SILVER SPRING, MD, January 12, 2012 – Decades ago, there were no options. Cloth diapers were the only choice, and the only decision was which cute little diaper pins to use.
That all changed with Marion Donovan’s invention of the disposable diaper in 1961, when the great debate between proponents of disposable and cloth diapers began.
Today’s cloth diaper is not the same cloth square folded into a neat little triangle and pinned at the hips. Modern cloth diapers are available with Velcro strips to replace the pins, and in new shapes. The cloth diapers found today are now little more than absorbent pads placed inside a leak-proof cover.
The pads are much more absorbent than traditional soft cotton diapers, using multi-layered fiber-filled strips.
The two main arguments that proponents of cloth diapers use are cost and environmental friendliness. While the initial layout for cloth diapers is high, since they are reusable, the cost evens out after time. While they make one-size adjustable cloth diapers, many parents prefer to purchase diapers sized for each stage of their growing baby.
There is also the added cost of cleaning, including of detergent and running the washer and dryer. Factoring the cost of using cloth diapers must include variables such as the size of a typical laundry load, the cost and type of detergent used, the number of steps gone through to clean and sanitize the diapers, and the efficiency of the washing machine and dryer.
There is also some variability in the cost of the diapers themselves based on quality. Higher quality diapers last longer and withstand a greater number of washes, but are more expensive initially. Cheaper diapers might be less absorbent and last for a shorter amount of time.
If planning on using cloth diapers for multiple children, higher quality diapers will last longer and may be more cost effective over time. Diaper Junction is one place to research what is available.
Proponents also point to the reusability of cloth diapers as evidence that they are more environmentally friendly. There is less waste going into a landfill, and when their useful life is past, cloth diapers are biodegradable.
However, there are counter arguments. There are energy costs to washing and drying cloth diapers, and waste-water treatment also has an energy cost. On top of that is the environmental impact of pollutants, such as detergents, in the wastewater.
If you like the idea of using cloth diapers but don’t like the idea of doing all that laundry, there are always diaper services. Once common, today they are harder to find, but they still exist in many cities. Diaper services often cost as much as, or slightly more than, using disposable diapers.
Disposable diapers are everywhere. However, in their attempts to make diapers leak proof, ultra-absorbent, sensitive-skin friendly, and economical, manufacturers have created a product that will preserve the memory of your child’s baby-hood by preserving their poop in landfills for centuries to come.
Disposable diaper companies have tried to satisfy consumer demands by making a diaper for almost every conceivable concern. They come in sizes from newborn through toddler. From sensitive skin to superior leak protection, diapers for newborns, crawlers and walkers, swim diapers, disposable diapers with lines on the surface that change color when wet or that resemble big boy/girl underpants, there are disposable diapers for almost every conceivable need.
The most obvious benefit is their convenience and their availability. Disposable diapers are just that: disposable. And so some manufacturers are attempting to address environmental concerns with biodegradable diapers.
Biodegradable diapers are designed to start breaking down once they enter a landfill. They are designed to address the environmental concerns associated with traditional disposable diapers while still providing the convenience that is the key reason people choose disposables. But one parent noted, “they start biodegrading on the baby!” That could be a problem if you wait too long to change a particularly wet diaper.
Cost varies from store to store, brand to brand. As with most products, generic store varieties are often cheaper than the brand names. The big brands and chain stores also tend to put out coupons on their “value cases,” which can be a big help to new parents on a budget. Shopping clubs, like Sam’s Club or Costco, often offer competitive prices on diapers. The difference in price over a year can often pay for the membership itself.
Biodegradable diapers do tend to be more expensive than their non-biodegradable counterparts.
Sites like Diapers.com ship disposable diaper supplies to your door, often accepting and offering coupons or promotions that take a percentage off purchases.
Remember: When pricing diapers, don’t look at the cost per package, since there are varying case sizes from store to store.
The important number is the price per diaper.
There is a third hybrid option that targets the concerns and benefits of both cloth and disposable: diapers that are part reusable and part disposable. These diapers have a reusable outer and a disposable liner. The outers come in a wide variety of colors and designs. The liners, depending on the brand, can be biodegradable or flushable. The gDiapers brand even boasts the flexibility of allowing you to throw their liners into the compost pile.
As with regular cloth diapers, when opting for cloth diapers with insert, you have to buy multiple size covers to adjust to a growing baby.
Liners tend to be more expensive than typical disposable diapers. Become.com is a website that promotes eco-friendly options and is a good place to compare prices on a wide range of biodegradable and hybrid diapering options.
When it comes to the debate between cloth and disposable, each has its pros and cons. Some parents use a blended system of cloth and disposable. They use cloth at home to satisfy their environmental and cost concerns, but keep a packet of disposables on hand for longer trips out of the house and for the convenience of not having to lug around soiled diaper liners.
The bottom line (pun intended) is that decades after the introduction of choice in the diaper world, parents still have to choose between cloth and disposable diapers.
And the decision that’s right for one family isn’t necessarily going to be right for another. In the end, the decision really comes down to what fits into your lifestyle the best.
Follow Brighid on Twitter at @BrighidMoret and receive updates on when new columns post on Facebook. Read more about first time parenting issues in Parenting the First Time Through at The Communities at The Washington Times.
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