Diapers: Cloth vs. Disposable

Archived Responses: 

Deciding which diapers to use

Nov 2003

I'm overwhelmed by the choices in diapers and wanted to get some advice--I would like to try cloth diapers, but then the issue is do I get a service or buy/wash myself? Services sound great, but I'm apprehensive of all the chemicals that are used in the cleaning process. If I buy them and wash myself, then there are so many choices for what kinds! And will it be worth the time and money to wash them? This is my first pregnancy and I understand that babies poop and pee a lot! I don't have a washing machine, so it would mean buying a small stackable. Otherwise I'd have to use the pay-machine in my building. That could be expensive. And when I look at the possible diapers to buy, there are so many, so confusing! I'm also really reluctant to use disposables--all that plastic, waste, money just doesn't work for me... Any advice? Suggestions? Diapers services that don't use bleach? Diaper fasteners? What about the things that go over diapers??? Thanks!

As I recall diaper services use extremely hot water for sterilization, much hotter than home washers, and claim to use far less water than a home machine. Check with the companies, they will give you all the info. but I think most of the companies use Bio-Clean which is not chemically at all, it has oxygen bleach and you can buy it at most health food stores. I recommend starting with the service for a few months and then washing your own when you feel ready to take it on. We doubled up the cloths for overnight with one size bigger cover and it was great. I also really love the seventh generation disposable diapers, recycled pulp, have nice velcro-tabs like the major brands of disposables, no chemicals and work great for overnights or outings. You have several choices of natural disposables (Tu! shies- thick Tushies for overnight, the thin Tushies tendercare last for approximately one hour), and a third brand I don't recall) if you want to have both, but I think once you're used to cloth it's just as simple. used covers: post wanted on the marketplace newsletter good luck
I'm wondering what your concern is about ''all the chemicals'' that diaper services use to clean the diapers. I would be concerned if they *didn't* use sufficient chemicals to make sure that the diapers are really clean and sterilized. Are you concerned about it as an environmental issue or because of your baby's sensitive skin? FWIW, we used cloth diapers with our first baby until she was 2 1/2 and now we use them with our 3 month old and never really had a problem. Our first hardly ever even had a diaper rash.

As for services, we used Tiny Tots with the first and now we use ABC. Both services are very good and worked well for us. I can't imagine washing out the diapers myself (especially without a washing machine). I can barely tolerate washing the occaisional diaper wrap. We do use disposables at night (once she stopped pooping at night, since we ideally don't change her for 8 hours or more). We also use them when we travel for more than a day.

Some things I like about cloth:
--having the diapers delivered to your door
--having extra cloths for burp cloths, changing table pads, etc.
--I think they feel better against the skin
--I feel better about them environmentally (I know there are pros and cons to both, but for me the resources used to make disposables and the landfill space and all that poop going untreated into landfills outweighs the water/energy used to clean and transport the cloth) Just my 2 cents. Frances

We use Huggies Ultratrim and couldn't be happier. Basically no leaks. Lasts through the night for our 9 month old girl. The only way to go with cloth diapers is to have a service--especially if you have no washer/dryer. Babies take all of your waking time as it is, so you don't need to add to the number of things you need to do for their comfort and you won't have time to sit in the laundromat all day! Congrats and Good luck! anon
I used a number of different cloth diapers and covers with my now 4-year -old daughter before finally finding Motherese diapers and covers. The diaper itself is designed cleverly to fit from newborn to 25 pounds or so (and it works -- I'm currently using the same diapers that my two year old daughter wore on our 12 week old boy), and the covers come in small, medium, large. These diapers never leak! (not even when I can literally wring them out after a long night's use). They are expensive to buy initially (about $300 or so gets you a generous supply)-- but are much less expensive than disposables over the course of diapering time (and they sell used on E-bay for something like 75 cents on the dollar). I'd be happy to lend you one if you'd like to take a look at it, or try it out on your baby. Alysson
If you're looking at this from a cost perspective, buying diapers and washing your own is the cheapest approach, though that doesn't take into account having to use a pay machine or buy a machine. You can probably figure out the most cost effective approach, service versus buying a machine factored over a couple of years. For example, we used 80 diapers per week for a couple of months, but were down to 50 by the end of the first year. If you're thinking about the health aspects of diapering, you're right not to use disposables. I made the decision early that I was going with cloth diapers because I couldn't stand the thought of putting that much human waste in the land fill with disposals, plus the chemicals that are used in their production concerned me. I have to admit that I never considered how diaper service diapers were washed to be a concern when I made this decision. I chose a service because I had to work full time and didn't see any way I was going to stay sane if I had to wash diapers regularly. You're going to be doing a lot of laundry without the diapers, so this doubles your laundry work. I would have considered it if I didn't have to go back to work. My husband was not about to wash diapers, so the diaper service made us both happy. They probably all use bleach (and might be required to prevent spread of disease?), so that's something you'll have to weigh for yourself. There are lots of people on the list who can suggest the various types of wash-yourself diapers. There are some great ones out there.

