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Dilemma: Cloth or Disposable

October 8, 2011

New parents have lots of decisions to make for their baby. One of those decisions is whether to use cloth or disposable diapers (this impacts themselves AND their nanny if they hire one). Until disposable diapers were invented and made affordable, cloth was the only realistic choice (thanks Mom!). Since disposable diapers are so convenient and easy to use, cloth diapers became almost extinct. However, both economic and environmental concerns have helped cloth diapers make a comeback. So let’s quickly explore the advantages and disadvantages of using cloth diapers.

One of the first considerations when deciding between cloth or disposable diapers is the cost. If you sit down and figure out how much you’ll spend on disposables for two years, cloth diapers are usually far less expensive. The initial cost of the diapers themselves is more, but just do the math… Even if you include the cost of washing them, cloth diapers are going to save you money in the long run.

The next issue to consider is the huge environmental impact of disposable diapers. With literally tons of used diapers filled with human waste clogging up landfills, cloth diapers are clearly far better for the environment. Besides that, the main fabric used in diapers is cotton, which is a renewable resource. A new crop of cotton can be planted every year, while the paper and plastic in disposables comes from trees and petroleum products. Even though trees are also a renewable resource, they obviously take longer than cotton to grow.

Another advantage of cloth diapers is that they are reusable. Soiled diapers get rinsed and washed so they can be used over and over again until the child is potty trained. They can even be passed on from one child to the next or given to friends or family who are starting a new family (some people find that to be gross, but they ARE clean after all).

One disadvantage of the old-fashioned cloth diapers is that they require using pins and plastic pants. However, for parents who want to spend a little more money, there are new designs of cloth diapers that fasten with snaps or Velcro. The waterproof fabric on the outside is colorful and stylish, with removable liners that can be washed separately.

Of course the biggest disadvantage of cloth diapers is dealing with the mess. The poop needs to be flushed down the toilet and the diapers need to be rinsed, which can be difficult for squeamish parents. Then there’s the added chore associated with extra loads of laundry. This consumes more time and energy for the caregivers. However, as you might have guessed some entrepreneurs saw this as an opportunity and will provide you with a cloth diaper service taking the yuck with them on their truck (of course, that all but eliminates the cost advantage of cloth diapers).

Another disadvantage of cloth diapers is the problem of leaks. Depending on the type of diapers used and how often they are changed, leaking can be a concern. Frequently changing the baby’s clothes also adds to the mountain of laundry that’s already piling up. Parents who use cloth diapers need to experiment with different sizes and liners to find the right solution for their baby.

The ultimate disadvantage of cloth diapers is that disposables are just so darn convenient, most people are willing to forego the extra expense and environmental impact. Dealing with diapers is about the least pleasant part of having a baby and disposables certainly make it much easier. One thing conscientious parents who decide to use cloth diapers need to keep in mind is that they can always have some disposables on hand to use when needed. Most people who use cloth usually have disposables for traveling or to use overnight.

In the end, like most things it comes down to the parents taking a decision.  The good news is that there is no right or wrong answer as long as you keep the baby clean, comfortable, and dry.

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6 Responses to Dilemma: Cloth or Disposable

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Gina Lee says:

While I definitely see the benefits of cloth diapering, I just can’t get past the thought of washing soiled diapers! It’s just too much for me!

Candice P. says:

we’ve done cloth diapering for both of our kids! i promise, it’s not nearly as bad as some people might initially think!! :) sure it takes a little extra work, but i like to think i’m doing my part to make the environment a better place by putting in some extra elbow grease.

Lara says:

I like the idea of cloth diapers, but honestly I just don’t have the time (I know, I know you make time for the things you want to do…) and it seems cruel to me to subject my nanny to my dirty work.

Helena O. says:

I agree – while I could maybe see doing cloth diapering on my own, it doesn’t seem fair to make my childcare provider deal with the mess… which kind of ends up defeating the purpose of doing cloth diapering if you end up letting others use disposables…

Iris M. says:

We do cloth! And there are definitely some pretty darn cute cloth diapers available these days!! It does take more work, but I’ve never once regretted the decision to forgo disposable in favor of cloth!

Jill says:

I think if you’re going to use a nanny and do cloth diapering you just need to advertise in your job posting that you use cloth diapers – that way the nanny knows what she’s getting into prior to starting the job.