Let’s talk about the pros and cons of cloth diapers. There are a few disadvantages to cloth diapering but also several unique benefits to using cloth diapers, so I’d love to share both sides of cloth diapering – no bias, no BS. I’ve done it both ways, used disposables and cloth between my two kids.
Let’s start with the good stuff!
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Benefits of using cloth diapers
#1 Cloth diapers are better for the environment
The EPA reports that about 27 billion used disposable diapers get dumped into the landfills each year here in the U.S. alone.
You know what that means, right? Unless this planet grows, we’re eventually going to run out of landfill space.
To me this is a much bigger problem than comparing the resources required to make and distribute disposable diapers VS. making and maintaining cloth diapers. Both use a significant amount of resources, that is a fact, but the use of disposable diapers creates tons of extra waste on a regular basis.
#2 Reduce, reuse, recycle!
Cloth diapers can be used over and over. They should last through more than one child if you take good care of them.
You can repurpose cloth diapers when they’re no longer needed, donate them, or sell them to recuperate some of the cost back. (Yes, even used cloth diapers sell!)
#3 Cloth diapers are healthier for your baby
In comparison with disposable diapers, modern cloth diapers allow for better airflow and contain significantly fewer chemicals that could irritate baby’s sensitive skin.
Diaper rashes and allergic reactions are typically much less frequent when using cloth diapers. This is a very obvious tipping point for many parents weighing the pros and cons of cloth diapers.
#4 Cloth diapers can be much cheaper than disposables
One of the major benefits of using cloth diapers besides the fact that they’re healthier for babies is that unless you have a serious cloth addiction problem (hey, it does happen!) or choose one of the more pricey options, cloth diapering tends to be much cheaper than using disposables. Who doesn’t love saving money?!
You can typically recoup the initial cloth diaper investment within the first year, or even in as little as few months, depending on your choices.
By using a combination of gDiaper pants and prefolds (I highly recommend this company for prefolds) and not going overboard, our savings were SIGNIFICANT within just a few short months. We LOVED this cloth diaper setup. One of the great benefits of using gDiapers is that they are hybrid diapers, so you can use gDiaper disposable inserts instead of cloth inserts when you need to (great for traveling!).
In addition, when you opt for cloth diapers you’ll most likely use cloth wipes as well which will save you even more money in the long run. We used inexpensive Gerber white washcloths for cloth wipes. The size was just right, and because they are smooth on one side and textured on the other, they did the job perfectly. They also held up surprisingly well.
The best part? If you have more kids later on and keep your diaper stash, you’ll be diapering them just for the cost of running the washer/dryer and the price of laundry detergent. How awesome is that?!
#5 Versatility of cloth diapers
Another benefit to be aware of when considering the pros and cons of cloth diapers is that with cloth diapers, you have unique options that you just don’t get with disposable diapers.
- Need more absorbency? Double up on the cloth insert, or use a thin super absorbent hemp doubler.
- On the go and can’t check baby’s diaper often? Use a fleece liner to help keep baby’s skin dry.
- At home, soft natural fiber can be all there is next to your baby’s skin.
- A cloth diaper cover (no insert) can double up as a swim diaper, too. (It actually works much better than a disposable swim diaper.)
#6 Easier and earlier potty training
This is another major benefit of cloth diapers over disposables that seems to be working for most kids.
Cloth-diapered kids often potty train earlier because they’re aware of the discomfort as wetness happens. Unlike disposable diapers where moisture is wicked and locked away, the immediate feedback of wetness helps kids connect the dots faster.
#7 Solid waste goes where it’s supposed to
Here’s the thing: the solid content of ANY diaper – cloth or disposable – is supposed to be flushed down the toilet. In reality, this hardly ever happens with disposable diapers. How many people do you know that actually dump the poop from a disposable diaper into the toilet?
When cloth diapers are used, there is no way around it and the vast majority of solid waste gets properly treated instead of sitting in a landfill where it creates a potential health disaster by contributing to land and water pollution.
You know the annoying blowouts that happen way too often in disposable diapers? The kind that comes up the neck and ruins the cutest outfits and never really washes out?
