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Cloth Diapers vs. Disposables

Why choose cloth diapers? Let me count the ways! Here are HGB’s Top 5 reasons for choosing cloth diapers to cover your little one’s behind:

1. Cloth diapers are soft against your baby’s skin and often result in less diaper rash.
2. Cloth diapers are free of the many chemicals contained in disposable diapers . Choose organic cotton or hemp cloth diapers and your diapers are even greener.
3. Reuse! Cloth diapers are used time and time again, and can even be passed on in your hand-me-down collection to a lucky little brother or sister.
4. The variety of colors and patterns turn cloth diapers into a fashion statement for your eco-chic tots.
5. Save yourself some dough.

Better for the Environment

Every child adds a minimum of 6500 disposable diapers (30% of which is non biodegradable) to our landfills.

Reduce Waste. An estimated 18 billion single-use diapers are thrown in landfills each year, taking as many as 500 years to decompose, and commonly contain raw, untreated sewage. Disposable diapers make up the third largest source of solid waste in landfills, after newspapers and food and beverage containers1.

Conserve Resources. It takes upwards of 82,000 tons of plastic and 1.3 million tons of wood pulp, or a quarter-million trees, to manufacture the disposable diapers that cover the bottoms of 90 percent of the babies born in the US2. The negative impact of single-use diapers on the environment goes far beyond the disposal problem. A study prepared by The Landbank Consultancy for The Women's Environmental Network shows that single-use diapers use 3.5 times as much energy, 8 times as much non-regenerable raw materials, and 90 times as much renewable material as cloth diapers3.

Better for Your Baby

Reduce Diaper Rash. Diaper rash is seldom a problem when using cloth diapers. Because cloth diapers start feeling damp after 4 hours, (as opposed to disposable diapers, which mask wetness), cloth diapered babies are typically changed more often, reducing baby’s exposure to wetness.

Faster Potty Training. Babies diapered with cloth generally toilet train 6-months to a year earlier than babies diapered with single-use, disposable diapers. One thought behind this claim is that cloth diapered babies can feel when they are wet better. Not only does early potty training benefit your budget (less diapers to buy in the long run), potty training is highly significant for baby’s development.

Better for Health

Research on the health implications associated with disposable diapers is controversial and conflicting. While studies have yet to prove conclusive in determining the links between disposable diapers and asthma, toxic shock and male infertility, they do bear watching. And in our opinion, why take the risk, when there is a perfectly peachy alternative with cloth diapers?

Sodium Plyacrylate. Nearly all disposable diapers use sodium plyacrylate, a super absorbent polymer, which becomes a gel-like substance when wet. A similar substance had been used in super-absorbency tampons until the early 1980s when it was revealed that the material increased the risk of toxic shock syndrome4. (RDA-3) Many disposable diaper users notice beads of clear gel on their baby’s genitals as a diaper change. This is sodium polyacrylate.

Dioxin. Disposable diapers contain traces of Dioxin, an extremely toxic by-product of the paper-bleaching process. It is a carcinogenic chemical, listed by the EPA as the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals5.

Tributyl-tin. Disposable diapers contain Tributyl-tin (TBT) - a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals6.

Male Fertility. In May 2000, the Archives of Disease in Childhood published research showing that scrotal temperature is increased in boys wearing disposable diapers, and that prolonged use of disposable diapers will blunt or completely abolish the physiological testicular cooling mechanism important for normal spermatogenesis7.

Better for Your Budget

There is some controversy (go figure) over the cost benefit of going with cloth. Some advocates for disposables claim when you calculate in the cost of a diaper service, the expense (both financial and environmental) is similar. We disagree.

According to research done by , if you launder cloth diapers at home, you can save as much as $1500 over the entire diapering period, including the cost of diapers, covers, detergent, etc. Mothering magazine found that it costs $.25 per diaper when you go with disposables, whereas home washing a cloth diaper is just $.05 per change. You will be making more of upfront investment when you choose to go with cloth, but once you have your collection of cloth diapers in stock, you won’t need to spend anything more except for the laundry detergent!

If you figure the average child goes through 8000 diapers before he’s potty trained, multiplied by $.25 per disposable diaper, you’re looking at about $2000 worth of trash. Compare that to the $.05 estimate for cloth diapers, which comes in at just $400. For more calculations and cost comparisons of cloth diapers vs. disposables, check out the Real Diaper Association website

Information provided by:
Real Diaper Association:

National Association of Diaper Services:
References from National Association of Diaper Services Website

1 EPA, "Positive Steps towards Waste Reduction," June 1989

2 Rhode Island Solid Waste Management Corporation.

3 The Landbank Consultancy Limited, "A Review of Proctor & Gamble's Environmental Balances for Disposable and Re-usable Nappies" July 1991

References from Real Diaper Association Website:

4 Armstrong, Liz and Adrienne Scott Whitewash: Exposing the Health and Environmental Dangers of Women's Sanitary Products and Disposable Diapers, What You Can Do About It. 1993. HarperCollins.

5 Allsopp, Michelle. Achieving Zero Dioxin: An emergency strategy for dioxin elimination. September 1994. Greenpeace.

6Greenpeace. New Tests Confirm TBT Poison in Procter & Gamble's Pampers: Greenpeace Demands World-Wide Ban of Organotins in All Products. 15 May 2000.

7C-J Partsch, M Aukamp, W G Sippell Scrotal temperature is increased in disposable plastic lined nappies. Division of Paediatric Endocrinology, Department of Paediatrics, Christian-Albrechts- University of Kiel, Schwanenweg 20, D-24105 Kiel, Germany. Arch Dis Child 2000;83:364-368. Click here or go to and search by the title of the study.