Why Use Cloth Diapers: Is Reusable Really Better Than Disposable?

Why use cloth diapers? It’s a question that so many parents-to-be ask themselves among millions of others as they prepare to welcome their bundle of joy.

Why use cloth diapers? Here are five factors to consider as you make this decision.

If you are part of a group of moms that tends to use cloth diapers, it may feel like it is becoming mainstream. But how many parents actually try out the reusable option?

According to one survey, less than 10% of babies wear cloth—even part time. After years of using cloth on my babies, I have a few theories as to why that might be.

  • Cloth diaper companies don’t have the advertising budget of the large diaper companies.
  • The reputation of cloth diapers is mired in the pins, plastic pants, and wet buckets of old.
  • Cloth diapers require an upfront cost, which is difficult to recoup if parents end up using disposables.
  • Getting started with cloth can seem complicated and difficult. (See The Ultimate Guide to Cloth Diapers for Beginners if this applies for you.)
  • Over the years, disposables have become the default, and opting for cloth requires a deviation from what is the accepted norm.

So, why should you consider cloth for your child? The most stated reason by parents, according to another survey by diapershops.com, was also one of the driving motivators for me as we prepared to birth our first. It won’t be surprising to most, and I’ve included it as the first point on this list.

Reasons to Use Cloth Diapers

1. Choose Cloth Diapers to Save Money

A selection of newborn Funky Fluff diapers are laid out on a couch.

According to most available information, the cost to diaper a child in disposables from birth to potty training is about $2000.

That sounds like a lot, but it’s true that cloth diapers aren’t cheap either. A diaper with inserts can easily cost $25, and 24 diapers are recommended. At $25 a pop you have already spent $600 dollars just to get set up.

Laundry is a little more difficult to figure, but a load costs about $2 on average. If you wash every four days for an entire year (and hang to dry, which I recommend), then washing will cost $182 per year.

Popular opinion dictates that children will potty train sooner if they’re in cloth, but if you have to wash for three years then you can spend $546 on laundry.

Therefore the total to cloth one baby can be expected to be $1146.

This means you have saved $854 by using cloth diapers on your baby.

So, yes. Using cloth diapers provides a financial benefit that will compound, depending on your situation. It is a main reason new parents choose to use cloth, and is also a valid one.

How to Increase Your Cloth Diaper Savings

You can easily keep the costs lower by buying cheaper diapers (check out sales for Earth Day or black Friday while you are expecting). You can also use hand-me-down cloth, or shop secondhand. I have done all of these things, and my average cost per diaper is way below $25. (However, I also have way more than 24 of them. So…. Shhhhh.)

Choosing a cheaper style will also lower costs. Many parents use flats or all-in-twos, which allow them to have fewer covers that will be reused before laundering.

The true savings come when you use your cloth diapers on more than one child. As my diapers go onto bum number three, the savings are multiplying. I could also sell them and recover some costs. Additionally, my children so far have potty learned shortly after turning two, which helps with the laundry costs.

2. Choose Cloth Diapers to reduce Environmental Impact

A cute diaper with a bicycle print sits against a wood background.

The other main reason we decided to use cloth diapers is because we believe it reduces the environmental impact of diapering a baby.

When using disposables, the environmental impact is threefold: First, raw materials are needed to create disposables such as wood pulp, plastics, and polymers, a complicated mix that tends to be a trade secret. Second, these disposable products need to be packaged, shipped, used, and then transported again. Finally, most disposable diapers will sit in landfills for hundreds of years. There is also the risk that the toxic waste they contain will contribute to contamination of resources surrounding the area where they are disposed.

Most cloth diapers also include a small amount of plastic. However, these covers can be reused hundreds of times before they meet their end-of-life. And while inserts can also be made of synthetic material, it is very common to find inserts that are made of natural fibres such as bamboo, hemp, and cotton.

I find that natural fibres make for a better cloth diaper anyway. One of my recommendations is that new parents prioritize natural inserts first.

Transportation and packaging is virtually eliminated with cloth as well—again because they are purchased once and used repeatedly. Also, cloth diapers don’t need to end up in the landfill until they have been worn out after years of service.

