16+ Benefits of cloth diapers - Why to cloth diaper?
Updated: Apr 13
I have been cloth diapering for years and I can’t wait to start it all over for my second baby. Even though they may be a little bit more work compared to disposables, I wouldn’t want to use anything else. Why do you ask? Here you can over 16 benefits of cloth diapers.
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The biggest benefit of cloth diapers is that they are generally cheaper compared to disposable diapers. Even though there might be an initial investment needed for cloths diapers, there are no recurring costs for disposable diapers every week/month.
Just like the costs for disposables vary greatly, the costs for a set of cloth diapers also differ significantly between different brands and different types. On average you need diapers for about 2,5 years as that is how long it takes for a child to be potty trained. This equals about 6,300 disposable diapers that are needed during this time. The costs per diaper change range greatly from $0.25 per change for a bargain brand to $0.63 for an eco brand. This results in disposable diapers costing somewhere between $1575 and $3969.
Cloth diapering could be as cheap as $1000 for this 2,5 years while you also make it as expensive as $1800 (this is including washing and drying). But, cloth diapering can be even cheaper if you use the diapers for more than 1 child, the cost of diapering will be reduced by almost half and if you decide to go for secondhand diapers (the market for secondhand diapers is huge) you can reduce the costs even further. Also, the diapers remain some of their value after use so you can sell them when you are no longer in need of cloth diapers.
Lower carbon footprint
Most disposable diapers are made of plastic. This is made from petroleum that needs to be resourced. During a baby's first year disposable diapers require about 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks to produce. Not only that, over 300 pounds of wood and 20 pounds of chlorine are used to produce disposable diapers for a baby’s first year. These are all needed to make the parts that not only absorb moisture but also make the diapers waterproof.
Cloth diapers also require resources but they differ per type you choose to cloth diapers in. Overall, cloth diapers are mostly made from renewable resources like cotton, bamboo, or hemp. Which is a big benefit of cloth diapers. Small amounts of petroleum are needed to make the waterproof parts of cloth.
But, because cloth diapers can be used for years which means that each of the resourced ingredients is reused with every use, the overall carbon footprint of cloth diapers is much lower.
Lower water use
Cloth diapers often get negative attention because washing requires so much water but people forget that the production of a disposable diaper also requires a rather large amount of water. The production of 1 regular disposable diaper requires about 9 gallons / 34 liters of water to produce. This involves everything from petroleum extractions to wood pulp production. While eco-friendly cloth diapers still require lots of water due to the production of resources, however, this is much lower compared to regular disposable diapers as the amount of water required per diaper change is reduced as this one diaper can be used multiple times.
Overall, the manufacturing and use of disposable diapers amount to 2.3 times more water wasted compared to cloth diapers.
Less waste production
Each disposable diaper used will end up as waste. They are the third-largest single consumer item in landfills. It’s estimated that in an average household with children who wear diapers, those disposable diapers make up over 50% of their household waste. Diapers not only produce waste at the end of their life cycle but also during the production of the diapers lots of waste is produced. Overall, disposable diapers produce up to 60 times more waste during the entire diaper time of a child compared to cloth diapers.
Another big benefit of cloth diapers is that they hardly produce any waste. They produce some waste during the production but as each diaper is used often, the waste production per diaper change is very low. The only real waste you have with cloth diapers is the solid bodily waste that ends up in the diaper.
What is even more important is that some studies have shown that the biodegradation of baby diapers in landfills is unlikely to happen due to both low biological activity in landfills and the fact that consumers tend to throw waste baby diapers away by wrapping them in plastic.
A big downside of disposable diapers is the chemical smell that is created when a baby has wetted the diaper. This is in complete contrast to cloth diapers. Cloth diapers don’t smell which may be hard to believe but I have had many occasions when I completely missed the fact that my baby had pooped in her cloth diaper. This is due to 2 reasons. The first one is that a cloth diaper does not have chemicals to produce a very smelly chemical reaction. The other is that PUL (which is what the outer layer of cloth diapers is often made of) contains the smell so well. Only once I opened a cloth diaper there was a smell… In this case, the smell is not chemicals but the predicted smell of human bodily waste.
As just mentioned disposable diapers contain lots of chemicals. Not only to turn bodily liquid into a gel for a dry feel on your baby's skin but also to create the diaper. The chemicals used for this are polyacrylate polymers. These solid superabsorbent polymers were not odorous by themselves, but some became highly odorous when wet like the ones often used in disposable diapers.
Another big disadvantage of disposable diapers is that they may contain traces of dioxin. This is an extremely toxic by-product of the paper-bleaching process (to make the diapers white). This is known to be a carcinogenic chemical, the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals.
One of the benefits of cloth diapers is that they are not made with lots of chemicals. The only chemicals that could be present are leftover pesticides from the production of the fibers. This is one of the reasons why cloth diapers need to be washed a few times before initials use. This is to remove any leftover pesticide residues but also increase the absorbency of the diapers.
All these chemicals in disposable diapers can cause rashes to your baby's delicate skin. Not only that, these chemicals are in contact with your baby’s reproductive organs for 24 hours per day for over 2 years. The long-term effects that these have on a baby's body are still being researched meaning it is unclear whether or not being in contact will all these chemicals for such a long time will have an effect. Concerns about cancer and fertility have been mentioned but up till now, no clear conclusion could be drawn.
