were cloth diaper babies and now my son has our first grandchild. I can fully appreciate the luxury and ease of modern plastic diapers but what are we doing to our planet?And to be honest with you, at its deepest level cleaning your baby’s diapers of poop is like wiping their gorgeous fluffy bottoms – its personal and something you remember fondly (as weird as that sounds)

    Cost wise I think the jury is out on that one. I have no idea what diapers cost these days but used once and thrown away seems to indicate expense to me.

    I think just for fun I may buy my son and DIL a pack of cloth diapers for Christmas. Bwahaha – that would be an interesting thing to do.

    Enjoyed your post and I hope you manage to convince a lot of parents to use cloth diapers.

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Thank you so much Lawrence! I agree that disposables have their place, but I’m glad that I’m able to use them as sparingly as possible. Considering I don’t mind the laundry and all around enjoy the experience, this is one thing my family can do to try and make a difference. πŸ™‚ I know other families that aren’t able or choose not to use cloth find their own ways to make a difference!

  2. Tiffany Domena says:

    Hi Holly! I’m also a cloth enthusiast, but I have had points where disposable diapers were the easiest option.  My daughter is now two years old and since she was born, I’ve only bought  boxes of diapers!  I’ve saved a ton of money, but I also had to make sacrifices to make this possible. Like you said, before she was born, we spent something like $300 on diapers and $50 on a diaper sprayer.  With disposable diapers, you’d usually spread the investment throguhout their diapering age, but you’d spend far more than $350.  When my daughter was in daycare, they required that I bring 6-12 disposable diapers per day. A box of disposable diapers in my area usually has about 100 diapers inside, which means 1 box per week.  If each box is $25, then you’re quickly spending $100 just for the diapers for daycare–not including home.  Then, when you add daycare costs on top of that, having a baby can really add up.

    When I had the baby, my husband and I decided I’d work from home (saving childcare costs) and we’d cloth diaper (saving disposable diaper costs), and that’s been a very economical choice for us. Now that my business demands are hiking up, we’re sending the baby back out to daycare and getting more disposable diapers. They can be a nice backup option, but I love the cloth as the primary diapering option.

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Tiffany! I definitely feel like it doesn’t have to be all or nothing with cloth. My youngest does use one disposable a day at daycare still–they were willing to use cloth the majority of the day, but wanted a disposable for nap. I didn’t argue and we send enough so he can have his one a day! I know many families use disposables at night time, too, (and we also have done that some of the time). Also when you’re on vacation or traveling, sometimes cloth just isn’t feasible. We are so lucky to live in a day and age where we have convenience options!

  3. I know some people who use cloth diapers. I have 2 kids of my own and I use the disposable diapers. They are expensive. I do hate doing laundry and I try not to do more than what I have to do.

    1. Hi Deanna! I definitely understand avoiding laundry! I actually find diapers are my favorite load of laundry to do because they involve no folding or hanging….the folding and hanging is the worst part for me. πŸ™‚

  4. I have a 2.5 year old and used disposables with him because I really had no other option as far as startup costs. But my husband and I researched into cloth diapers and I have a cute little stash of them for our baby girl that’s due sometime this month. I’m still learning about them though, obviously they’re not as easy as just tossing them in the trash and going but I’m looking forward to the savings in the long run as well as not having to cycle through brands to see which disposables irritate her or not. I wasted 3 boxes of diapers that way with my son, ended up donating them. I feel like were all prepped for her but I just dont know! Going to check out more of your posts and subscribe to get some more knowledge on the subject, thank you!

    1. Awesome, Lexa! Good luck! There are so many great brands of cloth diapers out there.

  5. Thank you for sharing all of this great information about cloth diapers! I use disposable diapers with my daughter, but have friends that use cloth diapers. I’ve never researched much about them and how they work. This post is definitely helpful for those trying to make the decision to use cloth or disposable. We also follow the one laundry load a day, most days! By the way, your little one is adorable πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you Gwendolyn! πŸ™‚

  6. I have to disagree with you about the diaper rashes. We found they were worse, partly because we think infectious yeasts got into the fabric and were very difficult to wash out.

    But overall, we liked them, not least not having to spend large sums on disposables. And I always felt guilty about the disposables, which I believe take about 400 years to degrade.

    But they are complex, assembling all the component parts. What defeated us in the end was having two children in diapers at different ages. The hassle of trying to sort half-a-dozen separate components in two different sizes was just too much! So, sadly, disposables is where we ended up!

    1. Ah yes, yeast rashes can be a beast and if your baby has a yeast rash, you will need to disinfect diapers afterwards with a bleach soak to prevent reinfection (small amount of bleach, nothing that would damage colors). I’ll write a post on this soon!

  7. I never thought about the cloth helping with rashes. Had I known that I probably would’ve tried it. I actually had read somewhere about washing off the poop by holding on to the diaper while flushing it down the toilet, if that makes sense – just don’t let go of the diaper!

    What I really love about what you wrote is that you shared both sides without sounding biased. Thanks!

    1. Thanks! The method you described is actually what I do, too. πŸ™‚ I do have a post about various methods of poop removal if you’re interested! https://rockingthecloth.com/cleaning-cloth-diapers-at-home-what-do-i-do-with-the-poop/

  8. I use disposable diapers for my son, but I came to that decision without actually doing any research on cloth diapers. I would be tempted to go to cloth based on the cost (the upfront cost doesn’t sound bad with how much we spend on disposables) and appearance (you’re right, they are cute). However, I just can get past the cleaning poop off the diapers idea. It’s probably worse in my head than real life, but it’s enough to stop me. Do you have a post on different ways to do that?

    1. Hi Lauren! I do have a post on different ways to remove the poop: https://rockingthecloth.com/cleaning-cloth-diapers-at-home-what-do-i-do-with-the-poop/

      Hope that helps! It’s one of those things where it’s probably not anyone’s FAVORITE chore, but you quickly get over it. You might be interested in a diaper sprayer!

  9. I cloth diapered my son and wished I had known more about them with my twins. It’s easier than people think. And I’m a sucker for a cute fluffy bum. ?

    1. I agree, it is so much easier than people think! And once you get your routine down, it’s second nature and you don’t even think about it anymore. I’m also a sucker for a cute fluffy bum. πŸ™‚

  10. I really appreciate this very detailed article.

    1. Thanks Bianca!

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