As with many areas of parenting, choosing between cloth nappies and disposable nappies usually comes down to personal preference. The good news is that there’s no right or wrong answer nor a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, we’ll go over the main differences between cloth nappies and disposable nappies so you can make a decision that you feel is the best fit for you and your baby.
Differences Between Cloth Nappies & Disposable Nappies
Overall Comfort & Sensitivity
When it comes to the comfort level of cloth nappies vs. disposable nappies, there’s not a huge difference. Disposable nappies are generally made with a plastic layer on the outside and a super-absorbent inner liner that can be made from a variety of materials, such as wood pulp, tissue paper, or polyester nonwoven fabric. On the other hand, cloth nappies are usually made from cotton.
Neither type of nappy has an obvious advantage when it comes to comfort for your baby. Instead, the most important factor is that you change your baby’s nappy when it’s full. Leaving any nappy on a baby for an extended period of time—whether it’s made of cloth or disposable—increases a baby’s risk for developing a nappy rash. Plus, it doesn’t feel so great for your baby.
If your baby tends to be a bit more sensitive to chemicals and dyes, cloth nappies may have an advantage. Disposable nappies often contain chemicals like dioxin along with gels and dyes. Although there haven’t been any formal studies to show that these components create irritation, some parents may have a personal preference to eliminate products with any dyes or chemicals from baby’s nursery. Not only that, but if your baby is extra sensitive to certain products, there is a chance they might have an allergic reaction or a simple sensitivity to a disposable nappy.
Are cloth nappies cheaper than disposable? Because the nature of cloth nappies means they’re reusable, yes, cloth nappies are generally more cost efficient than disposable nappies. But it’s not always that straightforward.
A cloth baby nappy—which can be made from either cotton, flannel, or terry cloth—can either come as pre-folded pieces of liners or as a ready-to-go nappy (meaning it looks more like a disposable nappy because it included both a nappy and a cover). Although cloth nappies result in a pricier investment up front, they’re usually much cheaper over a longer period of time. And since it’ll probably be a few years before your baby is able to completely ditch nappies, there’s a long period of time you’ll need to be utilizing nappies.
It’s been estimated that a family can spend between $2,000-$3,000 per baby over the course of two years on disposable nappies alone. In comparison, cloth nappies are estimated to cost about $800-1,000 for the same time period. Plus, if you wanted to add another sibling to the family, you could reuse those cloth nappies for another few years.
Keep in mind, though, that the $800-$1,000 price estimate doesn’t include the price of washing and drying the cloths, which results in additional costs along with time and effort. Because cloth nappies are generally less absorbent than disposable nappies, this means they have been changed more frequently. Regardless of how many cloth nappies you have, you’ll have to be doing frequent laundry loads. Either that, or you can choose to utilize a nappy washing service. This is certainly a convenient option, but it will increase your nappy cost exponentially.
Quality & Quantity
Because disposable nappies are aptly named in that they’re disposable, you may be asking yourself, “How many cloth nappies do I need?” Let’s break it down.
If you want to use cloth nappies, you’ll probably need 20-24 nappies to start with, and may need more depending on your laundry routine.
Quality-wise, cloth nappies are generally less absorbent and can be more difficult to change if you opt for the nappies that have disposable liners. You can use all-in-one cloth nappies that are easier to change, but these are more expensive.
When it comes to disposable nappies, on the other hand, you’ll certainly be going through them quickly, especially at first. Newborns can go through as many as 12 nappies in a day, whereas a baby that’s a year or two will go through 5-7 a day. That means you’ll go through thousands of nappies each year.
However, when it comes to the quality, they’re ultra-absorbent due to the inner liner that keeps wetness away from your baby’s skin. They also make nappy changes a breeze due to the strips attached to the back panel that fasten in the front.
Although you can buy all-in-one cloth nappies that make changing a bit easier, disposable nappies might be more convenient when you’re out and about. After all, if you’re wondering how to dispose of nappies, you’ll simply throw away disposable nappies, while you’ll need to carry the used (and sometimes stinky) cloth nappy with you. This can make disposable nappies much more convenient when you’re on the go.
You might guess that because cloth nappies are reused instead of thrown away that they’re the clear winner when it comes to environmental impact. Although they generally contribute to less of an impact, the answer isn’t that cut and dry.
In fact, both cloth nappies and disposable nappies have an impact on the environment.
Because the average baby goes through roughly 10-12 nappies a day, disposable nappies contribute to thousands of tons of landfill around the world. Not only that, but the manufacturing process for disposable nappies uses tons of water and energy. To offset the impact of disposable nappies, you can always opt for biodegradable nappies.
When it comes to reusable cloth nappies, it’s been estimated that they’re about 40% less harmful to the environment than disposable nappies. But they still have a significant environmental impact. To reuse this type of nappy requires the use of detergents plus the energy needed to wash and dry cloth nappies.
Likewise, if your reusable nappy is made of our synthetic micro fleeces, microsuedes, or microfibers, you’ll need to realize that washing these materials releases hundreds of thousands of fibers into the water and the environment (per wash!). To make sure you’re making the most environmentally-friendly choice, you’ll want to purchase nappies that are made out of organic cotton and other unbleached fibers, such as hemp or bamboo.
All in all, there are a lot of factors to consider when choosing the type of nappy you want to use for your little one. Although you could make a case for either cloth nappies or disposable nappies, the “right” choice is ultimately the one you feel most comfortable with.