Diaper debate: Cloth vs. disposable?

Monday, February 4, 2013

The decision of whether to use cloth or disposable diapers is not one that new moms take lightly. There's cost to consider, as well as environmental factors, what kind of materials you want touching your baby's bottom, and what kind of work you're willing to do when it comes to the diapers themselves.

Resa Armstrong of Cape Girardeau used disposable diapers with her first two boys, but switched to cloth while trying to find a solution for her daughter's persistent diaper rashes. Turns out, the rashes had nothing to do with the disposable diapers, but by Armstrong's fourth child, another daughter, she was a convert to cloth diapers.

"Cloth diapers of today are not the cloth diapers of our parents," says Armstrong. She had been curious about cloth diapers before but, thinking of traditional fold-and-pin cloth diapers, she wasn't sure she was up to the challenge. After doing online research and chatting with Facebook friends, Armstrong learned that today's cloth diapers have Velcro and snaps, liners for easy cleaning and even cute colors and styles. She crunched some numbers and made spreadsheets, coming to the conclusion that cloth diapers would be more cost-effective for her family of six.

"Our total investment was under $600, and it became very affordable for us to do," says Armstrong. "Once that investment is done, you just pay for detergent and any replacements you need, which is rare."

Cheryl Wormington, an international board-certified lactation consultant at SoutheastHEALTH, says $600 is a typical investment for cloth diapers. That's an intimidating number for many people, but she says families save money in the long run.

Think of it this way, she says: Disposable diapers cost about $20 per package, and that's every time you buy them. "Most time that package is not going to last a whole week," says Wormington. "Multiply that $20 by 52 weeks at least, and look how much you've already saved. And usually it's around two years that babies are in diapers."

If cloth diapers are cared for properly, they should last a child from birth to potty training, says Armstrong. She does an extra load of laundry every other day, and she says she hasn't noticed a significant increase in her water bill, either. Flourish readers Melissa Tullock and Jessica Wheeler are also fans of cloth diapers because they are easy on the budget and the environment.

As for the messiness factor, Armstrong says it did take some time to work out a cleaning system, but now that she's figured it out, she'll never go back. In fact, she says if she'd known more about cloth diapers when she had her first baby, she would have started with them right away. All it takes is an extra minute to spray and rinse the diapers before she puts them in the wash, and Armstrong is proud to say that all 24 of her diapers remain stain-free. Her daughter even uses cloth diapers while grandma is babysitting, and grandma doesn't have to do anything special with the diapers.

"Just roll the diaper up in itself, put it in a bag, zip it up and deal with it later," says Armstrong. "Once I figured it out it was kind of a no-brainer after that. It can be intimidating. I have four kids, but it was very easy. Once I took the plunge it was less of a headache for me."

Some moms use a combination of cloth and disposable diapers -- cloth at home, disposable when they're traveling -- while others prefer disposables all the time.

"They're easy, convenient and I have enough laundry to do without washing diapers, too," says Flourish reader Holly Davis French.

Kristen Pind, who writes a parenting blog for the Flourish e-zine, agrees. She says if you're savvy, disposable diapers can still be cost-effective.

"It is bad enough that you have to clean the doo-doo off their bottoms, let alone clean it out of a cloth diaper and then wash it," she says. "It was much more appealing to me to do disposable, and if you watch for sales and use coupons, they aren't too expensive."

Wormington used cloth diapers with her first two children and switched to disposables when her third child started daycare. She says most of the new moms she works with use disposable diapers, though there does seem to be more interest lately in cloth diapers.

"I think you just need to look at how you want to manage your time," she says. "Do you want to manage your time doing a little extra laundry, or taking out the trash and going to the store?"


Cloth diaper moms agree your best resource is other moms. Resa Armstrong likes these two stores for online or in-person shopping, advice and troubleshooting. Cotton Babies even offers Cloth 101 classes to teach moms all about cloth diapering.

Cotton Babies


9916 Kennerly Road, St. Louis



1200 Town and Country Crossing Drive, Town and Country, Mo.


Mom's Milk Boutique


601 S. Emma St., West Frankfort, Ill.