Pros and Cons of Disposable Diapers

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 28, 2021

As a new parent, you have to make many decisions quickly when caring for your baby. There’s one decision that you should make in advance so you can stock up: what type of diaper you want to use. 

Historically, all diapers were reusable, but today there are many more choices. Lots of parents use disposable diapers because they’re easy and convenient. Here’s the breakdown of the pros and cons of disposable diapers and their safety concerns. 

It’s no secret that changing diapers isn’t fun. It’s smelly and sometimes messy. Disposable diapers help parents minimize the stress and struggles of changing their babies by keeping the process quick. 

One-time use. Disposable diapers are designed to be thrown away. That’s their biggest selling point for most parents. Instead of having to clean and wash a reusable diaper or rely on a diaper service, you can just wrap a disposable diaper up, put it in the diaper pail, and stop thinking about it.

Convenient. The fact that you can toss out used diapers also makes them great if you’re short on time. The washing process takes time, and storing soiled reusable diapers when you’re running errands is complicated and messy. Disposable diapers can get thrown away and you can move on with your day. 

Potentially more sanitary. When your baby soils a reusable diaper, you have to clean that waste. Urine can be washed out in the washing machine, but poop needs to be flushed down the toilet. Getting a dirty diaper to the toilet offers plenty of chances for a big mess, and keeping your own hands clean can be a problem. 

Potentially less irritation. The materials used in disposable diapers do a good job of removing moisture from around your baby’s skin. Diaper rash happens if your baby’s skin stays wet for too long. In most cases, disposable diapers help keep your baby dry better than reusable diapers and reduce the development of skin rashes.

Of course, disposable diapers aren’t perfect. There are a few important drawbacks that have caused many parents to go back to reusable diapers. These cons include:

Cost. The cost of disposable diapers causes many new parents to complain. The average baby can use as many as 2,700 diapers per year! That adds up fast, especially if you use brand-name diapers. On the other hand, you only need to buy reusable diapers once, so they quickly pay for themselves. 

Waste. Many parents today realize their impact on the environment and try to minimize it. Disposable diapers cause waste, since they aren't recyclable. However, some diapers are compostable, meaning they break down over time. These diapers take more work and cost more, but they're still technically disposable and mean parents avoid plastic waste.

Potentially more irritation. The plastics and dyes in disposable diapers may sometimes give your baby a rash, especially if they have sensitive skin. Not every disposable diaper will do this, but “hypoallergenic” diapers that are less likely to bother your baby are also more expensive in most cases. Reusable diapers, on the other hand, are less likely to contain these allergy-causing dyes. 

Fragile. You should only use disposable diapers for a few hours. This means that they're not always sturdy. It’s easy to accidentally break the tabs that hold the diaper together or for your baby to loosen the diaper while crawling. Fragile diapers mean more leaks or more risk of falling off and causing a mess.

There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re using disposable diapers. By following these tips, you’ll keep your baby clean, safe, and healthy for as long as you use disposable diapers:

Always change dirty diapers. If you notice that your baby has soiled their diaper, change them immediately. Dirty diapers can cause irritation and infection if they’re on for too long.

Keep everyone’s hands clean. Both you and your baby might wind up with dirty hands during the changing process. Keep your hands away from your face and avoid touching anything except your baby’s diaper during changing. As soon as they have a new, clean diaper on, wash your baby’s hands. Then throw away the old diaper and wash your hands too.

Keep the diaper-changing area sanitary. Make sure the diaper-changing station stays clean. After placing your baby in a fresh diaper, wipe down the station with an antibacterial wipe and allow it to air dry. Empty the diaper pail once a day to keep bacteria from growing and smells from escaping.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Diaper Dye Dermatitis.”

The Bump: “Diaper Decisions: Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Safe & Healthy Diapering in the Home.”

Indian Journal of Pediatrics: “Disposable diapers: a hygienic alternative.”

Investopedia: “Budgeting for a New Baby.”

Journal of Tropical Pediatrics: “Disposable diapers decrease the incidence of neonatal infections compared to cloth diapers in a level II neonatal intensive care unit.”

KidsHealth: “Diapering Your Baby.”

Sierra Club: “Compostable Diapers Take a Load off Landfills.”

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