Cloth Diapers or Disposable Diapers—Which is Better?

All new parents face the diaper question: should we use disposable or reusable cloth diapers? Decisions are likely to change over time, and what you choose for one child may differ from what you choose for another. If you haven’t made the choice yet, here’s what you need to know.

Cloth diapers are an environmentally-conscious alternative to disposables. Rather than wasting thousands of pounds of plastic and material over the course of a child’s life, parents invest in a few durable pieces to last the journey. To that end, cloth diapers are often a more affordable alternative; rather than spending money every week to replenish your diaper supply, your only cost is the one-time up-front purchase—only a fraction of what you might otherwise spend.

Cloth diapers, however, require a significant amount of maintenance. In addition to wiping waste out of the material, you will need to consistently machine-wash all diapers. From personal experience, I know that laundry is the first responsibility to go when the house gets crazy, so this in and of itself might make the decision for you. There are specialty services who will clean the diapers for you, but that may end up costing more than purchasing disposables.

In most cases, the decision comes down to impact vs. convenience. If you have the energy to consistently maintain cloth diapers, go for it—the process is cheaper and more environmentally clean. If you don’t have that kind of energy, don’t worry—most new parents are too busy trying to learn the ropes to have the time necessary to contemplate the environment.

If you’re curious, here’s what we’ve done. With our first, we incorporated both options. We relied primarily on cloth diapers while at home with the baby but kept disposables on-hand in case of an emergency or lack of energy. When baby was being watched by a sitter or childcare service, we used disposable diapers. We plan to do this with our second, and I would recommend this approach to most new parents trying to figure this thing out. Experiment with both and see what works best for you.