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Back to Basics Parenting: Disposable vs. Cloth Diapers

mother lying with baby

back to basics disposable vs cloth diapers

As a parent, you’ll make thousands of decisions about your baby’s well-being. One of the first and most basic choices in front of you is whether to use disposable vs. cloth diapers. If you’ve never considered one over the other, we invite you to take a look at your options! Disposable diapers can be a convenient choice for some families and remain as popular as ever. Despite their notoriety, though, many millennial moms and dads are going back to basics by using cloth diapers. 

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a first-time mom or an experienced parent who is searching for money-saving tips. We’ll explain why families like yours are calling for a return from throwaways to cotton—and what you should consider before going all-in on cloth. We’ll also take the time to share how you can make diapering easier on you and baby, so regardless of what you choose, you can spend more quality time together and less time at the changing table. 

Why Do Parents Choose Cloth Diapers Over Disposables? 

When you imagine the sleepless nights and busy days ahead of you, it’s tempting to search for the simplest way to do every baby-related task. While disposable diapers take the effort and guesswork out of diapering, there are some advantages to cloth that can help to balance out the extra loads of laundry. 

For one, cloth diapers can help you and your family save big over the first year of baby’s life. If you keep the cotton clean and stain-free, you’ll only need to buy a new set when you think you need an upgrade or, in some cases, when your child gets too big. The new parents who go with disposable diapers could spend up to hundreds of dollars a month on one-time-use brands. The cash you save by switching to cloth can go toward purchasing new baby clothes, gifting your child new toys or saving for baby’s college fund. 

As an added bonus, cloth is sustainable, safe and natural. While you’re doing less laundry and hauling less garbage to the curb, you’re also preventing each one of your disposable diapers from ending up in a landfill. At the same time, you’re also rapidly decreasing your family’s overall household energy use, which means a lower utility bill and less toxic fumes coming from power plants. Plus, every time you change your child’s diaper, you’ll know that all that is touching their skin is soft, quality cotton. 

mother lying in bed with baby

If you’re searching for the most environmentally-friendly and comfortable styles, you can select organic cotton diapers. It’s true that they are slightly more expensive than standard cotton. Despite the higher price tag, many families think they last longer and feel better than their non-organic cousins. They also know they are free of pesticides and insecticides, since organic cotton farmers only use safe farming practices. 


Tips for Buying Cloth Diapers 

Intrigued by cloth? As you start to shop your favorite brands and add the styles to your baby registry, you first need to know which type to choose. In general, you can buy three different types of reusable diapers. If you are used to the idea of disposable diapers, you may find that some will be a better fit for your family’s personality over others. 

The main kinds of cloth diapers you can buy are: 

  • Prefold Cloth Diapers: Prefolds are popular cloth diapers featuring three total folds. They also include a built-in absorbent pad. As their name suggests, they are pretty easy to put together. There are seams where you need to make your diaper folds, so the fold type you choose for your baby is more intuitive. However, they do not have built-in fasteners. To keep them secure, you fasten them at their side with clips. For this reason, before you use these diapers, you’ll also need to buy the pins.
  • Flatfold Cloth Diapers: Flatfolds are the most affordable type of cloth diaper out there. Since they aren’t prefolded with three seams down the diaper, you’ll need to take more time to assemble them. They also don’t come with an absorbent pad, so you may also want to include a separate liner to help prevent leaks and for moisture-wicking.
  • Hybrid Cloth Diapers: These diapers make for an excellent compromise between cloth and disposables for parents who don’t want to waste materials or money. You’ll use an outer cotton diaper that can be washed over and over. An inner liner is sold in affordable rolls, which helps to absorb the excess moisture that the cotton diaper can’t sop up. While you’ll need to invest in both reusable diapers and liners upfront, you’ll save in the long run over the standard disposable brands. Hybrids are also useful for families who like to use cloth but need more flexibility during day trips or while they are on vacation. It’s also a great option for beginners.
  • All-in-One Cloth Diapers: If you like the idea of all-in-one but don’t want to use disposables, this cloth diaper is for you. Newbies will love that they don’t have to learn any folds. Plus, instead of buying separate pins and liners, each reusable diaper already comes equipped with built-in fasteners and high-quality, moisture-wicking material. When you want to wash your diaper, all you need to do is follow the garment’s washing directions and throw it in the laundry. Since they’re adjustable and one size, you won’t need to get bigger versions. Simply purchase more when you want to. All-in-one cloth offers the best of both worlds!
main types of cloth diapers graphic

How Do I Use Cloth Diapers? 

One of the biggest factors in whether to go with reusable diapers over disposables is if the cloth ones are easy enough for you to use on a daily basis. So by now, if you’re wondering how to use cloth diapers, you’re not alone! Most moms and dads need at least a brief tutorial, especially since cloth diapers are not as straightforward to use as disposable diapers. 

