Let's take a look at the differences between cloth and disposable diapers in terms of cost, convenience, environmental impact and risks of diaper rash.
Contents: Cloth Diapers vs Disposable Diapers
edit The Basics: Materials Used
Disposable diapers have a layered construction. They lock wetness in an absorbent core structure similar to a paper towel. The inner absorbent layer is made of a mixture of air-laid paper and superabsorbent polymers for wetness, and a nonwoven layer nearest the skin to transfer the wetness to the absorbent layer. The outer shell is made of breathable polyethylene film or a nonwoven and film composite which prevents leakage. Some diapers also include wetness indicators, in which the fabric of the diaper changes color if wet.
Cloth diapers are reusable and usually made from natural fibers or man-made cloth, including wool, bamboo, unbleached hemp, and microfiber towel. Modern cloth diapers have a waterproof outer layer.
Both disposable and cloth diapers can be fastened and adjusted to fit with adhesive or Velcro tapes.
edit Video explaining the differences
This is a great video that covers all aspects you will need to think about when making your diapering choice.
Disposable diapers win the convenience battle hands down. Disposal pails like Diaper Genie make it easy to trash soiled diapers without stinking up the house. For parents who use cloth diapers, there are now service providers who haul away dirty diapers, launder them and deliver fresh ones every week. This has eliminated a lot of the hassle associated with cloth diapers, making them almost as convenient as disposable ones.
Over the diapering lifetime of your child, there will not be any significant difference in the costs whether you use cloth diapers or disposable. Either way you will end up spending roughly about $2,000. Disposable diapers cost anywhere between 30 and 35 cents per diaper. Cloth diapering services cost about $75 per week.
Here are links to the best sellers list for disposable and cloth diapers on Amazon.com:
edit Environmental Impact
Disposable diapers are trashed and end up in landfills, where they will take hundreds of years to decompose. A baby goes through over 5,000 diapers, which means about 1 ton of non-biodegradable waste. This clearly has a huge environmental impact.
However, cloth diapers also have an adverse impact on the environment because a lot of water is used in washing them. But more importantly, energy is consumed in washing and drying them. Parents using cloth diapers can minimize their environmental impact if they wash several diapers together (thereby using fewer cycles per week), and if they dry them in the sun instead of a machine.
edit Risks of Diaper Rash and Infections
People claims that cloth diapers cause fewer rashes. However, this is usually because cloth diapers are changed more frequently. If disposable diapers are changed on time - immediately after the baby has had a bowel movement, otherwise roughly every 2 to 3 hours - the chances of a rash are very low.