Should I Use Cloth or Disposable Diapers?

wiseGEEK Writer

Parents can definitely agonize over a decision that was once a non-issue. Should they use disposable or cloth diapers? There are a lot of arguments for the use of both types of diapers, and some parents use both. They’ll use disposables for day care, when they’re traveling or on vacation, and use cloth when they’re at home. The main disputes surrounding the use of cloth diapers or disposable types center on two key issues: health value of using one type over the other and environmental impact of using one or the other. Convenience of disposable types is often cited as one of the main reasons for their use, whereas parents who use cloth types either must purchase a diaper service or spend a lot of time washing diapers at home.

Some parents use cloth diapers at home and disposable diapers elsewhere.
Some parents use cloth diapers at home and disposable diapers elsewhere.

In regards to the health issue, you’ll find experienced pediatricians on both sides of the fence. Some vehemently argue that cloth diapers are better for a baby because they allow the bottom to breathe. They suggest that using cloth encourages more changes, meaning the baby is more protected against wet diapers by frequent changes, and that cloth also reduces diaper rashes.

Using cloth diapers can be more economical than using disposable diapers.
Using cloth diapers can be more economical than using disposable diapers.

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You’ll also find pediatricians who argue in the complete opposite direction. They argue that disposable diapers are better because they tend to wick moisture away from the baby’s bottom. With as great conviction as cloth diapers’ proponents, they will state that disposable diapers cause fewer diaper rashes than do cloth, because moisture doesn’t stay in contact with the skin.

Some doctors take a middle of the road approach. If one type of diapers is creating diaper rash, switch to the other type. Frequency in changing diapers, using some rash cream, and given baby’s bottom some “open air” time each day can also help reduce rashes when you use either type of diaper.

The other argument made, which seems to be gaining ground is that disposable diapers cause much greater impact to the environment. The name disposable doesn’t translate to biodegradable, though you can spend a lot more than average to get diapers made of recycled plastics. Disposable diapers may sit in landfills for centuries and never fully biodegrade.

Many people have offered a counter to this argument by suggesting that cloth diapers in their own way are causing environmental problems too. Often cited is the energy needed and water used to wash cloth. Some studies have suggested that environmental debt of either type of diaper is approximately equal, though it should be noted that the largest diaper making companies in the world most often cites this study. Parents do seem to be deciding on cloth more frequently, with sales up about 25% as of 2008.

Another consideration regarding cloth diapers is whether other caretakers will allow you to use them. Some daycare facilities don’t allow cloth because of the potential for contamination to other children and the extra work in storing dirty diapers. You can still use cloth at home if your daycare facility doesn’t allow them, or look for a daycare setting that does.

Perhaps the best way to decide whether to use cloth diapers or disposable ones is to search your feelings. Which makes the most sense to you? Then, see how your baby responds to your choice. If cloth diapers produce rashes, try switching to disposables, or switch from disposables to cloth if that makes sense. In either case, you’ll probably also be guided by environmental considerations, and you can evaluate studies to see which method you think is more “green.” The end goal is to be sure both you are your baby are comfortable with the choice you make.

Some doctors believe that disposable diapers cause fewer rashes than cloth ones do.
Some doctors believe that disposable diapers cause fewer rashes than cloth ones do.

Discussion Comments


Get out of the past. Disposables are more work and are more trouble for your baby. With rinse wash dry, no need for outfits; the diaper is the outfit. Disposables are adjustable including absorption. The best part is the price and the baby cannot get in the new ones very easy like disposables. Leaks are minimal because both the legs and waist are adjustable. This article is horrible.

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