Parenting is a series of decisions, and you will start making them before your child is even born. One choice you will face early on is whether to use cloth or disposable diapers. There are advantages and disadvantages of each, so there is not one "right" answer. Understanding the benefits and drawbacks of cloth diapering will help you make a more informed decision. Of course, like much of parenting, your first decision doesn’t have to be your final answer. You may find your opinion on the cloth versus disposable debate evolving over time.

Pros of Cloth Diapers

The biggest advantage of using cloth diapers is the cost. While you will have significant investment up-front in the cost of the diapers, there is no need to replace them regularly, as with disposables. Another consideration in favor of cloth diapers is the material in contact with your baby's sensitive skin. Some parents worry about the gels used as absorbent material in disposable diapers. If this is a concern for you, cloth diapers are the way to go. Then, there's the question of environmental benefit. There is no debate that disposable diapers are a significant contributor to landfills. Using cloth diapers allows you to reduce the amount of waste your family generates.

There are many advantages to cloth diapers. myrrha / Getty Images


Cons of Cloth Diapers

Nearly every reason in favor of cloth diapers has an equivalent drawback. Disposable diapers cost more over time but do not require the initial investment. If finances are tight, purchasing the cloth diapers needed to get started can put a strain on your budget. Because cloth diapers are not as absorbent as disposable diapers, you will find yourself changing your baby more often. While this may not be much of a concern during the day, having your baby wake up wet overnight may make it harder to coax him into sleeping through the night. New parents are busy enough as it is, and the added burden of more changes can be too much.

Torso of a baby wearing a green cloth diaper princessdlaf / Getty Images


Different Types to Choose From

There are many types of cloth diapers. The most traditional are large squares of cloth that you fold yourself and pin into place. Another option that is still relatively inexpensive and straightforward are pre-folded diapers. They are folded and sewn, saving you some time and making it easier to put them on a squirmy baby. Outside of these two choices, the options become a little fancier. Pocket cloth diapers are layered, with a soft inner layer and waterproof outer layer. There is a space in the inner layer to slip an insert for extra absorbency.

You can even purchase cloth diapers that are designed more like disposable ones. They fit snugger than other varieties, creating a profile similar to disposables. Fitted cloth diapers still require a waterproof cover, while all-in-ones have a waterproof layer as part of the design.

There are many different types of cloth diapers to choose from. KatherinePost / Getty Images


How Many to Buy

Purchase twice as many diapers as your child goes through in one day. This allows you to do laundry every other day.

Fewer diapers means more frequent laundry. golfbress / Getty Images


Protecting Clothes and Furniture

Unless you purchase cloth diapers sewn into waterproof covers, this is another investment you'll need to make. These keep moisture and messes in the diaper, protecting clothes and furniture. Laying your baby on a couch, the carpet, or in his car seat without a waterproof cover is an accident waiting to happen.

diaper cover on baby


Before You Start

You should always wash cloth diapers on their own, separate from other laundry. Wash them at least once before you use them for the first time. Read the directions for your particular type of diaper. Some fabrics, such as hemp, should be washed multiple times before use to improve absorbency.

Preparing your diapers helps them absorb better. princessdlaf / Getty Images


The Changing Process

Remove the dirty diaper and flush any solid waste down the toilet. You can then either rinse the diaper lightly and place it in a covered pail until laundry day, or place it directly into a pail containing laundry soap and water. Don't let the diapers sit for more than a few days, to prevent mildew.

Changing gets quicker with practice. princessdlaf / Getty Images


The Washing Process

Remove any inserts in the diapers before placing them in the washing machine. Use the hottest water choice available on your machine and add detergent. Follow up with an extra rinse cycle to ensure all of the soap is out. Do not use fabric softener — white vinegar added to the first rinse cycle is fine.

Separate the diaper completely before placing it in the wash. dimarik / Getty Images


Keep Them Looking Nice

If you notice your diapers start to look stained or dingy, allow them to dry outside in the sun. This helps fade many organic stains and can keep them looking like new. Stripping the diapers with washing powder or a commercial laundry product every few months can also bring them back to life and improve absorbency, which may naturally decrease over time.

Sunlight can keep diapers looking nice. Chantalrouthier / Getty Images


Using a Hybrid Method

You may decide to mostly use cloth diapers when you are home, saving disposables for when you are out of the house or away overnight. This allows you to reduce the number of diapers you need to buy and minimizes the amount of waste you contribute to the landfill, while still keeping traveling simple and practical.

You can use both cloth and disposable diapers on your baby. dimarik / Getty Images


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