Cloth vs. Disposable Diapers: Pros, Cons and Cost

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To many new parents, diapering may seem pretty straightforward. You simply buy a pack of diapers and toss each one once it’s soiled, right? Not necessarily. 

You probably already know that there are two types of diapers out there: cloth diapers and disposable diapers. (Yes, lots of people still use cloth diapers!) Disposables are quick and easy, plus require minimal upfront cost. Cloth diapers, on the other hand, require more of an initial investment, but go the distance—something advocates and sustainable parents say makes them the more sustainable and affordable choice. 

So what’ll it be for your family? Cloth diapers vs. disposable diapers? Our gear experts analyzed everything from materials to cost to help you make the right decision for your growing family.

Main Considerations 

The main difference between cloth diapers and disposable diapers is the material. As the name suggests, cloth diapers are made of fabric—typically cotton, terry cloth or flannel. And while they tend to be more expensive than disposable diapers, they are more of an investment, since they’re meant to be washed and reused. For this reason, many argue cloth diapers have less environmental impact. However, in order to have a positive impact you need to launder them responsibly. 

Disposable diapers, on the other hand, are made of, well, disposable materials and get tossed in the diaper pail after each use—a convenience some parents say they can’t live without. And while individual diapers are much cheaper, you’ll have to buy thousands over the course of your kiddo’s first few years.

A Google search will show you what a hot topic diapering actually is, with some parents suggesting that there’s a real argument to choose cloth diapers vs. disposable. But the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) doesn’t take a stand. The organization says parents can feel good about making whatever decision works better for their family.

Cloth Diapering: Pros and Cons 

Thirsties All-In-One Cloth Diapers, Size 2

Today’s cloth diapers are a far cry from the pinned fabric diapers of yesteryear. In fact, these eco-friendly diapers come in a variety of styles, including pre folds (cloth rectangles that are folded and stitched with more layers in the middle to create a thicker center), hybrids (a waterproof outer layer and two absorbent inner layers) and all-in-ones (an absorbent layer and a waterproof outer shell all together)—just to name a few of the most popular styles.

No matter which style you choose, the concept is the same. You are supposed to wash and reuse cloth diapers once they get soiled. Because of this, you’ll need to make sure you stock at least two dozen cloth diapers to ensure you don’t come up empty-handed while the laundry is running. (Babies go through 10 to 12 diapers per day; toddlers 6 to 8 diapers per day.)

This can be an expensive endeavor, since the average cloth diaper costs somewhere between $10 to $15. On the low end, you’ll spend about $240. Still, many parents say there are cost savings in the long run. However, when you shop cloth diapers secondhand, you can find them for as low as $5, cutting your costs in half. 

Cloth diapering also tends to be more time-consuming and messy. Not only will you be doing more laundry (higher water and electric bills!), but you also can’t just send a poop diaper with solid waste through the washer. You have to remove any fecal matter before sending the soiled diaper for a spin in your machine. What’s more, cloth diapers have to be periodically stripped (a more intensive method of washing that removes buildup that can decrease efficacy, cause diapers to smell and even give your child a diaper rash).

Still, eco-conscious parents say the effort is well worth it to reduce their carbon footprint and keep an excess of disposable diapers out of landfills.

Best for: Eco-conscious families who don’t mind the extra work and want to save money in the long run


  • Produce less landfill waste
  • Natural materials can be gentler on baby’s skin
  • Less expensive in the long run
  • Some parents say cloth diapers make potty training easier


  • More of an initial investment
  • Laundering is time-consuming and can be messy
  • You’ll have to carry soiled diapers with you when you’re away from home

Shop Cloth Diapers

Disposable Diapering: Pros and Cons

a package of DYPER bamboo disposable diapers

Disposable diapers are much more straightforward than their cloth counterparts. Styles don’t vary that much from brand to brand. You simply pick a size based on your baby’s weight and age. Then, affix the tabs to each side to secure it. For the most part, you don’t have to give any caregivers lengthy explanations about changing baby’s diaper, since it’s very intuitive.

There’s nothing quite like the convenience of disposable diapers, either. Just buy a pack, and toss and replace each one when it becomes soiled. Besides wiping your little one, there’s no mess to contend with—especially when you’re out and about. Not to mention, disposable diapers tend to be more absorbent than their cloth counterparts, so you’ll likely do fewer diaper changes each day.

Disposable diapers tend to come in large packs, so you can stock plenty. And the individual cost is nominal—the average cost of a disposable diaper in the US is about .29 cents. Cheap in the short-term, yes, but if your newborn goes through 10 diapers per day, you’ll spend more than $1,000 on diapers over the course of the year. Compare this to just a couple hundred on the upfront investment of reusable diapers.

Of course, all of the conveniences of disposable diapers come with a few costs. Disposable diapers are not biodegradable, and according to the AAP, around 20 billion diapers end up in landfills each year. What’s more, some parents express concern about the raw materials (dyes, gels and more) used to manufacture disposable diapers. According to the EWG, there is some concern they may cause allergic reactions or may be contaminated with heavy metals. 

