Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable Diapers - Costs, Sustainability, Health
Photo by @olivia_greige
Before my baby was born, I was particularly focused on the topic of Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable Diapers. My primary concern was sustainability, and I admittedly didn't know much about the many other facts involved.
Which is better, cloth diapers or disposable diapers? In comparing the two types of diapers, cloth diapers are clearly victorious. They are more sustainable, cost-effective, and healthier than disposable diapers. What particularly surprised me was that cloth diapers can be just as easy (or even easier) to use in everyday life as disposable diapers.
Why children in cloth diapers become potty-trained faster than those in disposable diapers will also be covered in this article. So make sure to stay tuned and read through the interesting facts.
Cloth Diaper vs. Disposable Diaper - Pros and Cons
Here's an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of cloth diapers vs. disposable diapers:
+ more cost-effective
+ sometimes easier to handle on the go
+ possibly time-saving
- higher overall expenses
- not sustainable
- promotes rashes, fungus, and diaper dermatitis
+/- Time-saving depending on the type of diaper
- possibly later potty training
- larger upfront investment
- increased laundry
Cloth Diaper vs. Disposable Diaper - Costs
Which is more cost-effective, cloth diapers or disposable diapers?
The initial investment for cloth diapers varies depending on your individual wishes and needs between approximately €750 and €1,829.
Since you pay the entire sum for cloth diapers at once, the costs may seem very high at first. However, the total sum of costs for disposable diapers and accessories are still significantly higher at an average of about €3,000.
Moreover, you can reuse cloth diapers for siblings or resell them after the diapering phase. Disposable diapers, on the other hand, have to be disposed of after use. By reselling or reusing, cloth diapers therefore save even more money.
How much does one spend on diapers per month?
What do disposable diapers cost per month?
With an average price of €0.32 per diaper and 7 diapers a day, the cost amounts to €2,434 over 3 years.
Additionally, there may be costs of about €561 for accessories, such as diaper pails, refill cartridges, wet wipes, and changing pads.
Thus, the total costs for disposable diapers and accessories amount to €2,995 or €83.20 per month.
Precise information on calculating the costs of disposable diapers can be found in this article.
How much money can be saved with cloth diapers?
Cloth diapers are a one-time purchase costing up to €1,829. In addition, there are costs for washing, which are €213 over 3 years (with a washing cycle of 4 days).
Therefore, the total costs for cloth diapers and washing amount to approximately €2,042 or €56.72 per month.
With a washing cycle of 2 days, the purchase costs + washing costs come to €1,546.07 (€1,119 + €427.07) or €42.95 per month.
You can save up to €1,448.93 or €40.25 per month with cloth diapers over a diapering period of three years.
And as already mentioned, you can resell your used cloth diapers (and of course also buy used) or reuse them for another child, thereby saving even more money.
Precise information on calculating the costs of cloth diapers can be found in this article.
What does washing cloth diapers cost (per month)?
The costs of washing cloth diapers over three years are as follows:
Washing cycle every 2 days:
Electricity cost: approximately €147.83
Freshwater and wastewater consumption: approximately €104.03
Laundry detergent: approximately €71.18
Washing machine wear: approximately €104.03
This amounts to a total of €427.07 or €11.86 per month
Washing cycle every 3 days:
Electricity cost: approximately €99.96
Freshwater and wastewater consumption: approximately €69.38
Laundry detergent: approximately €47.45
Washing machine wear: approximately €69.43
This amounts to a total of €286.22 or €7.95 per month
Washing cycle every 4 days:
Electricity cost: approximately €73.71
Freshwater and wastewater consumption: approximately €51.87
Laundry detergent: approximately €35.49
Washing machine wear: approximately €51.87
This amounts to a total of €212.94 or €5.92 per month
Some washing machines are cheaper, others are more expensive. Here you can calculate your exact washing costs.
Further information on calculating costs and washing cloth diapers can be found here.
Our detergent is not only excellent for cloth diapers but also for gentle and thorough cleaning of children's and baby clothes.
Photo by @madame.vio
Cloth Diaper vs. Disposable Diaper - Sustainability
Which is more environmentally friendly, cloth diapers or disposable diapers?
Cloth diapers are significantly more environmentally friendly than disposable diapers. Each child requires about 5,000 disposable diapers during the diapering period, which equates to approximately one ton of waste (Source: BMUV).
Disposable diapers are not recyclable and have to be disposed of in the regular trash. This is partly due to the variety of materials that are combined differently, and partly because of the feces contained in the diaper.
In contrast, cloth diapers produce virtually no waste. The only exception is the diaper liner or Poo Paper, which is usually made of paper and constitutes a minimal fraction of the waste generated by disposable diapers.
