Disposable Diapers Vs. Cloth Diapers

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A reader emailed and asked:

considering cloth diapers and we just wondered since  you have used them, if you have any thoughts on what to look for/  avoid or any things to be aware of.

Since we all know babies can be expensive – from the cost of having a baby all the way until kids’ college.

If you wish to ask your own question, please contact me.

Cloth Diapers Vs. Disposable Diapers

Advantages of Disposable Diapers

This is an easy one – convenience.  When you’re out and about, smell it, change it, trash it, and forget it.  However, dealing with a cloth diaper is quite different.

The yuck factor.  Some people think the idea of washing out a soiled diaper is disgusting.  I actually remember counting to three (1 – 2 –3- OK) before I washed my first soiled diaper.  Yes, it was as nasty as you might imagine.  However, now four years of washing soiled diapers without a break (no, not the same kid) is almost therapeutic.  Well, not quite, but it doesn’t phase me one bit.

Advantages of Cloth Diapers

If you are concerned about the environmental impact of disposable diapers, then cloth is the way to go.  We wash our clothes with rain water (half the time) and dry them on the line.  Oh, and if we need hot water, we do have a solar hot water tank.  However, we don’t do cloth for environmental reasons.  That is just life in a third world country.

Can’t beat the price of cloth diapers – sort of.

Some cloth diapers require you to put 20% down and get a 3 year repayment plan.  Not really, but they can get quite expensive.  You can drop $20 on a cloth diaper if you want.  We went the super cheap diaper route.  We bought 12 diapers at Babies R Us and paid $12.  We are on our third kid and our 5th or 6th package.  Let’s say if it was six dollars, then we’ve paid $72.00 for diapers for three kids.  In addition, we’ve probably bought about 100 cheap plastic diaper covers that cost a dollar each.  Our total diaper cost is $172.00

If the average disposable diaper costs .35 and the baby wears on average 6 diapers a day until they are two, then disposables would cost about $1,500 per kid per year.  Multiply that by three kids, and you would pay $4,500.  Since we paid $172.00, I guess we saved 96% by using disposable diapers.

The Hybrid Approach: Disposable Diapers and Cloth Diapers

Whenever possible, I like to have the best of both worlds.  What we’ve done is used both disposable and cloth depending on our activities.

  1. Every morning, baby gets a cloth diaper (fastened with a Snappi and a $1 diaper cover).
  2. Every night, baby gets a disposable diaper because babies tend to need more protection at night.  Friends of ours just double up and use two cloth diapers.
  3. Every Sunday, baby gets a disposable diaper.  In fact, when we are going to be away from the house for 2-3 hours baby will often get a disposable.
  4. When we go on vacation, baby gets a disposable. 

Cloth Diaper Tips

Since you asked for tips, here they are:

Cleaning Cloth Diapers

I’ve heard that there are a lot of really cool ways you can treat cloth diapers so you don’t need to rinse soiled diapers.  We don’t use anything like that.  We simply rinse the soiled diaper and wash it with a laundry bar soap – in the toilet.  From there, the diaper goes into a plain diaper bucket ($15 type – not $75 kind) until wash day.  We only wash with regular laundry soap.  We tried diaper sanitizer, but it gave our daughter rashes.  Mrs. Ford washes diapers about two – three times a week.

Get a Snappi for Cloth Diapers (or 5)

When I changed my first cloth diaper, I decided I wasn’t fit for the job.  Those diaper pins are way too hard for me.  A friend sent us a Snappi diaper fastener and we’ve never looked back.

Our Real Cloth Diaper and Disposable Diapers Story

We live overseas.  We lived in the States until my daughter was 10 months old.  At that point, we exclusively used disposable diapers, and I don’t know if we ever had a conversation about using cloth diapers.

Today, I have no idea if we would use cloth if we lived in the States or Canada.  I won’t even try to guess what we would do because I’d probably be wrong.  Yet, as long as we live overseas we plan to continue using them.

Do you use cloth diapers or disposable diapers?  What do you recommend?


  1. says

    I used cloth from the time my older son was about 8 m/o until he potty-trained (around 2.5 y/o) and with my younger son from birth until he potty-trained. Like you, we did a mix — mostly cloth, but occasionally disposable.

    I would strongly recommend getting nylon (NOT vinyl) diaper pants, because the nylon ones last forever and the vinyl ones shred within a few weeks. The cost is only slightly higher per package, but the total savings is more than doubled, because of how long they last (many months and perhaps even years, compared to weeks or perhaps a month). [I got mine through TLCare.com.]

    For future babies, though, I’m planning on doing “elimination communication” or “baby potty training” — where parents clue into when their babies need to go potty and put them on a baby potty, rather than first training babies to wet/soil themselves in a diaper and then training them to go in a potty.
    .-= Kathy´s last blog ..Wow =-.

  2. Interested Reader says

    Cloth diapers in form fitted styles are very nice.
    Disposables are convenient for travelling.
    Cloth diapers are a nuisance in apartments where you share washing machines.
    Disposables are a nuisance for the landfill. Pamper mountains can be seen from outer space.
    Cloth diapers need proper care, and for the most part, mothers are quite capable of this proper care. Just think of the money you will save.
    Advantage for using cloth is that on payday you don’t have to shell out huge dollars for something you are just going to use once and throw away.
    I agree with the writer saying nylon pants are the way to go.
    Also be prepared to change your child more often than with disposables, to avoid rashes. Have lots in each size. Use liners to prevent staining, and permit easy rinsing. Get over the smells and have fun with cloth diapers.
    Learn how to sew your own – there are patterns available.