Best for: Families who don’t mind spending a little more in long-run for short-term conveniences


  • Less expensive in the short-term
  • Easy to shop for
  • Less messy and time-consuming
  • More absorbent than cloth diapers


  • More expensive in the long-run
  • Less eco-friendly
  • Some parents are concerned about the raw materials in disposable diapers

Shop Disposable Diapers

Cloth vs. Disposable Diapers: Comparison Chart 


Cloth Diapers 

Disposable Diapers 

Price Per Diaper


.29 cents 


Avg. Price Per Year



Environmental Impact


Not Great

Ease of Use 




Hard to clean

Easy to clean 

Cost Analysis 

In the short-term, disposable diapers are less expensive. They cost just about .29 per diaper, while cloth diapers cost anywhere between $10 and $15 per diaper. But things get a little tricky when you think about the big picture. If newborns go through 10 to 12 diapers per day, you’d need to stock at least two dozen cloth diapers to ensure you have enough to make it through laundry day. This means you might expect to spend $240 (on the very low end) on cloth diapers. If you calculate the yearly cost of disposable diapers, you’ll see that you’ll inevitably spend more on disposable diapers. On the low end, a year's supply of disposable diapers will run you $1,058.50.

Regardless, if you shop secondhand you’ll cut your cost in about half for both options. At GoodBuy Gear, we sell cloth diapers for as low as $5 and open box disposable diapers for as low as $13. 

Winner: Cloth diapers

Environmental Impact

For many parents, the environmental impact is one of the biggest driving factors in the cloth diapers vs disposable diapers debate. But the answer isn’t as cut and dry as you might think. Yes, disposable diapers get thrown in the diaper pail after each use, contributing to an estimated 3.5 million tons of landfill waste each year. But cloth diapers are not without their own environmental concerns.

When you take into account the full “life cycle" of both disposable and cloth diapers, you’ll understand why. You have to look at the big picture, considering how much energy, water and raw materials are used, plus take into account emissions and waste created.

According to the AAP, studies suggest disposable diapers require more raw materials and produce more solid waste than cloth diapers. But cloth diapers arguably require more resources. Since they’re made of cotton, they require more water to produce. Plus, they consume more water and produce more waterborne waste during laundering practices.

Ultimately, it seems like the jury is still out on which is actually the more eco-friendly choice.

Winner: Tie

Ease of Use & Convenience 

Disposable diapers are undeniably easier to use than cloth diapers. Not only is the shopping process more intuitive, but they’re also more straightforward to put on. Plus, when it’s time for a diaper change, you can simply toss the soiled diaper in the diaper pail or trash. This is especially convenient when you’re out and about, since you don’t have to carry a dirty diaper home.

Winner: Disposable diapers


When it comes to cleanliness, disposable diapers win out. Disposable diapers are more absorbent, so you’ll likely have fewer diaper changes throughout the day. Plus, when it’s time to change baby, you won’t have to dispose of solid waste and then launder. Instead, you can simply wrap up the diaper and toss it.

Winner: Disposable diapers

Comfort & Skin Health 

Cloth diapers are billed as more comfortable than their disposable counterparts, but the AAP says it’s hard to say for sure, since we can’t exactly ask baby. Still, some say babies who wear disposable diapers are more likely to deal with diaper rashes that result from less frequent changes and the raw materials used in manufacturing disposables. 

Interestingly, the AAP notes that when babies who are cloth diapered get rashes, pediatricians generally recommend switching to disposable as a treatment. Again, this is one area where there just doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer.

Winner: Tie

The Best Disposable Diapers  boxes of DYPER bamboo diapers

If you’re drawn toward the convenience of disposable diapers, our gear experts say these are the best choices:

  • DYPER: Made of bamboo, DYPER is billed as one of the more eco-friendly and gentle disposable diapers on the market. Their biggest claim to fame? Their diaper disposal program—REDYPER—which allows customers to return their soiled diapers, training pants and wipes (for an additional fee) to be processed, sorted, and composted. .
  • Pampers: These budget-friendly diapers are widely available at drugstores and grocery stores, plus come in a few different varieties to suit baby’s age and developmental stage. For example, they have ultra-absorbent nighttime diapers, as well as choices to move with crawling babies.
  • Honest: These disposables are billed as a gentler option for parents concerned about the raw materials in disposable diapers. Parents love that they come in a wide range of fun patterns to make diaper changes more interesting.

Shop All Diapering Essentials

How to Choose 

You can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that experts say both kinds of diapers—disposable and cloth—are a worthy choice. So focus on what matters most to you. If you want the flexibility of fast diaper changes and don’t mind a greater long-term cost, disposable diapers are a solid choice. But if you don’t mind making a greater initial investment and putting more effort into laundering, you might like knowing cloth diapering means your child has only natural materials against their sensitive skin.



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