Cloth vs. Disposable Diapers?

By Rachel Sarnoff

t’s the classic conundrum. You’re pregnant, and immediately the question is front and center: Will you use cloth or natural disposable diapers? Which is better for your baby and the environment? Because let’s face it, parents: Today, there are multiple ways to deal with your baby’s pee and poop. I know a family that practiced a method called “elimination communication” in which the baby wasn’t diapered at all, but instead learned to communicate when he wanted to go so he could be held over the potty. Try explaining that to your mother-in-law when she offers to babysit.

Whether you choose cloth or disposable diapers, the most important thing is to protect the health of your baby. That means avoiding the chlorine, synthetic fragrance and other toxic chemicals typically found in conventional disposable diapers. What you want are so-called “natural disposable diapers.”

Cloth diapers can be more environmentally friendly than natural disposable diapers for one simple reason: You reuse them. Anything reusable is good for the planet, because you don’t consume resources when making a new product, and you don’t have to worry about the old product successfully biodegrading.

Especially when comparing cloth and conventional disposable diapers, cloth is obviously the better choice—simply because conventional disposable diapers typically contain chlorine, synthetic fragrance and other toxic chemicals.

But some parents argue that natural disposable diapers—which biodegrade quicker and don’t contain toxic chemicals—are more environmentally friendly than cloth, simply because of the environmental costs of washing cloth diapers. I’ve seen the breakdowns—you can justify both sides of the argument. I think it comes down to what lifestyle choice works best for you.

In general, I would urge you to avoid disposable diapers that are made with chlorine, latex and synthetic fragrance. If you’re going disposable but concerned about their ecological impact, seek out natural disposable diapers that are compostable: Though used by only five percent of its population, conventional disposable diapers are the third largest contributor to landfill waste in the world.

My husband and I weren’t thinking about that stuff when we diapered our first two children from birth through potty training—we just didn’t want them to leak. But natural disposable diapers came a long way during that five-year gap, and with our third we used a combination of a cloth diaper with a biodegradable insert.

I found that cloth diapers alone weren’t a great option for us as they got wet quickly and took a long time to dry. But if you add a flushable liner inside the cloth diaper it soaks up all the pee and you can use it for hours—it’s only when the insert gets poopy that you need to change it. I found these bamboo-based Cloth Diaper Liners from Heart Felt, and the reviews are awesome. (Funny, the cloth-diaper-with-flushable-insert was my personal diapering hack eight years ago; now it’s a category on Amazon. How parenting life has changed!) And finally, if you’re using cloth diapers, make sure to wash them in natural detergent that doesn’t include essential oils, which can build up on the cloth and cause it to absorb less efficiently.

With Chloe, we also used natural disposable diapers from Seventh Generation, which was really the only brand making them at the time. But I recently discovered a bunch of different brands offering natural disposable diapers: Andy Pandy, which manufacturers using bamboo, Earth’s Best (and here I thought they only made organic baby formula), and Naty by Nature Babycare, which are made with GMO-free corn.

But of course, there are no natural disposable diapers–or conventional disposable diapers, for that matter–cuter than these giraffe-patterned ones from the Honest Company, which also makes the natural disposable diapers pictured above (as well as the photo, thanks Honest), plus the uber-popular Honest Diaper Cake, perfect for baby showers. They (almost) make me want to have another baby!

So that’s the scoop, no pun intended.


Rachel SarnoffAbout The Author

Better known as “Mommy Greenest,” Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff is a journalist, consultant, sustainability advocate and former CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World who was Editor in Chief of Children magazine—before she had three of her own. Rachel was featured in Los Angeles and Lucky magazines and appeared on “The Today Show” and “CNN Headline News,” among others, to share advice about healthier living with less judgement. The author of The Big List of Things That Suck and partner at Give + Take swap shop in Los Angeles, Rachel also, where “you shouldn’t have to be a scientist to raise healthy kids.” Follow her and


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