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October 2019

Disposable vs. Cloth Diapers: The Straight Poop

Disposable diapers make up more than 1.5% of all the trash in this country. About 3.4 million tons of them end up in our landfills each year. So, are cloth diapers a better choice?

Two stacks of diapers, one plain white, the other colorful

That’s up to you! There are environmental costs to using both disposable and cloth diapers. Plus, there are differences in how well the diapers work. Here’s what you need to know to make an informed choice, both for your baby and for the world your baby will grow up in.

Disposable diapers

Today’s disposable diapers are marvels of engineering. They’re thinner and fit better than older versions. Plus, they keep your baby drier, thanks to superabsorbent materials. Studies show that disposables may reduce diaper rash, compared with cloth diapers.

In the past, some ingredients used to make disposable diapers raised health concerns. But at this point, such ingredients have largely been replaced with safer materials. For example, latex, which can trigger allergies, has been replaced with spandex.

On the downside, those mountains of discarded diapers grow taller every day. Some companies have created more biodegradable diapers. But if the diapers end up in landfills (as most do), they may still take a long time to break down under the conditions there.

Cloth diapers

The alternative is cloth diapers. Because they’re reusable, they’re cheaper over the long haul. Another plus: If you’re worried about the chemicals used in disposables, cloth diapers offer a more natural option. But keep in mind that they’re not environmentally neutral. Whether you wash them yourself or use a diaper service, it takes a lot of water and energy resources to keep a clean supply on hand.

Compared with disposables, cloth diapers are more prone to leaks. To help prevent blowouts, consider using a diaper cover, made to go over the cloth diaper for extra protection.

If buying organic is important to you, organic cotton diapers are available. To make cleanups easier, you can buy flushable liners to put inside the diapers. That way, when it’s time to change a dirty diaper, you can flush away the mess, liner and all.

The truth is, there’s no perfect solution to the diaper dilemma. But armed with information, you can sniff out the best diaper for your baby.

 

Get to the bottom of diaper rash

Whether you’re Team Disposables or Team Cloth, healthy diapering habits are crucial. Watch this video from the American Academy of Dermatology to learn how to treat diaper rash.

Online Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2019
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