What is a cloth diaper?
A cloth diaper is a fabric garment that a baby wears to help collect solid waste.
Although they are cooler than plastic pants and require less aggressive washing, reusable diapers still need cleaning. Washing soiled diapers at home requires large quantities of water and soap powder (environmentally harmful) as well as some energy input for drying on clotheslines or in dryers (fuel sources).
Cloth diapers contribute to the amount of non-biodegradable waste in landfills. In some areas, disposal of disposable diapers is now subject to a garbage disposal tax as these products affect the volume of garbage going to landfills.
The initial cost can be quite high with the need for a diaper service or a supply of good quality covers. Each additional child will mean more expenditure on diapers.
Advantages of cloth diaper
- Economical: cloth diapers are generally more economical than disposable diapers.
- Environmentally friendly: cloth diapers have a smaller environmental impact than disposable diapers because of their biodegradable nature and lower landfill impact.
- Health-conscious: some people feel that a cloth diaper is better for a baby's skin, avoiding possible skin irritation from the chemicals used in disposables. Disposable diapers often have fragrances and other additives to help mask odors and keep users dry, but these features may further limit the healthy effects of avoiding rashes or yeast infections that can be experienced with the use of disposable diapers.
- Condensed load for machine washing: cloth diapers take up much less space in the washer than comparable loads disposables. This can be an advantage for tiny living spaces.
- Variety: cloth diapers come in a huge variety of patterns and styles, making it easier to match the diaper to the user's clothing or sense of style. Disposables often have limited options for colors and prints, unless specifically made by the manufacturer for "fun" designs.
- Tried and true: many moms swear by cloth diapers because they claim that they worked well for their babies when they were young, and their children are healthy with few diaper rashes or other such problems. Disposable diapers can cause severe diaper rash if not changed frequently enough, especially overnight while sleeping.
- Eco-friendly laundry detergents: some eco-friendly laundry detergents must be used with hot water to effectively clean cloth diapers. Since this is generally not the case with most standard laundry detergents, hot water must be used for washing cloth diapers to ensure that they are clean enough to use again.
Disadvantages of cloth diaper
- Bulk: though many brands of disposable diapers are bulky, cloth diapers can be bulky even when fastened properly. Additional inserts or doublers often have to be added for nighttime use so the baby will not wake up due to being cold and uncomfortable from a wet diaper.
- Comfort: some babies may feel restricted inside a fabric garment that holds their legs together tightly. This has led many parents who wanted to use cloth diapers but discovered this issue at trial, instead choosing disposables because they were concerned about their baby's comfort.
- Inconvenient: cloth diapers have to be washed after each use, and when they are not being washed the user must find a way to store them in a waterproof container or wet bag until they can be laundered. Disposables can simply be thrown into the trash.
- Maintenance: cloth diapers require maintenance like washing and drying, whereas disposables do not need any special care other than what is required by the manufacturer (such as folding correctly before placing it in the diaper pail).
- Inserts/Doublers: many brands of cloth diapers require inserts or doublers for nighttime use because the absorbency of one thick layer of fabric is not enough to hold several wettings without leaking. However, very young babies do not wet often, and when they do the volume of liquid in their diaper is small enough that one thick layer of fabric can absorb it all without any leakage. This means that at the very beginning some parents may choose to use cloth diapers but neglect to add an additional insert or doubler before bedtime (when the baby will be sleeping) resulting in problems like over-wetting.
- Thirsty: cloth diapers require more frequent changes than disposables because they hold much less moisture in the body of the fabric itself; this requires either adding an additional pad or doubling up on layers in order to increase absorbency. This also means that cloth diapers take much longer to dry than disposables.
- Odor: because disposable diapers contain super-absorbent chemicals in the body of the fabric, they do not become saturated with moisture like cloth diapers do; this means that there is less microbe growth (such as bacteria) which causes odors when there is too much moisture for too long. Cloth diapers may need to be changed more frequently if they are left wet or dirty for an extended period.
- Hassle: cloth diapering requires maintaining a variety of components, such as multiple sets of covers and inserts, along with an adequate number of pre-washed and dried diaper shells in order to guarantee that there will always be a clean diaper available. Some parents find this a hassle and choose not to use cloth diapers because they want to make diapering as easy as possible.
Types of cloth diapers
There are several different types of cloth diapers available to consumers. They range from basic flat or prefold diapers, which are the most popular type used by families who stick with the diapering method for more than half a year, to ultra-absorbency pocket or all-in-one styles, which are the best choice for parents who need maximum absorbency but do not want to have to deal with so many pieces and components.
Flat and prefold:
The cheapest and most popular type of cloth diaper is simply a piece of fabric (made variously from cotton, hemp, bamboo rayon, wool) folded around the baby. This layer is held in place with an attached waterproof outer shell; usually, there is an extra piece of fabric called a doubler that is placed inside the shell to add increased absorbency. The cover can be changed when it is soiled, and these diapers are usually changed more frequently than all-in-one styles because they hold less liquid in their layers.
The main benefit of this type of cloth diaper is its convenience; you simply open up the diaper, place it onto your baby's bottom, and secure it with Velcro or snaps. This type of diaper also has an ultra-absorbent component sewn into the lining of the waterproof outer shell, which makes them very bulky compared to simple flat or prefold diapers but they do not need any additional inserts or doublers because they are already sewn in. The downside is that the outer shell must be changed every time it has been soiled because the lining cannot be removed for cleaning or drying; this means that if these diapers are used, they will certainly need to be washed more frequently than all-in-two styles.
This style of cloth diaper consists of two pieces instead of three (cover + insert/doubler). Since there are fewer parts to wash and dry, many parents choose this style because it requires less maintenance over time. Although the initial investment may cost slightly more than simple flat or prefold styles, laundering these diapers takes about half as much total time as all-in-one types would take. The cover is used every time the diaper changes, and usually, these covers are made without any waterproof backing so they can dry out between each use.
How to choose a good cloth diaper?
Flat or prefold diapers are an affordable choice, but they require the most maintenance. Before buying these types of diapers, take some time to think about whether you would actually be able to keep up with all of the required components and parts. It is very important that you do not buy more than you can handle; otherwise, you will end up wasting money because the diaper won't get used.
The same goes for getting overwhelmed by too many accessories; it's better to start simple and add more if needed than it is to lose interest in cloth diapering because it's too much work! If you're unsure about your ability, consider using only washable cotton wipes (no disposable baby wipes) instead of cloth diapers at first; this can help you decide if you'd be able to keep up with the diaper laundry before spending a lot of money on too many diapers.
All-in-one and all-in-two styles are much easier to use day-to-day, but they can be more expensive since there is a greater need for replacements. Even if these types of diapers seem complicated at first, once you get used to them it becomes very simple because there are fewer parts that need washing or taking care of every time the baby has a change.
If cost is not an issue, all three types have their benefits and drawbacks so parents should pick the one that best suits their situation. If you plan on using cloth diapering as your main method for several years, investing in a few all-in-one or all-in-two styles is a good idea. Other parents only use these types of diapers occasionally when they need to travel or for babysitting, and in this case simple flat or prefold diapers are a better choice since they will be less expensive and require less maintenance.
If you go with any type of cloth diapering method, choose the ones that best suit your lifestyle! It's best to start simply at first until you get used to it all instead of wasting money on too many different kinds of accessories if you won't actually use them. In the end, cloth diapering is not always easy but it doesn't have to be hard either; just pick something that works best for you and your baby, do some research if necessary, and cloth diapers on!