We have used various covers that don't require fasteners and work with the service style diapers, like bumkins, polar babies, diaper wraps (from ABC diaper service) and cotton wraps (from Waddle & Swaddle). They were all great and I only bought different kinds as I could see that my daughter has very slender legs and I needed to get something somewhat more snug. Right now I use polar babies, which tend to run small so there are less gaps for leaking. I think you'll want to judge this for yourself once you see how the diaper covers fit your baby. Good luck. Lori

We decided to use cloth diapers at first for enviromental reasons but I assumed it would be a royal pain. To my surprise I have loved cloth diapers! We use a diaper service (living in an apartment with no washer/dryer I cannot imagine any other way) and have been amazed how easy it is. My son has super sensitive skin (as do I)and we're both allergic to most detergents but neither of us have had a reaction to the diapers. Our service delivers diapers once a week and we bought plastic covers (there are prettier covers out there as well as covers made of more natural fabrics that are healthier; I hear E-bay is a great place to find them used)and ''snappis'' (they take the place of diaper pins and work a bit like the little clips that hold ace bandages together)from them as well. We did decide to use disposable diapers at night for quite some time but we're now making the transition to ! using cloth even at night. Hope this helps. sabineh
We were in a similar situation - washer downstairs to share with everybody in the house - and we decided to use a diaper service. They delivered right next to our appartment door, which saved us carrying diapers up the stairs to the third floor. A luxery I thought I would never value, but postpartum is a special time. Interrupted sleep and lactation make you tired already. Plus, in most cases a first birth is exhausting and the new mother may need several months to recover. (I don't mean exhausting to be a negative term here, think of people running a marathon for fun!) Another point is that you will have to take you baby along (means again more load) when you go downstairs to do the laundry, or do the laundry at times where you are not alone with the baby, but may be the washer is in use by someone else just then etc. The diapers the service brings also work well for catching spit up, as little towels etc. They are rectangular, several layers of terry. Until our baby started moving we would often just put her on top of one or two diapers (something waterproof under the diaper), so her bottom could be out in the air (avoid direct sunlight, though), and it's no work to change. Add one on top for boys. She never had a diaper rash. You could, for example, start out with a service, and then change to washing yourself once you feel fit enough to do it. ABC (maybe tiny tots, too, I simply don't know) diaper service sells cheap second hand diapers, by the way. It may also depend your baby's bowel movement patterns. Some exclusively nursed babies past the 6th week poop only once every 5 days, other keep doing that 5 times a day.

As to chemicals, asked the service about their procedures. It seemed okay to us, but I don't remember the details. I could never smell any chemicals.

Washing yourself is cheap, that's not such a worry. It's about two more loads of laundry at the beginning, makes $2-3 a week depending on the price in your building, plus charge for the dryer if you can't or don't want to line dry. I would encourage you to get a few different kinds of covers for the first size, then decide which one(s) work best, and buy those for the next size. With some brands it's enough to buy every other size, by the way.

Our baby hated being changed for the first two weeks, and would cry the entire time. It help to use luke warm water for cleaning her. We had it in a thermos next to the changing place. They sell wipe warmers, but they are potentially trash, since very soon the temperature is not an issue anymore. Julia

Hi, I have used cloth all along with my son (my first) who is now 14 mos. old. I wash them myself in a small stackable washer/dryer unit (buying the washer and dryer at Sears was cheaper than disposables!) I bought all my diapers used, mostly on Ebay. That also allowed me to try out many kinds. When he was a newborn I liked a newborn wrap with a couple of doublers lining it. Now I really like fuzzi bunz diapers. I am happy to share more info or tips about diapering. Feel free to email me. Melissa

Sick of using cloth after 1.5 years

Dec 1999

I am seeking experiences regarding diapers -- cloth versus disposable. We have e used cloth for 1.5 years and are sick of it. Diaper wraps leak and fall off. Diapers get soaked in no time and my son hates having his diaper changed, Etc. We are also trying to be environmentally conscious. What have other parents decided? Does anyone have good environmental evidence to support the wisdom that I hear so often -- its 50-50 in terms of environmental resources used for cloth or disposible diapers? What about the argument that kids potty train more easily if they are using cloth diapers? And finally, any recommendations for diaper wraps that don't cost a fortune?

