Cloth vs. Disposable Diapers: Which Kind Should I Use?
Cotton or cellulose fluff, cost savings or convenience, laundry or landfill: For some new parents, choosing between using cloth or disposable diapers can feel like a big decision. How do you know which kind of diaper will work best for your family?
Advocates for both cloth and disposable diapers make strident and often conflicting claims about the benefits and drawbacks of each. Depending on who you listen to, you may hear that either disposable or cloth diapers are the cheaper, healthier, more ecological, more convenient, and/or more enlightened way to care for your baby.
In our full reviews of cloth and disposable diapers we go into detail about the materials, construction, and performance of both types, but here we’ll address some reasons why parents choose cloth or disposable diapers, and what evidence exists to support them.
Diaper rash and skin healthProponents of cloth and disposable diapers both claim that babies wearing their chosen type suffer less diaper rash. After talking to two pediatric dermatologists and reviewing the scientific literature on the topic, it’s clear to us that disposable diapers do have the edge in preventing the most common type of diaper rash, irritant diaper dermatitis, which is caused by moisture from urine and feces remaining trapped against the skin. Modern disposables are highly absorbent, and, as we found in testing for our guide, the top performers can keep a baby’s skin dry even after multiple wettings. Dr. Bruce Brod, a pediatric dermatologist who specializes in dermatitis, told us: “The skin is largely better off with disposable diapers because of the technology that evolved”—namely, the use of superabsorbent polymers, which take in and retain many times their weight in liquid. But some babies can develop allergic rashes from certain ingredients used in disposable diapers, including rubber, adhesives, fragrances, and dyes.
The conclusion? Either type of diaper can lead to rashes, but disposable diapers typically keep babies drier and better prevent the common problem of diaper rash caused by moisture.
Author: Courtney Schley