Monday, July 11, 2011

The Great Diaper Debate: Cloth Verses Disposable

Cloth Pro's -
1. Environmentally friendly - The cloth diaper doesn't add to the growing landfill problem. Even if the diaper addition to the landfill problem is small (2%), the cloth diaper is akin to a "Do No Harm" ethic (1).

2. Diaper Rash - Cloth diapers have less chemicals interacting with the baby's skin. They are breathable (12 & 13). Diaper rash is largely about humidity in the diaper; a good diaper is a breathable diaper (6).

            - Answering the Wetness Advantage of the Disposable Diaper: Water repellant pastes should be applied to the baby's skin at each diaper change (5). Pastes are preferable to ointments because ": they adhere better to the skin, they are more absorptive (ie, drying), they can transmit perspiration and exudate and, in this way, cool and reduce maceration of the skin" (5).

3. Softer - Cloth diapers are made of natural (for the most part) and soft fabrics: cotton, bamboo, terrycloth, flannel, fleece, or microfiber (14). Skin to diaper friction doesn't cause diaper rash, but "may be an important predisposing factor" (5). Eruption sites for dermatological rashes often happen in places where the diaper is in constant contact with the skin, so a softer diaper is likely helpful in prevent eruption sites (5).

4. Cost - Couples who use cloth diapers estimate saving between $1,500-2,000 per child (9).

Cloth Con's-

1. Environmentally unfriendly - Lots water to wash them.  Disposables are required in Day Care and probably when traveling, which means adding some disposables to the landfill is inevitable.
            - Answer to Water Waste: It's still comparably better than disposables. "Home washing cloth diapers has only 53 percent of the ecological footprint of disposables, and if you use a diaper laundering service that impact is halved again" (11).
            - Answer to eco-friendly disposables: They are so expensive that they make me cry.

2. Greater Fecal Contamination - Gross! Poop rags. The use of cloth diapers risks more fecal contamination than disposable diapers (3). Fecal contamination causes diarrhea (3). This study was done in a day care environment and general risk of fecal contamination at home is lower (3).
            - Answer to Fecal Contamination - Both cloth and disposable diapers are    supposed to get scraped into the toilet before washing or trashing. "Human waste in the trash is a no-no, and the fine print on disposable packages points that out"(14).

3. Diaper rash - Cloth diapers aren't as absorbent; therefore, urine sits on the baby's skin for longer.  (1).

            - Answer to urine on the skin: Urine Exposure isn't A Clear Cause of Diaper Rash.  Absorbency might be just another marketing trick. "Infants with diaper rash had the same amount of ammonia and  ammonia-producing organisms on the skin as unaffected infants, and that the groups did not differ with regard to the ammonia levels found in the first morning diaper. In addition, experimental application of highly ammoniacal urine on intact infant and adult skin for 24 hours failed to provoke a dermatitis (diaper rash)" (5). Ammonia in urine does contribute to diaper rash in already aggravated skin, so once the baby has diaper rash then urine touching the skin will inflame it (5). If skin is exposed to urine for 18 hours in warm weather, it can induce diaper rash (5). You are also a terrible parent if you leave your baby sitting in urine for 18 or more hours.  Feces "contain substantial amounts of proteolytic and lipolytic digestive enzymes, which have been reported to possess skin irritation potential" (5). Basically, change a poopy diaper right way, but this is true of both disposable and cloth diapers; this information could be a reason to avoid artificial baby powder good smells which prevents parents from smelling a stinky diaper.

4. The Feminism Kritik - Elisabeth Badinter argues the green politics of motherhood have created a perfect vision of motherhood where mothers are encouraged to breastfeed (to avoid plastic bottles), to use cloth diapers (for the landfills), and turn away the epidural (fighting overmedicalization) - to discard the inventions "that have liberated women" (7).

4. It's Complicated: Cloth diapers require the waterproof covers you’ll need to lock in moisture, the diapers, diaper inserts (cloth pads added to increase absorbency), doubles (for better absorbency, and flushable liners, & a laundry service (to resolve the gross poop rag & time management issues) and wet bag to hold wet diapers.
            - Answer to it's complex: Cloth diapers aren't your mama's diapers anymore. No more pins (replaced by velcro) or strange plastic pants that you put over the diaper. Some of cloths are all-in-one where all you really change is the insert.

Disposable Pro's -

1. Convenient - Put the diaper on him and let him go. Also when you travel, it's so much easier cause you can't wash the diapers. Day Care's requires disposables because of the fecal contamination argument.  

