Pros & Cons of Disposable and Cloth Diapers
Updated: Jan 7
Unless you're doing baby elimination communication, you won't be able to avoid using diapers once your little one is born. In addition to the disposable diapers used by the majority of new parents, there is also an alternative. The cloth diaper. Before you shout; 'dirty!' and 'That is really not better for the environment because you have to wash anyway', I have made an overview here with the pros and cons of both cloth and disposable diapers.
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Benefits of disposable diapers
There is no denying that disposable diapers are easier to use. You put them on your baby and after use, you throw them in the garbage. Although today's cloth diaper is just as easy to use as a disposable diaper, washing will always be a bit of extra work.
Disposable diapers are widely available. From the supermarket to the drugstore to the gas station, disposable diapers are sold everywhere. Yes, the price will be a bit higher at the last location but if you need them there is always a place where you can get them. Cloth diapers, on the other hand, are almost exclusively available online.
The chemicals in a disposable diaper ensure that your baby's buttocks feel dry, even if they have wet the diaper. Cloth diapers have no added chemicals so the diapers need to be changed frequently to avoid a wet bum.
A disposable diaper is much slimmer around your baby's bottom due to the use of chemicals. A cloth diaper, on the other hand, needs a lot of fabric to retain all the liquids. As a result, quite a lot is needed and the diaper (especially for the night) will be quite bulky around the buttocks.
Benefits of cloth diapers
Cloth diapers are quite an investment, but on the other hand, you only make these costs once and then hardly have any more costs (read my calculation here with how much I saved with cloth diapers). Disposable diapers cannot be used more than once and you will have to keep buying them until your child is toilet trained.
There is a large market for used cloth diapers. This means that you can resell your used cloth diapers as soon as your baby is potty trained (provided your diapers are still in a reasonable condition of course). Cloth diapers, therefore, retain some of their value after use. Something that does not apply to disposable diapers.
So if you are in doubt about cloth diapers because they are so expensive and you have no problem using second-hand diapers, then looking for a second-hand set is definitely a good option.
You don't really expect it, but you can hardly smell a filled cloth diaper. This is because there are no chemicals in cloth diapers. These are in disposable diapers and ensure that liquids are converted into a solid material so that the baby's bottom remains dry. Unfortunately, this reaction releases a strong odor.
Disposable diapers are made from fossil fuels (petroleum) and unfortunately, there is no denying that there will come a time when all the fossil fuels the earth has to offer will be used up. An alternative will therefore have to be found. The production of 1 disposable diaper costs about 1 cup of petroleum. In addition to fossil raw materials for the diaper itself, energy is also required for the production of the diaper (1804kWh). The petroleum has to be converted into plastic, the different parts of the diaper have to be brought together and put together, the diapers have to be packed and transported to the consumer. This all requires energy and contributes to the ecological footprint that a disposable diaper and ultimately the carbon footprint your baby leaves behind.
A cloth diaper, on the other hand, is made from renewable resources. This is often cotton or bamboo, but can also be hemp. Of course, a cloth diaper also requires energy to harvest raw materials and to turn these materials into a diaper, but because a cloth diaper lasts so much longer, this is a lot lower (94kWh) over the entire diaper period. Even if the washing machine use is included in the calculation, the power consumption for cloth is much lower because the production of disposable diapers require so much energy
Despite what is expected, the production and use of cloth diapers require a lot less water compare to the water requirement for disposable diapers. Even if all the water consumption of washing cloth diapers is included, the water consumption of cloth diapers is lower. This is because disposable diapers also require water. This is not so much in the raw materials of the diaper, but a lot of water is also needed during the production process of the different parts of the diaper. Water is needed to cool the machines. These machines require a lot of cooling water. Because the machines are so hot, a lot of water evaporates and unfortunately, the water often gets contaminated, so that this contaminated water has to be discharged after use.
Even though some disposable diapers have a handy indicator to let you know the diaper is wet, there is a big downside to the use of disposable diapers. It has a lot of chemicals. For example dioxin (polychlorinated dibenzodioxin) that is a byproduct of the bleaching of the wood fibers for the diapers. Dioxin is carcinogenic that can harm our reproduction and immune system. The authors of the article say that the amount is not harmful to (adult) humans but I highly doubt if this is also true for babies. Tributyltin is used to make the diaper waterproof. It is known to be very toxic for marine life but may still be used in disposable diapers around the sensitive skin of your baby.
The highly absorbent gel, that will become small balls when in contact with moisture is potassium polyacrylate. This substance is known to cause toxic shock syndrome in women who use tampons. So, lots of chemicals are used that are not 100% safe for your baby.
If you had a choice to have cotton pants around your bum or one with the chemicals mentioned above, what would you choose?