I led last week with a broad observation: that most adult diaper wearers tend to default to the assumption that “diaper” means disposable. The overwhelming majority of the adult-diaper-related content on the web (practical or erotic) doesn’t even acknowledge the option of cloth diapers.

And we got some great responses in the comments, which is why I always try to leave these things open-ended — there is way more knowledge in this community than just Adrian or guest writers like myself can ever hope to provide on our own!

So taking a closer look at it, why would an adult diaper-wearer want to think about using cloth diapers? And what are the advantages to sticking with disposables?

1. The Cost Issue

Let’s be clear here: there are going to be plausible cases for and against both cloth and disposable diapers in just about any area of comparison you pick.

There will be people who swear high and low that the cost of laundry for cloth diapers is more than the cost of buying disposables, and people who swear that disposables are infinitely more expensive.

Without taking sides, here’s the quick rundown on the assumptions you can safely make about cost:

  • Cloth diapers are more expensive up front. Good adult-sized cloth diapers will run you anywhere from $20 to $75+ in U.S. dollars, depending on where you’re shopping and what you’re getting. Quality plastic pants to go over them are going to be another $20-50 or so a pop.
  • Disposables are cheaper up front but don’t last as long. A case of good disposables (Bambinos or Abenas, say) will run you $20-30ish for between one and two dozen. If you wear diapers 24/7, that case will be lucky to last a week; if you’re an infrequent wearer it could stretch as far as several months. But either way the case will be gone long before a properly-sized cloth diaper and plastic pants wear out.
  • Washing is not that big of an expense if you’re willing to put some effort into it. Hand-washing with a mild detergent and a bit of vinegar for the smell and then line-drying keeps the per-wear cost of a cloth diaper down to pennies. If you’re using a washing machine the cost increases somewhat due to the electricity and water bill, and if you’re using a coin-op machine the cost gets even higher.

Run it all down and basically you can say this much: cloth diapers are probably cheaper for people who have the time and resources to use them effectively, and who wear diapers most of the time. Disposables are cheaper if diapers are an infrequent indulgence, or if your only washing options would be costly.

2. The Environmental Issue

Again, this is one where you will find die-hard adherents on both sides of the fence. Here’s the basic case for each:

  • Cloth diapers are reusable. They don’t contribute to landfill waste until years after you purchase them, and so long as they’re made from a natural cloth they should be fully biodegradable even then. Plastic pants are usually not biodegradable, but you’re going through them at a rate of one or two every few years, rather than one or two a day (assuming full-time or close to full-time diaper usage).
  • Disposable diapers are neither biodegradable nor particularly good for the land they’re dumped on. They last close enough to forever for our human purposes, and the mass you generate by wearing them does add up over time. There’s no real way to get away from that one, unfortunately.
  • Laundry for cloth diapers uses up water and, unless you’re hand-washing, electricity, while disposables use neither.

Overall, it’s hard to make a case that cloth diapers are worse for the environment than disposable (they’re also generally easier on the environment in terms of their manufacturing), but neither is great.

3. The Comfort Issue

Here’s where we get to what really matters: how does it feel to have it on your body? This is the determining factor for most people, no matter how responsible we like to think we are about our money or our environment.

  • Disposables are smaller, easier to hide, and much easier to clean up. There’s no real competition in terms of convenience: disposables are less hassle, plain and simple.
  • Cloth on its own is more breathable, but requires plastic pants to contain any serious wetting, which can end up being less comfortable than even a plastic-backed disposable.
  • Rashes and irritation can go either way. Some people react badly to the chemicals in disposable diapers; other people get rashy when wet cloth rubs agains their skin. You tend to figure it out pretty quickly if you have a strong preference based on your skin’s reaction, and it’s tough to argue with that particular reason for a preference.
  • Cloth with plastic pants can usually go longer without changing than a disposable, so long as you’re willing to accept some bulk. Cloth thin enough to hide discreetly, on the other hand, will likely be less absorbent than a similarly-sized disposable.

