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How to Decide What’s Best for You: Cloth Vs. Disposable Diapers

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There are so many choices you’re faced with when you decide to start having children. I won’t even attempt to list them, because we’d be here all day. But one of the biggest things parents nowadays are researching is the decision to cloth diaper, versus using disposables. We all know cloth diapering is best for the planet: less waste is always a good thing. But there are a lot of other things to think about, and so I’ve done a little research and crowdsourcing on the subject to help you make an informed decision.

The number one thing? Cost.

It’s hard to say how long your child will be in diapers, how many you will go through, how often they’ll need to go up a size, or how expensive diapers are (because there are so many brands). But the biggest thing to think about is this: Cloth diapers have a large upfront cost, and disposable diapers are a “smaller” cost, spread through the first few years of your child’s life. I don’t know that there’s a way to accurately predict the dollar amount you’ll spend on either one, or if one is truly cheaper than the other, but if you can’t make the initial investment of cloth diapers in a big chunk, then it might not be for you. Other things to think about with costs are utilities, or using a diapering service. If you wash the diapers yourselves, it’s very likely that your water bill will go up (it’ll probably go up anyway, since somehow one baby=tripled laundry), and maybe even your power/gas from heating that water (they must be washed in hot water). If there’s a cloth diaper laundry service in your area, that’s obviously an extra cost as well, but may be totally worth it to cut the time spent, and keep utility costs down.

The second thing I recommend considering? Time.

It’s a lot of work to make sure you’ve always got clean diapers, especially if you’ll be going back to work after maternity leave. The way you clean the diapers also changes after your baby starts solids (because their poop changes – ew) so that’s another factor. You’ll need a certain kind of laundry detergent, a place to hang the diapers to dry, not to mention enough diapers to last you through the time it takes to wash and dry them. Think about how much time you will have to spend washing them.

The other considerations are more minor, but nevertheless important:
  • Smell: where will you keep the dirty cloth diapers until our wash them? Will you have a diaper pail or a trash can with a lid in the nursery for your disposables?
  • Washing: will you add the toilet attachment to spray them off in the toilet right after you take them off the baby?
  • Wipes: you can’t ball them up into the cloth diapers, so you’ll need a receptacle for those as well (keep in mind that they might smell, also). Babies are stinky, y’all, which brings me to another point: some cloth diapers hide smell really well. This is a great perk, sometimes. But, you might have to keep a closer watch for when your baby has pooped!
  • Daycare. Will your baby go to daycare or a nanny? Will they be willing to do cloth diapering? If they don’t, is it valuable for you to do disposables at daycare, and cloth diaper at home?
  • Brand. How will you choose a brand of cloth diapers? Some brands have different sizing, and you have to buy them separately. Some brands are one-size-fits-all, and completely adjustable. Some have disposable inserts. Some have snaps, others need pins or hooks. Disposable diapers have lots of brands, too; some are leakier than others, some more cost effective, and some made of more environmentally-friendly materials. If you do disposables, you can also use a site like Amazon or Diapers.com to set up a subscription, and have them delivered to your door each month. Every little detail is up to your preference, and what you think is easier.

When you go about making the diapering decision, do your research, ask some friends, and crunch some numbers. At the end of the day, it’s all about what works for your family!

Photo courtesy of Hernan Sanchez.

You’ll also like Why I Don’t Have Just One Parenting Style, Practical Mom Advice on Breastfeeding and Formula, Toddlers, Tantrums & Time Out: How to Deal With Discipline, You Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Be a Great Mom, 5 Simple Ways to Balance Mom Life
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Whitney is addicted to coffee, Chacos, and sushi. She enjoys long walks on the beach—but who doesn't?

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