My son hates getting his diaper changed, too. It has definitely gotten to the point where I have considered switching to disposables. However, since he hates getting his diaper changed anyway, I don't see how switching to another form of diaper would make a difference. What I did to make my life easier to use disposables when we're traveling, and at night. We use snappi-clips (plastic doo-hickeys that replace pins) to fasten his diaper, and pull-on pants. My son is very active during his diaper changes and crawls away, twins, turns, etc. and it's a lot easier to pull on pants than keep him on his back and tuck the diapers into velcro wraps (IMO). Pull-ons are waaaay cheaper than wraps, and I have never had a leak. You can buy the regular cheap nylon or go for the more expensive cotton/nylon ones, if you prefer. I bought mine at www.borntolove.com. You can also get them used for even cheaper, and your diaper service should offer some for sale as well. Good luck.
We have been using cloth diapers for 16 months now and are very pleased with them. What I've read is that cloth diapers use less water total (counting both production and cleaning), that they contribute to the landfill problem, and that human waste gets appropriately dealt with as opposed to getting dumped in the regular garbage.

In terms of diaper wraps, we've had great success with ProWraps, which we got from Tiny Tots for about $6.00 each. We've been using the same size for about the last 7-8 months, so the investment hasn't been that great. Also, we use flannel liners from Natural Baby at night, which cuts down on the diaper cost, keeps the kids drier, and seems to be more comfortable for them.

My kids don't like wearing diapers either, but they don't like paper diapers any better, as I've seen when we use them on out of town trips.

At the risk of being politically incorrect, I say that if you've put in a 1.5 years of cloth diapers you deserve to be able to switch to disposables for the last year or so. Perhaps you could start composting, if you aren't already, to make up for the sin. We did cloth for about a year with each of our kids and then switched to disposables. The convenience is similar to what our foremothers must have experienced when sanitary napkins replaced rags!
I also gave up on cloth diapers for my son when he was 18 months. He was showing signs of getting ready to potty train and I felt cloth diapers were a hassle. But, once I put him in disposables, he couldn't tell when he was wet. He finally toilet trained at 3.5 years! I really feel if I'd stuck with cloth he would have trained so much earlier. And having kids sit in a wet disposable is gross. I wouldn't want that stuff next to my skin. (I'm not talking about the pee and poop -- I'm talking about the chemicals.) Cloth diapers are environmentally the right way to go. With disponsables you're sending a lot ofwaste into landfill. This is a way you can make a difference.

My third son is now 2.5 and has been only in cloth. I promised myself I'd stick to cloth. He's starting to pee in the potty and I'm hoping he'll be diaper free in the coming months. This will end 9 years of continous diaper changing for me.

Tiddlywinks on Gilman St. sells inexpensive new diaper covers. They sell used ones too, but they're usually for infants, or the velcro's shot.

I've been successfully and happily using cloth diapers now for 4 1/2 years. I have two boys, one who is potty-trained and one who is a toddler. We use ABC Diaper service, FWIW. We use disposables whenever we go out of town and occasionally at other times.

First, do not skimp on diaper covers. There are a lot of bad quality ones out there- the Dappi ones, for example, are terrible. I use the Diaperwraps variety and there are several others that work well. The diaper service offers them cheaper than the local stores. I loaned our diaper covers out to several people between kids and they in turn have given or have let me borrow theirs so this is one good way of cutting costs. Be wary of buying them used unless it's from someone who switched and had them left over. If you do, check how strong the velcro is.

If the diaper covers you are using are good quality and you still are getting leakage, consider the next size up diaper. There are extra-thick ones and toddler size ones that absorb a lot more. Ironically, I had my younger son in disposables overnight because he was leaking and he still kept leaking. When I switched him to cloth overnight the leakage stopped - go figure.

Regarding the claim that kids in cloth potty train earlier and that this is a cost saver, I am personally skeptical. It may make a difference for some kids, but I think it has a lot more to do with personality. My elder son trained himself entirely (including nights) within a few days at age 3 yrs 3 mos. One nice thing was that the diaper service had training pants that we could use that they laundered and with two in diapers the cost was very cheap.

With regards to environment, I've look at the numbers and there is no question in my mind that *for this part of the country* using cloth diapers with a diaper service wins it hands down. If you're looking purely at cost then that's a different issue. The cheapest thing to do is do your own cloth. Next comes cheapo disposables and then nicer disposables. Unless you have more than one kid, the cost is about the same for disposables and cloth w/service at the beginning but disposables become cheaper when they become toddlers.

