Cloth vs. Disposable Diapers: A Frightening Tale

To sustain this free service, we receive affiliate commissions via some of our links. This doesn’t affect rankings. Our review process.

Baby IssacI just returned from a trip to my mom’s house in North Carolina.  It’s always nice to visit other than the fact that my baby doesn’t sleep well when we travel (does any baby, really???).  This trip was slightly complicated by another issue too, though.  I use cloth diapers at home, but I don’t expect my mom to give up her washing machine to poo filled diapers.  Not to mention, disconnecting my diaper sprayer at home sounded no more appealing than sticking my hand down and rinsing a cloth diaper in her toilet (UGH!).

So, I bought some disposable diapers for the trip.  I had a $2.00 off coupon for Pampers, so that’s what I got.  I didn’t think it would matter too much – as long as they didn’t leak.  It was only for a week, after all.  I used one the night before we left so I wouldn’t be leaving behind any smelly cloth diapers at the house and then put one on him for the road.  He was changed three times along the way, and I didn’t notice any issues during those diaper changes.  However, by the time we finished the ten-hour drive to my mom’s, he had a bad rash. Not just your typical red bum, slap on some diaper rash cream type rash (and I will also add he hasn’t had a rash since we used disposables back when he was a newborn).  It was a bleeding, bumpy, yeasty rash on his penis and scrotum (sorry to be so descriptive, but, seriously??? My poor baby boy!!!).  How could that happen so fast???  He was a trooper, but I felt horrible.

Chemicals and Scents in Disposable Diapers

Obviously, I did some research that led me to choose cloth diapers in the first place, but I’ll be honest and say that the majority of my choice had to do with money.  I found some great cloth diapers for a good price and I figured I’d save a good $1000+ by making an initial investment.  I also liked the idea of keeping diapers out of the landfills (since we all know they take like a billion years to decompose. Maybe this is a SLIGHT exaggeration, but they are bad!).  I hadn’t, however, really thought about how disposable diapers could potentially hurt my baby.   I HAD heard stories about Pampers causing chemical burns, but I THOUGHT they had changed the new ones so that would stop happening.  I still wonder if maybe that is what happened.  I decided to do a little research to see what exactly is in disposable diapers (after I went and bought some Earth’s Best chlorine-free diapers for my baby boy, which helped with the rash, but didn’t make it completely go away).

What’s in YOUR DIAPER?

Baby in diaper coverAlmost all disposable diaper companies (other than “organic/natural” diapers like Earth’s Best) use Chlorine to bleach diapers and the result is the release of dioxins.  The EPA lists dioxins as highly carcinogenic.  According to the World Health Organization, exposure to dioxins may cause skin reactions and altered liver function, as well as impairments to the immune system, nervous system, endocrine system and reproductive functions.   If that’s not scary enough, the crystals inside of disposable diapers that soak up a pound or two of pee (that alone is a little scary when you stop and think about it!) is the same chemical that was removed from tampons due to concerns with toxic shock syndrome – Sodium Polyacrylate.  No long-term studies have been done on these chemicals, so we don’t really know the effects as of yet but it does not seem too safe.  Compound that with dyes, other chemicals (tributyl-tin and volatile organic compounds which have been linked to cancer) and perfumes that are often harmful and irritating and it makes you sort of wonder why more people don’t use cloth.*

The Bottom Line (haha) – Cloth vs. Disposable Diapers

Clearly, disposable diapers are still on the market, so I am absolutely NOT saying that they are evil, horrible things that should never touch your child’s body.  However, when there is an affordable alternative (Yes, cloth diapers CAN be very affordable! – Another blog for another day! You readers have to hold me to all of these blog promises!) that is better for your baby; if possible, why not give it a shot?  It is understandable if you don’t have access to a washing machine regularly (I’m not sure your laundromat neighbors would be thrilled with you throwing poopie diapers in the washing machine where they wash their work shirts, but maybe what they don’t know won’t hurt them!?!  ;)).

Crawling babyIf you are breastfeeding, the early days are REALLY easy!  You just rinse with a hot water cycle, wash warm, rinse again (I use cold on my second rinse) and hang to dry!  Pretty easy and my water bill only went up by $5/month!  It can be debated as to whether the energy to clean cloth diapers is really greener than buying disposables.  However, I will argue that potential health risks to your baby combined with the fact that disposable diapers sit in landfills for 10-20 years (minimum estimates put out by disposable diaper companies – which they released as GOOD news! Really? 10-20 years is GOOD???) is MUCH more “natural”.

My 9 month old never had a single diaper rash until we switched to those darn perfumed Pampers.  Purely anecdotal?  Yes.  But, it convinced me that I had made the right decision for my little guy (I already felt good about his cute cloth diaper bum anyway!)!

* Source:

About The Author:

Mother of four boys and the wife of a minister in Georgia. The world is full of medical “miracles” but over time and lots of experience, this mom has discovered that raising a natural baby creates the most wonderful bonds and lessons for her children.

Disclaimer: The information provided through this website should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your health care provider.

Disclaimer: This website contains reviews, opinions and information regarding products and services manufactured or provided by third parties. We are not responsible in any way for such products and services, and nothing contained here should be construed as a guarantee of the functionality, utility, safety or reliability of any product or services reviewed or discussed. Please follow the directions provided by the manufacturer or service provider when using any product or service reviewed or discussed on this website.

