I admit that I’m a pretty biased judge when it comes to the cloth vs disposable diapers debate. Heck, I love cloth diapers so much I started this website.
Disposable diapers have had a ton of marketing put behind them since the 60’s and 70’s that has successfully made them the market leaders BY FAR!
Though the truthfulness of disposable diaper marketing is questionable, which one is best is still up for debate.
So to take on this topic of cloth vs. disposable diapers, I wanted to do something a bit different. I want to show you a fair fight.
To make sure I didn’t throw any low-blows, I searched for a list of qualities that make one product better than its competitors.
It actually wasn’t easy to find, but finally landed on tradeready.ca, a blog for international trade experts, which posted a list of 11 global business product characteristics that customers value.
Using each of these characteristics as one round in the battle between cloth diapers and “regular diapers” I hope to announce a clear winner of the best diaper title.
Round One: Price
“Virtually all customers like a deal.”
I’ve written extensively about the price comparison between cloth and disposable diapers here, including the added costs of energy and detergent.
Without re-writing all of that here, I can summarize it by saying that on average, cloth diapering saves you about $1,575.50 USD per child and usually can be reused on your next child saving you the entire cost of diapering that child.
Again, you can click here to learn how I landed on that amount cloth diapering will save you, and to have a closer look at both the other costs of cloth diapering (like utilities and detergent), and the additional costs of disposable diapers (like trash removal).
Even with all things considered, cloth is the steal of a deal when budgeting for diapers.
Winner: Cloth Diapers
Round Two: Prestige
“Paradoxically, there are a small number of markets where the advantage comes from a high price tied to luxury items, designer labels, or what might be termed ‘snob appeal.’”
Do diapers have luxury versions?
When looking at disposable diapers, there are the typical Huggies and Pampers, sure, but there are also more expensive brands like Hello Bello, The Honest Company, and Coterie. Ironically the more expensive brands boast about being hypoallergenic, eco-friendly, and/or biodegradable — so closer to cloth diapers.
The cost difference between say a Huggies and a Coterie will depend on the sizing, etc. but is somewhere in the ball-park of an additional 30%, which when you’re talking about the thousands you’ll spend on disposables, it’s A LOT! So when it comes to dropping coin, they definitely have “snob appeal.”
Cloth diapers do have tiers of pricing and quality as well. Some inexpensive “China cheepie” pocket diapers (a term describing the mass production of pocket diapers in China’s manufacturing districts and the lack of production and quality regulations there) can cost as little as $5 or less, whereas a “Premium” brand like Thirsties will sell a pocket diaper (like this one) can cost around $23.
Unlike disposable diapers, the difference between the materials used can be dramatic between a “cheepie” and a “premium” cloth diaper brand. Diapers on the low end will be made of completely synthetic materials, often including microfiber inserts, which hold less, can irritate the skin, and are prone to compression leaks. Premium diapers will often contain natural fabrics like cotton, hemp and bamboo, which hold much more, are gentler on baby’s skin, and clean more easily.
When looking at more convenient styles than pocket diapers, like all-in-ones, or more absorbent diapers, like fitted diapers, that are made from good, natural fabrics the price can skyrocket to upwards of $30 to $40 each diaper.
Of course thanks to the high quality of those diapers, they’ll last you not only the entire diapering life of your but the diapering life of many other babies as well.
Now that’s double-bragging rights!
This is reason that I chose cloth diapers as the winner here. It’s hard to distinguish an expensive disposable diaper from a cheap one; they all look the same. But a cloth diaper stands out and gets noticed, especially when it’s an uber-cute print.
Winner: Cloth Diapers
Round Three: Features
“This is a very broad category that ultimately depends on the specifics of each product….The trick is to ensure that the features are appropriate to the product, that they are useful to customers, and that they work.”
This round is a bit subjective. What are the features parents want in their diapers?
I think we can agree that at the most basic level, parents just want their diapers to work, but since we’re going to talk about that later on under the reliability heading, let’s talk about “special features” here.
Do diapers have special features? Yup! Lots!
Disposable diapers have something many cloth diaper moms are envious of, the wetness indicator strip. This is the yellow line up the middle of the diaper that turns blue when wet.
Unfortunately, cloth diapers don’t have an indicator strip, though after a while most cloth diaper moms can tell when a diaper is wet by the feel of it (I have some info on how to check if a cloth diaper is wet here.)
Disposible diapers also have lots of chemicals and things in them to make liquids into solids, making them feel almost dry inside even when they are full of urine. While this makes potty training more difficult in the long run, many parents love this feature when baby is small and prone to crying from wetness.
Cloth diapers are of course chemical free so that “stay-dry” feeling needs to be replicated with a wicking fabric like fleece by using fleece liners (you can learn how to DIY some here). Those liners do help reduce the wet feeling, but are not as good as all that disposable diaper chemistry.
