The Diaper Dilemma: Disposable or Reusable?


The Diaper Dilemma: Disposable or Reusable?

Trying to decide how to cover your baby’s bum? Circle of Moms members are at the ready with their top reasons for choosing cloth or disposable diapers—weighing factors of cost, convenience, the environment, and more!

Environmental Impact

Regardless of where you stand in the diaper debate, it’s clear that disposable diapers do have some negative impacts on the environment: Manufacturing them consumes raw materials and energy, and they end up—along with untreated waste—in landfills.

What’s less clear, however, is the relative impact of reusable diapers, since cleaning them requires water and energy. As reusable diaper advocate Cathy S. explained, some studies have found that “the environmental impacts of using shaped reusable nappies can be higher or lower than using disposables, depending on how they are laundered.” To minimize the negative environmental impact of reusable diapers, experts recommend using energy-efficient appliances, washing fuller loads, not washing above 60 degrees Celsius, and tumble-drying as little as possible.

Still, Cathy emphasized, reusables at least enable consumers to choose these eco-friendly practices, whereas disposables do not: “What choice do you have in reducing the environmental impact of disposables? None. That responsibility lies solely with the manufacturer. Everything they and your child put into disposable nappy will eventually, over 100+ years, re-enter the earth untreated.”

Convenience

Circle of Moms members who use disposable diapers often cite time and convenience as major factors in their diaper decision. As Jennifer L. shares: “Personally, I love disposables for many reasons. I can just throw them away and don't have to clean, they are less bulky, and for ME they are easier to just throw on.”

Michelle M. agreed: “Not having my own washer/dryer and working full-time was the top deciding factor for me to go disposable. I had far more time to actually play with my child and enjoy instead of having to do laundry while she was awake so I wasn't leaving her alone in the apartment to trudge up/down two flights of stairs and across a courtyard after dark!”

Reusable proponents counter that once you have a system in place, the added time isn’t a factor. And as Rebecca H. offers, there's nothing wrong with using disposables in certain situations in which resuables are less convenient: “We do use disposable if we go away on holiday or are going to be out and about all day.”

Cost

The price of diapers is a major factor in the diaper decision for many moms. As Canadian mom Johnny V., who decided to use reusable diapers, shared: “I spent about $500 on 30 diapers and I’ve spent about $75 on the covers. Given the amount of time that she will be using them for, it has been a HUGE cost savings, although it is a big upfront cost. There is no way I could have diapered her in disposables until she was potty trained for that kind of money.”

While most moms agree that reusables are less expensive overall than disposables, modern innovations like disposable liners and laundry services can make the cost of reusables higher than you might initially expect. Kim L. also cautioned that washing products can be pricey: “One thing about cloth diapers I wish someone would have pointed outthe special detergent! It can get very expensive.” Luckily, Kim discovered alternatives. “I found a detergent that I can use on them and it is actually cheaper than anything you can get at the store, so I use it on all my laundry.”

Diaper Rash

While studies have shown that diaper rash is more common for babies using disposables compared to babies using cloth, moms still disagree about the most skin-friendly diaper choice. Some babies are sensitive to the dyes, chemicals, or fragrances used in disposable diapers; others get rashes from being wet too long. Some disposable advocates argue that disposables better wick away fluids from the skin; other moms, like Amy M., insist from personal experience that cloth diapers are better for preventing rashes: “Disposables gave my daughter horrible rashes and cloth is the only thing that cleared it up.” Regardless of which kind of diapers you choose to use, it is important to change your baby as soon as possible after she soils her diaper to prevent diaper rash.

Looking for more information on diapers?

Check out the Circle of Moms community Cloth Diapered Munchkins for all kinds of advice on cloth diapering, or search the site's conversations for deals on disposable diapers. Thinking about letting your child go completely diaper free? Don't miss the article on elimination communication.

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