Pros and Cons of Cloth Diapers (As Gross as it Sounds?)

Several years ago, long before I ever thought about becoming a parent, I heard about a family member who had begun using cloth diapers for her baby.  And to be honest, my initial gut reaction was: that’s disgusting.

It’s true that today’s society is often criticized for embracing a “throw away” culture, and I agree it’s a valid complaint.  We’re far more wasteful now than we’ve ever been, in a lot of ways.

But let’s be honest here – when it comes to poopy diapers…

Doesn’t it make sense to throw them away?  

Before coming to some grand conclusion, I want to take a deep dive into cloth diapers (not literally, of course – eww) and examine how they stack up against disposable diapers.

The Pros and Cons of Cloth Diapers

I know a lot of people are into cloth diapers, so the one way to really wrap my head around it is to make a pros and cons list.

Pros

  • They’re reusable – This is obviously the #1 reason people use cloth diapers. In fact, assuming you buy the right size, it’s possible for one set of cloth diapers to last your child from birth all the way up until they’re completely out of diapers.
  • Save money in the long run – The total cost during diaper-wearing years is an estimated $381 vs. the $2,577 you would spend on conventional, disposable diapers, assuming your child is potty trained by 2 1/2 years old. That’s a decent chunk of change.
  • They’re comfortable – Those who use them say that cloth diapers are more comfortable due to the fabrics available (cotton, terry cloth, flannel).  It also acts as extra padding for your baby’s bottom.
  • Fewer diaper rashes – They don’t absorb quite as well as disposable diapers (which may sound more like a con than a pro) but the pro here is that less absorption leads to more frequent changes.  This leaves fewer opportunities for diaper rashes.
  • More economically friendly – Because you’re not disposing of diapers, you’re adding less waste to landfills.

Cons

  • Added icky factor – Because you’re dealing with cloth (instead of something made to absorb everything that comes out of your baby), it can be a little messier.  If you don’t clean it well, you may have to deal with stains and lingering smells.
  • More difficult to change – You can’t simply take them off and pitch them into the trash, so there’s some added time needed for each change (rinsing them before you can wash them).  Especially when you consider that you have to change your baby more often.
  • Less mess = more money – You can use disposable liners to cut down on the mess, but then you’re slowly eating away at the savings.
  • Causes you to do laundry more often – One cost a lot of people don’t think about (because it’s difficult to calculate) is the added gas/electric and water usage. This begins to further cut into your savings.
  • Travel is not as simple – If you have to change your baby while you’re away from home, you’ll be traveling with dirty diapers.
  • Need to plan for overnight issues – Because babies usually go longer without a diaper change overnight, you need to plan for how to handle this so that nothing soaks through to the crib or bassinet overnight.  Some parents actually use disposables just for overnight usage to avoid this issue altogether.
  • May not be able to use with daycare – Most daycares require that you provide disposable diapers, so if you’re trying to use cloth diapers, it may not be possible during the time your child is in daycare.  This could further cut into the savings of the cloth diapers if you’re still required to purchase a certain amount of disposable diapers.

What do supporters of cloth diapers say?

It’s one thing to lay out the pros and cons, but I thought it would be interesting to actually bring in the view of someone who uses and likes cloth diapers.  When all you know is disposable diapers, it’s not always easy to get the perspective of someone who doesn’t.

Stephanie Jones from Life’s a Jornie is one person who actually prefers clothes diapers to disposables.  Here’s what she had to say:

…the only thing different for us is a little extra laundry to plan for, and a LOT less disposables to budget for. We’ve tried going back and forth a few times, using disposables here and there, and honestly (even if we have the extra cash), we prefer cloth diapering for several reasons. Cloth has given us a ZILLION less blowouts, it’s a cinch to adjust absorbency without buying a new pack, we can use the same ones from birth to potty training, and we always have diapers on hand (no more late-night diaper runs!).

That sounds pretty good to me; I never actually thought about the impact on blowouts (I guess cloth diapers cover more area), and overlooked the fact that the same ones can be used from birth to potty training.

If you’re interested in how to make cloth diapers work for your family, she has a whole guide on modern cloth diapering.

My Conclusion

For the hyper environmentally-conscious, cloth diapers are clearly a winner.  And while I see some of the other added benefits of using a cloth diaper (especially the ones Stephanie mentions above), I still can’t wrap my mind around using them. 

For me, the savings isn’t worth the hassle.  On the surface you may be saving a significant amount of money (over $2,000), but you will be consuming more energy with washing, and will be spending more of your free time (which definitely has value!) changing and cleaning diapers.  In the end, your savings (especially if you view it as cost per week or month) are not as attractive.

We’re both working parents, and the thought of spending more time changing diapers (when you factor in the extra laundry runs) seems to crush any added benefits of the cloth diapers.

With all of that said, you need to do what’s right for you.  Everyone has a different budget.  For some people, saving ANY amount of money is a big help, and that can be a compelling enough reason to go with cloth diapers.

What do you think? And if you’ve used cloth diapers before, what do you like about it? Leave a comment below! 🙂

2 comments

  1. For us money wasn’t as much of an issue as the eco waste. We opted to use a cloth diaper laundry service in our area!! SO SO SO convenient! We don’t do any more work then we do with disposables! The service provided us pre-fold diapers, we just had to provide the covers AND they pick up/deliver right to our door!

    We just put the dirties in their wet bag, placed it on the porch on Friday morning and they swapped out the dirty bag for the clean one filled with fresh folded diapers! Love Love LOVE IT!!!!!

    They service all of central Ohio, not sure where your readers are but totally worth looking into!

    • Thanks Shelley, sounds interesting! I suppose it makes sense for those who want to go the cloth diapers route and aren’t as concerned with cost. Thanks for the comment!

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