To best use your cloth diapers for baby, you’ll need to: 

  • Learn to Fold Your Diapers: Now that you have your favorite type, the first thing to cover is how to fold your diapers. Even if you’re not going with all-in-one diapers, you can make folding easy. Whether you’re going with prefolds, flatfolds or hybrids, there are a variety of different diaper folds to try. We recommend the Tri-Fold, or the standard cloth diaper fold, for newbies who are just starting out with flatfold and prefolded styles. Other popular techniques include the Angel Wing Fold, Bikini Twist Fold and the Diaper Bag Fold. 
  • Experiment with Different Folds: Be patient with yourself! It may take a couple of days (or even weeks) to find the folding technique that works best for you. For instance, the Bikini Twist fold is ideal for diapering baby girls, while the Diaper Bag Fold allows a stack of cloth diapers to fit into your diaper bag without fuss. Feel free to use different strategies for your needs. There is no one right or wrong way to fold and use cloth diapers! 
  • Embrace the Pre-Soak: Once your diapers become soiled or stained, you’ll need to clean them. Some parents will throw them in their baby laundry, while others prefer hand washing cloth diapers. It doesn’t matter which way you choose—you’ll probably still want to pre-soak each piece of cotton. Simply fill your sink basin with enough warm water to cover the diapers and a scoop of baby-safe detergent. Soak for 30 minutes to get most stains out. 
  • Know How to Hand Wash: While hand washing takes more time, it’s more gentle and sustainable for the environment. After you pre-soak, create yet another mixture of warm water and detergent inside your bathtub or sink basin. Work the material through your hands, rubbing persistent stains against themselves to coax the coloration out of the fabric. You can also use a washboard or a plunger to work the diapers through the water. Once you’re satisfied with the cleanliness of the cloth, drain the water and squeeze any excess moisture out of the material. 
  • Dry Each Diaper: After washing in the laundry or by hand, hang each diaper over your shower curtain rod. You can also put them on a clothesline to dry. If you decide to use a machine dryer, check the material instructions to prevent shrinking. 

how to use cloth diapers graphic

Making the Most of Cloth Diapers 

To make the most of using your cloth diapers, we have just a few more tips for you. First, you can feel free to store your cotton diapers anywhere you put clothes. This includes drawers under the crib, changing table shelves or inside the closet. Keep any absorbent liners where you can easily find them, like next to the baby powder or diaper rash cream. 

Parents who like to keep lists and stay organized can write a running tally of the number of cloth diapers they have and, if necessary, which size they are. That way, if you sense baby is about to size up, you can order new ones online or visit your favorite neighborhood kids’ store. You can also bookmark your favorite online stores in case you want to go back to them for different styles or color options.

mom smiling at newborn baby 

Most of today’s disposable brands come with a color-changing line that lets you know when baby goes number one. Since it isn’t built into your cloth diapers, you’ll have to check if baby is wet more often. Thankfully, you may soon have a way to know whether your child needs a change without heading to the bathroom. Some of the biggest diaper companies are now piloting baby activity sensors to alert cloth diaper parents. While you may not be ready to splurge on this type of item now, it could be one of the ways reusable diapers become even safer and possibly healthier for you to use in the future. If you’re interested in this type of product, put it on your holiday shopping list. 

Deciding Whether to Use Disposable vs. Cloth Diapers 

You love your baby so much. Every choice that you make about their wellness is important to you. When deciding whether to use disposable or cloth diapers, ask yourself whether the advantages of cloth diapers outweigh the challenges. Yes, you may need to work your brain a little bit to learn how to fold cloth fabric—and you may spend more time washing than you thought you would before. However, going with cotton will help you spend less time at the store and allows you to stretch your budget further. Even better, you’re teaching your children environmental responsibility while enjoying peace of mind knowing your infant has the coziness and gentle feel of pure cotton. 

If you’re searching for a brand of cloth diapers you can trust, we invite you to try our Gerber cloth diapers. Our Birdseye cloth, premium gauze and Gerber essentials made with organic cotton cloth diapers make folding and washing a breeze, while our all-in-one cloth diapers ensure that you don’t miss the convenience of disposables at all. 

mom doing laundry with smiling baby

More millennial parents than ever think it’s a no-brainer to switch to cloth, so they’re going with reusable diapers for baby’s first year. After learning the best folding techniques and mastering the art of removing stains, you, too, will wonder why you ever considered one-time diapers in the first place! It’s a decision that will make you and baby feel better in the short term, all while helping your family and your planet thrive over the long haul. It’s truly a decision about your little one’s health and happiness that you can grow with!