From Cloth to Disposable Diapers

By: , March 18th, 2015. Posted in: Money, Parenting

For you, cloth vs. disposable diapers may be a hard and fast decision.

LB as a newborn in cloth (photo credit Ilana Natasha Photography) and LB now in disposables.

You may have already made up your mind about whether to diaper your precious little one in cloth or disposables.  At least, that’s the way it was for us, until we changed our minds.  Here’s our personal account of why we switched away from cloth.

We told everyone about our plan to wrap our little bundle’s bottom in cloth, starting long before he was born.  Our list of pros was glowing.  We planned to wash them ourselves, so there would be no harsh chemicals used (as with some diaper services).  We also wouldn’t be adding mounds of disposables to the already bursting landfills, thereby contributing to a cleaner environment.  According to our research at the time, cloth diapers are also much healthier for the baby, save a lot of money, and so on.  We had also been told that cloth diapers would be less smelly (true), and would ultimately be better for potty training (we didn’t stick it out long enough to test that claim, but I am willing to bet that is also true).

A few times during that period, we had friends tell us they had felt the same way, until they tried cloth diapers.  Some told us they didn’t last more than a few months, and others outright declared that we wouldn’t last more than a few months.  The nerve of those well-meaning but still-smug friend-types!

No one likes to have something they feel strongly about called into question.  For me, it was especially difficult to accept after spending so much energy researching the pros and cons, and so much money on building an ample supply of cloth diapers (a variety of all-in-one (AIO) and pocket diapers in several sizes, including one size (OS).  Jason and I had a sound basis for our decision, and we weren’t going to be swayed by those nay-sayers.

Now it’s nearly two years later, and our son has been wearing disposable diapers for most of that time.  So what changed?

After LB was born, I stayed at home with him for twelve weeks.  Jason was home as well, because he runs a home-based business.  While we were both at home, we found it relatively easy to keep up with the extra laundry and the extra effort needed for cloth diapering.  We accepted that it took more time than we thought it would, it was messier than we thought it would be, and was a much bigger hassle when leaving the house.  We thought that because we were committed to our decision, we would continue for the long haul.

When I went back to work full time, Jason was both the Stay at Home Dad and Work at Home Dad.  We found out quickly that the extra time per day spent dealing with cloth diapers was time we simply couldn’t afford to spend.  There was also the issue of finding a great fit for LB, which proved to be challenging for us (at best).

We started converting to disposables slowly, at first.  We were using cloth when at home, and disposables when we left the house.  Then we added in disposables at bedtime, because LB was leaking every night.  (Before you ask… Yes, we tried several styles, brands, and sizes of diapers.  Yes, we tried adjusting the fit.  Yes, we tried extra inserts for absorbency.)

During this gradual transition, we realized LB was doing just fine in disposables.  He was sleeping better, and there was no sudden and shocking increase in diaper rash (something we were warned might happen with disposables).  Even now, we rarely need to use any creams unless there is a careless wiping incident.  In which case, I doubt a cloth diaper would help.

We also became less anxious about poop.  Leaving the house with our baby son became a little more relaxed, a little easier.  We worried less about leaks and blowouts.  Although it was difficult to accept our lost investment in cloth diapers, we were definitely happier with disposables.  And, in the eyes of some of our dearest friends, we were crossing over to the dark side.

Now that we’ve fully transitioned to disposables (with no desire to go back), I’ve compiled a few tidbits of information I wish I would have fully understood before going with cloth.  Honestly, I’m not sure if knowing these things would have changed my mind in the beginning of all this.  I just hope they’ll help someone else.

  1. Not every diaper works for every kid.  Every brand, style, and size of diaper will fit a little bit differently and it could change over time.  When building your supply, it’s best to try out several options to find the one that’s right for your child.  You will likely need to repeat this process again as your child grows.
  2. I recommend buying used diapers, especially if money is tight.  I bought a portion of our supply used, and I’ve since re-sold all of our cloth diapers (recovering approximately 60% of what we originally spent).  This is definitely a plus for cloth.  If you buy them, and then decide to go in a different direction, you can always re-sell them.  There is a huge market for used cloth nappies.
  3. Cloth diapers are bulky.  You may need to bump your kiddo up a clothing size on the bottom so they’ll fit over the diaper.
  4. A larger diaper bag with multiple compartments is a must!  As mentioned above, the diapers are bulky and take up more space.  When you’re away from home, keep in mind that you’ll be carrying clean and dirty diapers around in that satchel.
  5. A supply of zippered wet bags is important for sealing up the nasties in the diaper bag, and can also be useful at home.  Planet Wise has some great products, but resealable plastic bags work just as well (they’re just not as pretty…and they’re not as Earth-friendly).
  6. If you’re washing your own cloth diapers in a high efficiency washing machine, your rinse cycle may not dispense enough water (unless you trick it).  To do this, add a wet towel to the load to increase the weight (signaling the washer to increase the amount of water needed).  The cold rinse cycle is so important to getting your diapers clean.  Taking this step will hopefully prevent the need for a second rinse cycle before washing.
  7. Do you have pets that shed?  You should buy diapers with snap closures, or remove pet hair from hook and loop (velcro) closures every time you wash diapers.  If you don’t, the closures won’t work as well.  This may also be an issue for you when/if you try to re-sell your cloth supply.

Now that we’ve learned what works best for our family, we’ll be using disposables from the beginning when our daughter is born.  I’m not going to lie.  I have zero guilt about this.

Still, we have a few friends and family members who swear by cloth.  They are in the groove and wouldn’t even consider using disposables.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…I’m in awe and have tremendous respect for you parents out there who stick with it.  Keep up the fantastic work!

If you are still in the decision-making stages, I’m familiar with how overwhelming this decision can be when there are so many unknowns.  I’ve provided a few links to non-biased sites that will do a great job of helping you weigh your options:

Update 3/25/2016 – I have a few more thoughts on this now.

  • We’ve been working toward potty learning with LB for a while now.  He’s been making progress, but it’s definitely a very slow, sometimes frustrating, up and down process.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about re-purchasing a small quantity of larger cloth diapers for this purpose.  Apparently, kids will feel the wetness in cloth, versus disposables which shield them from the wetness.  Since I’m home with the kids (and working) now, I could easily add in the extra laundry again, especially if it positively contributes to LB’s potty learning.  If only I wouldn’t have sold our stash.
  • Because of the prolonged potty learning, we’ve seriously spent way more than we thought we would on disposable diapers and wipes.  I did a cost comparison last year that showed the cost of disposable diapers and wipes at popular retailers/wholesalers.  Based on that information, and the fact that LB moved through the diaper sizes more quickly than the average child, our estimate for the first two years was just over $2,000, and at this point we are well over $3,000.  Ugh.  Just thinking about that puts a lump in my throat.


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2 responses to “From Cloth to Disposable Diapers”

  1. Wow, this post is good, my younger sister is analyzing these kinds of things, thus
    I am going to inform her.

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