Cloth Diapers vs Disposable: Which One is Better?

Cloth diapers vs disposable diapers

Cloth diapers vs disposable: which is better? As with all things in parenthood, there is no one right answer. Ultimately, you want to do what’s best for your baby and your family’s situation. There are a lot of things to consider when choosing cloth or disposable diapers, including cost, ease of use, environmental impact and more. Here’s what you need to know about disposable and cloth diapers pros and cons to make the right choice for you and your baby.

Are cloth diapers better?

Many new parents imagine cloth diapering the way their grandmas remember it – large sheets of cotton with a lot of scary pins and confusing latches to keep the fabric in place. The truth is, cloth diapers have improved a lot in the last 10-20 years. So what are cloth diapers nowadays?

A cloth diaper is basically a reusable diaper usually made of cotton, fleece or other fabric . They are easy to use and reuse and come in many shapes and sizes. All cloth diapers have two components: an absorbent inner layer and a waterproof cover or outer layer. The difference lies in how these layers are built. Some absorbent inserts are removable, while others are built in. Learn more about the different types of cloth diapers here.

Cloth diapering has become much more convenient and easier to master in recent years. Plus, there’s no denying the waste reduction you can achieve by choosing cloth diapers over disposables. While cloth may have a slight learning curve, it eliminates the worry about keeping yourself stocked up with those monthly or weekly diaper purchases. On the flip side, this means you do need to purchase enough diapers to make it through each day without constantly running your laundry machine. For newborns, that means having at least 24 cloth diapers on hand, if you are cloth diapering exclusively and wash every other day.

When it comes to the cost of cloth diapers vs disposable, even though you may spend more upfront on cloth diapers, if you use them consistently, you’ll see considerable savings in the long run (up to $1,500-$2,000 per child ). Yes, your energy and water bills may increase with additional cloth diapers washes, but with all the spit-ups and messes kids make, that uptick in laundry will likely happen with or without cloth diapers. Pro tip: you can save on energy costs by washing on lower temperatures and hanging diapers outside to dry in the sun instead of putting them in the dryer. This can also help extend the life of your cloth diapers and decrease your environmental footprint.

An additional thing to consider when thinking about the cost is that cloth diapers can be passed down to future siblings or even sold to other parents after your baby outgrows them. Another possible bonus with cloth diapers is that, according to some studies, cloth-diapered babies might potty-train faster than babies in disposables.

Cloth diaper pros

Cloth diaper cons

  • Less waste in landfills
  • More energy and water use
  • Substantial cost savings over time
  • Bigger investment upfront
  • Made from fabrics that are gentle on baby’s skin
  • Require cleaning and laundry time
  • Diapers can be passed down to future siblings
  • Might be less babysitter- and daycare-friendly

Are disposable diapers better?

At first, disposable diapers seem like the easiest choice, based on convenience alone. There’s barely any learning curve and less cleanup, as soiled diapers can go straight into the garbage. Of course, that means you are adding hundreds of diapers to the landfill each month (thousands if you use disposables over the course of two years), which is a big factor if you are concerned about minimizing your waste.

Disposable diapers can absorb large amounts of liquids, which helps the baby maintain the feeling of dryness. They usually come in different sizes and are pretty easy to fit, though they don’t allow the sophisticated customizations you might achieve with certain cloth diapers.

While the cost per diaper is pretty low, requiring minimal upfront investment, the cost of disposable diapers adds up over time.

Disposable diaper pros

Disposable diaper cons

  • Very convenient & easy to use
  • End up in the landfill
  • Highly absorbent
  • Typically made with chemicals instead of fabrics
  • Widely accepted in daycares
  • Need to be repurchased in different sizes, do not grow with baby
  • Low upfront investment, low cost per diaper
  • Become very costly over time
  • Good for on-the-go & travel
  • Require stocking up and prone to product shortages

Cloth diapers vs disposable comparison chart

Now that you know the pros and cons of each, here’s how cloth diapers and disposable diapers stack up against each other.