Does it sound like there isn’t a clear “better” option that will fit everyone’s needs after all that?

That’s because there isn’t one! It turns out that there are reasons to wear both. Some people will always prefer disposables, and some people will always prefer cloth, while others (including myself) will use both, switching back and forth as their situation and their needs dictate.

You can even mix and match, as with people who wear a folded cloth diaper as a “soaker” inside a plastic-backed disposable rather than a pair of non-absorbent plastic pants.

At the end of the day, it’s just a matter of knowing what you need right now — absorbency, breathability, discrete sizing, etc. — and finding the diaper that provides it.

By | 2017-06-25T23:10:42+00:00 September 11th, 2013|Uncategorized|31 Comments

31 Comments

  1. Nick September 11, 2013 at 10:09 pm - Reply

    There is no doubt that you can mix and match cloth and disposable but if you start with cloth you need to commit. Why? It’s simple, you have to have enough cloth diapers to justify the wash cycle that is required. Adult cloth diapers really can’t go more than 24 to 48 hours in a dry pail without starting to get real nasty (and then requiring several wash cycles). I really have never done a wet pail so I can’t comment on that.

    Keep in mind that you can’t use just your normal detergent for cloth diapers as they easily get build up and they require a bit more care than your standard laundry. You’ll likely need thick cloth diapers to make up for what a disposable diaper can absorb which means either many many individual layers or stacking thicker diapers. The thicker the diaper the longer it would take in the dryer. If you decide to line dry them instead you need space enough for your full set of laundered diapers.

    Don’t forget that the up-front cost of cloth diapers is significant, you would need two complete sets so you can use the first set and then start the laundry and move on to the second set so that the first can wash and dry (dryer or line dry) and be ready for when the second set is done.

    Cloth diapers don’t last forever! They often have a life cycle mewp_ed in a number of washes. Different cloth diaper construction materials have different life spans (and feel very different on your skin).

    • Kwan Ming September 19, 2015 at 5:46 pm - Reply

      Cloth vs Plastic my opinions.

      I can remember when I was a child in the 1980’s and all disposable diapers where plastic backed and have a lot of fond memories of the old style diapers.

      Personally I prefer plastic vs cloth everytime although maybe I am a little old fashioned in my views, I don’t totally dislike this new cloth backed ones as they are more comfortable and slow my skin to breath, but I feel they are a whole lot less absorbent than the tredional ones are, I can totally understand why the diapers manufacturer’s have changed the products they produce and I am glad that diapers no longer take up to 1,000 years to decompose, but I also think that diapers should be as absorbent as possible without costing the earth.

      In my view diapers are more environmentally friendly than they used to be but have a long way still to go before they are considered totally acceptable in terms of minimising there environmental foot print in terms of being less harmful to our planet.

      I myself am a not a one to talk about this issue as I wear disposable diapers due to my disabilities and I understand fully why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and I also believe attitudes towards adults in diapers will change over time but am also one to campaign against stigmatism and bullying of any kind and I know how difficult it can be to say to someone that you are wearing diapers, and I fully understand the frustration and anxiety having a diaper on I public can cause.

  2. Nicky September 11, 2013 at 11:58 pm - Reply

    I think a combination of cloth diapers at home and disposables when your away at home is an ideal solution for most. The upfront cost is what’s going to be a pain to buy cloth diapers, but the long term cost will be much cheaper than a disposable diaper.

  3. Lee Farmer September 12, 2013 at 1:22 am - Reply

    If you could tell me were to get some really good adult cloth diapers that would be a really large help as I am being forced to usethe disposables all the time…
    Thanks for any help

  4. hinck September 12, 2013 at 9:26 am - Reply

    A good source for cloth diapers and plastic pants is Adultclothdiaper.com.

  5. Bambino September 12, 2013 at 10:59 am - Reply

    I tried cloth and hated them. I prefer disposables. I think it comes down to preference.

