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Question of the Week: Why do you use disposable or washable baby diapers?

2009 March 9

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Cloth baby diapers require cleaning and care, but avoid replacement costs.  Disposable diapers are convenient but must be purchased and disposed of properly.

Why do you use disposable or washable baby diapers?

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204 Responses leave one →
  1. Andrea Davis permalink
    March 9, 2009

    I think good washable baby diapers get the most obvious cost savings to people of any political persuasion.

    I tend to blog about green=green topics on our city’s green social community. When visiting my friend with twins, I saw how easy the washable diapers were to use. If a mom with twins can manage them, you know that washing time must not be a huge factor.

    She gave me figures on savings so that I could post this blog entry I call, “Attack of the Green Butts!”

  2. Astrid permalink
    March 9, 2009

    I use disposable diapers bacause:

    1. It is required by my daycare provider;
    2. I do not have time for laundry of washable diapers;
    3. The use of disposable diapers reduce the chances of diaper rushes.

  3. Erik Harper permalink
    March 9, 2009

    While I am not a father, I plan to be in the future and have already done the research necessary to know that conventional disposable diapers are horrendous for the environment and for human health.

    I will either go with cloth diapers or some of the interesting developments going on with reusable cloth diapers with flushable linings, like the gDiaper.

  4. Dawn permalink
    March 9, 2009

    Cloth diapers do need to be cleaned and dried. So there is cost for using them. Disposable do cost but oh so much easier to use especially since the triplets mean three times the work.

  5. Jane permalink
    March 9, 2009

    We use washable cloth diapers at home to save on the landfill and pollution (for example, from manufacturing disposable diapers). And we like the idea of soft, natural fibers on the baby’s skin, and less artificial materials.

    But we keep disposable diapers for necessary situations, like running errands, or in an emergency, or a sitter.

    We cut pollution and energy use where we can and we sometimes decide to do without. But we don’t kill ourselves, either. There’s usually a sane, middle ground… even for diapers. :-)

  6. Carrie permalink
    March 9, 2009

    I used washable cloth diapers for the two years my son was in diapers because:

    — I saved about $2000 over the course of our diapering. The diapers only cost $300 for 24 months worth of cotton diapers instead of at least $2200 for three years of disposable diapers (+$18 every single month for an extra garbage can at the curb.)

    — Kids in cotton diapers potty train a year earlier on average. My son definitely did. He was 100% potty trained by age two.

    — It was only one load of diapers to wash every 3rd day. And the cloth diapers leaked less, so because I was doing less clothing laundry than when I used disposable diapers the workload evened out.

    — No chemicals = less chance of rashes. Try asking a disposable diaper company to tell you which chemicals are in their diapers — they will refuse to tell you (that’s proprietary info).

  7. Andrea Davis permalink
    March 9, 2009

    But your savings is three times the savings quoted by this website:

    That’s a huge amount in 18 years if you take that savings and invest it.

  8. Don permalink
    March 9, 2009

    We are advocates of the middle ground, as well. We use cloth at home, but keep disposables around for nighttime and travel. A note on energy savings/costs–when it comes to drying cloth diapers, we prefer to hang dry them on a line on our deck. Apparently, the sunlight bleaches/sanitizes as it dries–something our dryer can’t do on it’s own–and it is free.

    As for the time it takes to do laundry, we’ve found it doesn’t take much time to throw in a load of diapers and dry them (even if we don’t get around to folding them until the weekend) and we’ve bought enough that we’re set for the next kiddo.

    All in all, it has been less of a hassle than I thought it would be, and I like the absence of disposables in our trashcans. And yes, we did re-gift the Diaper Champ trash pail we got at the shower.

  9. Robin permalink
    March 10, 2009

    I used cloth diapers when my daughter was born in 1999. She was also potty trained by age 2..You soak the diapers in bleach, then throwi a load in the washer once a day–not that daunting. But I did use disposables when traveling. I had issues finding the rubber pants that go over the diapers, and later, finding clothing that was sized for a potty-trained 2 year old, vs. one wearing an extra layer around its butt. Disposables were also “required” when we looked at day-care options. This certainly doesn’t help parents make the cloth diaper choice. Think about 30 years, there will be only a tiny percent of the population that knows how to fold and pin a diaper..