I can’t think of any other feature that a disposable diaper has over what a cloth diaper offers, but I can think of five features of cloth diapers that disposable diapers don’t’:
- Velcro or Snap Closures: Not all little ones, but many, suddenly discover that they can take their diaper off too. Thankfully, cloth diapers have two options for closures, with snaps being much harder for little ones to figure out during this discovery phase, which I’m sure has saved many cloth diaper parents many bare-bums, and messy floors.
- Adjustable Absorbency: Disposables diapers can hold quite a bit, but they aren’t always enough for the heaviest of wetters. Some parents find themselves turning to cloth diapers, especially at night, because disposables just can’t hold it all. The magic of cloth diapers here is that you can just keep adding absorbency until you have enough.
- Outfit Coordination / Cute Prints: I don’t think anyone can argue that when it comes to cuteness, cloth diapers win it hands-down. Disposable diapers are ugly and don’t come in the millions of prints that PUL cloth diapers do.
- Adjustable Sizing: Getting stuck with a bunch of diapers that are too small is mostly a disposable problem. Most of the cloth diapers sold today are one-size diapers, which can be adjusted to fit babies from about 8 lbs to 35 lbs (depending on the brand).
- Blow-out Protection: Anyone who has tried to put a disposable diaper that’s a bit too small on a baby will know all too well the horror-show that is a blow-out. Cloth diapers not only adjust to fit baby right every time, but they also have a natural give to them that make blow-outs very very rare. If you’ve been having constant blow-outs in disposable diapers, cloth diapers are the solution.
Again, features are very subjective — what you might think of as a must-have feature, someone else may find needless, but considering how many features cloth diapers have to offer over disposable diapers, it’s clear that cloth diaper win this round.
Winner: Cloth Diapers
Round Four: Timeliness
“Timeliness really means getting there at exactly the right time. In the grocery business, this means at the peak of freshness.”
Anyone who has had to text their hubby to, “Please don’t forget to stop for diapers on the way home!” will know cloth diapers take the win when it comes to being there right when you need them.
Whenever you’re running low on diapers you can just wash one!
Winner: Cloth Diapers
Round Five: Selection
“In some businesses, customers value having a large selection of items from which to choose.”
While you may have a few dozen boxes in Walmart’s diaper aisle to choose from, I don’t think anyone can argue that cloth diapers don’t have a much larger selection available than disposable diapers. In fact, there are so many kinds of cloth diapers, brands of cloth diapers, and options that it’s often one of the first stumbling blocks to those interested in using cloth: too much choice.
And that’s not even mentioning all the prints.
There’s a lot more choice with cloth diapers, often too much. For help with figuring out all the styles of cloth diapers, start here.
Winner: Cloth Diapers
Round Six: Reliability
“The product works exactly as advertised, so a software program will not keep crashing unexpectedly.”
As the article about product characteristics customers value points out, there are several ways to interpret reliability, but for diapers I think we can agree that it means the ability to absorb all the waste baby eliminates into them, and keep it from escaping.
This is a tough call.
Often, parents starting out with cloth diapers struggle a bit with leaks at first because they aren’t using enough absorbency, the right kind of absorbency, or fitting the diaper correctly (if this sounds like you, and you need help fixing a leak, click here).
But once those newbies learn a bit more they quickly find cloth diapers are far more reliable than disposible diapers beacuse you can always add more absorbency and change the fit.
Disposable diapers however are what they are and if baby is too big for them, or is a heavy wetter, you can’t make them work.
So while an experienced cloth diaper user, or a user with a light-wetter may say cloth is more reliable, many many cloth beginners with find them less reliable than disposables.
To be fair, let’s call this one a draw.
Round Seven: Service
“In many industries, the sale is only the beginning of an ongoing relationship between the buyer and seller.”
There’s not really a ton of customer service needed in the disposable diaper space. You buy them, use them, trash them. If you do have a question, you can head over to huggies.com and ask a question in their Q&A forum (an interesting read) or go to pampers.com and find their contact us button at the very bottom of the page to get a customer service person.
But for cloth diapers, that need for great service can come up more often. Not only for information and assistance to get started, but sometimes, something can go wrong, like defects, etc. with cloth diapers, and that service will not only be key to your relationship with that cloth diaper company but with cloth diapers as a whole.
In the six years I’ve been involved in the cloth diaper space I’ve seen most cloth diaper companies work very hard to develop and nurture their relationship with their customers.
And while there are a few exceptions, it’s rare for a cloth diaper company, especially one based in North America, Europe, or the UK, to not strive for a great customer experience.
Local cloth diaper retailers are also an amazing bunch that most often go well above and beyond to help and provide great service to their customers (you can find a list of local cloth diaper retailers in North America here).
This is of course only for new diapers. Those buying used diapers will have no service available to them in most cases, though there is a fantastic community around cloth diapers, which we’ll get to in the final round of this battle.
For this round, it’s too tough to call. On one hand, you have corporate service assistants that won’t know much about the disposable diaper products they are speaking about, but usually, you don’t need assistance; on the other, you have often amazing, knowledgeable, and helpful service, but may need it more often for cloth diapers. Let’s call it a tie.
