The Diaper Rash Debate: Which Is Better? Cloth VS Disposables


Diaper rash is a very common issue that plagues little bottoms around the world. Parents hate to see their baby suffering from a sore red bum. Is switching to cloth diapers the solution?

I took a look at the research and medical literature on diaper rash in order to figure out what exactly causes this dreadful irritation. I also reached out to real mommas who have used both cloth and disposables and asked them about their experiences dealing with diaper rash. I’ll share their stories below.

Are Cloth Diapers Better For Diaper Rash?

Cloth diapers can be better than disposables at alleviating diaper rash issues for some children. However, because each child’s skin has unique characteristics the reverse may also be true. Some children have less diaper rash troubles when switched to disposables.

Pros & Cons Of Cloth VS Disposables

PROSCONS
CLOTH– Natural fabric options for babies who are sensitive to chemicals used in disposables
– Because babies feel wetness, this often leads to more frequent changing
– Some cloth diaper fabrics are more breathable than disposables, such as cotton and wool
– Do not keep baby’s skin as dry
– Improper wash routines can lead to rash issues if diapers do not get clean
– Detergents & laundry additives may irritate the skin
– Rough or scratchy fabric may cause more friction and rubbing
DISPOSABLE– Keep baby’s skin very dry
– Highly absorbent
– Easy to check for a soiled or wet diaper with wetness indicator lines
– Many babies are sensitive to the chemicals used in disposable diapers
– Because disposables are so absorbent they can last a long time, which may lead to infrequent changing

What Is Diaper Rash?

Diaper rash aka diaper dermatitis is one of the most common skin disorders that affects babies and toddlers. Figuring out the cause and solution can be challenging. What works for one baby may not work for another baby.¹

What Causes Diaper Rash?

There are numerous factors that can contribute to the development of diaper rash. Typically the rash is the result of irritation caused by pee, poo, moisture, or friction, but there are many other possible culprits.¹

A child could be sensitive to a particular type of cloth diaper fabric, an ingredient used in the manufacturing of disposables, diaper cream, or even laundry additives such as detergent, softeners, and dryer sheets.

The most common cause of diaper rash, however, is infrequent changes. When a baby’s skin is in contact with a moist, dark, and soiled material for a prolonged period of time, diaper rash is an inevitable result. The best preventative is to change the diaper often, especially if the baby poops. Change poopy diapers immediately!

Complications Of Diaper Rash

One of the most common complications of diaper rash is yeast or candida infection.¹ Because a dirty diaper is an ideal environment for yeast and bacteria to grow, babies can easily develop yeast rash which looks like a red raised rash with defined borders.² Children are particularly susceptible to yeast overgrowth after taking antibiotics. Consult your pediatrician if you suspect yeast infection and ask about probiotics to aid in rebalancing yeast and bacteria levels.

Making The Switch

It may be worth a try switching over to a different type of diaper. If you are using disposables you might try a new brand with fewer chemical additives. If using cloth, you could change fabric types or try adding a stay-dry layer, which will help prevent moisture irritation.

If you do switch diaper types, give your child some time to adjust and get used to the new diaper brand. Sometimes changing materials can actually increase skin irritation, so keep an eye on it. You may have to try several different kinds of diapers before you find one that suits your baby. Perhaps one of your children will do better in cloth diapers, while another may need to use disposables. You’ll have to tailor your diaper stash to each individual child’s needs.

The Best Diaper Rash Solution

Here is a tried and true way to help your baby heal up from diaper rash.

Diaper-free time: This is always my go-to solution for clearing up a rash FAST. I’m talking overnight, to a few days depending on how bad the rash is. It may result in a few messes, but they are well worth cleaning up if it means the baby will be comfortable again.

I try to let my kids air out for several hours a day. Naptime works great. Simply put a water-resistant layer under baby and something to soak up any potty. I usually lay a thick fleece blanket down inside the pack’n’play and then throw a towel or some prefold cloth diapers on top of the blanket. This keeps the mess pretty well contained. You can also do this overnight.

For extra-strength results add some sunshine! Sun baby’s sweet bottom for a few minutes each day to help deter any unwanted organisms such as yeast from growing. Plus, the baby will get a bonus boost of vitamin D.

What Moms Think

I heard from experienced moms who have used both cloth diapers as well as disposables and here are a few of the most common thoughts about which type of diapers are best for rashes.

Disposables For Yeast Rash: If your baby is dealing with a yeast rash it is recommended that you switch over to disposables for the duration of the infection and at least two weeks after the rash clears up. Yeast gets on the cloth diaper fibers and can continually reinfect the baby even with proper washing. If you decide to stick with cloth, the diapers will need to be disinfected in the wash routine every single time they are washed. Disinfecting cloth diapers often is very hard on the materials and can damage the waterproofing.

Cloth For Sensitive Skin & Eczema: Many moms prefer cloth diapers for their babies who have skin sensitivities. I heard from a momma whose child suffered from eczema and her baby tolerated cloth much better than disposables. If your child is sensitive to the chemicals used in the manufacturing of disposables, you might find that they are less prone to rash if put in a natural fiber cloth diaper such as cotton or hemp.

Ditch The Microfiber

Microfiber is a common material used to make cloth diapers. It is extremely absorbent, but it also has a bad reputation for causing skin irritation and rash. Because the fibers do such a good job drawing moisture in, this material cannot be placed in direct contact with a baby’s skin or else it will draw moisture out of the skin. The fibers are so small and dense that they can be very difficult to get clean, which can also lead to rash issues.

If you’ve only ever tried microfiber cloth I suggest you give cotton, hemp, or bamboo a try before you give up on cloth diapers. Cotton flats or prefolds are especially easy to clean and usually work very well for babies with skin sensitivities.

Cloth Diaper Safe Creams & Ointment

Diaper creams are super helpful in treating and managing diaper rash, however, if you are using cloth diapers it is important to make sure that the cream you choose is compatible with cloth diapers. Some creams and ointments can damage cloth diapers by coating the fibers, which makes them unable to absorb liquid.

Here are a few cloth diaper safe options (all links are Amazon affiliate links):

If you are interested in making your own DIY cloth diaper rash cream check out this recipe and how-to video from one of my favorite blogs Farmhouse on Boone. Omit the zinc oxide for cloth!

Sources:

¹ Borkowski, Suzanne. “Diaper Rash Care and Management.” Pediatric Nursing, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2004, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15704594.

² Fields, Shannon. “Wiping Out Diaper Rash.” IJPC, International Journal of Pharmaceutical Compounding, 2005, ijpc.com/Abstracts/Abstract.cfm?ABS=2275.

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