Even before seeing a cloth diaper, many of us know about the environmental and health benefits of cloth over disposable diapers; I’ve written about them in my comparison of cloth diapers vs. disposable diapers, which you can check out if you want to learn more.
But until you’ve used cloth diapers for a while, many of the benefits and drawbacks of cloth diapers are things you just didn’t think about and are often surprising. So, let’s jump in with the list of benefits, followed by the list of downsides so you have all the information you need.
The 8 Benefits of Using Cloth Diapers You DIDN’T Expect
1. They Never Run Out
If you’ve previously used disposable diapers on a baby, you’ll know that no matter how well prepared you are, you’re likely going to run out at some point. Maybe you just forget to stock up, maybe you didn’t pack enough for that trip, or maybe your baby jumped up to a size you haven’t purchased yet.
Whatever the cause, the chances are good that at some point you’re going to find yourself with just a diaper or two left and you’ll need to make that inconvenient trip to whatever store happens to be open at the time (because it always seems to happen at night).
That is unless you use cloth diapers.
If you get down to the last one or two cloth diapers, you’re just one load of laundry away from a full batch of clean diapers. To be fair, this is assuming you have more than one or two cloth diapers in the first place. You can find out how many cloth diapers you’ll want to have on hand here.
Even better, most cloth diapers are one-size diapers, meaning that they can adjust to fit your baby from about 6 lbs to about 35 lbs (varies by brand and style). This means an ill-timed growth spurt won’t mean you’re going to run out of diapers.
2. They are Heavy-Wetter Proof (Depending on Style)
Not all babies dirty their diapers in the same way. Some babies are known as “heavy-wetters,” meaning they may wet their diaper less often, but when they do they let out A LOT all at once. I have a whole post about how to cloth diapers a heavy wetter successfully here, but suffice it to say that you need more absorbency. More absorbency comes down to better inserts and more of them.
Not all diaper styles are great at accommodating more absorbency (I’m looking at you, pocket diapers), but most are. Disposable diapers, on the other hand, don’t come with an option to add more absorbency.
I often hear from parents who switch to cloth diapers, especially for overnights, because their heavy wetter wets through that disposable diaper. Those parents usually love overnight fitted diapers because they allow for more absorbency to always be added, and are therefore bulletproof for even the heaviest of heavy-wetters.
3. They Speed up Potty Training
Often, toddlers who wear cloth diapers potty train earlier. Now I’m not guaranteeing your kiddo will potty train early, every kid has their own schedule, but in general, cloth diapered kids do potty train early.
The reason is simple: they can actually feel when they wet their diaper. Unlike disposable diapers where moisture is chemically changed into sludge and locked away if you choose not to use fleece diaper liners to give your baby that stay-dry feeling, their cloth diaper will feel wet when they urinate.
That immediate feedback of wetness helps them connect the dots and understand their body’s signals faster.
4. Poop Goes Where It’s Supposed To
If you’ve never taken a close look at all the fine print on a package of disposable diapers, you may not know that you’re not supposed to toss the poop into the trash along with the diaper. To properly dispose of solids, even in a disposable diaper, you’re supposed to flush them down the toilet.
Here are a few directions from disposable diaper packages to illustrate:
When you’re using cloth diapers, where the poop goes isn’t even a debate, nothing goes into the garbage. When a diaper is soiled, you put the poop into the toilet, using one of the 7 methods to remove poop from cloth diapers and toss the diaper itself into your dirty diaper storage until wash day. Easy Peasy.
5. Cloth Diapers Offer a Return on Your Investment
When you buy disposable diapers, that money is gone. Soiled diapers are just thrown away. If you happen to live in an area that charges for garbage collection, it even costs you extra to throw it away!
While cloth diapers do have a higher up-front cost, using cloth diapers on even just one baby from birth to potty can save you an average of about $1,575.50 per child. On top of that savings, when your baby (or babies) are done with the diapers, if they’re still in good condition you can re-sell them.
That’s right, there’s a whole used-diaper economy waiting for your old (but still usable) cloth diapers!
For more information about buying and selling used diapers, you can check out my used cloth diaper guide here.
6. Blowouts Don’t Really Happen in Cloth Diapers (*With a Good Fit*)
Wanna see something gross? Google “diaper blowout.”
Your gonna see some nasty pictures of babies, their clothes, and sometimes their parents covered in baby poop. You may notice during that search that all the babies have one thing in common, they’re wearing disposable diapers.
When small babies poop, it’s often liquidy, and it shoots out of them with the force of a thousand hurricanes. In a disposable diaper, there’s not a lot of room for that force to go, and so it goes out the legs (through those weak “elastics”) and up the back.
In a cloth diaper, there’s some space inside the diaper that absorbs the force of the situation, and allows those strong leg elastics and back elastics to do their work and keep everything in! If your chosen diaper also has double gussets, the blowout protection is doubled.