    • says

      @Interested Reader
      Thanks for the great comment. You had a lot of fantastic tips. I look forward to your comments in the future.
      I’ve never heard of sewing your own cloth diapers. Perhaps, I should learn to sew …

  3. Gina says

    Cloth diapers…do they still sell them? I used them with my first. They do require more frequent diaper changes to avoid rashes. Disposals pull the moisture away from the baby. One thing that I thought was great was diaper liners. It made cleanup of the messy ones much easier.

    On a fairly recent visit to my son my grandson had an messy overflow while I was babysitting. I needed to wash the outside pants in the toilet. When my DIL found out what I did she was horrified that I would “touch” the pants. She said she would have just tossed them. Crazy kids.

  4. says

    @Gina — yes, they still sell cloth diapers! In a mind-boggling array of styles, sizes, types, and prices! Since saving money was my chief motivation, I went with the cheapest (but still serviceable) ones I could find. Having been told that the thin ones sold at most stores (like Gerber diapers at Walmart) were little better than burp-rags, I went online to clothdiaper.com for their Chinese prefolds and was able to get some “seconds”. I think I probably spent less than $150 total for cloth diapers for my two kids — diapers and nylon pants and diaper pins.

  5. Interested Reader says

    There are websites galore on the topic of cloth diapers.
    I challenge every American and Canadian woman to use cloth diapers.
    There must be good reusable alternatives for travelling and for church.
    What we need are businesses that sell these good quality (tried and true) cloth diapers (in Canada – we need Walmart and Safeway and Coop and Home Hardware to sell good quality cloth and not be so reluctant)
    Pamper mountain is a reality in isolated communities that don’t have recycling of this type of garbage, think about what you are leaving behind. I’d love to hear more from the lady who was doing a different kind of potty training.

  6. says

    I’d love to hear more from the lady who was doing a different kind of potty training.
    I haven’t done it yet, but I’ve heard about it. Basically, you learn your baby’s cues that s/he’s about to “go” and train yourself to recognize them and get him/her to a potty. You also use verbal cues (saying “pee-pee” or making a “sssss” sound) to signal that it’s time for him/her to go. Google “elimination communication” and you’ll see a lot of resources and information on it.

  7. Melissa says

    We’re using cloth diapers for our fourth baby, after using disposables on our first three. How I wish I’d known about how easy cloth can be sooner!! I really love using cloth diapers.
    My favorite things about cloth:
    -No more “blowouts”! After using cloth on our baby for the last 6 months I have come to realize how horrible disposable diapers are at holding in the messes that exclusively breastfed babies make! The diapers and covers we’ve used are awesome at “containment” :)
    -I love not having to rely on making a trip to the store when I’m low on diapers; I simply wash & reuse!
    -I am sure cloth diapers are much more comfortable for my daughter than the scratchy, papery disposables…and no more nasty chemicals against baby’s skin!
    -Environmental reasons weren’t my main reason for switching, but it’s nice to know that I’m not adding more diapers to the landfills.
    I highly recommend cloth – here are some of my favorites:
    Our favorite “All-In-Two” Diaper – this is our nighttime diaper – very absorbent – not a leak yet!
    When going out we still use cloth – I simply put the used diapers in a “wet bag” (a zippered bag made of waterproof, washable material called PUL) to take care of when we get home…and no, they don’t make my diaper bag stink! ;)
    One last link…a great forum to go to read and ask questions about cloth diapering:

  8. Nicole Whaley says

    Great post. We were blessed to receive a missionary diaper grant for Noah – http://www.cottonbabies.com – link on the left…in case there are any missionary workers reading this. I think if I’d “do it over again”, I’d also try some of those chinese prefolds…just the simpler kind of diapers. Have heard good things about them. We like that using mostly cloth has a lesser impact on the environment and our bank account.

  9. says

    I’m a cloth diaper advocate and I will prefer using it over disposable diaper anytime. Disposables are only convenient, but the benefits of using cloth diapers outweigh this convenience. Environment-friendly, reusable which means more economical, too and safer for babies sensitive skin.

  10. cloth lovin' Momma says

    I had read someones post about making your own diapers. One great thing about making your own diapers is you can use anything for the diaper, an old t shirt, an old blanket, then if you really want to be cost effective use some old towels for absorbency. For this type of diaper to work you would need to make a “pocket” style diaper, which will require a cover.

    For our son we used disposable diapers for the first couple of months then we switched to exclusive cloth. The options for cloth diapers is amazing, if you want something as close to disposable as possible I recommend bum genius all-in-ones with the hook and loop, they wear just like a throw away and are super easy to use. A diaper sprayer was an invaluable cloth diaper tool. My husband at first was extremely hesitant to cloth, but after he saw how much other people we knew spent on diapers and the environmental benefits he changed his tune. LOL!

    I also read in another post someone had mentioned cloth making babies have a rash. Cloth is breathable thus allowing the babies skin to breathe, which should help reduce the risk of diaper rash… However I can see a baby getting diaper rash from a cloth diaper if using a plastic cover, the plastic would hold in heat and make it hard for the cloth to be breathable.

    One thing about disposables that most people (including myself) don’t think about is it is illegal (at least here in the states) to dispose of human waste in the trash, so all those disposable diapers that we all forget to shake the waste in the toilet is aiding to the contamination of our ground water.
    Happy diapering no matter your choice!! :)

    P.S. For the comment left by the Interested Reader, if you don’t want to use cloth for traveling and to church a good option is Baby g diapers, they have a water proof liner and a flushable Bio- degradable liner to absorb the waste. The only issue I have with baby g diapers is they are expensive.

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