Money and Child Raising: Cloth vs. Disposable Diapers

Having a baby is a wonderful and awe-inspiring thing, one that can truly humble you, as I can attest. There’s a lot of things about having a baby that you’re sure to enjoy: holding your new offspring, cuddling him or her closely, seeing their eyes gazing up at you, and of course, taking hundreds of pictures for your family members who insist that you keep them in constant connection about everything that happens with your baby . (Although, that last part might just be my family…) Having a baby brings nearly endless pleasures.

One not so pleasurable thing you’ll need to keep in mind is that a new baby will need diapers, and lots of them. Expect to change your baby ten to twelve times each day for the first month or two (and that’s on good days), and plenty of changing for the following year or two as well. With so many fresh diapers required, one of your major considerations when you are approaching having a baby is the type of diaper to use. In particular, you need to look at

Cloth vs. Disposable Diapers

Yes, choosing the type of diapers in which to cloth your baby. With the possible exception of breastfeeding and bottle-feeding, it’s hard to find a subject of baby care that inspires more argument from both sides than the diaper debate. Until babies are able to use the toilet right out of the womb (the technology allowing them to do so would make the inventor a multi-billionaire, by the way), it’s necessary to provide them with rump-covering throughout the first few years of their lives. So which type should you use? We’ll look at the advantages of each approach, starting with:

Pros of Cloth Diapers

-Less Expensive…Probably: As with most areas where you have reusable and disposable options available, the reusable option in this case, cloth diapers, is usually less expensive. I qualify this with a ‘probably’ because everything from the number of cloth diapers you get to the specific type you purchase to how much you spend to clean the diapers (which can get expensive if you use a diaper service rather than clean them yourself) can affect the cost of using cloth diapers, and a similar number of factors can affect the cost of disposables. Under most circumstances, though, you are much more likely save, and usually save a lot, using cloth diapers, as numerous sources noted.

It can even add to the ambiance of a baby picture
It can even add to the ambiance of a baby picture

-Less Garbage: When it is called ‘disposable’, it shouldn’t surprise you that it ends up in a dump at the end of its use. If you use disposables, you end up producing a tremendous amount of waste (some 3,600,000 tons of the diaper material per year in recent years, not counting the ‘goodies’ the baby leaves behind), which needs to go somewhere. Cloth diapers can avoid all that, cutting down the amount of waste that raising your child generates.

-Healthier for Your Baby: This is another tricky one, as all babies are different and different types of disposables (and methods of cleaning cloth diapers) can have substantially different effects on how they affect your baby, if at all. Still, the basic point is this: disposable diapers have many chemicals used in their production, and the interaction of those chemicals with your children can be less than desirable. Mostly in the form of more rashes than anything more serious (although, if you’ve stayed up trying to calm a baby with a rash, you know that can be pretty serious, as well), but it is something to consider.

Pros of Disposable Diapers

-Easier to Change: Without the need to empty the diaper out and then clean it, disposables are significantly easier to get off your baby and replace with a fresh one. Even with the improvements in cloth diapers that make them as easy to transfer as disposables (no need to break out your safety pins), minimizing the time spent with the poopy diapers can be a major plus for many people. (You can argue that a diaper service eliminates this plus, but that greatly increases the costs of cloth diapers, so you’re trading one advantage for another.)

-Fewer Problems When Going Out: When you leave the house with your baby (not the easiest thing if your baby is born during flu season), you’ll need to ensure that you have plenty of diapers available for your trip. Having diapers that you can easily pack in a small bag and dispose in any garbage can is significantly easier than having to store a cloth diaper until returning home or otherwise finding a usable washer and dryer. This is not to say that they are perfect (many places don’t really want dirty diapers in their garbage cans), but it does simplify your trips out. Plus, if you run out:

-Buying New Diapers is Easier: Just about any store you go to, from grocery stores to gasoline stops, will have some form of disposable diapers available. Coming up with cloth diapers is significantly trickier (although access to the internet makes it easier), to the point where I have yet to see them on sale anywhere in the real world. If you find yourself in a sudden need of a diaper or eighteen (let’s be honest: as my fellow parents can attest, babies, especially newborns, can go through those things like water), you’ll likely need to go disposable.

My Thoughts on Cloth vs. Disposable Diapers

I’ll be honest, prior to writing this article and doing the research necessary to do so, I didn’t see any qualms in relying on disposable diapers, as my mother had done with me. Now, though, I’m thinking that going with cloth diapers is going to be a better option, for financial, environmental, and possibly health reasons. Actually, the most appealing method is the one I saw suggested by Ryan of CashMoneyLife, using primarily cloth for the day, but switching to disposable at night, and keeping some disposables available whenever we travel. It seems like the best method of balancing the re-usable advantages of cloth diapers with the ease of use (and possible greater leak-resistance) of disposables. How well that will work (and whether Sondra will approve of cloth diapers) will have to wait for the future.

What type of diapers do you prefer? Do the advantages of cloth diapers make you think they are the most worthwhile options (as I’m starting to do)? Am I putting far too much thought into this decision?

7 Responses to Money and Child Raising: Cloth vs. Disposable Diapers

  1. I remember trying to look at the options when I had my first daughter 2 years ago. Cloth diaper system I was looking at was very expensive. I didn’t have the big lump sum to buy them. Also, the idea of washing all of them and laying them out to dry seemed overwhelming to me. Now with a 2 year old, there is no way I could even fathom cloth diapers for my 9 month old. I don’t have time to do regular clothes…let alone a set of diapers. And I’d need double the amount because my daughter isn’t potty trained yet. For me, it is purely convenience. I think everyone has to find what works for them.

    • Definitely some interesting thoughts, Jules. The lump sum needed for the initial cloth diaper purchasing can be quite large, and when you also consider the added time and effort required to get those diapers clean, the disposables do have quite a few advantages to them.

  2. Cloth diapering has many components to it and the cost is difficult to calculate but I created a cloth vs disposable diaper calculator on our blog (http://www.groceryalerts.ca/cloth-vs-disposable-diaper-calculator/) and the calculator looks closely at the cleaning costs, electricity, and hydro and looks at diaper use estimates from several sources (13).

    Cloth is cheaper, however, if you have 2 children and do not have access to laundry and pay $2 each load, the cost is close to the same.
    Steve @ Grocery Alerts´s last blog post ..Free Things to do on B.C. Family Day #bcfamilyday

    • Steve, it looks like a very helpful calculator; I came across it during my researching for this very article, and will likely consider for future research as I consider the issue future. I’ll keep your comments in mind as I figure out exactly what to do.

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