Are Cloth Diapers Right For Me?

Families considering cloth diapers are usually motivated by a unique combination of budgetary, environmental, health, and fashion considerations. When deciding if cloth diapers are right for your family, you will want to consider your family’s lifestyle and what kind of cloth diaper will best fit in it.  We hope to provide the information and support needed to allow you to make an informed decision.

Below are some of the most common cloth diapering questions from parents who are still in the decision-making process.

Will using cloth diapers save money?

save-moneyThere are a wide variety of cloth diapers available at many different price points, but even the more expensive cloth diapers will still save significant amounts of money when compared to the cost of disposable diapers used over the course of a child’s time in diapers. When one compares the average cost of using disposable diapers – which is close to $1,500 for “generics” and up to $2,500 for “earth-friendly” choices –  to the cost of cloth diapers there is certainly a savings.  A cloth system can cost anywhere from $400 to $600 dollars, and even when factoring in detergent and washing, will save money over disposables. For a more detailed breakdown of the costs of cloth read more in our Disposables Vs. Cloth Diapers article.

Are cloth diapers better for the environment?


Every year enough disposable diapers are thrown away to fill 30 Empire State Buildings!

After you account for the environmental impact of manufacturing, distributing and disposing of thousands of disposable diapers over the course of a child’s lifetime, the argument in favor of cloth is even more compelling. When using disposable diapers a child goes through almost 7,000 diapers in 2.5 years. Each of those diapers will take up to 500 years to decompose in a landfill.  A cloth diapered child will use anywhere from 20 to 40 diapers, each of which can be used hundreds of times. For a more detailed breakdown of the environmental concerns regarding diapering read more in our Disposables Vs. Cloth Diapers article.


Are cloth diapers healthier for my baby?

The health concerns that drive many families to use cloth diapers include recurrent rashes and sensitivities to ingredients in disposable diapers.  Though many children can use disposable diapers without a problem, for those who do have a problem, the relief that can come from using natural fibers for diapering is incredible. Many parents are also concerned about the chemicals that are used in the production of disposables, and that the manufacturing process may leave trace chemicals that will be in contact with their baby’s most sensitive skin. Though there is no documented evidence of ill effects from the ingredients in disposables, it remains a personal decision on what level of chemicals your child is exposed to on a daily basis. Cotton – one of the most popular fabrics for cloth diapers – is the least allergenic material, so children who face chronic rashes and have extremely sensitive skin often benefit greatly from using cotton diapers.  This benefit is further enhanced by some manufacturers that produce certified organic cotton diapers. If you are buying organic, ensure that the product truly IS organic by reviewing the manufacturer’s organic certification.   

Do Cloth Diapers Come in Different Styles?

typesCloth diapers come in many styles, from the traditional prefold diaper that requires a cover, to a “hybrid” style (that can use both cloth or disposable absorbency layers), to the simple “all-in-one” style.  One of the best things about cloth diapers is that no matter what your budget and lifestyle, there is a diapering option that can work for you.  The prefold diaper with covers is the most economical.  The hybrid approach is an excellent choice for for families on the go, as the flexibility in absorbency can fit almost any situation.  The simplicity of the all-in-one approach makes it the most similar to wearing a traditional disposable. Flexibility, adjustability and conveneince are a part of modern cloth diapers that have helped make cloth diapers easier and accessible to more and more people.

Will I have to wash my diapers at home or can I get a diaper service?

With modern cloth diapers most families wash at home, though diaper services are regaining popularity in many areas.  Either way, soiled cloth diapers go into a dry pail (or waterproof laundry bag), which is emptied for washing an average of 2-3 times per week. That’s right, you should only expect 2-3 extra loads of wash per week when using cloth diapers!

Why would I NOT want to use cloth diapers?

There are some situations where cloth diapers might not be right for you. There is no rule saying you have to do it 100% of the time.  For some families, using cloth part-time works better, and still results in many of the same benefits as full-time use.  Even if you are using cloth full-time, it is important to keep at least a few disposable (or hybrid) diapers on hand as part of your family’s disaster kit.  Should you go without power or water for several days, it may be best to use disposables so that soiled cloth diapers don’t develop mold and mildew waiting for an unknown time to be washed.   There are also some medical situations in which disposables would be recommended, such as a yeast rash, bacterial infection or when an infant is hospitalized and the hospital staff needs to weigh the diapers to track baby’s output of urine.

What do I need to do to disinfect my cloth diapers?

disinfectKeep it simple!  Cloth diapers will be cleaned thoroughly by a wash cycle that uses a normal/average amount of detergent. They should not need anything more to disinfect them on a regular basis.  There are (fairly infrequent) times, when adding disinfectant additives to the wash cycle of cloth diapers is recommended. One example is if a child has had a severe bacterial infection or a yeast rash, (which is typically diagnosed and treated by a doctor), it will be important to disinfect the diapers so that the infection isn’t continuously reestablished.  The easiest thing to do in this scenario is to switch to a disposable diaper until the rash is fully cleared for at least 48 hours.  In the meantime, all diapers, wipes and wet bags that have been exposed to the yeast or bacteria should be disinfected by washing with a small amount of bleach and following the instructions below.  If you must use bleach, it should be very periodic as it can void your manufacturer warranty if used frequently.

  • To bleach your diapers add 1/8 c (for an He machine) to 1/4 cup (top loading machine) of bleach to a warm wash cycle with your regular detergent. Bleach is less effective in hot water, so warm water should be used instead.  Rinse until you can no longer smell the bleach.

I don’t have a washing machine. Can I still use cloth diapers?

If you are passionate about cloth diapering, it is possible to do so without a washing machine, though it is certainly more of a challenge.  When needing to wash by hand, it is best to use “flats” as they wash up quite easily and also line dry quickly.  A “camp” style washer can be built using a plunger and a large utility bucket, which will help to throughly agitate the diapers and get them clean.  Flats can be used under almost any cover and are a very versatile diaper, but they do require folding and fastening.

When deciding if cloth diapers are right for you and your baby, consider not only what motives brought you to consider cloth diapers in the first place, but also the many other benefits that come with using cloth.  Economical, environmental, and health concerns are all addressed with the use of cloth diapers.  And many find the fun and fashion that also comes with cloth diapering to be “icing on the cake.”