  10. Woody permalink
    March 10, 2009

    It depends.

  11. Carol permalink
    March 10, 2009

    It has been a long time since I had to even think about this issue, but I used disposables and I will not apologize for it! I am green, but the cost is almost certain that the cost (if you count time to wash, etc) would come out the same. Also, disposables are much more user friendly and as someone else said, daycares won’t do cloth. I will save my green points for something other than diapers and will encourage my chldren to do the same when we have grandchildren come along

  12. Bryan Trotter permalink
    March 10, 2009

    My wife and I use both but we primarily use cloth diapers as well as cloth wipes. The main reason we went this route was to reduce our impact to the landfill and not so much for cost reasons. We have an efficient front loading washer but did notice an increased energy consumption due to washing diapers. During the summer months we hang diapers to dry. We found that adding a water wand to the toilet for removing the majority of the waste greatly improved the smell factor coming from the diaper pail.

  13. Carrie permalink
    March 10, 2009

    I love my cloth diapers and they only add one more load of laundry a week. I’m not contributing to filling the landfill with disposables that take years to decompose. I know there is cost associated with laundering these in the treatment of the wastewater created..but there are new technologies that have been developed to reuse treated wastewater and all in all I’m happy with my choice of cloth diapers.

  14. Mary permalink
    March 10, 2009

    I use disposable diapers that are made of paper — not plastic — and therefore biodegradable. They are called Baby NatureCare. Although based on the “Attack of the Green Butts” link posted by Andrea, in US that does not mean anything. Alas, I thought I was paying more money for a better outcome.

    “US landfills are anaerobic (no air) and [have] no water or light facilities – all key elements necessary for biodegradability. We know of no commercial composting facilities for disposable diapers and temperature could never be high enough to decompose a disposable diaper. We do not advocate home composting disposable diapers because of possible feces contamination of ground water.”

  15. Betty permalink
    March 10, 2009

    My daughter is 34. When she was a baby, disposable diapers were expensive and she got diaper rash every time we used them so they were only for travel. Cloth diapers allowed her skin to breathe and so she didn’t get diaper rash. It took a lot of hot water to wash them and electricity to dry them but it was better than a crabby baby.

  16. Gavin permalink
    March 10, 2009

    My wife and I use reusable because it is another way we can avoid contributing to the trash. Our doctor has also informed us that babies who wear cloth diapers tend to potty-train earlier (due to the fact that the cloth does not absorb waste as disposables do).

    We have a service where a local business comes and picks up the diaper pail once a week and brings us the diapers washed from the prior week so we do not have to wash the diapers ourselves. We appreciate this and supporting local environmental entrepreneurial efforts and want to support these initiatives.

    Monetarily, we have found the pricing of disposables to be equal to that of our cloth diaper service.

  17. Bonnie Aylor permalink
    March 10, 2009

    Thank you secret admirer, I am NOT pregnant or do NOT have a child young enough for diapers!

    Really though, I have a nine year old. When she was a young child I used the disposable diapers because they were easier to deal with than the cloth diapers. She goes and you just take it off and clean her up a bit and put on a new one, there was no carrying around and trying to wash it and stuff. We used the brand that isn’t made out of plastic, I think it was pampers. Those diapers are made out of easily recyclable materials. Even so, unless there is a recycle your diapers program, the diapers are NOT recyclable because the recycling companies will not accept items with human waste. HOWEVER, with enough support of customers, via letters and suggestions, etc, it might not be extremely hard to get the company to USE recycled production during manufacture.

    Even so, it is much more sustainable to use cloth diapers, maybe with a diaper cover over top. HOWEVER, please note that with cloth diapers there is nowhere for the child’s waste product to go accept by hugging the skin, whereas disposable diapers are made so that the waste is contained in an area separate from the child’s skin, allowing for temporary storage as long as the diapers are changed in close proximity to the time of defacation.