The one area where cloth diapers can lose is in the resources needed to launder them. However, washing full loads in less-hot water, hanging to dry, and using diapers for as long as possible all help give cloth a leading edge.

I certainly appreciate the fact that I don’t have to send bags of smelly disposables to the landfill every week.

3. Choose Cloth Diapers to Reduce Chemical Exposure

To be clear: there isn’t much definitive evidence showing that disposable diapers cause harm to a child. However, there are plenty of reasons that parents reconsider using disposable diapers because of concerns around the chemicals used in production.

After all, diapers are generally something that an infant and toddler will have next to their skin constantly for years.

The chemical makeup of a diaper isn’t generally disclosed. However, in the article Disposable Diapers: Are they Dangerous, news organization CBC outlines some of the areas of concern around disposable use.

Some parents worry about dioxins, phthalates, chlorine, dyes and fragrance—all of which can be expected in many disposable brands. In reality, a diaper company’s unwillingness to disclose the contents of their diapers is reason enough to reconsider putting them on you baby constantly.

In the month before I could make cloth work for my oldest I used a store brand that left bits of gel all over her skin when I changed her. As a new mom of a tiny baby, I was pretty distraught that I didn’t know what her sensitive skin was being exposed to. There is also a distinctive smell of a wet disposable that I still find disgusting—most parents will know what I mean.

4. Choose Cloth Diapers for Security, Storage Space, and to Reduce the Endless Errands

Do you get tired of running to the store to pick up a forgotten essential? Does it feel like your maintenance costs of basic necessities add up beyond reason? Are you tired of hauling home boxes of diapers, and making room to stash them in the corner? Do you worry about COVID-level shortages that can threaten supply?

If you’re a parent you’ll probably answer yes to one—or all—of those questions.

Choosing cloth diapers can help alleviate all those concerns. it is one less item on the shopping list. An entire stash of cloth can sit in one attractive tote on the change table. There are no bags of smelly trash (this one is a real selling point for our low-waste rural home).

Yes, cloth diapers create another load of laundry—I do about two a week when my babies are in diapers full time. I know that may seem overwhelming to a new mom or dad. But, I really don’t think enough is said about the inconvenience of using disposable diapers.

Oh. And. Cloth diapers may need changing a little more often to avoid leaks (because they don’t have that magic absorbent chemical gel). However, blow-outs are extremely rare in cloth diapers! This is a real advantage if you’re tired of poo-splosions up the back of all your baby’s clothes.

Admittedly, I have pretty limited experience with disposables. That said, once I found my groove, cloth diapers have become a simple part of my mom-life routine. Learn more about this at Cloth Diapers for Beginners: An Ultimate Guide to Getting Started.

5. Choose Cloth Diapers Because They’re Cute

Three cloth diapers in green and blues rest against a white background.

This has really been a bonus reason for me. However, once I started using cloth on little baby butts I really fell for the cute factor.

When I was pregnant with my second my nesting tendencies focused almost entirely on shopping for new cloth diapers (that I did not need!). Oops.

In the summertime my babies tend to wear cloth diapers and t-shirts. I enjoy being able to get rid of those panties that come with baby girl sundresses because I have lots of diapers that look great already.

A little cloth-diaper bum is just the cutest, and beats out a disposable my miles.

Also, some moms get deeply engaged with online or in-person groups. Using cloth diapers can be an automatic connection point, or a way for other parents to express curiosity. I once even traveled to a neighboring town specifically for a cloth diaper meetup—back in my early days of cloth diaper enthusiasm.

So, Should You Use Cloth Diapers?

I have helped a number of families make the switch to cloth diapers. Many end up loving it as well. Some end up ditching it. Most keep on, and enjoy the financial savings, natural lifestyle, and environmental benefits of cloth.

Maybe you will too.

Please read Cloth Diapers for Beginners: The Ultimate Guide if you want more details on getting started with cloth diapers.

Let me know if you’re on the road to using cloth diapers. What has your experience been? Why are you choosing cloth diapers?

Why choose cloth diapers? Here are 5 reasons that reusable diapers might be the right choice for your family.

Share your thoughts?