Next time someone tells you how easy disposables are and how they are no worse for the environment than cloth, ask them if they routinely follow the instructions on the package and dump their kids poop in the toilet before throwing out the diaper? All those articles that claim to do environmental analysis on disposable diapers assume that people are using them correctly and I hardly know anyone other than ourselves who dumps the poop in the toilet. (For the service, BTW, I can throw diapers in the pail as are). Good luck.

Cloth-using 2-year-old demanding disposables

Sept 2000

My twin daughters are just a bit over 2 and have been almost exclusively in cloth diapers. They started day care three days a week where they can only wear disposables and now all they want to wear are disposables. We're using Tushies, so it's not as bad as it might be, but I still feel a little uncomfortable about it. I'm wondering if this is a prelude to potty training, which they're also beginning to get more interested in. Has anyone else experienced this? Lisa

My guess is that the disposables are more comfortable. They tend to be less bulky (though that's not as certain with the Tushies), and wick moisture away better than cloth. These things are both a strength and weakness--they result in fewer diaper rashes, but also are less incentive to the child to potty train. Unfortunately, I think it's not necessarily a prelude to potty training, unless they are also displaying the other signs-- regularity in their potty schedule, wanting to do it myself, interest in using the potty rather than a diaper, etc.

When my daughter went to preschool at 2 1/2 (as opposed to her previous daycare), we ended up switching to pull-ups. (We had had a catastrophic mixup in our diaper service that left us with no cloth diapers for a week, and just got frustrated enough to stop.) I had hoped it would lead to quick potty training, but it was most of a year till it actually happened (just short of 3 1/2). During this time, we stayed with the pull-ups, because she really wanted to be able to be independent about it (and we liked her independence!). But I don't think that it really helped with the potty training much, and might have slowed it down relative to what it might have been had we stayed exclusively with cloth diapers.

If you think they can be led in that direction, you might try some pull-ups and see where it gets you. Most of the diaper services will also deliver size 4 training pants (and launder them!!!) for slightly more money than the diapers. You might try those at home, and the paper pull-ups at school. (But we ended up hating those, because what do you do when they have a big poop in the cloth pants? The disposables you can tear off-- the cloth ones end up with poop all over the place.)

BTW: what finally worked was asking *her* if she was ready. A friend suggested to ask on the 1st and the 15th of every month. I asked one Friday, and she said yes. She was potty trained by Monday (though we still used Pull-ups at night until recently--I asked her again about pull-ups at night, and she told me she was ready to give that up too. She's been dry in underwear the past 2 nights). Good luck! Dawn

I had something similar happen with my son a few weeks ago. He suddenly started wanting to wear disposables so I let him wear them until our pack ran out. Shortly after that he suddenly potty-trained himself (I've been letting him run around naked in the backyard and he has a friend who recently did it and took him into the bathroom so it was definately not the only factor). My son is 2 1/2 and I was a bit shocked as my other son, as well as most of my friend's kids, trained at an older age. So I'd say yes, it is a possibility, but I wouldn't count on it. You can introduce the subject and see if they have any interest. If not, back off and explain that those diapers are only for daycare and don't keep them at home. Sophie

More discussions about cloth vs. disposable

May 2002

Re: Cloth diapering a squirmy, mobile 14-month-old

Just an environmental note, if this is what is hanging you up about using disposable diapers: cloth diapers have just as much of a negative environmental impact as disposable ones, just to different parts of the environment. Disposable diapers increase landfill. But cloth diapers have a negative impact on our air and water quality. For example, cloth diapers have to be washed and dried, using energy and water resources. If you use a diaper agency, they also drive vans around collecting and delivering diapers, which contributes to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (CO2) and local pollution (nitrogen oxides and other exhaust products). As an environmental scientist who studies that atmosphere and climate, I chose to pollute the landfills rather than air and water. So, don't guilt-trip yourself one way or another in the cloth-vs-disposable debate in terms of the environment. Choose what is most convenient for you and your children and what they respond to the best in terms of what is next to their little behinds for 24 hours a day. (And we'll hope that the more environmentally-friendly diposables continue to improve.) KB

I had to respond to a previous poster who claimed that cloth diapers were no better for the environment that disposable diapers. The argument was that while dispoable diapers merely pollute the landfills, cloth diapers need to be washed and delivered, thereby using water and energy resources that pollute the water and air.

This seems to be a very incomplete argument, because it does not take into account all the resources used to manufacture, package, and market disposable diapers versus cloth. I am not an ''enviromental scientist'', but I have a very hard time believing that manufacturing and packaging a diaper made of plastic, paper, and chemical gel is somehow less polluting than cleaning a small square of renewable cotton. Disposable diapers also need to be delivered from the factories to the supermarket supply warehouses.