Important note: When cloth diaper parents hear that cloth diapers don’t have blowouts, they are of course happy about that and think that’s it, but it’s important to remember, that cloth doesn’t allow blowouts for two reasons: the extra give inside the diaper, and the superior leg elastics. If your cloth diaper is a pocket diaper that’s overstuffed, or if the legs of the diaper aren’t firm against the baby’s leg creases as they should be with a good fit, a blowout can still happen.
But if your cloth diaper fits well, and isn’t overstuffed, and especially if you have double gussets, it’s bye-bye blowouts!
7. The Cloth Diaper Community is THE BEST! (Especially Ours!)
Without a doubt, one of the least expected benefits of using cloth diapers on my daughter was the amazing connections I would make with some pretty fantastic parents in the community. From retailers to manufacturers, to cloth diapering parents and grandparents, everyone is just so helpful and supportive!
Literally one of the best decisions I’ve ever made was to start the Cloth Diapers for Beginners Facebook group. That group has grown to nearly 45,000 members (a the time of publishing this post) and with the help of our amazing moderators, the group is the kindest, most supportive, and wonderful place for new parents to learn and support each other through their cloth diaper journey.
8. Cloth Diapers are Stinking Cute
This one is pretty obvious when you see it, but it’s something that’s just not appreciated until you shop for your first stash of cloth diapers; cloth diapers are just WAY cuter than disposable diapers.
With every color of solid diaper under the rainbow and prints to match any taste (or nerdy obsession), there’s something for everybody and something for every baby photo session!
The Five Big Downsides of Cloth Diapers
Now that we’ve got all the sunshine and rainbows out of the way, let’s get down to it and talk about the downsides to cloth diapers, because no parenting choice, no matter how beneficial, is perfect.
There are many reasons why you can become disheartened after starting cloth diapering, so let’s take a look at them, so, at the very least, you’re prepared for what’s to come:
1. The Learning Curve is Steep (And Most of It is About Laundry)
Without a doubt one of the first drawbacks of cloth diapers you’re likely to experience happens early — information overload. This is because the learning curve with cloth diapers is short but STEEP!
When you first look into cloth diapers the amount of information and cloth diaper lingo you need to learn before you can even confidently buy some diapers is a lot!
Then you need to learn how to wash and care for them, which is another huge learning experience. In fact, it’s often when trying to wash cloth diapers that we realize we know NOTHING about laundry — that was certainly the case for me!
Before cloth diapers, we just assume that when something is very dirty, we just dump in an extra glug of detergent and everything will be fine. But doing that with your cloth diapers will quickly give you detergent buildup, which will cause smells and rashes.
So, learning about cloth diaper laundry is a whole thing!
By the way, if you want to cut down on that learning time, you can get the Cloth Diaper Wash and Care Handbook here.
It’s a lot!
Thankfully, once you get over the information overload, and just start using cloth diapers, it gets easier and eventually becomes a routine.
2. Cloth Diaper Laundry is Extra Work
No matter how you look at it, an extra load of laundry is extra work. There’s just no getting around this one.
Luckily, I often hear from moms (myself included) who hate clothing laundry but for some reason find diaper laundry therapeutic. I think for me this was related to knowing how much I saved with each diaper.
If you find the thought of extra laundry to be exhausting, you may want to consider a cloth diaper service, which will do all the washing for you, though it comes with a hefty price tag.
Finally, don’t choose pocket diapers if the extra work is a red flag for you. Pocket diapers need to be stuffed before use, and there’s nothing more daunting than a big “to-stuff” pile! All-in-one diapers might be best if you’re really looking to simplify things.
3. Cloth Diapers Are Bulkier
4. Your Friends & Family May Not Be Kind About Your Choice
Finally, the last downside of cloth diapers, and the worst, in my opinion, is that your friends and family may not support your decision to cloth diaper.
In fact, I regularly hear in the community of friends and family being downright rude and toxic about it.
It comes out of ignorance and misinformation, but it’s still hurtful and uncalled for, and absolutely unacceptable.
If your friends and family are being unsupportive, or even discouraging and rude, know that you are not alone; it’s depressingly common. Come and join the cloth diaper community who have actually done the research and know you’re making an excellent choice for your baby; and that it’s your choice no one else’s!
5. Daycares Can Be Hesitant to Cloth Diaper
Unfortunately, friends and family members aren’t the only ones with negative presumptions about cloth diapers before they’ve seen or used them.
Often I hear from moms who are told by their daycare provider that cloth diapers “aren’t allowed.” Often this isn’t actually a rules and regulations thing, but an uninformed knee-jerk reaction thing.
If your daycare of choice gives you grief about using cloth diapers, I strongly recommend reading this article with responses to common complaints and concerns daycares have about cloth diapers. Often, with a little information and gentle coaxing, they can come around to the idea; it just sucks to get this initial resistance from so many daycare providers.