This is another big benefit of cloth. Not only are there no chemicals in these diapers, but they also cause fewer rashes. This is because a cloth diaper needs to be changed a little more frequently. This means that your baby's skin is wet less long and will have fewer rashes because of this.
Options - modern cloth diaper
Your (grand) parents might look at you funny when you tell them you want to cloth diapers. Mine certainly did. However, their cloth diapering experiment will be far different from yours. Cloth diapers nowadays are much more modern meaning that folding diapers are no longer necessary. It is still possible if you want to cloth diapers very budget-friendly but you no longer have to.
Also soaking your diapers before washing is no longer needed as our washing machines can do a much better job than we once did from 30 to 40 years ago which is a big benefit of modern-day cloth diapering.
Easy to use
As I just mentioned, modern-day cloth diapers differ significantly from the ones your parents and grandparents used. The ones available nowadays are much easier to use. Some cloth diapering systems work even similar to disposable diapers giving you no excuse to not give cloth diapers a try.
Most of the work involved in cloth diapers is done by our washing machine anyway which makes cloth diapering very easy to do.
Cloth diapers come in a great variety of prints. Unlike old-fashioned cloth diapers which we plain white, modern cloth diapers come in a variety of colors, designs, and patterns to suit your style.
Cloth diapering is even more fun on warm days when your baby is just crawling/walking around in a diaper while you can enjoy the cut print around their bum.
Early potty trained
It is mentioned often that kids who wear cloth diapers are earlier potty trained. While each child is different and doing this at their own pace there are some reasons why cloth diapering could help with potty training.
Disposable diapers are made to pull moisture away and contain it in gel form. This is their selling point and has some benefits for your baby's bum. However, the big downside is that your child doesn’t feel the wetness it has made and it will not bother them.
As kids grow, they may start to dislike the sensation of being wet. Cloth diapers mask the wetness your kid has made.
If your child receives that instant feedback of being wet or soiled, they might wish to transition to a potty sooner.
Whether or not this is true depends on the child. My daughter was 3.5 years old when she was potty trained which is way above average even though we used cloth diapers for those 3.5 years. Kids will be potty trained at their own pace. At least I didn’t have to continue purchasing disposable diapers for 3.5 years…
Once your baby starts to walk, it will also start to fall. Some say the bulkiness of cloth diapers is a big disadvantage but, once a baby starts to walk, there will always be a cushion present to catch their fall and prevent them from hurting themselves.
No more blowouts
This one may be hard to believe but it is true. Blowouts are very common when you use disposable diapers. This is because cloth diapers are designed to last much longer. While disposables are designed for one-time use. This means that the elastics around the legs and waist are not very strong meaning they contain messes less well.
Another benefit of cloth diapers is that they have strong elastics around the waist and legs to ensure a good fit and to contain all the mess within the diaper.
You never run out
Hearing other moms talk about the latest diapers sale and where to get which brand is the cheapest would give me anxiety. Also running out of cloth diapers because your delivery was late is not something that sounds very appealing to me. When using cloth diapers, you never run out of diapers as long as you remember to do laundry on a regular base.
Cloth diapers can be used for a long time. This is great when you have a kid that takes a bit longer to potty train but also when you plan to have multiple children.
Even if you plan on having only one child you could sell your used cloth diapers as there is a big market for used cloth diapers and help another mom with cloth diapers more cheaply. This will give you back some of your investment making cloth diapering also cheaper for you. This is a big benefit of cloth diapers as they remain some of their value even after use.
If you opted to go for a more budget-friendly cloth diapering option like flats of pre-folds, these could easily be used for cleaning once your baby outgrows them.
Donating used cloth diapers to parents is needs is also a great way to reuse cloth diapers.
Imagine wearing a plastic bag around your private parts for 2 years… That is what disposable diapers are. Chemicals to absorb moisture packed in plastic to make them waterproof. This means that your baby is not only in contact with lots of chemicals for a long time, the temperature within the diaper will also rise due to all the plastic.
Research has shown that the scrotal temperature of boys is significantly higher for boys wearing plastic disposable diapers compared to the scrotal temperature for boys who wear cotton diapers. Because of the plastic involved the physiological testicular cooling mechanism of these boys can’t function properly increasing temperature. Scrotal temperature is an important factor for normal sperm production and therefore fertility.
This does not sound very appealing or comfortable to me. A big benefit of cloth diapers is that they are made from natural materials like cotton, bamboo, or hemp. These are naturally more breathable and more comfortable to wear directly against your skin. Not only that, cloth diapers need more frequent changes as there are no chemicals to absorb moisture meaning your baby is wet less long which is also beneficial to their skin.
Are you interested in cloth diapering but you don’t want to deal with all the laundry? Check if there is a diaper service in your area. It might cost you a little more money but our dear planet will thank you for it.
Still not convinced about cloth diapers? Here are 15+ eco-friendly disposable diaper brands that contain a lot fewer chemicals and are much better for our planet compared to regular disposable diapers.