Cloth vs. Disposable: The Ultimate Diaper Smackdown

Approximately one bazillionty years ago I wrote an update on how cloth diapering was going a couple months in.  For another one bazillionty years I’ve meant to write a follow up to that.  That time is upon us.


Frogson was in cloth for the entirety of his diapered life– from the time his umbilical stump fell off until he graduated to undies 2 1/2 years later.  We made it a year with Frogette (and she was more like 50/50 cloth/disposable) until the poop drama became too much (explained later) and now she’s in Evil Western Toxic Disposables and I’m lovin’ every minute.

Being in a relationship with cloth diapers is an emotionally tumultuous thing.  You love them.  THEN YOU HATE THEM! Then you love them again.  THEN YOU HATE THEM AGAIN AND WANT TO THROW THEM IN AN INCINERATOR! No wait I didn’t mean that baby I love you let’s make it work.

So yes, I do love cloth diapers but I don’t, you know, love cloth diapers.  One day I clicked a random hashtag on Instagram and found this scary underground world of rabid cloth diaper women. Here is how to identify a woman who has gone from normal cloth diaperer to rabid cloth diaperer:

1) Owns like 80 diapers and photographs them daily
2) Excessive and/or freakish hashtag use (e.g. #cloth #clothdiaper #worshipcloth #clothiseverything #fyeahpoop  #poopforbreakfast #deathbeforedisposable)
3) Owns a smug cloth diaper that itself advertises cloth diapers:


If you own this piece of smuggery I will track you down and shake Orthotricyclen into your boxes of cereal.  You need to no longer be represented in the gene pool.

You may be asking, “Please wise blogger lady, tell me what I do in the event I come across a woman like this?” and I will tell you.  Cup your hand over your bottom and RUN.  You should be afraid of people who are this enthusiastic about things you poop in.

So, it’s possible to do cloth diapers like a normal person and not have to turn it into a giant thing.  My hope in this post is to create agenda-free guidance.  Diapering is gross and annoying no matter what you do.  I think cloth and disposable both excel and frustrate in different ways, so it just matters which ways you judge to be most important.

Oh, and we use BumGenius 4.0 with snaps.  I didn’t do a lot of research, it just seems like they were the most popular and low fuss.  I am extremely happy with them.  They have been crapped on and washed multiple times a week for a total of 3.5 years and they are in amazing shape.  The inserts (absorbent pieces that go inside) are a little discolored but the actual diaper surfaces (that you see and that touches baby’s bottom) are crisp, bright white.

OK.  Let’s do some analysis…

Round 1: Cost
Cloth is the winner here.  I don’t think you could make a case otherwise.  You make one initial investment and then the upkeep cost is very minimal.  I got our initial stash for 35% off on Black Friday.  The only way you can make cloth cost more is if you just go absolutely insane buying accessories and whatever.  As covered in The Minimalist’s Guide to Baby Crap, if you find some infographic that says you need 800 things to cloth diaper, ignore it.  You need some diapers (we started with I think 18 and added a few more to get about 22-23?), two washable laundry bags, Bacout to spray on the dirties, and superpower detergent.  I cannot think of anything else.  I saw one idiotic Pinterest thing about “Top 20 Pails for Cloth Diapers”– huh? That’s part of their appeal.  You don’t need to buy a $40-$80 pail and expensive pail liners.  Go get a $9 lidded trash can from Walmart and there’s your pail.  Don’t overthink this.
Winner: Cloth

Round 2: Work 
Obviously the huge deterrent with cloth is that you need to launder them every two days.  Annoying.  Obviously.  Mom life already comes with all kinds of redundant annoying chores, who wants one more thing.  BUT at the same time, that is all it is– one more thing, a drop in the bucket of existing chores.  And I could probably list 28 chores that annoy me more than laundering diaps.  And to further analyze the laundry– because this is my life apparently, laundry analysis– the annoying things about normal non-diap laundry are 1) hauling giant heavy baskets between multiple floors and 2) freaking marathon folding sessions.  Wretched.  Neither of these annoyances apply to diapers.  They are very light so all you do is jog down the stairs with you cheery little Santa laundry bag, and then it’s 5 minutes of stuffing afterwards.  Also, when my husband and I were originally deliberating this, he was very turned off by the extra work.  And like a fourth grader begging for a guinea pig I was all “Pleeeeeease can we cloth diaper, I promise I’ll do everything and never ask for help.” So ultimately his agreement was “Fine, but the work is on you.”  And also like a fourth grader, I assumed the work would be too much and I’d end up occasionally batting my eyes and whining for help.  But almost four years later, I can say the work has been minimal and I’ve never minded doing it myself.  More exciting still, Jeff at some point said something like, “You know, I assumed cloth diapering would be just a nightmare, and it hasn’t been that bad.”  PEOPLE.  You have no idea what a big deal this is.  Jeff is a dude who will seek out any tiny tidbit of evidence that gives him license to say TOLD YOU SO TOLD YOU SO *does a smug little strut*.  So believe me when I say it’s really not that bad.
Winner: Disposable, but maybe not by as much as you might think. 

