Cloth diapers vs. disposable diapers: getting started

Consumer Reports News: July 08, 2009 02:29 PM

You’ll change thousands of diapers by the time your child is 2 to 3 years old and ready for the potty. Fortunately, diaper quality is better than ever, which makes the task easier. Although cloth diapers are making a comeback, disposable diapers continue to be a popular choice because they’re so convenient. (Learn more about diaper pails.)

Your first major decision in the diaper department will be between the cloth (a.k.a. “reusable”) or disposable (“single-use”) kind. Both types have their benefits and drawbacks. Disposable diapers are undeniably convenient, but they’re costly: You can expect to spend $1,500 to $2,000 or more on disposables by the time your baby is out of them. If you use “eco-friendly” disposable diapers, which are biodegradable or not bleached with chlorine, you’ll pay even more, an average of $1,600 to $2,500, depending on the number of diaper changes per day.

Cloth diapers can be much less expensive, especially if you wash them yourself. After paying the start-up costs—namely the waterproof covers you’ll need to lock in moisture, the diapers, diaper inserts (cloth pads added to increase absorbency), and flushable liners that help contain the mess and eliminate the need to rinse cloth diapers before depositing them in a diaper pail—you’ll spend hundreds of dollars less in diapering supplies over the years because you’ll wash and reuse them again and again. You might even be able to use them for more than one baby.

“People have this leftover image of rubber pants and pins,” says Betsy Thomas, co-owner of Bummis, a Montreal-based company that makes washable waterproof diaper covers and sells prefolds and fitted diapers to go with them. But cloth diapers that close with snaps or Velcro can be almost as easy to use as disposable diapers. Yet you still have to wash them. Despite a resurgence in the popularity of cloth diapers, disposable diapers continue to be an accepted choice among today’s parents, day-care centers and hospitals.

Learn more in the latest edition of Consumer Reports Guide to Baby Products, available in our bookstore and in bookstores nationwide.

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