  6. Ellyn September 12, 2013 at 11:13 am - Reply

    My thirt post…
    Thank you Adrian for the summary.
    As a child, my mom used cloth diapers on me almost exclusively. That’s not to say that Pampers weren’t available as I remember being put in them on trips to make the journey more convenient. Wearing cloth diapers away from home for more than an overnight stay is never easy or in any way convenient – then or now. While growing up, my parents were anything but rich, and when my father left, life was even more difficult for my mom. Disposable diapers were available when I was young but probably out of reach financially. Also, with my condition, the need for diapers was “open ended”.
    As I grew up, I found that children my age could be very cruel, as you might imagine. As I progressed through school, though most classmates knew of my need for diapers, less and less was said. I began using disposables during school somewhere around the fifth grade, staying in cloth diapers at night, for both cost and comfort. Eventually, my need for diapers were reduced to night time, and Kotex overnight pads worked pretty well inside panties with a waterproof panel for school. If pull-ups were available then, like Depends, Tena, etc, I would have likely worn them. There were periods of time when I needed more protection, so a supply of Attends briefs were usually on standby. I would also wear cloth diapers during the day, like after school and on weekends, and nearly always at night.
    Towards the end of my college years, I regressed to wearing diapers again as my leakage intensified, both in frequency as well as volume. Then came the tests and use of many perscription drugs to try to control the condition, and two minor surgeries to try to correct the birth defect, with no real positive affect. After the second surgery, I was finished with undergoing the pain and disappointment of failure to make me “normal”, and evolved with the knowledge that I was a “normal” woman with an inconvenient condition. I could either let my condition run my life or live my life with a condition that was a little inconvenient and required a little day-to-day planning (lemons to lemonade).

    All of this, and my previous two posts to say that for me, it’s a “combination” of disposable and cloth diapers. It’s not so much a laundry cost or a green issue, but more being comfortable and discreet. I have found that “I” and more comfortable in a cloth diaper, though disposables have their place in my life It may come down to the way a cloth diaper gathers between the legs, where absorbancy is more important for a woman, and becomes thinner to the waist. Also, I notice little difference between the “heat” of a plastic backed disposable and a pair of plastic pants, though cloth and plastic pants tend to cause much fewer rashes on my inner thigh. Even the cloth backed disposables like Abena X-plus are quite warm. I believe that adjustment to the heat and resulting perspiration is part of wearing a diaper of any type. I find that double diapering (at night) is a good way of dealing with the dampness, though impractical during the day and with time will become damp as well. Being a woman, I have the benefit of being discreet about wearing cloth diapers over men as a skirt easily camouflages the padding. Also, I have been urinary incontinent for nearly my entire life so I have this diaper thing pretty much down to a science. I have a home with a washer and drier and do a diaper load about every 2 days. I do not use a diaper pail, but instead put used diapers in a separate basket, rolled up tightly. I use Borax and laundry detergent, with a small amount of bleach. Too much bleach is not good for the fabric. The overnight weight diapers, which are thicker than day weight diapers, take a little longer to dry on a high temp setting. I use two to three day weight diapers (or disposables) during the day and double diapers overnight as I leak a great deal. The plastic pants are put in with colored loads and are never put in the drier but instead drip dry in our laundry room. As a child, I recall my mom hanging my diapers on a clothesline to dry, and how stiff they would become from the sun and wind. They were also quite uncomfortable for awhile after putting them on, but the smell of fresh air in the fabric I will never forget.

  7. Jason September 14, 2013 at 10:43 am - Reply

    When I was little, between the time I was born and about 7 yrs old, in the 1970s, people used cloth diapers and pull-on training pants on their children. My mother was no exception. She would use cloth diapers and plastic pants.