    There are products that are organic and cruelty free that can be used on babies to protect and heal their skin. Do a little research on the web to find baby products such as diaper rash ointment and powders, gentle body washes and lotions, etc, that are certified organic and made of nothing but environmentally friendly botanicals. Also, there are products certified vegan so there is no need to worry about animal testing or animal cruelty involved with the products, nor the environmental degradation associated with handling mass animal production farms.

    Best regards :)

  18. Kicker permalink
    March 10, 2009

    Are these questions intended to insult your audience, or do they simply reflect the level of seriousness of the EPA in addressing fundamental environmental issues. The role played by the EPA in determining how parents handle toilet training and “waste disposal” should be in providing accurate information on, say, the total cost of disposable versus reusable, or the effect of disposable diapers on landfill capacity.

    This, and similar questions in the past, indicate an effort to popularize the EPA instead of dealing with substantive issues. Rather then wasting our money on useless outreach efforts, why not spend it doing serious work. Or, heaven forbid, cut the budget and return the money to the taxpayers.

  19. Deb permalink
    March 10, 2009

    I have used cloth diapers and training pants, from a diaper service, for all of my five children, the youngest of whom are twins. At first it was an environmental decision, but I quickly became won over for the following reasons:

    * My babies rarely, rarely had diaper rash.

    * They all potty trained by age two (noooo one likes wet training pants!) Although the service was slightly more expensive than disposables (about 5%), getting out of diapers sooner provided a big cost savings (about 25% overall).

    * My seven-year-old can change cloth diapers just as easily as disposables.

    * When daycares balked at using cloth, I pointed out that no law prohibited the use of cloth. I also showed them that using cloth was just as easy (toss the diapers in a hamper instead of the trash can). I never had a daycare refuse to use them.

    * Dirty cloth diapers don’t smell! Honestly, I never would have believed this, but as long as you put them in a closed hamper without rinsing them, they don’t smell bad like disposables. (Think of how long those diaper genie diapers are going to take to decay in the landfill!)

    I recommend using a diaper service (professional laundry) for the following reasons:

    * I never had to go out and buy diapers. They were just delivered to my house weekly.

    * No rinsing of icky diapers was required. I just had to toss them in the hamper for weekly pickup.

    * I didn’t have to keep buying larger and larger diapers, the service just brought bigger ones upon request. When it was time for training pants, the service provided those as well.

    * The laundry was able to do a much better, and probably more energy efficient, washing than I could have done at home.

    I highly recommend my diaper service and using cloth diapers. I would like to see a study that compares the environmental footprint of diaper service diapers as opposed to home-washed diapers.

  20. Claire permalink
    March 10, 2009

    I think different answers may make sense in different parts of the country. I chose to use a diaper service for my two children because we live in a part of the country where there is more water than landfill space. In the West, the balance might go the other way. The arguments regarding the benefits to the child (less diaper rash, etc.) are rather compelling, as well. Cloth diapers plus diaper covers also are less noisy than plastic diapers and much cuter.

  21. Marcy permalink
    March 10, 2009

    We used cloth diapers with our son, who is now 6. It saved us a ton of money, and based on what I read it was at the very least slightly better for the environment than disposables (even “slightly better” is enough for me). Using them was very easy, and we even found a terrific day care that had no problem using them either. They are also super-cute! No need for pants or shorts when they are wearing cute little all-in-ones or adorable diaper covers. And finally, I think it actually helped him potty-learn much faster than he would have otherwise, which made our lives a whole lot easier AND compounded our total savings. And as for the notion that diaper rash is worse with cloth diapers – my son has about the most sensitive skin of anyone I know, and he fared better in cloth than he did the few times we had to use disposables (we used cloth even on several vacations, but we did make one trip where we had to use disposables and boy was his tushy mad at us for that!).