Are cloth diapers less sustainable due to washing than disposable diapers?
Some parents fear that washing cloth diapers causes a high CO₂ output or water consumption. As you can see below, this is indeed not the case.
What is the water consumption of disposable diapers?
Not taking into account the production of nonwoven fabric and superabsorbent material, the water consumption for disposable diapers is already 202 l/kg. A child needs 5000 to 6000 disposable diapers until they are diaper-free. If a disposable diaper weighs 50 g, this results in a water consumption of 55,500 l per child.
What is the water consumption of cloth diapers?
According to the Environment Agency, a 60°C wash cycle for energy efficiency class A has a consumption of 53 l. If you wash your cloth diapers every four days for three years, this results in a water consumption of 14,000 l.
What is the energy consumption of disposable diapers?
The cloth diaper also fares much better than the disposable diaper in terms of energy consumption. Disposable diapers have an energy consumption of 4.98 kWh per kg, where 3.21 kWh comes from non-renewable energies. Therefore, for the entire diapering period with disposable diapers, this results in an energy consumption of 4,980 kWh (5,000 diapers ≙ 1 ton). All this data can be found here.
What is the energy consumption of cloth diapers?
A washing machine with energy efficiency class A+ has an energy consumption of 1 kWh per 60°C wash load of cloth diapers (Source: Environment Agency).
With a washing cycle every four days, over three years of diapering, this results in an energy consumption of 274 kWh.
Therefore, by using cloth diapers instead of disposable, you can save a whole 4,706 kWh. To put it in perspective: A household of five consumes about 5,000 kWh per year (Source: co2online)
Additionally, if you use green electricity, you can make washing your cloth diapers even more sustainable.
What are the CO₂ footprints of cloth diapers and disposable diapers?
According to the Federal Environment Agency, the generation of 1 kWh of electricity produces 485 g of CO₂ equivalents* (as of 2021). This figure includes all types of electricity (green energy and non-green energy).
If you wash your cloth diapers every four days for three years, this results in 274 wash loads. 274 wash loads consume 274 kWh of electricity, hence about 133 kg of CO₂ equivalents per child.
However, disposable diapers, according to the Environment Agency, use approximately 550 kg of CO₂ equivalents per child. In Germany, the share of green electricity is about 41% (Source: Federal Environment Agency; as of 2021).
*What are CO₂ equivalents? Alongside CO₂, other gases also contribute to the greenhouse effect, which are considered in CO₂ equivalents.
In this article, you can find all the mentioned details about the environmental impacts of disposable and cloth diapers once again.
Photo by @isabelplett
Cloth Diaper vs. Disposable Diaper - Health
Are cloth diapers better for the skin than disposable diapers?
Yes, cloth diapers are better for the skin than disposable diapers. This is because cloth diapers contain no harmful chemicals, are breathable, and the air circulation allows baby's skin to regenerate itself without the need for unnecessary creams or ointments.
Disposable diapers are often worn for too long because the super absorbers soak up the moisture completely. This leads to very little air circulation in the diaper area. As a result, the baby's skin is more prone to fungi, rashes, and diaper dermatitis (Source: Paediatricians Online).
Note: Diaper rash can also be caused by the introduction of solid foods, for example. Therefore, a cloth diaper is not a guarantee for a healthy baby bottom.
Cloth diapers are advantageous for immature hips
Due to our modern lifestyle (infrequent baby carrying), hip dysplasia is more common today. You can counteract this by broadly diapering your baby.
For broad diapering, you can use our Judes cloth diapers. They are perfect for beginners in the world of cloth diapers because they are especially easy to use.
Do children in cloth diapers become potty trained faster?
Yes, children who were diapered with cloth diapers became diaper-free about 8 months earlier than children who were diapered with disposable diapers.
This is the conclusion we have reached in our own study.
When you diaper your child with cloth diapers, they directly feel when they wet the diaper. This provides a natural bio-feedback. Even a baby can recognize this "if-then" relationship through the immediate sequence of action and result, forming a (subconscious) understanding.
This understanding benefits your child during diaper weaning since they are already familiar with their body's signals.
At Judes, we have purposefully designed our cloth diapers so that your baby feels the wetness when they pee in the diaper. Because this way, your baby can learn this important connection.
Do disposable diapers lead to later potty training?
Yes, disposable diapers can prolong the potty training process.
In the survey conducted by Judes, it was found that about 8% of the parents surveyed diapered for 5 years or longer, with about one in four children being diapered for 4 years or longer.
The average diapering period with cloth diapers, on the other hand, is only 2.2 years - which is on average 8 months shorter than with disposable diapers.
