Cloth Diapering vs Disposable

I can’t count how many times I was asked “are you going to cloth diaper or use disposable”.  The “disposable” always came out with a bit a grimace and snooty look like how dare I even consider disposable.  Now granted I’m a pretty hippie, down to earth, one with nature, all things natural and organic gal so naturally  my friends of the same mind would be expecting me to cloth diaper.  And well, they weren’t entirely wrong.  I had always wanted to cloth diaper when we had babies and now the time was here to decide am I truly committed to this cloth diapering thing or not.  Turns out I was…at least for the first 2 kiddos.  Once I delivered my third baby and still had two babies in diapers I couldn’t keep up with the laundry!  I mean my middle child, bless his heart, is a super soaker on two legs!  He can soak through even the most absorbent of diapers, cloth or disposable he’s not biased either way.  Hopefully though I can help you make the best decision for you and your family as I try to walk you through the pros and cons of both. 

Let’s start with the (grimace with me now) disposable diapers.  I’m sure I don’t have to tell you of the many benefits they come with.  I mean let’s just start with the obvious, uh they are disposable!  You toss those things and never have to see or smell them again.  Some other pros are they are very travel friendly, they tend to not have as many diaper rash problems, there’s no washing so no extra laundry, they have them at every store, your kids can even start to figure out how they work and put them on or take them off themselves (yes even at the age of 1, I’ve seen it done!), no need for a special dirty diaper bag since that bad boy goes directly in the trash, and don’t get me started on the ease of pull-ups once they start toilet training. 

Now let’s move onto the cons of disposable diapers.  The first that most think of is cost, you have to keep buying those stinking convenient things over and over until your child stops needing them which could be anywhere from 2 to 4 sometimes 5 years, that can add up over time not to mention if you have more than one kid, even with the most inexpensive ones because it’s a reoccurring fee over and over sometimes more than once a month.  They aren’t biodegradable and stay in the landfill for YEARS – I’m talking like 500 years!!!  Your child could be allergic to the chemicals or material the diaper is made of leading to diaper rash (yes I know this was listed as a pro but we will get there in a minute during the discussion of cloth diapers), they could fill it up faster than you notice (or overnight) and next thing you know they’ve tore a nice hole in it and now you on hands and knees picking up every tiny little bead of silicon/gel off your floor for hours (I might be talking from experience), they are easy to take off so yes those little adorable boogers of yours might decide they want the off and then take the off even if they have, oh I don’t know, POOP IN THEM (again I might be speaking from experience), you have to buy the right size for your child since sizes are not adjustable, oh and those ever loved (by me) pull-ups that make life so much easier also at the same time make it a bit harder with toilet training, and while we wait for these bad boys to decompose in the landfill they start leaking on their toxic, deadly chemicals into our soil and waterways, so there’s that.

Cloth diapers aren’t all sunshines and rainbows, although they do make for adorable diaper covers 🙂 Some cons are, well, the laundry – there is a whole extra load to do.  With that laundry comes trying to figure out the perfect wash routine which can be very tricky at times especially if you are wanting to use a more eco friendly biodegradable laundry detergent, plus figuring out your washing machine, it’s a whole mess at times.  Then there’s the drying, do you line dry, tumble dry, if you tumble dry you might ruin the elastic but line drying takes a while and what if you need that diaper now!?  They can sometimes take a while to get use to with all the velcro, snaps, pins, inserts, covers, etc.  There are a ton to choose from such as AIO (all in ones), pockets, inserts, pre-folds, hybrid (sometimes referred to as the AI2), newborn, fitted, flat, covers, then there’s covers and pull ons altogether as one piece or sometimes referred to as soakers, I mean it can get very confusing.  Then there’s staining and funky smells if things aren’t washed right which then leads to diaper rash if you missed the smell at first and accidentally put it on baby (not me, oh no I would never do that, I’m a pro parent here!), or remember that super soaker kid I have, there’s no cloth diaper in this world that comes close to keeping him dry all night.  They are more cumbersome to travel with and you will need a dirty diaper bag to take that lovely smell along with you where ever you go – can’t just leave them behind.  And then let’s not forget about the spraying of the diaper, it’s like an event at our house.  Breastfed baby poop no problem but when those kiddos start on solids well you can’t just throw that in the wash, you must first rinse that sh@# – literally!  In comes the ever powerful sprayer – don’t stand too close or you will, absolutely guaranteed, get sprayed with poo backsplash and it’s NOT fun, it takes that stay at home mom look to a whole new level. 