Notify of
Oldest Most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
August 3, 2018 2:20 am

I’ve taken several breaks from cloth diapers. I started cloth diapering my first son almost 10 years ago. We put him in cloth with temporary breaks for illnesses, traveling, etc. My husband dislikes cloth and always used to nag me about it so when our second son was stillborn I was lucky to make it out of bed every day. Anything extra went out the window. Our first son was switched to cloth and I was a little sad about it but that wasn’t enough in the big picture to make me go back. He potty trained when he was three.

I put my next baby (a girl) in cloth and we stuck with it. Again, we took breaks for illnesses and travel. The usual. Then when she was 17 months old, we had to move in with my mom because of the economy. My mom had already refused to let me wash cloth diapers in her washer on our last trip to visit so I knew there was no way she’d let me do it while living there. We had to give up cloth again. Baby girl was potty trained at two.

Next baby girl was born almost exactly 5 years later and I was very excited to try all the new fluff. I had to schedule a c-section so we waited till she was 8 weeks old to put her in cloth. Cloth has come a long way since I started using it 10 years ago and we’ve had our ups and downs. Hubby actually refuses to buy disposables anymore but he refuses to use anything other than pockets. It’s pretty funny because when we started we had almost exclusively prefolds but now hubby acts as if he doesn’t know how to use them. He will finish washing diapers and hang them on the line for me. I’m really grateful for that.

I never have believed there was anything wrong with taking a break. I wish everyone would ease up on everyone else. Seems there’s a lot of mess flying around the internet these days. It’d be nice if that weren’t the case.

January 29, 2013 4:24 am

I am very happy to read your articles. They are very useful for me, and I am completely satisfied with your website. All comments and articles are very useful and very good.

Your blog is very attention-grabbing. I am loving all of the info you are sharing in each one.

Kathy Faust
October 4, 2012 11:09 am

Though I’ve never planned to have children, I’ve certainly thought a lot about how I would raise them. I’ve even considered the type of birth I would prefer to have. What I had never considered is the type of diapers I would use. While I can certainly see the cost savings in cloth diapers, I don’t know if I could get past the ick factor. On the other hand, I don’t think I could get past the fact that there are harmful chemicals in disposable diapers.

As someone that likes to be as green as possible, I know cloth diapers are the best answer. I do wonder if there are diapers that are more eco-friendly than others? I think this would be an area where I would have to compromise by buying the most eco-friendly disposable diapers. I’m just not sure I could get used to cloth diapers.

Who knew that diapers could be such a tricky issue? I think it’s great that some parents choose to use cloth diapers, but I don’t think it’s for everyone. I can’t imagine having a busy career and having to wash diapers on a daily basis. However, this could be a wonderful option for mothers that choose to stay home.

September 23, 2012 9:47 pm

Not too long ago, I went in on a few years of diaper service with some friends as a shower gift. At the time, I was just going along with it, but my friend (the mom-to-be) was absolutely thrilled at our thoughtfulness. I did not realize it at the time, but she is the type of person who uses all-natural everything and is very environmentally aware, and cloth diapers are definitely in line with her values.

After reading this article, I see cloth diapers as a viable earth-friendly choice that anyone can get on-board with. If you do not like the idea of washing poopy diapers, the diaper service is extra beneficial, since they just come pick up the diapers every week and supply you with fresh ones. Since cloth diapers do not have the chemicals and artificial processes going into them the way disposable diapers do, they seem much more like something that a parent would want against a baby’s skin. And since the diapers themselves will end up saving so much money (if you do not use a service), I think everyone can at least get on board with that idea.

September 13, 2012 4:40 pm

This picture is hilarious. I actually have that exact same picture of my son on the changing table. That expression on his face exactly the same. That’s so weird. Maybe your little boy is the age mine was at the time I took the picture. I guess the flash does that to them at that age. Now when he sees a flash, he just loves it and thinks it’s so funny.

That experience with the rash sounds awful. My goodness, there is perhaps no scarier feeling in the world than if your child gets sick. I’m glad your baby is okay. That rash sounds really painful. My family talked me out of using cloth diapers because they felt it would be too much hassle with a new baby. I think what might have happened is like this story my old boss told me about this man she knew that switched from a raw food diet. He decided to go back to eating cooked vegetarian foods with some fish and got really sick. I think your baby was so used to the gentle cloth that he couldn’t handle all the junk that comes in the disposable.

Kathy Faust
September 7, 2012 10:08 am

While I don’t plan to have children, there are many issues I have considered. As someone who likes to live a greener lifestyle, I know that cloth diapers are certainly more eco-friendly. However, as someone who hates germs, I can also see the ick-factor. Of course, I suppose that’s something you have to get over once you have a child. With that being said, there were other issues that I hadn’t considered.

I have extremely sensitive skin and if that were passed down to my child, I would worry about the chemicals and scents that are added to disposable diapers. This is something I had not considered. I just assumed that disposable diapers were made with absorbent materials, but hadn’t considered that there might be other products added.

Another area I hadn’t considered was that cloth diapers could be more expensive to begin with. I just assumed they would be more affordable because of the washability. Now I can understand why many new mothers opt for disposable in the beginning. I guess this would be something I would add to my registry and hope someone purchased some as a gift. Still, I don’t know that I’m sold on this option. I just want to be able to toss the diaper and not think about it.

August 31, 2012 2:31 pm

Hi, this was really informative…definitely made me stop and think about what type of diapers to use for my next baby!!