What Are the Benefits of Cloth Diapers?

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Does your understanding of cloth diapers include complicated folds and sharp safety pins? You may be surprised to learn cloth diapers have come a long way since then—I know I was. I was also surprised to learn that there are quite a few benefits of cloth diapers as well.

Have you been considering using cloth diapers? I wasn’t sure I was ready to commit to the time and effort that would go into cloth diapering. The more I learned about the benefits of cloth diapers, though, the more I thought this might be an option worth exploring.

What Are The Cloth Diaper Options?

Need to know what kind of diapers are on the market for you to choose from? Here’s what you can expect to come across when you’re shopping.

Flats And Prefolds

These diapers are probably closest to what you think of when you think of cloth diapers. They are square to rectangular in shape and require folding and securing to become a diaper. Usually made from cotton or cotton blends, these diapers aren’t waterproof and require a cover.

Fitted Diapers

Fitted diapers work just like disposable diapers. They are already shaped like disposables and require no folding. They usually use snaps or velcro to secure easily in place.

Fitted diapers generally come with extra absorbency where it’s needed. These diapers are not waterproof and require a cover.

All-In-One Diapers

All-in-ones are just what they sound like—a one-stop solution for cloth diapering needs. Like a fitted diaper, these require no folding or shaping. Unlike the fitted diaper, all-in-ones have an additional layer of fabric that prevents leaking. No cover is needed.

Hybrid Diapers

There are different kinds of hybrid diapers. They usually fit like a fitted diaper and have a soft exterior but still provide an element of waterproofing.

Similar to all-in-ones, there are also all-in-twos. These diapers have a secondary piece that snaps in for extra absorbency but can lessen the length of needed drying time.

Covers And Pockets

Covers go on top of non-waterproofed diapers. They usually don’t contain a lining.

Pocket covers, on the other hand, have a lining that’s equipped with a pocket. In this pocket you can place an absorbent insert.

Pockets can only be used once before needing to be washed. Covers, on the other hand, can be wiped down and reused if your baby is only slightly wet.

Both covers and pockets may be referred to as waterproof, but this isn’t actually the case. They are usually made from PUL or TPU material and are coated to be water resistant. Unlike plastic—which would actually be waterproof—these materials are still breathable for your baby’s skin.

How To Use And Maintain Cloth Diapers

When it comes to using cloth diapers, there’s not much difference than when using disposable diapers. Change your baby when the diaper is damp or dirty.

washer and dryer

What’s obviously different with cloth diapers is the ongoing care routine they require. Part of your care routine will depend on the kind of cloth diaper you choose to use and the age of your baby.

If your baby is exclusively breastfeeding, there is little prep work to putting your diapers in the wash. Exclusively breastfed waste is water soluble, so dirty diapers can go straight into the wash. No pre-soaking is necessary.

Use a dedicated bin for your dirty diapers. At the end of the day, put them through a wash cycle. Most people use a washing machine for diaper laundry, but they can be safely washed without a machine as well.

If you have an older child eating table foods or a baby who is formula fed, you will need to rinse waste from your diaper before washing. This should happen in the toilet bowl and can be done with the assistance of a toilet sprayer.

You will want to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for washing. Your covers (or all-in-ones with that “waterproof” exterior) may need to hang dry, as heat can damage the protective layer or void warranties.

The Benefits Of Cloth Diapers

There are several great reasons to choose cloth diapers over disposable diapers. We’ll discuss some of the top ones here.

Budget Friendly

Some people may spend a lot of money on designer cloth diapers. The truth is, though, that they can usually be found at quite reasonable prices. You may even consider upcycling items and making your own cloth diapers.

It’s quite possible that you’ll spend more money up front purchasing cloth diapers than a package of disposable diapers. However, cloth diapers are usually not a recurring cost. You may need to replace one on occasion, or add to your stash, but you’ll mostly continue to use the ones you already own.

If you plan on using cloth diapers for more than one child, you’ll see even greater savings. While you do need to factor in the additional cost of energy, water, and laundry soap, you can still save some serious money.