Round Eight: Responsiveness
“The ability of a company to respond to customers can also be a source of value. Responsiveness can occur long before a sale is made when the customer is still “kicking the tires” or looking for information, and it can extend long after the sale is made and the customer is looking for the resolution of a problem.”
This round is very similar to the last, but I think what we’re looking for here is how quickly, and how well a customer can get a response from the company whenever they need one.
As mentioned in the last round, if you need help with your disposable diapers, you’re going to have to chat with a customer service rep. who likely has a computer screen telling him/her what to say.
On the other hand, if you speak with a cloth diaper brand or retailer, odds are you’re talking to either the owner or a member of a tiny team, often made up of family members, who has a great deal invested in the company and its success. You may even be speaking to the person who stitched it in some cases. These people often answer you as soon as they can, and your question is never left on a Q&A forum.
When it comes to knowledgeable people working the phones and email, cloth diapers win over disposable diaper companies every time.
Winner: Cloth Diapers
Round Nine: Convenience
“In some instances making it easy for customers to find out about or purchase a product is decisive. The growing popularity of ecommerce and the success of companies such as Amazon, testify to the importance of convenience to customers….
In some cases, even grocery stores are allowing customers to shop and pay online, after which purchases are delivered to their doorstep on the same day.”
While cloth diapers are definitely more convenient once you purchase them, because you never have to run out to buy more, when it comes to the initial purchase, disposable diapers win hands down — they are everywhere.
Cloth diapers are available in many spaces online, including Amazon (click here for my cloth diaper shopping tips and recommendations for Amazon), Walmart, and Target, but the variety is extremely limited in those big-box stores, and practically non-existent in-store.
If you need to grab a diaper quickly, disposibles are your go-to.
I hope this will change in the future as more and more parents choose cloth.
Winner: Disposable Diapers
Round Ten: Unrecognized Needs
“Some industries create new needs about which consumers were completely unaware. Pharmaceutical companies spend years promoting research into medical conditions (e.g. restless leg syndrome) that had not received any attention. They will fund research studies and help to publish them, after which they will announce that they have products that address the condition.”
If you’re looking for corporations that fund studies and create do-dads that you don’t need on your diapers, disposable diapers are the ones for you.
Case in point: Pampers Lumi. (Check it out here on Amazon if you’ve never heard of it).
Cloth diapers do the job; disposables will create lots of expensive things to make you think you need help to do it.
Winner: Disposable Diapers
Round Eleven: The Cool Factor
“There is a significant category of products that appeal to the teenage and early adult demographic. The source of this appeal may be hard to define but it affects items such as clothes, games, music, movies and gear (technology). Being cool may be associated with characteristics such as design and immediacy, but a large part of what makes “cool” so appealing is precisely that it is appealing: everybody else wants it.”
I acknowledged at the top of this post that I’m clearly biased toward cloth diapers, but I think most would agree, that there’s not much “cool” about a disposable diaper.
Cloth diapers aren’t necessarily cool on their own either, but, they do offer parents a way to display things they think are cool.
Not only do cloth diapers come in tons of cool prints, but they can be found in lots of pop culture prints. Baby Yoda, Tiger King, Pokemon, Marvel… the list is endless. If it’s a thing, you can find it on a diaper.
Some of the cool factor of cloth diapers also comes from them being spotted on a TON of celebrity babies (here’s a quick list of some celebrities who have used cloth diapers).
Of course, while you’ll notice a cloth diaper, disposable diapers just don’t get the attention when they are spotted on famous kiddos in the same way, so it’s completely possible other A-listers are using the expensive ‘sposies and not plain old Pampers.
Winner: Cloth Diapers
Final Round: Community
This one was not on the list qualities that make one product better than its competitors, but it’s something that so many people, myself included, list as one of their why’s for continuing with cloth diapers.
The cloth diaper community (and especially the Cloth Diapers for Beginners community *wink*) is amazing.
You won’t find another mom community online that is more helpful and kind than the cloth diaper community.
What about the disposable diaper community? If you find one, let me know.
Winner: Cloth Diapers
The Winner: Cloth Diapers (Suprise, Suprise!)
|Cloth Diapers||Disposable Diapers||Draw|
I know, I know, the cloth diaper website chose cloth diapers in the fight between cloth and disposable diapers — yawn!
But I hope this boxing battle of the baby bums brought up some points you maybe haven’t considered in making the choice between cloth diapers and disposable diapers.
Heck, I didn’t even bring up the environment!
The more viewpoints you have, the better, because at the end of the day, only you can decide what’s best for you and your family.
If you do choose to go forward with cloth diapers, make sure to jump over the Cloth Diapers 101 page here for more information or to have a look at the cloth diaper lingo dictionary here to make sure you’re ready to chat with other cloth diaper parents in those great communities I spoke about.