  8. Froggy September 14, 2013 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    I use a combination of disposable and a variant of cloth diapers called “pocket” diapers. These are very popular with young moms, among whom they have achieved almost cult-like status, but they are somewhat difficult to find in adult sizes. For those who may not be familiar with pocket diapers, they consist of a snap-sided, waterproof and yet breathable, polyurethane-lined (PUL) outer cover sewn together with a fluid-wicking fleece liner, forming a pocket into which an absorbent “stuffer” is inserted to create a complete diaper system. They are amazingly effective and comfortable, so they are my diaper of choice when I am at home. They are also quite thick, so I use Tena Maxi Slip disposables when I am away from home. I buy my pocket diapers directly from the manufacturer, a work-at-home mom (WAHM) who does business on the under the name of Snap-EZ at http://www.snap-ez.com. For stuffers I prefer prefold cotton diapers from Angel Fluff Diaper Company, as I found that the hemp stuffers from Snap-EZ weren’t absorbent enough. The medium-weight flannel prefold works well for me in the daytime, while the heavy-weight flannel prefold diaper is generally adequate for overnight use, although I generally wear a plastic or PUL cover for added protection. (My preferred vendor for diaper covers is Babykins.) I’ve done a great deal of research on the various methods of washing pocket diapers and cloth inserts, as the right or wrong detergent can have a HUGE effect on the wicking of the fleece and the absorbency of the stuffer.

    • Jason September 16, 2013 at 12:42 pm - Reply

      I like that idea. Apparently, you take the absorbent pad out and either wash the pad or dispose of it and then put another pad inside and use it. Are they available in adult sizes?

      • Nick September 16, 2013 at 1:48 pm - Reply

        There are sellers Etsy that make them in adult sizes. I’ve personally used Brandy Sewing Room to custom make me pocket diapers based on the KCK (Kayla’s Cloth Kits) patterns. Her site is http://www.brandysewingroom.com and she is a stand up lady.

  9. Ellyn September 16, 2013 at 6:05 pm - Reply

    Wow Froggy! Great response. It seems that I may be “old school” as far as new offerings go…
    For me and those incontinent like me, I’m always a little (to a lot) reluctant to try something new. Having been brought up in multi-layer flat and prefold cloth diapers, and later exposed to the various qualities of disposables, I have a pretty good understanding for what works for me. When my “kids” were diaper age, it was a combination of cloth and disposables for them too, as the situation dictated. With the introduction of new disposable and cloth diaper manufacturers, I have tried to stay current on what’s available and find online reviews of these products before trying them myself as I would rather others risk the potential failures. I know that sounds selfish but I have been put in very embarrassing situations before with leaks and odd bulges due to polymer breakdowns when wet. I might add that i still have not personally tried the Bambino brand, though will try a package soon. I do love the idea of a breathable waterproof shell however as plastic materials (all) trap perspiration, as we all know. The “cloth” exterior disposables are maybe a little cooler, but my problem continues to be the tape fasteners failing after one or two refastening. That’s not to say that the plastic backed types are fault free… Often times, the tapes work too well and take the plastic with the tape when unfastened. Some of the premium manufacturers provide double tapes so you are usually good for at least one re-taping. I have learned to loosely fasten the tapes and if I need to pee, I un-tape one side only and slide the diaper down my hips. Though mostly urinary incontinent, I never pass up the opportunity to properly take care of business when I can.
    There I go rambling again!

    • Jason September 16, 2013 at 6:37 pm - Reply

      Hey Ellyn. I’ve never had very good bladder or bowel control, that’s why I need to wear diapers. Between the time I was born and the time I was potty trained, parents used cloth diapers and training pants. By the time I was 10 yrs old, most parents used disposable diapers. I’m 40 yrs old and I still wear diapers.