Great For Sensitive Skin

Another benefit of cloth diapers is that they can be a fantastic option for sensitive skin needs. While disposable diapers can be exceptionally absorbent, the paper, moisture, and chemicals can irritate skin. Cloth diapers may need to be changed more frequently, but you can choose to use organic, natural fibers as needed.

While some chemicals may be used during the manufacturing process (mostly for the waterproofing techniques), they aren’t directly against the skin.

Babies Who Wear Cloth Diapers May Potty Train Faster

Perhaps disposable diapers are too good at what they do. They can be so absorbent that children can’t feel when they become wet. This can delay their understanding of the urge to go to the bathroom and resulting discomfort. In turn, this could make potty training more difficult to accomplish.

Cloth Diapers Are More Attractive

There are no two ways about it—cloth diapers are infinitely cuter than disposable diapers. They come in a variety of patterns and solid colors to suit your preferred aesthetic.

While disposable diapers are always disposable diapers, cloth diapers can be a cute accessory for your child. When it’s warm out, you can even skip pants altogether and still have a child who looks dressed and put together.

You Can Continue To Use Cloth Diapers

Even once your baby is potty trained, cloth diapers can come in handy. You can choose to donate your stash to someone else if you’re through with babies of your own. If you use prefolds or flats, these become perfect for cleaning rags.

You can also continue to keep non-absorbent diaper covers around to use as swimming diapers. This works to save you the money you’d spend on disposable swim diapers.

Environmental Concerns

There’s no perfect option for diapering babies. Using cloth diapers does mean you’ll be using more water and electricity during regular maintenance.

However, the amount of energy and water that goes into manufacturing disposable diapers is significant. Disposable diapers also end up in the landfill and can take a long time to break down. Choosing cloth can help avoid adding to our growing landfill problems. It can also reduce manufacturing-related waste.

green grass

How To Choose The Right Cloth Diaper For Your Child

If you’ve decided to move forward with cloth diapering, there are some things you’ll want to keep in mind when shopping:

  • Budget: Your price limit might be one of the first things you need to identify before you go shopping. It may influence the kind of diaper you bring home and whether or not you buy new or used.
  • Who will change your baby: Have a number of babysitters or grandparents who will be spending a lot of time with your baby? You may want to stick with fitted diapers and all-in-ones. These function just like disposable diapers so there’s not a great learning curve for using them.
  • When will you start cloth diapering: If you plan on cloth diapering right from the beginning, you may need multiple stashes. While some cloth diapers are incredibly adjustable (usually called one-size diapers) they generally work for babies weighing 10 pounds and up. If you plan on cloth diapering a smaller baby, you may need a newborn diaper stash as well.
  • How many diapers do you need: Have more than one child using cloth diapers at once? Plan on washing diapers every day or only once a week? These answers will play into how many diapers you need and may impact your budget.

The Drawbacks That Come With Cloth Diapers

Of course, it’s hard for any parenting option to be entirely drawback-free. Here are some of the drawbacks that come with using cloth diapers:

  • Laundry: Unless you hire a service that collects, launders, and then provides you with clean diapers, you’re looking at extra laundry. As a family with young children, you’re probably doing a lot of laundry already. Be prepared for more if you use cloth.
  • Cloth diapers take up space: Cloth diapers require more storage space than disposable diapers. Make sure you allocate space in your nursery for cloth diaper storage (both clean and dirty) and choose a diaper bag that works for cloth diapers. A large diaper caddy can be a good idea as well.
  • They are too cute: Okay, this may not be a real drawback. Just be aware that it can be easy to buy more diapers than you need because of the cute factor. If budget is a true factor for you in choosing cloth, plan accordingly and stick to it.

Why Just Diaper When You Can Reap The Benefits Of Cloth Diapers?

Still not sure it’s entirely right for you? You can always pick up a few diapers to try, or cloth diaper part-time.

At the end of the day, cloth diapers can be a great option for diapering your child. A little bit of planning and budgeting can leave you with a great stash that could last you years. In the process, you can feel good about the money you’re saving and the good you’re doing for the earth.

Cristin is a co-founder of Smart Parent Advice, and the loving mother of two wonderful children. In her free time, she can often be found in a yoga studio or catching up on her favorite shows.