            - Answering the Environment Advantage: "Disposable diapers do not take up volume in a landfill which could be taken up by other materials but merely fill in the voids around the more rigid items" (4). "Disposable diapers account for only 2 percent of the waste in dumps. At that rate, "disposable diapers aren't clogging up our nation's landfills," Chaz Miller, director of state programs for the National        Solid Wastes Management Association in Washington, said. "They're just another pebble on the beach."" (1)

2. Better at containing fecal contamination spread (3). The poop stays in the diaper better and doesn't spread as much when changing the baby.

3. Diaper Rash - Skin wetness is a clear cause of diaper rash. Wetness "enhances the skin’s susceptibility to abrasion and frictional damage and it impairs its barrier function, thereby increasing its permeability and, consequently, its reaction to irritants" (5). Absorbency may not be a marketing trick. "Modern superabsorbent paper diapers containing absorbent gelling material have significantly reduced the occlusive effect of diapers and the degree of wetness of the covered area" (5). It is important to note wetness included prolonged exposure to water or sweat, and not just urine.

Disposable Con's -
1. Cost - "You can expect to spend $1,500 to $2,000 or more on disposables" by the time you are done with diapers (2).

2. Environmentally Unfriendly - It's estimated that disposable diapers add 3.4 million tons to landfills in the US each year (10). Disposables "take about 500 years to decompose" (8).

3. Diaper Allergies & Chemicals - Infants can have allergies to glue components, rubber latex materials, & dyestuff (6). Diaper emissions (the solvents and other stuff added during the manufacturing process) are dangerous; "laboratory mice exposed to various brands of disposable diapers suffered increased eye, nose, and throat irritation, including bronchoconstriction similar to that of an asthma attack. Six leading cotton and disposable diaper brands were tested; cloth diapers were not found to cause respiratory problems among the lab mice" (17).  The real chemical is "sodium polyacrylate" in basically every diaper because it's is a super absorbent polymer (15). Sodium polyacrylate, "though non-toxic, can cause mild to severe skin irritation" (16).

            - Answer to Allergies: Relatively few diaper materials are associated with   allergies; often diaper rash is mistaken for allergy (6). 


1. Consumer Reports, December 2009, "Cloth vs. disposables"
2. Consumer Reports, July 8, 2009, "Cloth vs. disposable diapers: Getting started"
3. Bonnie Holiday, DNS, Gayle Waugh, MSN, Virginia E. Moukaddem, MEd,
Jan West, BS, & Sidney Harshman, ScD, "Diaper Type and Fecal Contamination in Child Day Care", Journal of Pediatric Health Care, March-April 1995, Vol 9, no. 2, p. 67-74.
4. K.L. Light , D.G. Chirmuley, &  R.K. Ham, " A laboratory study of the compaction characteristics of disposable diapers in a landfill", Resources, Conservation and Recycling, vol. 13 , 1995, p. 89-96.
5. RONNI WOLF, MD, DANNY WOLF, MD, BINNUR TUZUN, MD, YALCIN TUZUN, MD, " Diaper Dermatitis", Clinics in Dermatology, 2000, vol. 18, p. 657–660.
6. Bo Runeman, PhD, "Skin interaction with absorbent hygiene products", Clinics in Dermatology, 2008, vol. 26, p. 45–51
7. STEVEN ERLANGER & MAIA DE LA BAUME, The Ledger, " New Book Argues Women Are Steered From Careers", June 14, 2010, p. B6.
8. Lewiston Morning Tribune, "20 years ago", April 25, 2010, p. lexis.
9. CANDACE RENALLS, " Duluthians take baby steps with diaper business", St. Paul Pioneer Press, December 6, 2009, p. lexis.
10. Bill Tauber, "Q&A on the environment", San Jose Mercury News, November 14, 2009, p. lexis.
11. Chris Martell, " GO GREEN FOR BABY", Wisconsin State Journal, September 13, 2009, p. H1.
12. JENNIFER GISH, "BOTTOM LINE: COMEBACK FOR CLOTH?", The Times-Union, July 30, 2009, p. A1.
13. Dr. Laura Voigt & Dr. Kultar Shergill quoted in: Kellie B. Gormly, "Baby diapers: Parents cover all the options", Pittsburgh Tribune Review, June 15, 2009, p. lexis.
14. Sarah Moran, "A better BUM?", Star Tribune, May 4, 2009, p. 1E.
15. Clay Wollney, "How do disposable diapers work?", Staten Island Advance, December 18, 2008, p. C08.
16. Jeremy Cato, eHow, " Precautions With Sodium Polyacrylate", no date cited,
17. Rosalind Anderson & Julius Anderson, “Acute Respiratory Effects of Diaper Emissions”, Archives of Environmental Health, vol. 54, October 1999.

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