As a new parent, you’re probably facing a lot of important questions right now.
Should you commit to breastfeeding or opt to bottle feed? Is it ok to pick your child up every time she cries, or does that lead to a spoiled baby who will have a hard time learning to self-soothe?
What makes the best diaper: cloth or disposable?
The great diaper debate has raged since the creation of disposable diapers in 1946.
Back then, disposable diapers were heralded as the next big thing in convenience when it came to raising children.
But these days, cloth diapers are enjoying a resurgence in popularity as part of the natural movement.
Both options have plenty of perks and drawbacks, so keep on reading to find out how to choose the best diaper for your baby.
How to Choose the Best Diaper for You and Your Baby
There are quite a few factors to consider when deciding how to cover your baby’s bottom.
The high cost of disposable diapers is one heavily referenced stat that has encouraged countless parents to switch to cloth.
Parents spend, on average, between $1,500 and $2,000 on disposable diapers per child. That cost can easily jump to $2,500 if you opt for high-end, premium brands.
Cloth diapers seem to have an obvious edge here since you purchase one set of diapers that you can use throughout your baby’s life. You can even re-use them for future children or donate them to another young family interested in saving on diaper costs.
And cloth diapers can save you a hefty chunk of change. In fact, you could save as much as 27% on diapers by switching to cloth.
But while the upfront costs of implementing a cloth diaper system are less, there are other regularly occurring maintenance costs you should consider.
Cloth diapers mean you’ll be washing more loads of laundry and dealing with higher utility bills. They also mean that you will spend more time cleaning dirty diapers instead of simply tossing them in a bin.
While the extra time is not really negotiable, there are ways to mitigate the extra energy costs associated with cloth diapers:
- Run fewer loads of diapers through the wash. Resist the urge to wash dirty diapers daily. Invest in an airtight diaper pail to store diapers as they wait for laundry day.
- Always wash on a cold cycle. Cutting out the hot water will make a big difference in your energy bills without sacrificing cleanliness.
- Hold off on the special products. Premium fabric softeners and dryer sheets are not really necessary for your diapers, and they may even irritate your baby’s sensitive skin. Keep it simple instead.
- Line dry instead of tumble dry. Your dryer might be the faster option, but consider ditching it in favor of line drying. It will save you green in the long run.
Even with higher energy bills, cloth diapers cost less than disposable diapers. If lowering costs is your main motivator, cloth diapers are the best diaper option for your family.
Fit and Function
When you’re dealing with the only thing separating your baby’s bottom and their entire wardrobe, you want to be sure everything is working properly.
Most disposable-diaper enthusiasts cite superior absorption and adjustable fit as wins for their preferred format.
In some cases, they’re not wrong: Disposable diapers generally beat out their cloth counterparts when it comes to their ability to soak up liquids.
That’s because all of the top disposable diaper brands have spent years ramping up their drying technology to keep your baby drier longer.
Just be aware, those brands tend to charge premium prices for the latest innovations in dry diaper tech, so be prepared to pay more at the register.
While disposable diapers are more absorbent than cloth, you can easily get around this by changing cloth diapers more often.
That practice has the added benefit of reducing diaper rash, so it’s a boon to your baby’s routine no matter which diaper you choose.
As far as fit, cloth diapers are not as far behind disposables as you may think. Many cloth diapers feature an adjustable, velcro-laden outer diaper with washable liners to ensure that everything stays where it should on your baby.
While disposable diapers are more absorbent, cloth diapers are not that far behind. Shop around to find the best diaper for your baby, but be prepared to pay more for premium.
Disposable diapers are made of a plethora of various petrochemicals, but they are considered safe to use on your child.
You may have heard rumblings, however, of the dangers of disposable diapers.
A 1999 study, for example, showed that some of the materials used in disposable diapers can cause asthma-like reactions in mice. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, however, has never seen that reaction in an infant.
Dioxins are another cause for concern for some parents. Dioxins are cancer-causing compounds that are found on disposable diapers—but in very small amounts.
But if the thought of anything toxic doesn’t sit well with you, you may want to opt for cloth diapers.
Cloth diapers are the best diaper choice if you want to incorporate natural products into your baby’s lifestyle.
The arena where cloth diapers really win out is in waste reduction.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans line landfills with 20 billion disposable diapers every year.
Those diapers translate to approximately 3.5 million tons of waste. And, since it can take 450 years for them to decompose, we’re stuck with them for a while.
If you don’t like the idea of your baby’s diapers turning into artifacts that will literally endure for centuries to come, cloth diapers are the best choice for your family.
Cloth diapers are usually considered to be the best choice from an eco-conscious perspective, but it’s not quite so clear-cut.
Since cloth diapers require so many extra loads of laundry, the amount of water required to keep them clean can be high.
That won’t be a big problem if you have an energy-efficient machine, but if you’re working with a gallon-guzzling older model, you may want to reconsider the cloth diaper route.
The biggest influence on your cloth diaper’s eco-friendliness, however, is the specific type of cloth it’s cut from.
Cotton carries a huge carbon footprint, and it’s commonly used for cloth diapers.
That footprint comes from the large amounts of fertilizers and pesticides associated with cotton farming and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the manufacturing process.
Cloth diapers do wonders for waste reduction, but if you’re looking for the best diaper for the planet, choose something made of hemp or bamboo—basically anything other than cotton.
Disposable diapers are the clear winner when it comes to sheer convenience.
When it’s time to change, you just take the diaper off and toss it. It couldn’t be simpler.
Cloth diapers, on the other hand, have several added steps.
First, if your baby has left you a solid surprise, you need to find a way to dispose of that before tossing the diaper in the laundry.
Many cloth diaper users flush feces before storing soiled laundry. You can also do a quick preliminary rinse to cut down on odors and make cleaning easier in the future.
When it comes to storing your dirty cloth diapers, you have to choose your diaper pail wisely. Unless you want to wash every day, you’ll need something that contains odors.
Choose something airtight and opt for flushable liners if you’re concerned about generating waste, but be prepared to wash loads of dirty cloth diapers a few times per week at least.
If you don’t have the time to deal with laundry, laundry, and more laundry, choose disposable diapers.
The Number 1 Factor to Help You Choose the Best Diaper
Ultimately the best diaper for your child comes down to your own personal preference.
If convenience is your top concern, you should reach for a pack of disposable diapers. If you’re unwilling to add more bulk to already bursting landfills, cloth diapers are the way to go.
Real Cost vs. Lifestyle Cost
While your family budget is a very important deciding factor in choosing the best diaper for your baby, don’t forget to consider the demands on your time and energy you’ll face in your daily life.
Disposable diapers require fewer loads of laundry, but you’ll be spending more time headed to and from the store to restock. They may also mean you’ll have to drive further to that big box store to take advantage of sales and bulk prices.
Cloth diapers mean that you’ll be getting your hands dirty—literally. You’ll have to get up close and personal with dirty diapers every laundry day until your child is potty trained.
Those lifestyle costs add up.
That’s why it’s important to take stock of how you’re spending your time and make adjustments where you can.
Keep those costs in mind when you choose the best diaper for you and your baby.