Round 3: Poop Versatility 
There’s no graceful way to discuss this but this is huge.  First off, this doesn’t become a problem until baby starts eating real foods around 6 months.  Both Frogs were breastfed and breastmilk poop is water soluble and a nonissue.  You squirt the poopie cloth diap with Bacout and it goes in the pail, in the laundry, and is good as new.  So you have a nice 6 month ease-in period, which is obviously fantastic when you’re acclimating to a new baby in the first place.  But once that first bite of food crosses the sweet cherubic lips of your little pumpkin? POOP ARMAGEDDON.  Their tummies adjust and the poops start to normalize but it’s never the same again.  You start living in fear of the poop.  Because with cloth you can’t just send them into the pail, you have to deal with it.  You get to share a moment with the poop.  With a favorable poop (AKA formed) it plops right off and into the potty with no drama.  But with an Armageddon Poop (AKA soft and squishy and sticky and OMG BACK OFF THE APRICOTS, BABY) you will seriously hate your life trying to get it off the diaper and into the potty.  There are hoses you can get I guess? I don’t know, a poop hose inside my house is just too barbaric.  I would just take our especially nasty ones outside to our flowerbed and blast them with the outside hose.  Also pretty barbaric now that I think about it.  Anyway, not having to deal with this is a major disposable win.
Winner: Disposable

Round 4: Freshness/Smell
The one benefit to dealing with the poop in cloth is that it does force you to get the poop in the potty which is obviously poop’s rightful place.  It’s convenient to throw a gross disposable into the Diaper Genie but then you’re storing poop in your nursery.  The Diaper Genie does good work but it definitely starts to stink as the last few diaps accumulate and then it really stinks when you change it.  Oh God also our dog? If we leave the house and forget to close the door he gets into the Genie and chews up the diapers.  I know, he’s a foul creature.  And cleaning up that mess is a nightmare as bad as anything I’ve experienced with cloth. Cloth diapers really do keep the nursery delightfully fresh.  Just squirt them with Bacout and you’re good.  You could put your nose right up to the pail if you wanted.  If you try to sniff a Diaper Genie at point blank range you might literally perish.
Winner: Cloth

Round 5: Adorableness
OK, cloth diapers are adorable.  Just go Google some and look at the patterns.  And it’s terrible that this is one of the main reasons I love them.  They’re just so cute and cheery and just something little that brightens your day.
Winner: Cloth

Round 6: Leaks/Blowouts
I read someone’s opinion that cloth has more pee leaks but disposables have more poop leaks.  I would agree with that.  Poop leaks are more of an ordeal but pee leaks are more frequent, so kind of a draw here.
Winner: Inconclusive 

Round 7: Absorbency
Disposables are much more absorbent.  Probably because of whatever gross toxic junk they’re filling them with but whatever! This is a huge convenience, especially when you’re leaving the house or when you just don’t feel like a million outfit changes because of pee leaks.
Winner: Disposable

Round 8: Overnight/Sleep
The absorbency becomes an issue when we’re talking about longer stretches overnight.  Overnight leaks are a major frustration.  With Frogson (our first) I tried to make it work and got hemp inserts? They helped.  But again it was annoying having to buy extra junk, and they annoyed me for other reasons too.  Frogette (second) just went into a disposable if she was sleeping and I don’t know why I was so stubborn about it the first time around.  Just admitting cloth defeat took away a lot of drama in this area.  Seriously– anything that has even a slight potential to awaken a sleeping baby is not worth it.  Not to mention having to change three layers of clothes in the middle of the night.  Big old no there.
Winner: Disposable

Round 9: Holds up to Baby Mobility
One thing I love about cloth is that during the warm months, the Frogs just ran around in them.  They could just wear them as clothes (around the house at least) and they looked adorable.  This worked out because 1) they were sturdy enough they didn’t start to droop/fall off after a while and 2) they were sturdy enough that baby couldn’t pull them off.  They both still ran around in disposables too, but they underperform in those two areas.
Winner: Cloth




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