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Home > Parenting Information > Health > Diapers (Cloth vs. Disposable)

 

Diapers, Diapers & More Diapers
"Cloth vs. Disposable"

 

Which is Best?

The debate between which type of diaper is best is not an easy question to answer.  The reusable cloth diaper isn’t what it used to be.  Some cloth diapers now have double or triple layers and a multiply, fiber-filled strip, making them more absorbent than older styles. Some styles of cloth diapers now come with Velcro strips, eliminating the need for those large safety pins.  You can launder them at home or turn the job over to a diaper service.

There are also various types and styles of disposable diapers, ranging from simple plastic covered paper diapers to the newest high-tech, cartoon covered, absorbent gel material filled, elastic legged disposables.

With so many different choices, here are some things to take into consideration.

Skin Care & Health concerns:

The greatest concern for parents is to keep their baby’s skin dry, healthy and free from diaper rash.  Many things can cause diaper rash.  Prolonged wetness, lack of air circulation, soap, chemical and dye allergies, ammonia formed by bacteria that interacts with urine left sitting against the skin and the growth of microbes in the diaper area can all be irritating and cause rashes.

Some concerns about disposable diapers have been about dyes, sodium polyacrylate (the super absorbent gel), and dioxin, which is a by-product of bleaching paper.  Sodium polyacrylate has been linked in the past to toxic shock syndrome, allergic reactions and is very harmful and potentially lethal to pets. Some dyes and dioxin according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is known to cause damage to the central nervous system, kidneys, and liver. The (FDA) Food & Drug Administration has received reports that fragrances in disposables caused headaches, dizziness and rashes.  Problems reported to the Consumer Protection Agency regarding disposables include, chemical burns, noxious chemical and insecticide odors, babies pulling disposables apart and putting pieces of plastic into their noses and mouth, choking on tab papers and linings, plastic melting onto the skin, and ink staining the skin.  Plastic tabs can also tear skin if the diaper is not properly put on the baby.

According to the Journal of Pediatrics, 54 % of one-month old babies using disposable diapers had rashes, 16 % having severe rashes.  A study done by a disposable diapers manufacturing company (we won’t name the company, but it's one of the largest manufacturers) shows that the incidence of diaper rash increased from 7.1% to 61% with the increased use of throwaway disposable diapers.

Keep in mind that each baby is different; some parents will find their baby does perfectly fine with disposables while other parents may find their baby has some type of reaction to disposables.

On the other hand cloth diapers can cause rashes by not being changed enough or properly cleaned and sanitized after becoming soiled.

It is all a matter of personal preference, how your baby is reacting to a particular diaper and how you feel about other factors that come into play when deciding between cloth and disposables.

The best way to prevent diaper rash is to change diapers, cloth or disposable, frequently.  While disposable diapers can hold large quantities of urine, this slight wetness is still against your baby’s skin, which can lead to rashes.  Cloth diapers should be changed every time your baby wets and then the diaper should be properly cleaned so all bacteria that may be in the cloth is killed.

Cost:

The cost of diapers is usually a great concern for most parents. Cost estimates* show that disposable diapers will run approximately $50 to $80 per month, using a diaper service will cost approximately $50 to $80 per month and laundering your own cloth diapers will cost slightly less at approximately $25 to $60 per month.

The cost of disposable diapers varies due to the wide range of disposables on the market. Some name brands are very expensive, while some store branded disposables can be half the price of name brands. The cost of a diaper service mainly varies because of two factors. One factor being the amount of competition in your area (number of diaper service companies) and the second being the quality of diapers that you choose to use. The cost of laundering your own cloth diapers also varies because of many factors. One factor is the quality of the cloth diaper. Some parents will initially purchase very high quality cloth diapers which will last several years, while other parents might buy low quality diapers which only last for a short time. Another factor is the amount of laundering that is done for each load of dirty diapers. Some parents will only do a minimal amount of cleaning and sanitizing, while other parents will go through many steps to clean a load of dirty diapers. The more cleaning and sanitizing that is performed for each load of diapers the higher the cost. Other factors are your time to launder the diapers, cost of electricity, soap, water, and wear on your washing machine and dryer.