  10. Froggy October 13, 2013 at 11:51 am - Reply

    Sorry to take so long in getting back to everyone. Thank you for the compliment, Ellyn. While the cloth stuffer can shift inside a pocket diaper, it’s nothing compared to the breaking down and clumping of polymers in a disposable diaper. But there are trade-offs everywhere. As for the trapping of moisture, I have found a few covers with perforations on the sides, but that is only moderately successful at venting, and with venting can come odor problems…

    Yes, Jason, the Snap-EZ diapers are definitely available in adult sizes, directly from the source, which I like because I’m not into sites like Etsy. I think there are about seven or eight colors available, from white to pink to blue to purple to green… Ruth, the WAHM who makes the Snap-EZ diapers, is great to do business with and guarantees the materials and workmanship. I had a bad snap on one of the diapers, and she repaired it at no charge.

    • Jason October 13, 2013 at 12:01 pm - Reply

      I’m afraid I’m not familiar with Snap-EZ diapers. What bothers me the most is that the only way one can buy cloth diapers is online. While it’s not a bad way to buy diapers, what’s wrong with buying at a store? That’s how I buy my diapers.

  11. Froggy October 13, 2013 at 12:51 pm - Reply

    Sorry, Jason. I assumed you had read my comment describing Snap-EZ up above, posted on 14 September 2013, because your comment appeared just below it. Many communities now have locally owned cloth-diapering specialty stores catering mostly to new moms. These stores act as resellers for some of the better known brands, even some made by work-at-home moms. You might be able to strike up a relationship with an understanding proprietor, who then can order Snap-EZ diapers for you (although there may be an additional mark-up). I know that Ruth Einfeld, the owner of Snap-EZ, has worked with a few resellers. For instance, Squishy Tushy in Blissfield, Michigan, has resold adult-size Snap-EZ diapers in the past and probably can special-order them still. I have purchased both from Squishy Tushy and directly from Snap-EZ.

  12. David November 8, 2013 at 12:34 am - Reply

    Well i for one wear cloth and plastic pants, its what i wore from the very start , they cost more to start with but the savings is great if you add it all up, i spend about 2,000 on cloth and plastic a year better for the health comfortable to wear great all around diaper i can add as many inserts or layers for day use or night use nothing wrong with going back to traditional ways

    • Nick November 9, 2013 at 1:23 pm - Reply

      David,

      Is $2,000 a year just for buying cloth diapers and plastic pants or does that include the estimate cost of laundry (water, detergent, electricty, etc)? When I was using cloth diapers we were using Rocking Green Soap and I also tried a gallon of liquid detergent but I forget what the name was. There is no doubt that the added costs associated with cloth diapers do add up.

      • David November 10, 2013 at 4:13 pm - Reply

        Thats my side i get all my diapers and plastic pants through the VA that is for the plain white pre folds our hour class fitted glass and plain plastic pants if i want to add colors or prints that is my cost so laundry and supplies comes out of my pocket i can live with that the VA would rather spend on reusable instead of disposables

    • Jason November 9, 2013 at 2:03 pm - Reply

      I agree with what David is saying. Although it may seem pricey to wear cloth diapers, at least you’re not buying new diapers every month, or every other month. My only complaint is that they’re not available in stores, that one has to order online. I’d also like to see some cloth diapers and plastic pants made in the USA and Canada.

  13. Mikeabdl February 17, 2014 at 7:40 pm - Reply

    I wore both cloth and plastic pants and disposables, pampers, as a child and was kept in diapers late into childhood due to control issues and bedwetting. My mom would always use cloth diapers and plastic pants on me at night, I remember her using double diapers and gerber plastic pants on me until I stopped wetting the bed at age 9. I also wore diapers in the daytime due to my IBS condition, which was finally diagnosed after I was potty trained a second time right before starting school. In the daytime, I was put into either cloth diapers and plastic pants when I was around the home or pampers for errands and preschool. My preschool liked disposables for convenience and hygiene and insisted my mom use them on me while I was in attendance. I remember being dropped off to preschool a few times in cloth diapers and immediately put into pampers for the duration of my stay. This was the early 1970s when disposable diapers started to become more common for mothers. I remember liking pampers better than my cloth diapers because they were less bulky and conspicuous and I was very self conscious about being diapered as an older child between the ages of 4-6. I would try to hide my diapers the best I could when I noticed others looking at them.