Hands down, cloth diapers win over disposables in their ability to contain poop. This is another major benefit of cloth diapers that I noticed immediately with my exclusively breastfed infant.
#9 Using cloth diapers helps spread the word
I can’t even recall the number of times I’d been asked, “Is that a cloth diaper? How cute!”
When you use cloth diapers, you ultimately help promote awareness and conversation on this topic. It’s easier for parents to give cloth diapering a try if they see others happily using cloth.
These are the main benefits of cloth diapers and a few areas where I personally think cloth beats disposables. But because we’re discussing both pros and cons of cloth diapers in this article, let’s talk about the disadvantages of cloth diapers as well.
Disadvantages of cloth diapers
#1 Cloth diapers aren’t convenient
Let’s be real – cloth diapers aren’t very convenient. In fact, cloth diapers might seem like the most inconvenient product made in the world of parenthood.
- Learning to use cloth diapers may take some practice.
- Most daycares don’t accept babies in cloth diapers.
- Cloth diapers need to be changed more frequently than disposables.
- When you change a cloth diaper outside of your home, you’ll need to carry the soiled diaper with you.
- You are dealing with poop. A lot.
- You need to wash the diapers regularly.
This is the cold hard truth about using cloth diapers. They ARE more work, and there is no denying it.
#2 Cloth diapers aren’t as absorbent
Unless you use a liner that wicks moisture away from baby’s skin, you’ll need to check and change cloth diapers much more often than you would with a disposable diaper.
Even when using something like a fleece liner that helps keep baby’s skin dry, cloth diapers will still need to be changed more often than disposables because they’re simply not as absorbent as disposable diapers that are stuffed with chemical superabsorbers.
#3 Washing diapers
AKA the single biggest disadvantage of cloth diapers. We all have better things to do than create more laundry, and let’s be honest: soiled diapers are gross. But, cloth diapers need to be washed, so let’s talk about it.
First of all, if you have your own washer, you’re off to a good start! If you don’t, all is not lost. Look into portable washers (here are some of the best ones). A portable washer is an excellent option for those without washer hookups – it hooks up to your sink instead. Also, you’ll want to use a laundry detergent compatible with cloth diapers (most mainstream laundry detergents aren’t).
The wash cycle for cloth diapers usually goes something like this: prewash, hot wash (soil level: heavy), extra rinse optional. (I preferred a warm final rinse instead of a cold one to rinse out as much detergent from the diapers as possible.) Tumble drying isn’t needed but helps keep the diapers soft and fluffy.
In all honesty, washing the diapers is not a huge deal these days because the washing machine does the most work. It’s keeping cloth diapers clean and soft and smelling nice long-term that can get frustrating from time to time. Even when you have your wash routine down to a T, your diapers may suddenly get stinky or stiff (or both!) and you’ll need to figure out whether you should change your wash routine, use more or less detergent, get a different detergent, or if it’s time to strip your diapers (=a few hot cycles with no detergent).
#4 Be careful using diaper rash creams
Once you start using cloth diapers, you can no longer smear just about anything on your baby’s bum. Oily or tacky creams can build up on the diaper which can lead to reduced absorbency and stink issues. I wouldn’t necessarily consider this a cloth diaper disadvantage, more like something to get used to.
You may be able to get away with using tiny amounts of a diaper rash cream with your cloth diapers sparingly, but it is recommended to use (inexpensive) thin disposable liners (like these) if you need to apply any sort of cream on your baby’s bum. Realistically, though, you’re much less likely to need a diaper rash cream when using cloth diapers to begin with.
Pros and cons of cloth diapers
While I’m a huge fan of cloth diapers, they’re obviously not the right option for everyone.
Making the right decision about cloth diapering means to carefully weigh both pros and cons of cloth diapers while taking your own circumstances and priorities into consideration.
When the benefits of cloth diapering outnumber the negatives, the extra work is barely noticeable. On the other hand, if cloth diapering becomes a huge burden, it might not be worth it for you despite the many benefits of cloth diapering.
There is no right or wrong answer here. My only advice is – do what feels right and what works for YOU and YOUR FAMILY.