What’s so Great (and Not so Great) About Cloth Diapering

courtesy of Melissa Godwin Photography

I do not, for the life of me, understand why the cloth diapering vs disposable diapering battle became a “thing.” Somehow it is one of those topics where people will defend their choices as though it really fucking matters. You could make an argument on the environmental front, I suppose, but as long as your baby’s butt is covered (unless you’re doing elimination communication), it is no way a reflection of your ability to parent your child.

If mom guilt is playing into your choice, step back and take a few deep breaths before you continue. Which do you want to do? Cloth is adorable. Disposables (AKA sposies) are easy. Here are a few other pieces of the diapering puzzle to take into consideration.

 

Cloth Diapering vs. Disposable

 

Environment

This is a spot where people tend towards confirmation bias. If you want to cloth diaper, you can come up with evidence that it is better for the environment – less waste, less water used in production, fewer chemicals. If you love sposies, you can point out that cloth has to be washed, sometimes twice, which uses both water and electricity. I lean towards cloth on this as long as it is not at the sake of your sanity.

Winner: Cloth

 

Ease

Like I said, disposables are easy. I’m sure even the most die-hard cloth diaper fan would agree. Cloth does not have to be as difficult as some people think but it will never beat Amazon Subscribe and Save on the barely-have-to-get-off-my-ass front.

You can knock the difficulty of cloth way back by using a diaper service, but that has its own set of drawbacks, such as increased cost and being limited to certain types of diapers.

For me, this is where I tend to get stuck. I can get cloth diaper laundry done, no problem, but then I can’t seem to manage to get any other laundry done. So we have clean diapers but the rest of us are wearing jeans of questionable integrity.

Winner: Disposables, by a landslide (landfill?)

Cost

The biggest difference in cost is whether you prefer to potentially pay less but pay it now, or if you would rather possibly pay more but spread it out over the years of diapering your kid.

The cost also varies widely by type/brand. Generic disposables or crunchy, chemical-free, sustainable diapers with a layer of unicorn tears? Cheap prefolds with a cover or all-in-one diapers with the latest adorable prints?

You can also buy used cloth diapers, or better yet, score some free hand-me-downs from a friend. They can be used for future children or resold.

Winner: Tie

 

Diaper rash

Many moms say their babies get far fewer rashes with cloth diapers. The chemicals in sposies can definitely irritate some baby’s skin. If you don’t get your cloth diapers clean it be irritating but can generally be solved by a change in routine.

If the little tush does get a rash while using cloth, you have to be careful which type of cream you use, so it doesn’t ruin your diapers. I love coconut oil because sometimes I’m an annoying hippie.

Winner: Cloth

 

Daycare

Many daycare centers will allow you to use cloth diapers (almost all will if there is a medical reason, such as chronic diaper rash). You will likely need to have a zippered bag for the dirties and you will be responsible for taking them home each night. Most centers prefer or require all-in-one or pocket-style diapers. You can also cloth diaper part time – use cloth at home and sposies at daycare or on vacation.

Winner: Disposables

Fashion

Huh? Oh yeah. One of my favorite outfits for little ones is a cloth diaper, Babylegs, and a shirt. No matter what type of cloth diaper you use there are adorable choices. Do you love cute woodland creatures? Skulls? Bright patterns? Cloth has you (and your baby’s butt) covered. I have definitely seen people get addicted to it. They go all Gollum about wool covers or limited edition prints.

Winner: Cloth

 

Ick factor

I’ve found this is the first thing people go to when they are trying to decide. “Just how gross is this going to be?” It’s poop. It won’t be glamorous but it may not be as bad as you fear.

For breastfed newborns, I honestly don’t find it to be an issue. Their poop is not particularly gross and since it isn’t solid you don’t have to do anything with it. You can just wash diapers with the other million loads of baby laundry.

Once you get to toddler years, it can definitely get messier. At some point a lot of kids start pooping once a day, so it is not as horrible as it may seem. If you are lucky enough to have a morning pooper, you can just use a disposable for the first diaper.

Winner: Disposables

Choices

There are so many choices with cloth! Alternatively, there are so. many. choices. with cloth. It can be so much fun but also way overwhelming. Prefolds. All-in-ones. All-in-twos. Fitteds. Flats. Velcro or snaps. Hemp or cotton.  It is intimidating at first.

Find a friend who uses cloth who can show you the basics in person. There are companies that will let you try out several different types for a few weeks, which can relieve some of that indecision.

Winner: Cloth

 

Potty training

Cloth diapers can be great for potty training because kids can feel when they are wet. You can also buy cloth pull-ups.

Winner: Cloth

Overall winner:

In this comparison, cloth comes out ahead but do whatever you want to do. Or some of both. Or do elimination communication and let your kid poop in your sink. As long as you don’t change their diaper on a restaurant table, it does not matter.

There is no one-size-fits-all right answer. I’ve done many different combinations of cloth and disposables, depending on what worked for my family at the time. My kid shit in all of them.

Despite what many of the facebook groups say, there is no wrong or right way to diaper a kid so have some fun with it and best of luck with the up the back poosplosions!