Does anyone have any hard data on the relative enviromental impact of cloth vs. dispoable diapers that actually compares apples to apples? -PJ

I don't have hard data on the environmental problems associated with cloth versus plastic diapers for the whole life of the product--as PJ requested. But I, too, find it hard to believe that the manufacture, washing, and delivering of cloth diapers is worse than or even equal to the manufacture, delivering, and then disposal of disposables. If you buy your own cloth diapers, I think the environmental equation is even more skewed, because there's no delivery and no bleach or other chemicals used in the washing. I run two extra loads of wash a week to take care of my cloth diapers--always with biodegradable detergent. Half the time, I hang them on the line rather than throwing them in the dryer. Can two extra loads of wash per week for three years possibly be as bad as manufacturing, delivering, and then throwing thousands of disposables, usually with feces, into a landfill?? It sure is cheaper!! Susan
We are using cloth diapers, and regardless of any so- called ''proof'' that they are better for the environment, I just feel good that they keep me in the mind-set of re-using things. I think where you conserve is a matter of choice; maybe the folks using disposable diapers are using used strollers, hand-me- down clothes and old cars, etc., and that is just as well. Camille
I've also been unable to find environmental consensus on the diapering issue. It seems there was a study which showed no difference between paper and cloth (funded by the disposible diaper industry) and another which showed cloth to be superior (funded by the diaper service industry). I chose cloth and home laundering because I believe it has less impact on the environment and because I can make more environmental choices that way (i.e. unbleached cotton, an energy-star front-load washer, no bleach, etc.). Also, some say that cloth diapered tykes learn to use the potty earlier (which reduces the impact of diapering in general) and, frankly, it's cheaper. anonymous
I had to add my 2 cents re: the eternal cloth vs. disposable diaper debate. Neither option is without its problems. Cotton is extremely hard on the soil it is grown in, depleting it after just a few years. Many, many pesticides and herbicides are used in cotton agriculture. If you can afford to buy organic cotton diapers from a place that practices sustainable agriculture, you can have that off your conscience, but most people can't. The textile industry (cloth diapers are ''manufactured'' too) is one of the most exploitive and abusive industries in this country, and the majority of its workers are women. Cloth diapers are also delivered from factories to warehouses just like disposables, and if you have a diaper service, you are also contributing to greenhouse gases, just as if you were driving to the store to get diapers (you're using less gasoline since other families ''share'' the same truck, but gas is still combusting) Diaper services do use a lot of water, but they also use bleach. Any time chlorine bleach is used in an industrial setting, dioxins are released into the atmosphere and into the rinse water.

Disposables have their own problems, mainly that they end up in landfills and are full of things like silica gel. Bleach is also used to get the paper covers nice and white. I have heard some people say that disposable-diapered babies get less diaper rash; I have heard the same thing about cloth diapers. My kid uses disposables and hasn't gotten diaper rash yet - but I'm just one mom.

Cloth diapers are tough on the environment at the beginning of their lifespan; disposable diapers are at the end of their lives. Choose your poison. One thing I am sick of, however, is how moms are always the first targets when the landfill debate comes up. JW

I was the original poster of the message on the negative environmental impact of cloth vs disposable diapers who encouraged the mom to make the best choice for her baby and life. It may seem hard to believe that cloth diapers could have a negative environmental impact, but the most fair and thorough analysis of ''hard data'' that the most recent poster to this topic was curious about was a comparison in Consumer Reports sometime over the last few years that came to the conclusion that both have negative impacts, just on different parts of the environment. I can't give a web address for the article since one now needs a subscription to get access to individual articles at www.consumerreports.org, but back issues should be available at a public library. As I recall, and as is customary for Consumer Reports, they did try to compare apples with apples -- that is, they went through the life cycle of cloth versus disposables, including manufacture and distribution and concluded that one was not ''better'' than the other overall (I did not try to do so in my original posting because I don't recall all the details; my goal was merely to bring up a very controversial idea in the Berkeley area that cloth diapers aren't so great either and have an impact on our air and water and that each person needs to make a personal choice. Being an ''air and water'' person meant I chose disposables, but I wouldn't expect anyone else to come to the same decision. If I say I'm concerned about the environment and you still think this is hypocritical, let me say that I *don't* drive an SUV !). Unfortunately, looking on the web for other resources is very misleading in that the information depends heavily on whose website you go to, and I could not find a balanced treatment. Disposable diaper companies obviously come down on one side, while sites selling or giving information on cloth diapers come down on the other. Thus, I can't think of a more objective and thorough analysis than that available from Consumer Reports. KB