  22. Misty Munoz permalink
    March 10, 2009

    I started my daughter on cloth diapers six weeks after she was born. My husband and I were the die-hard fans who have traveled across states using them the whole time. It was so simple to us and we loved the idea of saving so much money (since I am a full-time student) us just living off of one income. I am also majoring in Environmental Studies and know the devistating effects of disposable diapers from both throwing them away to producing them. My daughter will be 2 years old march 15 and has been fully potty trained for the last 3 months! I believe it is because I used cloth and the wet and solids in her diaper made her uncomfortable enough to kick her own diaper habit! P.S. I bought my all-in-one reusable diapers off of ebay-used for averaging out to 3 dollars a pair when they are 12 dollars a pair new. I plan to pass hers on as well to promote the use to those who cannot afford 12 dollars a diaper.

  23. Sarah permalink
    March 10, 2009

    I use disposable diapers for two main reasons:

    a) They are required by my daycare provider.
    b) Due to working outside the home and other commitments, I do not have time wash/dry cloth diapers.

    As much as I and my family care about the environment, this was one issue we could not get around. So we take care to conserve water, electricity, recycle, and make as few car trips as possible to help offset the use of disposable diapers.

  24. William permalink
    March 10, 2009

    Are you kidding me? Look we do a lot in our family to reduce our footprint and impact on the earth, but switching over to a diaper service or cloth diapers we have to wash ourselves is just not worth the hassle. We already have our hands full as it is and any parent of small children will know what I am talking about.

    Also – what is the net gain? Seriously? So the diapers go to the landfill – it’s not like they’re going to be leaching dangerous or hazardous chemicals like a lot of the other stuff I see people wantonly tossing away. Cloth diapers – yeah “reusable” (oh… surrrre) but how much water is used? How many chemicals are added to the waste stream – immediately impacting rivers and streams if untreated (CSO overflow)- and straining the municipal waste treatment system?

    We compost, commute by bicycle, have the smallest garbage can in the neighborhood despite the diapers… paper or plastic is what this choice seems to me to be.

  25. Joann permalink
    March 10, 2009

    There have been numerous studies that show there is no difference in the environmental impact between cloth and disposable diapers. There are pros and cons on why someone would choose one over the other. It’s a personal choice that should have no environmental basis.

  26. sugrdd permalink
    March 10, 2009

    My wife and I use disposable diapers for our 20 month old and will use them for number 2 (due in August). We have had no rashes or other problems mentioned with disposables. If you are worried about the cost of disposables you probably shouldn’t be having kids anyway.

  27. Bob permalink
    March 10, 2009

    I have raised 4 children and now help raise 3 grandchildren. There is no simple answer. My wife and I have used both types. Rashes can occur with both. Cloth are more trouble due to storage and cleaning and day care cannot use cloth as the logistics of sending the cloth back to the parent is not pleasant. I question the real cost of cloth as the cost of soap, time, machine wear and electric use seems understated in the studies I have seen.

    I think the bottom line is your life style dictates the use and the mix of types.

  28. Patricia permalink
    March 10, 2009

    I use disposable because I am a single mother of 4 and have to work full time. I used cloth diapers on my first child when I was a stay-at-home mom, but they leaked through everything and I did laundry daily, plus had to change them almost every hour. Now I do not have the time, plus the daycare requires disposable. I agree cloth is way more environmentally friendly, but it just isn’t a feasible option for me. If someone could come up with a “greener” disposable diaper, I would gladly use it.

  29. neloma permalink
    March 10, 2009

    who uses diapers for 18 years????? typically a baby wheres them until at least 2 years of age 15 months if parents are determined.then again around 95

  30. Cesar Velasco permalink
    March 10, 2009

    I use disposable diapers bacause:

    1.-Is easier for the modern life

    2.-My wife and work all day

    But I think is better used washable cloth diapers, because are friendly whit the environment

  31. Karen Repine permalink
    March 10, 2009

    I am 5 months pregnant and I will try cloth diapers but the kind that are velcro with the cloth insert so I don’t have to use safety pins (baby genius is the name) I am going to try the g diapers for travel they have a flushable or disposible insert. People have used these in Austrailia for years!!