Another advantage of the cloth diaper:
Responsive Parenting - Confident children through the attention to their needs
According to the meta-study on the influence of attachment, temperament, and parenting on human development, Responsive Parenting means responding to the needs of the child.
This way, the child learns that the world is not uncontrollable, but responds to their own signals. As a result, the child develops greater curiosity, self-confidence, and independence - for the rest of their life.
"Soiling the diaper” is one of the most central, multiple times daily, physical experiences of every child. The more awareness a child can develop in this regard, the better. Because then the child can respond to it.
However, a child can only develop awareness if they feel something when they soil the diaper (e.g., that it gets wet).
Cloth Diaper vs. Disposable Diaper - Time Investment
How much time is spent on disposable diapers?
Disposable diapers account for an effort of 34 minutes per week.
At Judes, we surveyed 500 parents about how much time was spent on disposable diapers. And these are the insights we gained from our survey:
- On average, the weekly time spent is 34 minutes.
- Most parents reported 30 minutes (most frequent choice).
- Only 25% indicated that they spend less than 15 minutes per week on disposable diapers.
Most parents, therefore, spend well over half an hour per week shopping for, sorting, or disposing of disposable diapers.
This is how much time is spent on cloth diapers
Washing the complete set of Judes cloth diapers creates a time investment of 15 minutes per week (with a dryer it's even only 4 minutes).
Here is the exact breakdown of time:
- Placing the diaper bag in the washing machine and starting it: 0.5 minutes
- Removing laundry: 1 minute
- Hanging laundry: 6 minutes
- Taking laundry down: 1.5 minutes
That's a total of 9 minutes. We calculated with one and a half wash cycles per week, so 1.5 x 9 minutes = about 15 minutes.
When using a dryer, there is no need for hanging and taking down laundry. You just need to place the laundry in the dryer and take it out again. We calculate 1 minute each for this.
Thus, using a dryer results in the following time calculation:
- Placing the diaper bag in the washing machine and starting it: 0.5 minutes
- Removing laundry and placing it in the dryer: 1.5 minutes
- Taking laundry out of the dryer: 1 minute
We ended up with a time investment of 4 minutes, which we have timed ourselves. Of course, this time can vary by 1-2 minutes, depending on the setup of the machines.
These time estimates apply to Judes cloth diapers and may vary with other cloth diaper systems.
Photo by @isabelplett
What are the arguments against eco-friendly disposable diapers?
Are eco-friendly diapers better than conventional disposable diapers?
No, eco-friendly diapers are not better than normal disposable diapers. Instead of petroleum-based plastics, bio-based plastics are often used, and studies show that bio-based plastics also contain a lot of chemicals.
Eco-friendly diapers contain hormonally active substances
Furthermore, these studies showed that bio-based plastics can affect our hormonal balance even more than conventional plastics. Hormonally active substances such as plasticizers are suspected of causing infertility when absorbed through the skin into the body.
Additionally, the absorbent core in most cases is still full of chemicals, just like with other disposable diapers. To make matters worse, eco-friendly diapers are also significantly more expensive.
And what makes Judes cloth diapers special?
As you can see, cloth diapers clearly come out ahead when compared to disposable diapers. But of course, there are also some differences within the cloth diaper market.
We at Judes have set out to bring to market a cloth diaper that is not only better than disposable diapers but also the best among cloth diapers.
Here are the main points that distinguish our diaper from others:
Judes Cloth Diapers
Other Cloth Diapers
Production, material & use
only partially sustainable:
intuitive, easy system:
two sizes & individual fit with Velcro
often only one size with snap closure
minimalist and unexciting
brightly colored, busy, overstimulating
innovative weaving for maximum absorbency
lower absorbency with multiple layers of fabric
slim diaper bum,
thick, bulky diaper bum
Moisture protection even overnight
less moisture protection
Want to learn more about how our diapers differ from other cloth diapers? Feel free to take a look at this comparison.
Additional Questions and Interesting Facts
Is it worth switching to cloth diapers?
Yes, even a late switch to cloth diapers at one or even two years of age can be worthwhile. The diapers can be resold easily, and every day using cloth diapers saves a considerable amount of waste. Additionally, the skin-friendliness and time-saving aspects remain advantageous.
How to store used cloth diapers?
You can store used cloth diapers in a breathable diaper bag/Wetbag either hung up or in an open diaper pail. This prevents unpleasant odors. For washing, you can place the open diaper bag directly into the washing machine and wash without any issues.
Did this article help you with your decision? Can you think of any more pros or cons for cloth or disposable diapers? Let us know in the comments! For more input, feel free to follow us on Instagram.