Image of two stacks of disposable diapers and two stacks of cloth diapers

Cloth Diapers: Pros and Cons

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Last updated on 13 June 2024

Are you thinking about using cloth diapers for your baby? Here’s what you need to know about the advantages and disadvantages of reusable diapers.

This article was written in collaboration with Rebecca Ziehe, a cloth diaper consultant and postpartum doula based in Berlin. After her own personal cloth diaper experience with her two kids, Rebecca has turned her passion for cloth diapers into her profession. She supports families, with a particular focus on women, with her services throughout pregnancy, childbirth, the postpartum period, and beyond.

While she is obviously a big fan of cloth diapers, she did not shy away from answering some of our more critical questions ;)

What would you say about the advantages and disadvantages of cloth diapers versus conventional, single use nappies? 

The Environment

One of the big advantages of cloth diapers compared to disposable diapers is that they are environmentally friendly. 

Since they can be reused, you save quite a lot of waste (up to 1 ton during the time until your child is fully potty trained). Even though you will use some additional resources when washing cloth diapers, by most measures the environmental impact of reusable diapers is still lower than single use nappies. 

You can check out this short video created by the UN Environment Programme’s Life Cycle Initiative, which quite nicely compares the environmental impact of the two types of diapers: A Life Cycle Assessment of NAPPIES: single-use vs reusables)

Care

Speaking of laundry, using cloth diapers also means more frequent laundry. You'll need to wash and dry them about every 2-3 days, which can be time-consuming. Some families find this to be an inconvenience. 

Costs

A big disadvantage of reusable diapers are the initial costs. You need to buy a certain amount of cloth diapers and accessories to start with. This is of course more expensive than purchasing a large pack of disposable diapers. 

However, it's an investment that can pay off over time because you won't need to buy disposable diapers continuously. This is especially noticeable if you use cloth diapers for multiple children or throughout their diapering years. 

Ingredients

Furthermore, cloth diapers contain no chemicals, fragrances, and gels, which are found in many disposable diapers. Since they are made of natural fibers, they can reduce the risk of skin irritations and allergies. 

Handling

There might also be a learning curve when it comes to properly fitting and maintaining cloth diapers. It may take some time to figure out the right routine and get comfortable with them. 

Once you are comfortable with cloth diapers, you can individually and flexibly adjust the absorbency by adding or removing inserts or using different types of fabrics to respond to the needs of you and your baby. 

Design

Last but not least, cloth diapers come in cute designs and different colors which can add a fun and personalized touch to diaper changes. 

Some families may think that cloth diapers are a lot of work and a bit of a hassle – what would you say to them?

I am of course biased, but to me, modern cloth diapers are very similar in terms of handling compared to disposable diapers: You open the diaper, place the baby on it, and then fasten the diaper - done. The only difference is that they are stored until the next washing cycle. For this you could use a wet bag.

Even the washing routine can be quite simple: using a standard washing machine with a 60°C (140°F) hot/cold cycle and any heavy duty laundry detergent. 

On average, a load of cloth diaper laundry is done every 2-3 days. However, alongside the cloth diapers, other items like small towels or baby clothes can be washed together. 

All in all, the additional effort for washing cloth diapers, in a household with one or even multiple children, is relatively small since the washing machine is practically running around the clock anyways.

Ultimately, the choice is an individual one that depends on your personal preferences, lifestyle and values.

(And it is of course also possible to use a combination of cloth and disposable diapers!)

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