Are cloth diapers or disposable diapers safer for my child?

Cloth or disposable: Which one is right for your young one?
Cloth or disposable: Which one is right for your young one?
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One of the first decisions new parents have to make is whether to use cloth or disposable diapers for their newborn. This topic has been an active debate since the advent of disposable diapers, which made the lives of many tired new parents a lot easier. There's no argument that disposable diapers are more convenient than their cloth counterparts. There aren't multiple pieces involved, and they don't require a washing machine. But environmental advocates question the logic of convenience over cost to our environment, in the form of landfill contributions. And then there's the cost to your wallet. Over a two year period, cloth diapers cost less than three quarters of what disposable diapers will run you. But, to reiterate this overriding priority in today's society, disposable diapers are easier -- to the point that some daycare facilities won't accept children in cloth diapers. And this is one of many considerations for harried parents. But there's one cost that needs to be considered that outweighs both dollars and the environment -- your child's safety. Here's the skinny on the safety considerations of cloth versus disposable diapers.



Safety Concerns with Disposable Diapers

Will your baby really know the difference between cloth and disposables? Maybe.
Will your baby really know the difference between cloth and disposables? Maybe.
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Despite the desirable convenience and hygienic advantages that come with disposable diapers, safety concerns loom large. Part of the reason parents love disposables so much is because of their no-leak factor. Many disposable brands boast a high capacity for containing fluids, but the bad news is this comes in chemical form -- sodium polyacrylate to be exact. This "super absorbent" gel has been linked to allergic reactions and toxic shock syndrome, and it has the potential to harm your household pets. If that isn't enough chemical exposure, many disposable brands also use perfumes to hide odors and dyes and bleaches to make the diapers look attractive. A study using lab rats showed that the rats had an asthmatic reaction when introduced to diapers right out of the package because of the chemical airborne irritants they were exposed to. These chemicals are extra irritating to newborns, who are still developing and have fragile skin that too easily absorbs all of these toxins. Disposables also have plastic tabs that babies can get a hold of and put in their mouth, risking choking.


Safety Concerns with Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers have come a long way since the early days of saggy layers of damp cotton held together with oversized safety pins. And compared to disposable diapers, they come with considerably fewer health hazards. But there are some. With advances in cloth diapers, some polymer chemicals are showing up in the newer models, such as vinyl, polyester and water-repellent finishes. Fortunately, the traditional 100 percent cotton diapers are still readily available, so this is easily avoided. If you use a laundry service, it's likely they'll use chlorine bleach, which can be irritating to a baby's skin. And it's important that diapers are washed properly so that all bacteria are killed to prevent infections. Washing at high temperatures are usually effective in accomplishing this. You may have issues with cloth retaining a stinky smell, but this is more of an inconvenience than a safety issue. And of course, there's always the risk of poking that sweet baby skin with a safety pin. But overall, cloth diapers are considered to be a safer choice than disposable.


Lots More Information

Related Articles


  • Becker, Shari. "Should You Use Cloth Diapers?", 2010.
  • "Cloth vs Disposable Diapers - Compare for Yourself.", 2010.
  • "Cloth vs disposable diapers: Getting started.", July 8, 2009.
  • "Diapers, Diapers & More Diapers.", 2010.
  • Pehkonen, Marc and Taylor, Lori. "Artificial Materials and Cloth Diapering.", 2010.
  • Washko, T. "Disposable Diapers Exposed! What Are Disposable Diaper Manufacturers Hiding Anyway?" The Diaper Jungle, 2010.