The bottom line on protection for your baby's bottom

Mention baby diapers and the old question, "Cloth or disposable?" immediately comes to mind, and sometimes heated debate ensues. Thankfully, this aged question has some brand new answers that will have us arguing less. Let's look at some questions you may have when deciding what to tuck in your diaper bag:

Cloth Diapers

How much does it cost to use cloth diapers?

Traditional 100 percent cotton diapers will cost $15 to $30 per dozen initially, depending on size. Plastic diaper covers will cost $1 to $2 each. Newer-style fitted diapers are $7 to $10 each, depending on size. These have built-in snap fasteners for quick, comfortable changes. Depending on water and energy costs in your area, machine washing and drying your cloth diapers at home will cost slightly less per week than buying disposable diapers. Over time, you will spend about $7 to $15 per week.


Is cloth better for the baby?

Cloth diapers do not equal disposable diapers in absorbency. Moisture against your baby's skin means increased chance for diaper rash; but you can minimize the risk by changing the baby's soiled diaper promptly.

When laundering your diapers you must be sure to use water hot enough to kill the bacteria that live in fecal matter. Any bacteria remaining on the diapers may infect your baby's skin if it is irritated by excess exposure to moisture and cause diaper rash.

Is cloth better for the environment?

Cloth diapers can last several years before they go out with the garbage, so they occupy negligible space in landfills. However, they do require water (about 500 to 700 gallons a month) and energy for laundering. You should also consider the detergents and bleach that enter our waste water system as a result.

What about a diaper service?

A diaper service that launders your diapers and delivers them to you guarantees the cleanliness of your diapers and relieves you of the laundry chore. Diaper services use biodegradable detergents and the waste water is not harmful to the environment. A diaper service costs about $50 to $80 per month (about the same as using disposable diapers).

Disposable Diapers

How much will I spend on disposable diapers?

Disposable diapers (made from plastic, wood pulp and super-absorbent polymers) will cost you around 18 to 32 cents each. For the average baby, you will spend $15 to $20 per week.

Are disposable diapers good for the baby?

Disposable diapers are remarkably absorbent and very good at preventing leaks. Their superb absorbent qualities keep babies drier for longer, and because they are sterile out of the package, irritation to your baby's skin is less likely to occur. However, if you end up leaving your baby's diaper on longer for the sake of convenience or to save diapers, the positive effects of good absorbency are negated.

What about the environment?

The manufacture of disposable diapers results in dioxins, solvents and heavy metals being released into the environment. Various waste-management authorities and the EPA estimate that the average disposable diaper requires an astounding 500 years to decompose in a landfill! On the other hand, they require no water, additional energy, detergent or bleach for laundering.

Are there any more eco-friendly disposable diaper options?

Yes. There are flushable and biodegradable disposable diapers (a new arrival in the world of disposables), which broadens our diapering horizons even further.

Another option is the gDiaper, which consists of a reusable cotton pant and a flushable liner made from viscose rayon, wood pulp and a super-absorbent polymer. You will pay about $17 for the cover pants and $52 for 160 diaper liners, which works out to about $20 per week.

On the downside, these diapers lack the absorbency and leakage protection of traditional disposables. Users have also reported that "flushable" liners are not always compatible with modern water-efficient toilets. And if you don't make the effort to compost or flush your biodegradable diapers, the eco-friendly benefits are lost.

What about when your baby leaves dry land?

Swim diapers are necessary for the health of everyone who enjoys the water, and they are required on babies in most public pools. Reusable swim diapers – cloth with plastic lining to contain biological matter in the diaper – are available for $4 to $10 each. Disposable swim diapers run $1 to $3 each.

By Margaret Doran