Why should you use cloth diapers? 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.
Below are some of the most common cloth diapering questions from parents who are still in the decision-making process. We hope to provide the information and support that allows you to make an informed decision.
Will using cloth diapers save money?
Yes! While there are different types of cloth diapers available at various price points, even the pricier cloth diapers will still save you a significant amount of money compared to what it will cost to use disposable diapers over the course of your child's time in diapers.
Let’s compare the numbers so you can see for yourself. On average, the cost of using disposable diapers is close to $1,500 for the generic brands and up to $2,500 for the more earth-friendly choices. A cloth system typically costs anywhere from $400 to $600. What about the laundry detergent and energy you will have to pay for? Even when you add in those additional costs, cloth is still the cheaper option.
Learn more about the cost differences in our Disposables vs. Cloth Diapers article.
Are cloth diapers an eco-friendly choice?
When using disposable diapers, a child goes through almost 7,000 diapers in 2.5 years. Each disposable diaper goes from your baby’s bum to a trash can and then to a landfill where each diaper takes up to 500 years to decompose. But if you use cloth diapers, your child will only need 20 to 40 diapers total during those couple of years before potty training, and each cloth diaper will be used a few hundred times. When you look at the environmental impact of producing, distributing, and disposing of thousands of disposable diapers over just one child’s time in diapers, it’s easy to see and say that cloth diapers are better for the environment.
For a more detailed breakdown of the environmental concerns regarding diapering, read more in our Disposables vs. Cloth Diapers article.
Are cloth diapers better for my baby’s skin and health?
Many parents switch to cloth diapers for health reasons. Babies have sensitive skin, and the ingredients in disposable diapers can cause recurrent rashes and other skin sensitivities. Not every child experiences skin rashes or sensitivities, but for those who do, the relief that can come from using natural fibers for diapering is incredible.
Some parents also worry about the chemicals used to produce disposable diapers, and that the manufacturing process may leave trace chemicals that can come in contact with their baby's sensitive skin. There isn’t any documented evidence of ill effects from the ingredients in disposables, but you have every right and reason as a parent to question and choose what level of chemicals your child is exposed to on a daily basis.
Cotton – a popular fabric choice for cloth diapers – is the least allergenic material, so children who face chronic rashes and have extremely sensitive skin generally benefit the most from using cotton diapers. This benefit is further enhanced by some manufacturers that produce certified organic cotton diapers. If you are buying organic, be sure that it is actually organic by reviewing the manufacturer's organic certification.
Do cloth diapers come in different styles?
One of the wonderful things about cloth diapers is that you can easily find a diapering system that works for your baby, budget, and lifestyle. There’s the traditional prefold diaper that requires a cover, the hybrid style that can use both cloth or disposable absorbency layers, and the all-in-one style that doesn’t require any stuffing or folding.
The prefold diaper with covers is the most economical style. The hybrid approach is perfect for families on the go, as the flexibility in absorbency can fit almost any situation. The simplicity of the all-in-one style makes it the most similar to wearing a traditional disposable. The adaptability, adjustability, and convenience of modern cloth diapers have helped make this once “old-school” diapering choice easier and available to more and more people.
Will I have to wash my diapers at home or can I get a diaper service?
With today’s cloth diapers, most families wash them at home, though diaper services are regaining popularity. Either way, soiled cloth diapers go into a dry pail or waterproof laundry bag, which is then emptied for washing 2-3 times per week. We know nobody loves doing laundry, but a couple of extra loads a week isn’t something to fret over.
Why would I NOT want to use cloth diapers?
There are some circumstances 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 in your family's disaster kit. If you would ever have to 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 to be washed. Disposable diapers may also be recommended for medical reasons, such as a yeast rash, bacterial infection, or when an infant is hospitalized and the hospital staff needs to weigh the diapers to track the baby's output of urine.
What do I need to do to disinfect my cloth diapers?
Cloth diapers are cleaned completely by laundering in a wash cycle with detergent. You will want to double-check that the water level is appropriate for the laundry load’s size and the soil level. Don’t skimp on your detergent either. You can add a disinfectant additive to the wash cycle on an infrequent basis to disinfect your cloth diaper.
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 it without a washing machine, though it is more of a challenge. When you need 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 thoroughly 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. Many also find the fun and fashion that comes with cloth diapering to be the icing on the cake.