    However, for sitters or daycare I will have disposables. It is the least I can do to help save the landfill space. I think a few extra loads of laundry will be worth it in the end. And I will line dry as long as I can however, winters in MT tend to be long :)

  32. neloma permalink
    March 10, 2009

    I dont understand the whole green thing. I mean I do but flushable verses land fill??? weather its on the ground or in my drinking water eventually its all a huge impact.everything gets flush and reused. think about it.not good for any of us.

  33. Theresa permalink
    March 10, 2009

    I read somewhere that cloth diapers and disposable diapers are the same as far as their “green-ness” is concerned. Sure disposable diapers take up landfill space, but cloth diapers are using water, detergent and electricity. I use all disposable diapers mainly for convienience. My mom used cloth diapers on my brothers and sisters and I remember how awful the diaper pail stunk!!! I am too much of a clean freak to have a dirty diaper pail stinking up my house!

  34. Linda permalink
    March 10, 2009

    I tried using cloth diapers but my son broke out in a terrible rash and would not go away.
    Huggies were the only ones that worked for him. Whenever I tried to go back to cloth-which we tried washing our own as well as a few other home delivery ones he would break out-
    When our second son came along he had a cyst in a bad area and cloth diapers irritated it to much. Funny thing is Pampers as well as snuggies were the only ones he could use that didn’t irritate and/or break out in a rash-
    The cloth diapers sure came in handy for burp cloths though-

  35. neloma permalink
    March 10, 2009


  36. neloma permalink
    March 10, 2009

    I agree. the indepth thinking will drive you insane and I feel we could all find other avenues to suite us and make a big differnce,

  37. Irene Fackrell permalink
    March 10, 2009

    Yes, When I had my baby born 1956 that was it no disposables diapers.

    I was used to the cloth diapers I came from family of 6 my mother did it. So did I we just get use to the easy way out now days

    I think with the times we are in. So off us will have to change our way of spending and thinking

    H. W.

  38. neloma permalink
    March 10, 2009


  39. Tausha permalink
    March 10, 2009

    I used cloth diapers with velcro leak-proof covers when my son (now 9) was a baby. We used disposables at night and when traveling. Everyone thought I was crazy. But, my son’s room never smelled and the diapers and covers lasted us the entire time. My initial investment meant that I did not have to buy diapers very often (one box every couple of months). My son never had diaper rash and potty-trained early.

    I am glad I made that choice. It was not very time consuming, 5 minutes every couple of days to start the washer and did not effect our utilities very much. My son did not have chemicals next to his body all day and we reduced our waste.

    People often believe that a convenience product is worth the money in time saved. As a mom who made my own baby food, sewed most of my son’s clothes and used cloth diapers, I disagree. Compared to the amount of time people spend watching TV, these activities take very little time with great financial rewards!

  40. neloma permalink
    March 10, 2009

    i agree my mom used them on my brothers and sisters and wow what a stinki smell. and then to have to rinse a soiled diaper. thats why I didnt babysit.

  41. Kelley permalink
    March 10, 2009

    I believe this choice is very dependent on the circumstances and the area you live in. It has been many years since my children were small. High efficiency washers were not in existance. Obviously, different areas of the nation have different concerns; such as extreme drought or lack of landfill space. Then there is consideration on the rules and requirements of daycare facilities. A large number of them require only disposable diapers for ease of bacteria control. They often require disposable wipes as well. I believe a “green minded” person would take all of these situations under consideration as well as the family’s economic situation and of course, the health and well-being of the baby. The answer may even be that a combination works best.

