In a world full of disposable things, disposable diapers are often considered essential when a baby is in your family.
Not many people even know that cloth diapers have significantly evolved from what your grandmother used to know (I used to be one of them!) and that you don’t have to use safety pins anymore to cloth diaper successfully.
Some 5% of parents in the U.S. and Australia use cloth diapers, about 9% in Canada, and 3-10% in Europe, depending on the country. Cloth diapers are usually more popular among sustainability-oriented parents.
Read on to learn how many parents use cloth diapers, what their alternatives are (it might not be what you think!), which families are more likely to use cloth diapers, and what are their main reasons for it. We’ll also discuss why cloth diapers aren’t more popular globally.
How many parents use cloth diapers across the world
According to Every little bottom study, diaper needs in the U.S. and Canada, disposable diapers are the norm, at least in developed countries, such as the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia. Well over 90% of parents use disposable diapers there, namely 95% in the U.S and Australia, 91% in Canada, and 90-97% in Europe, depending on the individual country.
That leaves only up to 10% of parents in the developed world that use alternatives to disposable diapers, typically cloth diapers, and less commonly elimination communication.
In China, for example, most parents did not use diapers for their babies, practicing elimination communication from the baby’s first days. That was, until the company Procter & Gamble (maker of the brand Pampers) launched their successful “Golden Sleep” campaign in 2007. The campaign tried to convince Chinese parents that the thing they could go without for centuries and centuries is now indispensable to them, their disposable diapers, of course.
Cloth diapers are not as mainstream in China, at least not in the sense of exclusive cloth diapering; however, the backup they’re using (if they’re using it) is usually some cloth folded together to cover the baby’s bottom.
Now, disposable diapers are gaining more and more popularity with each year and with each new generation of parents, while the older practices are becoming frowned upon.
What demographics use cloth diapers
Cloth diapers are most commonly used in homes where a stay-at-home parent is present most of the time and with an above-average income level.
Financial savings and environmentally friendly parenting are the most common reasons for cloth diapers.
You might’ve imagined that the lesser the income, the bigger the initiative will be to save more money by cloth diapering, but the opposite is the truth.
Many lower-income families (primarily single parents) will need to work more to afford daycare, where they usually aren’t that excited about using cloth diapers anyway. Such families may not be able to afford a washing machine and are therefore counterintuitively forced to use the more expensive diapering option – disposable diapers.
Another aspect of this is the cultural norm where cloth diapering is considered gross and requires a lot of hard work, so many people think cloth diapers are the ultimate sign of not being able to provide basic care for their family. Being able to use something and then throw it away (especially with poop) can be a sign of wealth to people who’ve struggled a lot financially in the past.
It’s also been proven that to care for the environment more, one needs to exceed a certain income and degree of education.
It makes sense in a way; you start caring for things other than your basic needs when you have the means to choose more sustainable options. If you’re struggling to put food on the table every day, the environmental crisis won’t be at the top of your mind.
Why do people still use cloth diapers
Cloth diapers are now definitely making a comeback, especially with millennials that are usually highly educated and want to actively help the environment (source).
Financial savings can also be incredible compared to disposable diapers, especially if you use them on two or more children. Read more about the complete cost breakdown of cloth diapers.
Additionally, more and more parents are becoming aware of elimination communication, where you’re trying to follow your baby’s cues about eliminating. They’re also trying not to rob their baby of body awareness by sticking them into a perpetually dry disposable diaper.
Finally, transparency of materials used for cloth diaper production is becoming increasingly important to new parents, and rightfully so.
Read this post for more details on why people still use cloth diapers.
Why don’t more people use cloth diapers
Parents have multiple reasons for not using cloth diapers; you can read all about them in this post. Many don’t realize how easy it is to wash and dry them and that they don’t require nearly as much work as they used to. This is true for the developed world most of us live in today.
What about developing countries?
Considering their overall costs, it would make sense that they would use a much higher percentage of cloth diapers as opposed to disposable diapers.
While that does make sense, the reality is that disposable diaper manufacturers are starting to realize that the birth rate in developed countries isn’t high enough to maintain and grow their corporations, so they’re targeting developing countries aggressively with clever marketing techniques. They’ve recognized the great potential in these countries (such as above mentioned China), with millions of babies being born every year.
Since diaper manufacturers are enormous corporations with a lot of money dedicated to marketing, they easily surpass any small cloth diaper company that can not compete in this area even remotely.
Disposable diapers are heavily marketed as recommended for better sleep, and if even pediatricians recommend disposable diapers, what is a parent to do?
Of course, they only want the best for their baby, and apparently, that is using as many disposable diapers as possible.