Related:

Types of Baby Poop

Topics:Baby
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12 Comments

  • You know which wins the gross category for me? Disposables are the grossest to me and here is why.
    1- when your kid has either a pee or poop the disposable will smell way worse. My daughters poos smell way worse when it’s in a disposable.
    2- the blowouts!!!!!!
    Almost every time she has a large loose poop in a disposable it comes out her back and on anything she is wearing. This is disgusting! Yes I know you have to clean poop out of cloth BUT you can save it for an hour or so later when your not in a rush. When you have a blowout the back of a disposable you might as well put your kid in the bath. Now this doesn’t happen every time with disposables as her BMs aren’t always loose but it only happens at the worst times. Like when your already running late.
    With cloth we have never had blowout up the back. If you have a blowout up the back with disposables you still have to spray poop off of clothes. It’s even worse than cleaning out cloth.
    Cloth wins for me.

    And it has been significantly cheaper for us. We use fst’s, flip and Alva.

    Also It’s one extra load every few days. That’s 2 extra loads a week. I can handle that.
    Cloth for the win for this mama!

  • cloth hands down. I have 3 kids, first 2 in disposables because of all the “reasons” I’ve done cloth was terrible, last night cloth. going 14months with NO diaper blowouts, 2 minor rashes that could be cleared up with a of coconut oil, the laundry factor only adds realistically wash or 2 a week, a I run it while I’m doing other ngs anyway- realistically even when I lived without a washer or dryer I kick myself for not doing and just buying a cheap portable washer. I’ve saved so much money this way it is ridiculous. no 11pm runs to Walmart because I forgot to get diapers and now we’re out!

  • I don’t think the cost is anywhere near a tie. I got my stash of like 50-75 diapers for under $200 and they will last through potty training and be enough for multiple children. If I had to pay for laundry like I did at my last living place I would simply look into one of those portable spin washers. Using disposables just isn’t an option for us. I tried them out when my daughter was less than a week old because I wanted her stump to air out and the diapers blistered her within 1 day of use.

  • The ick factor in cloth is honestly actually less. Cloth contains explosive baby poo, so you’re not dealing with blowouts up their back and out the sides. I’d rather deal with spraying out diapers all day every day than deal with any blowouts! Cloth is easy, it’s convenient, and I like that it doesn’t take 200 years to decompose in a landfill on our planet that is already oversaturated with all the crap we throw away on a daily basis. With how quickly we are killing our planet, something’s gotta give! Plus keeping around a bin of disposable diapers is way worse smell-wise than having to bring a bag of cloth down to the washing machine a few times a week!

  • I think disposable diapers are more favorable and convenient for new mothers. But then that’s based on my personal experience.

    Another factor to consider is the place where you live. Disposing diapers is another task on it’s own.

  • It never fails when I’m changing my 10 month old in public- people say things like, “so you’re really doing that?”
    I think people get a lot of discouraging messages about how hard cloth diapering is from people who don’t do it.
    It’s been so easy for us, and once you get your routine down, it’s all autopilot.
    Not to mention that our breastfed baby’s poop was such a non-issue! (Which I was admittedly nervous about)

  • Thank you for being open to cloth–it seems like most “mainstream” publications just CANNOT bring themselves to support cloth diapering–even the SIERRA CLUB magazine ended up supporting “crunchy” disposables–because obviously their readers just weren’t even going to consider the hassle of cloth! It’s too bad that it’s become a big “battle” because it prevents people from considering with an open mind. I think that Pampers has made a fortune off of persuading people that cloth is just too gross and too much hassle, when it’s really not. I’m afraid I disagree with you that it doesn’t really matter–the environmental impacts of manufacturing, transporting and then throwing away the amount of diapers it takes to cover even one baby until potty training? They’re massive. And the health benefits of cloth–not just avoiding diaper rash but avoiding a whole soup of nasty chemicals that make ‘sposies absorbent …

    I’ve found, in 4.5 years of cloth diapering, that the “ick” factor is only really a bit worse than with disposables–because you still have to change the diaper and wash the baby’s butt with the disposable! It’s not like you’re saved from interacting with your kid’s poop. And it’s not like you’re hand washing the sewage in a bucket with your bare hands! A diaper sprayer (check out the Potty Pail) when baby starts solid foods takes care of the worst of it. And I can’t blame diapers for my inability to keep up with laundry–that’s just because I don’t like doing laundry 🙂

    Finally, I think it’s amazing that you consider the cost a tie–that’s actually a place where lots of research comes down FIRMLY on the side of cloth. (Even the people who insist that the environmental costs are a tie.) Estimates put cost of ‘sposies at $2500 for ONE KID. I promise you I haven’t spent that much on my entire cloth stash–and my third child is now in them. Savings: $6000, give or take.

  • It’s a little past midnight and pregnancy insomnia has me reading this post. I’m literally in tears laughing while reading this! Thank you!

  • Had to gobwith disposables. I live in an apartment building and laundry already costs $4/load. If I had to wash diapers too I’d be even more broke than I already am. One day, when I have my own washer and dryer I might consider cloth for a future baby, but it’s just not in the cards for this one. A diaper service has a higher monthly cost than a Costco box of diapers too.

    • Girl, where do you stay? At my friend’s apartment it is only .75/load. But we are in the DEEP south and the washer is as old as we are (so 18-20ish). So there’s that too, I guess. 😂 $4 still seems a bit excessive though.

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