But now lets not harp on all the bad of the cloth diapers because there certainly are many good qualities to them.  I mean the price, sure this can be listed as a con at first but after that initial handout of money you never have to do it again, it’s a one time fee.  I looked at it like an investment, kind of like buying a house.  In the end I was saving money so although it might have hurt right at first it paid off in the end (no pun intended).  Other pros are the absolutely hands downs most adorable things in the world, big ole fluff butts don’t get much better than putting the cutest print you can imagine on it!  And if you can think of it there’s a cloth diaper with that design, print, logo, saying, etc. on it.  They are adjustable, so remember that one time fee, most can adjust from newborn to toilet training days, so when I say never buy a diaper again I’m not even slightly joking, I mean unless your dog gets to the dirty hamper before you, then you might need some replacements and a new dog.  They really don’t take that much extra effort to wash.  Sure it’s an extra load of laundry but it’s A. one of the most adorable extra loads of laundry ever and B. it’s not tedious laundry to fold and put away and I honestly never noticed the extra load, it just became routine.  Cloth diapers are earth friendly since most have a lifespan of 3 or more children.  They aren’t easy for babies to take off so the odds of a surprise of poop smeared walls greatly decreases (look I won’t guarantee your child can’t open these bad boys because there are some determined babies out there!).  And with all those options out there you are bound to find one that works perfect for your little ones (unless they are a human super-soaker).  Cloth diapers also help with toilet training.  With cloth the pee isn’t really pulled fully away from the child’s skin so they can feel the wetness and are uncomfortable faster than they would be with a disposable and will most likely toilet train easier or faster.  And with all those other crunchy mama’s out there you are bound to find someone to help you pick the right style for you and help with your wash routine.  Cloth diaper mamas LOVE helping other cloth diaper mamas so you have a whole community of helpful people waiting to assist you or answer any questions you may have regarding cloth diapering. 

I know just weighing the pros and cons isn’t always the only thing needed to make a decision so let’s do a little math.  Let’s breakdown the cost of cloth diapering vs disposable using even the most inexpensive disposable diapers I could find in a quick Google search.  The diapers I found were a 210 count box of Parent Choice brand diapers size 3 for $23.32 at Walmart, making that about $0.11 per diaper.  Now let’s say you bought these diapers for one year and then they toilet trained.  And for our example lets assume we are using 6 diapers per day, you would need to buy 11 boxes of diapers to last the year (because you can’t buy a portion of a box, you’d have to buy the whole box) and that would cost you $256.52 (plus tax because most places do not yet believe that diapers or sanitary products are essential items) for the year for diapers, and that’s just for one year of your child’s diapering journey, that’s not including the newborn to size two where they average anywhere from 8 to 12 diapers a day!  So for this example your child will have used and disposed to the landfill roughly 2,310 diapers (if you used all of the 11th box).  Let’s go ahead now and calculate the cost of newborn to toilet trained assuming that the child will toilet train at 3 years of age.  On average a newborn to size 2 diapers go through roughly 8 diapers a day.

Newborn         Up to 10 lbs                Size Newborn                     8-12 diapers per day                240-360

2-4 months     8-14 lbs                       Size 1 Diaper             8-10 diapers per day      480-600

4-7 months     12-18 lbs                     Size 2 Diaper             8-9 diapers per day        960-1,080

7-20 months   16-28 lbs                     Size 3 Diaper             6-7 diapers per day        2,520-2,940

Newborn diapers 42ct $4.42 = $0.11 per diaper  8-12 diapers a day = 6-9 boxes = $26.52 – $39.78

Size 1 diapers 416ct $38.81 = $0.09 per diaper  8-10 diapers a day = 2 boxes = $77.62

Size 2 diapers 368ct $36.80 = $0.10 per diaper   8-9 diapers a day = 3 boxes = $110.40

Size 3 diapers 210ct $23.32 = $0.11 per diaper   6-7 diapers a day = 12-14 boxes = $279.84 – $326.48

Total spent just based on this example for disposable diapers for one child for up to 20 months = $494.38 – $553.98

Keep in mind most children will wear diapers at least until age two but some will go until 3 or older so that grows your bottom number A LOT and most of use will buy a more name brand pricer disposable diaper like Honest®, Pampers®, Seventh Generation®, Huggies®, etc. which will also increase the cost! 

Now let’s do the cost for cloth diapers.

It is recommended to have 24-45 cloth diapers and to wash dirty diapers every 2-3 days.  To make it fair I’m going to give the information of some of the cheapest cloth diapers out there just to give an accurate comparison. 

Simple Being Geometric Print Unisex Reusable Baby Cloth Diapers

Pocket diapers – these come with inserts (everything you need in one package)

24 = $155.96 total from newborn to out of diapers

45 = $311.92 total from newborn to out of diapers

Inserts with covers:

If you’re using this system, plan on a 3:1 ratio of inserts to covers so you have 3 clean inserts to use with every cover. Therefore if you needed 24 diaper changes, consider 8-10 diaper covers and 24 inserts to suit your needs, and around 24 to 36 prefolds needed to add that extra absorption – because let’s face reality if we are using some of the cheapest inserts out there (such as the ones listed below from Walmart, the Multitrust brand, they are not that great at absorbing, which is why I also included the next tier up in inserts to be more realistic).