In general, if you compare the cost of the fancier high tech disposable diapers to the cost of laundering your own cloth diapers, you will save money by using cloth diapers and laundering them yourself. If you decide to go with disposable diapers, here are a few tips on how to save money on disposable diapers.

Environment:

There has been much debate over the impact of disposable diapers and cloth diapers on the environment.  The pro-disposable diaper advocates say that the extra water used to wash cloth diapers is just as much of an abuse to the environment as the production and disposal of disposable diapers.  But taking into consideration the following estimates you will probably agree that disposable diapers are much more harmful to the environment than cloth diapers.

It is estimated that roughly 5 million tons of untreated waste and a total of 2 billion tons of urine, feces, plastic and paper are added to landfills annually. It takes around 80,000 pounds of plastic and over 200,000 trees a year to manufacture the disposable diapers for American babies alone.  Although some disposables are said to be biodegradable; in order for these diapers to decompose, they must be exposed to air (oxygen) and sun.  Since this is highly unlikely, it can take several hundred years for the decomposition of disposables to take place, with some of the plastic material never decomposing.

The untreated waste placed in landfills by dirty disposable diapers is also a possible danger to contaminating ground water.  Pro-disposable advocates say that cleaning cloth diapers uses more energy and contributes to the load on sanitary sewer systems and potential water pollution.  This view really makes no sense if you think about it.  The amount of water used per week to wash cloth diapers at home is about the same amount consumed by an adult flushing the toilet four or five times daily for a week.  Also, the greater amount of water and energy being used by diaper service companies to wash large amounts of cloth diapers multiple times; the per diaper impact on energy and water supplies is actually less than home washing.

Finally, when flushing solids from a cloth diaper down the toilet and washing the diapers in a washing machine, the contaminated, dirty water from both toilet and washing machine go into the sewer systems where they are properly treated at wastewater plants.  This treated wastewater is much more environmentally friendly than dumping untreated soiled disposable diapers into a landfill.

Convenience:

With the newer style of cloth diapers that are on the market, disposable diapers are not much more convenient that cloth diapers.  The new multiple layer, Velcro fastening cloth diapers are just as easy to put on and take off as disposables.  Cloth diapers do not really need to be presoaked, or even rinsed out.  Flushable liners can be used with cloth diapers that let you lift the soiled liner off the cloth and flush the liner and the poop down the toilet.  If you don’t use liners, you can just dump the older baby’s solids down the toilet.  Cloth diapers usually only add about 2 extra loads of laundry a week to your schedule.

Disposable diapers are more convenient when traveling because you can just throw the dirty diapers away without carrying them around for washing.  Disposables also require fewer changes because of the super absorbent materials; but taking into consideration the increased risks of rash and the extra impact on the environment, your decision should be made with much thought.

Summary:

The choice between the different types of diapers available is a matter of personal preference while taking into consideration all of the topics discussed above.  There really is no one best type of diaper that is good for every baby.  Deciding to use cloth or disposable diapers depends on your lifestyle, personal preference, finances and your concern for the environment.  Some parents combine the two, using cloth at home and disposable when they are going to be out all day.  The choice that is right for you and your baby may be different from the one that's right for your friend and her baby.  The best thing to do is know the advantages and disadvantages between cloth and disposable diapers, talk with your doctor, discuss it with your wife or husband and make a decision on what you think is best for your baby.  Whichever diaper you decide on now, you may find that your baby develops diaper rash more frequently later or has some type of allergic reaction.  This could be sensitivity to your choice.  If this occurs, don't fight it, just switch.  Try a different type of diaper, a different brand or go from cloth to paper or vice versa.  If your baby ever shows signs of having a reaction to a diaper you should always notify your doctor.  The reaction you might be seeing could just be a small rash, but it could be a more severe allergic reaction.  Your doctor can tell you exactly what it is and what you should do.

*estimates based on random sampling between 1999 and 2001

 

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