    Today, I wear disposable diapers as an adult. I am sure I grew attached to them as a kid and never stopped needing my diapers for the comfort and security they brought to me. I started to wear diapers again during college and found my return to them very therapeutic and enjoyable. That was almost 25 years ago. I have started to become more accepting of my need of diapers about 10 years ago and so want to meet others that have a common interest.

    • Jason February 17, 2014 at 10:19 pm - Reply

      I haven’t worn cloth diapers since I was about 4 yrs old. I’d wear cloth diapers again if I had someone to help put them on me.

  14. david February 18, 2014 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    For those who worry about getting your cloth diapers really clean and smelling nice try using a little oxy clean works great and safe

    • Jason February 18, 2014 at 1:11 pm - Reply

      I’d wear cloth diapers if I had a way to safely clean the diapers, not to mention a way to clean waterproof pants.

      • Bambino February 18, 2014 at 1:18 pm - Reply

        Why do you need help putting cloth on?

        • Jason February 18, 2014 at 1:34 pm - Reply

          I haven’t worn cloth diapers since I was 4 yrs old. I wouldn’t know how best to put it on. How to pin it on, or even how to clean it after I’ve used it. That’s why.

          • Bambino February 18, 2014 at 1:38 pm

            Ah…that makes sense. I was thinking you just wanted someone to change you, which would be cool. I was just curious. When I’m tired it would be nice to be changed.

          • Jason February 18, 2014 at 1:46 pm

            Anyone can change a disposable diaper if you know how to handle adhesive tapes, or even velcro tabs. But how many people know how to pin and unpin cloth diapers? I know there are different varieties of cloth diapers to choose from, from pin-on to velcro, to even pull-on. I’d wear any, or all of them, if I could find a mommy, or even a daddy, to help me.

          • Bambino February 18, 2014 at 2:07 pm

            Yep….that makes sense.

  15. Jason December 15, 2014 at 1:28 pm - Reply

    Is there anyone here who live in Washington state who wear cloth diapers?

  16. Skizics December 27, 2014 at 1:22 am - Reply

    I can’t help but notice that when people, “in General”, talk about Cloth Diapers and their cost or construction… They always seem to be referring to the Franken-Diapers that are being passed off as Cloth Diapers. You know… the things that Look like a Disposable and fasten like a Disposable… And Leak Like a Disposable!
    In Reality… Cloth Diapers (often called Flat Diapers) are a single layer of cotton fabric (several to choose from) that is folded and layered to fit the child or adult that will be wearing them. The type of fold depends on the size and shape of the individual who will be wearing the diaper and it’s always a Custom Fit, Not an Off the Shelf Fit! And they are always fastened with Diapers Pins (4 for children and teens, 6 for older teens and adults).
    An average full time user will need around 50 to 75 yards of diaper cloth plus various fillers for the absorbency layers (thrift store dish towels and old t-shirts work great) and the total cost for this Ten Year Supply is at Most around $200.00 if you buy Retail and don’t look for the Deals. Good Plastic pants are $15.00 each (max) and you’ll need 5 or 6 pair of those so another $100.00… that’s about a 2 month supply of premium disposables for a full time user.
    I bought a 200 yard bolt of cotton gauze diaper cloth 17 years ago and I still have over 50 yards left on it and I’m a full time user. Washing and drying is a snap and I NEVER use bleach. Bleach will Destroy diaper cloth in a matter of months.
    So if you really want to use cloth diapers and SAVE MONEY… Find a 60 or 70 year old pediatric nurse, buy her lunch, and Pick her brains on How to Properly Fold and Pin cloth diapers (add another $50.00 to the cost of the diapers).
    So all in all your cost will be around $350.00 to $500.00 (plastic pants only last about 2 years) for 10 years of dry comfort vs. $36,000.00 for the disposables???
    Is the convenience really worth it??? Hmmm???

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