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Disposable Diapers vs. Cloth: How To Know What’s Best for Your Baby

Disposable Diapers vs. Cloth: How To Know What’s Best for Your Baby

On average, new parents will go through thousands of diapers before a baby is potty trained. Talk about a lot of diaper changes! It is no wonder parents passionately debate and deeply research whether to choose cloth or disposable diapers for their babies. Cloth diapers have the potential to save parents money and curb waste from discarded diapers, but require large volumes of water and sometimes pesticides to produce the cotton linings. Disposable diapers are convenient and super absorbent, but contribute to landfill waste.

Before you choose, it’s important to understand the major differences between disposable and cloth diapers and find out what works best for your family and lifestyle.

The Case for Disposable Diapers

Disposable diapers are the most frequently used form of diapers, and are discarded after a single use. These are the diapers that you see more frequently in stores or online. Most parents will use disposable diapers for baby at some point, whether exclusively or in combination with cloth diapers.

When choosing a disposable diaper, it is essential to do your research to find what works best for your baby and family. According to the Center for Baby and Adult Hygiene Products (BAHP), disposable diapers consist of two main layers: the diaper core that absorbs and stores urine and feces, and the diaper chassis or waterproof shell that holds it all together.

The Three Layers of a Diaper Core

Within a disposable diaper core are three additional layers of material:

Top sheet: This layer comes into direct content with baby’s skin.

Distribution Layer: This layer beneath the top sheet distributes liquid evenly across the entire diaper for better absorbency.

Absorbent core: This is the innermost layer of the diaper. It’s composed of fluff material and Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP) to soak up and trap the liquid, keeping baby’s skin dry.

Pros and Cons of Disposable Diapers

One of the advantages of disposable diapers is their ready-to-wear convenience. They do not require any cleaning or washing, and you just toss them away when done. In addition, you can find disposable diapers everywhere you travel.

On the negative side, disposable diapers get expensive. They may also contribute to rashes on baby’s skin, due to the material of the diaper and chemicals within the layers. They are also not as friendly to the environment as cloth diapers, but even that is debated, given the amount of water required to produce and wash cloth diapers.

How Many DISPOSABLE Diapers Do I Need?

When preparing for a baby’s arrival, many new parents choose to stockpile diapers. This is because babies go through so many of them in those early months. However, stockpiling diapers isn’t always the best idea, unless you have twins or triplets. That’s because diaper sizes vary by brand, and sizes depend on a baby’s weight more than age. Some babies outgrow newborn and other sizes quickly, too. If you still want to buy bulk, it’s a good idea to buy one size up when purchasing.

Pro tip: Keep a stockpile of diapers around the house in rooms you frequently change diapers (the nursery and the family or living room) in a handy diaper caddy that will keep everything in one place.

Disposable diapers

Disposable diapers

Reusable Cloth Diapers

Reusable cloth diapers

The Case for Cloth Diapers 

In recent years, more parents have turned  to cloth diapers as an alternative to disposable diapers. 

Pros and Cons of Cloth Diapers

One of the main attractions of cloth diapers is that they do not contain chemicals that could irritate baby’s delicate skin. They are reusable and don’t contribute to additional solid waste. Cloth diapers are also a popular choice for cutting down diapering costs. 

However, cloth diapers are not for everyone: they can be intimidating for the new parent. Use of cloth diapers require a bit more time and effort, due to the cleaning involved. Cloth diapers also require more changing than disposables. They are also not convenient when you are out and about changing a baby and have an especially smelly diaper you can’t just throw away. While cloth diapers don’t contribute to the landfill, many people believe that the water and pesticide used to grow the cotton inserts, as well as the water used to do all the washing, contribute to environmental issues.

Types of Cloth Diapers 

Cloth diapers have come a long way from the days of sharp safety pins and loose, leaky diaper covers. Like disposable diapers, cloth diapers consist of two layers: a waterproof outer layer and absorbent inner layer. The materials in the inner layers can be composed of everything from cotton and bamboo to fleece.

Prefold or Flat Cloth Diapers 

Flat diapers are big, rectangular cloth fabrics that you can fold into your preferred shape. Prefold diapers are smaller and folded into three sections. Both types of cloth diaper are used with a waterproof diaper cover on top. Prefold and flat are popular cloth diaper types due to their versatility, affordable price and ease in washing. 

Fitted Cloth Diapers 

Fitteds are absorbent diapers with full coverage, but that also require a waterproof cover. Unlike prefolds or flats, fitteds come ready for baby to wear. They also fit to your baby’s body with snaps or Velcro tabs.

Pocket Cloth Diapers 

These modern-era cloth diapers feature a pocket on the inside where you can place an absorbent insert. Parents and other caregivers can easily adjust inserts for whatever absorbency level is needed. Pocket diapers offer flexibility in positioning the insert exactly where baby needs it, and do not require an additional cover.

All-in-One (AIO) Cloth Diapers 

For a pricier, yet less intimidating cloth diaper, try all-in-ones. These diapers offer convenience similar to disposable diapers, and no assembling (folding or inserting) necessary. The diaper has a waterproof exterior and sewn-in absorbent layer, all in one. Simply toss the entire diaper into the bin for washing.

Hybrid Cloth Diapers

Hybrid diapers offer a mix between disposable and cloth diapers, and may appeal to more lifestyles. Hybrids have a waterproof shell, like all-in-ones, but also include a removable absorbent inner lining that can be either a disposable or washable cloth insert. Hybrids therefore offer parents more flexibility; a disposable insert can be used when diapering outside the home, while a washable cloth may be preferred when at home. 

How Many Cloth Diapers Do I Need?

This number can vary widely depending on how old your baby is, how often you plan to do laundry, and what type of diaper you use. Newborns go through more diapers a day (10 to 20) while toddlers typically go through less (4 to 8). But most experts agree that you should wash cloth diapers every two days, and have enough diapers for two days, plus an extra day’s worth, too.

Pro tip: cloth diapers of your choice are a great item to put on your baby registry.

Cloth or Disposable Diapers: Which Is Right for You?

It can be overwhelming to sift through all the diapering options as a new parent. A diaper that works for one family might not necessarily be the best choice for another. There are lifestyle factors, diapering knowledge and personal preference that go into the decision-making process. 

Disposable diapers can be much more convenient in those early days of parenting. That’s when you are in a sleep-deprived state and just trying to survive the day. Cloth diapers might be the right choice for the eco-conscious parent who is able to wash and assemble layers with ease. 

Whatever you decide, know that every diaper has pros and cons. It can take a bit of trial and error to find the perfect match. After changing lots of diapers, you will become the expert on what your baby needs.

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About The Author

Ana Taney

Ana is a mom of three and the creator of the motherhood blog, Mommy’s Bundle. As a blogger and maternal health advocate, she enjoys creating resources to support and educate new moms from pregnancy, postpartum and beyond. Connect with her on Instagram at @mommysbundle or visit her blog.

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