COST Depending on the brand and quantity you buy, the cost ranges from $300-$600 per child over 2 years. Average cost is $2,000-$3,000 per child over 2 years.
EASE OF USE May have a small learning curve, need to be laundered after each use. Super convenient, little learning curve, throw away after each use.
ENVIROMENTAL IMPACT Reduce landfill waste, but may also increase water and energy use. Increase landfill waste and require raw material production.
SKIN HEALTH Only fabrics touch baby’s skin. Disposable materials touch baby’s skin.
FIT One-size cloth diapers, like Charlie Banana, can be adjusted to grow with baby. Easy to find the right size, but require purchasing multiple sizes.
LEAKAGE PROTECTION Leg and waist elastics contain messes and help prevent leaks. Rely on absorbent core to prevent leaks. Some have stretchy waist and leg cuffs.

Benefits of using cloth diapers

There are many benefits of using reusable cloth diapers. Here are the most popular questions parents ask when trying to choose between reusable and disposable diapers:

  1. Are cloth diapers better for the environment ?

    The answer depends on how you define “better”. Cloth diapers are reusable and washable, therefore they produce way less landfill waste. They also don’t require as much raw material production as their disposable counterparts. On the other hand, washing and drying cloth diapers uses water and electricity.

    If you are looking to minimize the environmental impact of diapering, we recommend that you air dry your cloth diapers whenever possible and wash on low temperatures to save energy. If choosing to tumble dry, consider drying clean diapers together with your other clothes.

  2. Are cloth diapers cheaper ?

    If used consistently, cloth diapers become way less expensive than disposable diapers. While reusable diapers do have a higher upfront cost, using cloth diapers from birth to potty-training can save you up to $1,500-$2,000 per child. The savings become more tangible once you reach the second year of your diapering journey and increase even further if you use the same cloth diapers on your future children.

    Bottom line: the more and the longer you use them, the more money cloth diapers can save you.

  3. Are cloth diapers better for your baby ?

    Cloth diapers are typically made without unnecessary chemicals, dyes or perfumes. They are lined with fabrics that are gentle on your baby’s skin. Cloth diapers also require more frequent changes, which might help prevent diaper rashes.

  4. Do cloth diapers help make potty training easier ?

    While opinions on this vary, some studies do suggest that cloth diapering might help facilitate potty training by establishing the cues of wetness.

Cloth or disposable diapers: What should you choose?

As with anything, there are pros and cons to every diapering option. Ultimately, the choice between cloth and disposable diapers boils down to one thing: what works best for you and your family. You can choose to cloth diaper 100% of the time, or stick with disposables all along. You can also settle on a mix of the two types of diapers, choosing cloth diapers when you’re home and in your regular routine, and disposables when you’re out and about or traveling. Trust your instincts and go with your gut. Also, know that you can always change your mind.

Reusable swim diapers vs disposable diapers

Another choice to consider is reusable swim diapers vs disposable ones. Here are some factors you should look out for when choosing between the two:

  • Reusable swim diapers are less wasteful. One reusable swim diaper can last a full swim season (or even longer) (and can be passed down to a younger sibling later on.

  • Reusable swim diapers offer a snug fit, which is important, as no one wants a poopy accident in their pool.

  • Reusable swim diapers are more cost-efficient. They eliminate the need to purchase multiple packs, saving your family money. For the price of a pack of disposable swim diapers, you can typically get one or even two reusable swim diapers, which will have you covered for the entire swim season.

Cloth wipes vs disposable wipes

If you really want to step up your reusable journey, consider using cloth wipes over disposable. Cloth wipes are incredibly soft and contain no lotions or fragrances. Reusable cloth wipes also offer significant cost savings compared to constantly buying disposable ones. Also, one of the biggest wins in choosing cloth wipes is the environmental impact you are making by not adding hundreds of wipes to the landfills each week.

The final decision on reusables versus disposables? Do what’s best for you. Remember, you can always choose a mix of both and switch things up as you go. No matter how often (or rarely) you are reaching out for a reusable diaper or wipe, each time you use a cloth diaper or a cloth wipe, you are helping reduce the waste in our world.