Gerber · Cloth · One Size · Organic · 10 Count – $12.99 – Target

24 inserts – 3 packs = $38.97

45 inserts – 5 packs = $64.95

Multitrust Baby Reusable Cloth Diaper Nappy Liners Insert 3 Layers Cotton Nappy 10 Pcs, Size: One size, White – $9.99 – Walmart

24 inserts – 3 packs = $29.97

45 inserts – 5 packs = $49.95

Pre folds – Gerber Baby 20-Pack White Prefold Birdseye Cloth diapers – $20.19

24-36 prefolds – 2 packs = $40.38

Sigzagor Baby Diaper Cover Nappy One Size 8lbs to 36lbs $8.59 – $9.99 – Amazon

8 covers = $68.72 – $79.92

10 covers = $85.90 – $99.90

Total this system will run you (on the cheapest end) $189.24 – $255.18 and that’s from newborn to out of diapers

And for a better understanding I will share with you what I spend when I buy disposables vs my all time favorite cloth diaper. 

We use Seventh Generation® for disposable diapers so using the same layout as above I’m going to plug in the numbers for Seventh Generation®

Newborn         Up to 10 lbs                Size Newborn                     8-12 diapers per day                240-360

2-4 months     8-14 lbs                       Size 1 Diaper             8-10 diapers per day      480-600

4-7 months     12-18 lbs                     Size 2 Diaper             8-9 diapers per day        960-1,080

7-20 months   16-28 lbs                     Size 3 Diaper             6-7 diapers per day        2,520-2,940

Newborn diapers 31ct $9.99 = $0.32 per diaper  8-12 diapers a day = 8-12 boxes = $79.92 – $119.88

Size 1 diapers 80ct $24.99 = $0.31 per diaper     8-10 diapers a day = 6-8 boxes = $149.94 – $199.92

Size 2 diapers 128ct $38.52 = $0.30 per diaper   8-9 diapers a day = 8-9 boxes = $308.16 – $346.68

Size 3 diapers 120ct $39.99 = $0.33 per diaper   6-7 diapers a day = 21-25 boxes = $839.79 – $999.75

Total spent just based on this example for disposable diapers for one child for up to 20 months = $1,377.81 – $1,666.23

For our cloth diapers I absolutely LOVED Grovia O.N.E. – these were all-in-ones and amazing for my super-soaker child!

For this example I’m going to say I buy 36 to get me through from birth to out of diapers.

36 diapers @ 22.99 a piece = $827.64 total

So even on the more expensive side cloth diapering does come out to save you money in the long run.  Sure there are ups and downs to both and there’s no right or wrong way to go.  Whatever you decide is best for you and your family is the right way to go.  For us we cloth diapered until we had three in diapers, and we even cloth diapered them for some time until I could just no longer keep up with changes and laundry.  I had a large stash of cloth diapers of every variety you could imagine.  I had about 10 of my favorites – the Grovia O.N.E., I had some AIO Thirsties, some Alvababy, some Grovia standard diapers, Grovia Hybrid, bumGenius, KaWaii, Fuzzybunz, and so many others that didn’t even have a label.  All of them had their pros and cons and they all worked.  I only had to use the Grovia O.N.E. as my overnight diapers because they held the most without leaking and without waking baby so I really didn’t even need 36 like I used in the example above, but I wouldn’t have said no to them either.  All that to say if you want to dip your toe into the world of cloth diapering go for it, but find a variety pack or buy single diapers of different kinds to see which kind you like best first and which kinds work best for baby.  I also recommend waiting until after the newborn stage or at least until the meconium is cleared out of baby’s system – it’s not fun to wash out. 

Do I wish we still cloth diapered?  Absolutely, I mean we would be saving a ton of money, but I valued my quality of life over those cute little fluffy butts and laundry so I sold my cloth diapers and only through writing this blog have I started missing them, but I’m also not up to my neck in diapers and inserts and prefolds, with the spraying and stuffing.  I do hate what I’m doing to the environment so I do make a conscious effort to try and go with the most green diaper I can.  I know there are greener options out there but right now we can’t currently afford them so we do what we can and that’s ok. 

For those that want to cloth diaper and the thought of the laundry scares you, if you can afford send them to a laundry service.  I know here in Baltimore where I live, we have a cloth diapering laundry service where not only do they pick up the dirty diapers and deliver you new ones but you can also rent your diapers from them so that when your cloth journey is over you don’t have anything left behind. 

Whatever you decide to do, be confident in it and own it!  There’s no shame in what you decide to put on your baby’s bottom.  We are all just doing the best we can and that’s good enough. 

Enjoy your diapering journey!

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