  42. Linda permalink
    March 10, 2009

    I never considered myself an environmentalist; but when disposable diapers came out and my daughter was born, in 1970, I tried them. They didn’t “flush” down the toilet like they said. Then I reasoned, where are these horrible things going to end up? The plastic is not going to rot. What will happen to our environment? Would I want this paper on me? Or would prefer cotton fabric. I noticed women are filthy, and I’ve seen these soiled diapers just left in public bathroom stalls. The smell in the trash cans. It was disgusting. I decided cloth diapers was the way to go. I would dispose of the mess in the toilet and rinse the diaper in the clean toilet. Then I would soak them in bleach. The washing machine and dryer kills bacteria. My babies NEVER suffered diaper rash, and I did not contribute to polluting the environment. When my granddaughter was born, I used only cloth diapers for her as well. I also felt I was saving a lot of money.

  43. Saiful Islam permalink
    March 10, 2009

    Disposable Baby Diaper can be last long during night time sleep. Also reliable for outside use. It’s reduced the parent’s works.

    Washable diaper is not good for health I believe. Washable Towels are
    are best if maintained.

    I am using Disposable Diapers & Washable Baby Towels for my baby.

  44. Hal Taylor permalink
    March 10, 2009

    If you ever had to actually use cloth diapers you’d know why we went to super-absorbents.

    We did the whole routine for my first daughter (31yrs ago): up to your elbows rinsing them out in the toilet, diaper pail with strong ammonia solution, heavy laundering with loads of bleach, never-ending folding and storing, chronic unavoidable diaper rashes, etc. And the diaper pins! Ouch! I still suspect my daughter is subconsciously traumatized from all the times I stuck her by mistake.

    There have been several cradle-to-grave impact studies done on the issue. I’ll never go back to cloth.

    Hal Taylor
    Chemical Engineer
    (two daughters and four grandchildren later)

  45. Karen permalink
    March 10, 2009

    They make a disposable Diaper costs about the same as pampers $12 to $14 for a pack. They are g diapers.

  46. Monica permalink
    March 10, 2009

    Before my son was born, I was gung-ho about using cloth diapers. It seemed like the best choice for the environment and for the baby, based on things I had read about disposables. However, after my son was born, I learned that they’re not only impractical — you don’t know how direly important practicality until is AFTER you have a child — but they require very frequent washing, which uses a lot of precious water.

    Now that my son is older (4 months) and his pees and poops are a little less frequent/unpredictable than in the newborn stage, I’ve started putting him in prefolds or all-in-ones at home from time to time for a change of pace. However, they irritate his bottom just as much as any disposable and, what’s worse is they’re bulky, which I think might even hamper his hip and joint development because he can’t flex his legs up as much as he can in thin disposables. Oh yeah — and then back to the laundry room. Thank goodness I have a HE washer.

    If someone could develop cloth diapers that were thin but absorbent, didn’t need so much stripping (yes, they come with chemicals too!) and were less expensive (the AIOs cost some $20 each), I think I might use them more. It still doesn’t solve the water use problem, though.

  47. madeline permalink
    March 10, 2009

    I guess I’m one of the middle-of-the- road people…I used clothe diapers from a diaper service (they picked up, washed, and left clean, fresh diapers biweekly) until my kids could walk/run. then I switched to disposable b/c the leaks were less…every little bit of green helps.

  48. Hal Taylor permalink
    March 10, 2009

    They’re made of polymerized acrylic acid.

  49. Aline permalink
    March 10, 2009

    As a mother and a wage earner outside the home, I used cloth diapers at home and the convience of disposable diapers outside the home. The cloth diapers are affordable in tough times and they posed no real threat on my social well being. The disposable were a necessity with working out of the home.
    I found the cloth diaper seemingly more comfortable than the disposible, but there were knacks that I needed to learn as a mother to ‘super clean these tools’ as the bacteria seemed to linger in the diaper even after washing. I actually had to refer back to my grandmother who suggested frequent soakings in a lower pH solution and frequent washings in clorinated detergents. This improved all aspects of the extended use of the cloth.

  50. Joyce permalink
    March 10, 2009

    We used cloth diapers primarily at home and enjoyed significant savings. Managing cloth diapers was quite simple.

    Outside the home however, most child-care providers required disposable diapers; this may have been a State regulatory requirement?

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