The Best Diapers
How We Found the Best Diapers
4 Top picks
The Best Diapers
To put it simply, a diaper should work. And it should be safe and comfortable for your baby to wear. The best companies are upfront about their materials and steer clear of anything potentially harmful. The best diapers fit well and absorb well. To find the best, we talked to diaper experts, nurses, midwives, and, of course, parents.
The 4 Best Diapers
The Best Disposable Diapers: Summed Up
The Honest Company Baby Diapers
Why we chose it
The Honest Company made diapering hip again — and they’ve gotten well-deserved recognition for leading the charge in eco-friendly baby gear. Jessica Alba’s company boasts earth-friendly (and baby-friendly) manufacturing practices — no other company articulated the origin and exact makeup of its diapers as well as The Honest Company did.
The materials list is a breath of fresh air compared to some of the other lists we spent time decoding. The diaper’s absorbent core is really simple: wheat and corn blended with wood pulp harvested from sustainably managed forests. The inner and outer layers use plant-based materials and the ink on the printed back sheet has no lead or heavy metals. The diapers are also chlorine-, lotion-, and fragrance-free (although there is a note about “natural acting odor blockers” consisting of citrus extract and liquid chlorophyll).
Cute and effective
The Honest Company diapers make a great first impression with cute, modern designs and no labels or slogans. We noticed that industry newcomers —like Poof and Parasol — are attempting to compete in the same space by imitating The Honest Company’s minimalist style and build. And the design is worth copying for more than aesthetic reasons: Parents gave Honest Company diapers high marks for their springy shape, high sidewalls, and absorbency.
Cheaper than competition
Given their transparent, eco-friendly approach to manufacturing, we commend The Honest Company for offering a better value than parallel brands. It’s cheaper than Seventh Generation and Bambo Nature Baby Diapers, Earth’s Best, and Aleva Naturals Bamboo by at least a few cents per diaper.
Points to consider
The fit of these diapers runs on the smaller side compared to other brands, which may mean you have to experiment before landing on the right side, or size up more quickly than you’d expect. “To avoid poop blowouts, purchase the next size up,” noted one mom. That said, for smaller babies, the close fit is perfect.
Not as soft as some
If there’s one area The Honest Company could improve, it’s the feel. This was a problem for a lot of the eco-friendly diapers we tested (and coincidentally for The Honest Company’s baby wipes that we tested separately). Naty Diapers, as well as the diapers made by Attitude — a “conscious brand” focused on people and the environment — were so rough, we opted not to try them on real babies. While The Honest Company’s exterior isn’t as plush as some of the others we tested, the interior is comparable to our other finalists and we appreciate knowing exactly what goes into them.
Kirkland Signature Supreme Diapers
Why we chose it
This Costco-brand diaper is not only the cheapest among our finalists, but also one of the cheapest diapers we tested, period. If you pick them up on your weekly Costco trip they’re just $0.16 a diaper, which is well under the $0.33 average and an unequivocal steal. While a Costco-brand diaper may surprise some, Rick Jezzi, a non-woven fabrics consultant who served for 10 years as the director of research and development for Kimberley-Clark, the company that manufactures Huggies, indicated to us early-on that brand-name diapers aren’t always worth the extra money. “I’ve been in the industry for 40 years and, from my experience, I would say if you’re on a budget, the best value equation is the premium private label diaper,” he says. “They’re about 95% as good as name brand diapers… and they’re cheaper.”
Wallet-friendly prices aside, what made us truly excited were the five-star reviews from parents. From a durability perspective, Kirkland diapers are similar to Huggies — they feel very soft and have a stretchy waistline. But where Huggies failed in testing (leakage, multiple blowouts, saggy bum), Kirkland excelled, offering a close fit with great padding, secure tabs, and a shape that held up well under pressure. The diapers also performed well overnight. Plus, Kirkland diapers boast a triple-bar wetness indicator to let you know when it’s at capacity. One mom even said their family planned to switch from their current brand to Kirkland because it was so spot on.
Materials wise, it checked all the boxes. The diapers are lotion- and fragrance-free, as well as chlorine-free, putting it in the same category as many of its pricier counterparts. And although the diapers do have latex and artificial dyes as part of their material makeup, Kirkland was upfront about it in their materials.
Points to consider
Not as cheap unless bought at Costco
Kirkland diapers are cheaper than The Honest Company diapers if you pick them up at Costco; if you buy them from Amazon, though, the price is about the same. Parents raved about absorbency and fit, and how the diaper still made it easy for their little one to move around, but they’re really only a bargain if you have a regular Costco run (or shop at Costco.com).
Pampers Swaddlers Sensitive Diapers
Why we chose it
Even if Pampers isn’t your brand of choice, it’s likely your kid has worn its diapers at some point. Pampers Swaddlers is the first pick for newborn diapers at hospitals and many daycares — a fact confirmed by the medical professionals and parents that we spoke to. It’s also a Lucie’s List favorite. You’ll have a ton of variety in design to pick from if you opt for Pampers, with specialty diapers for lots of different stages. They’re also moderately priced across the board, coming in second among our finalists at $0.28 per diaper.
Responsive customer service
While the materials list wasn’t as easy to dig up as with some other brands, Pampers’ parent company Proctor & Gamble was incredibly responsive (“It has the best email support of any company I’ve ever dealt with,” said one of our researchers). The brand got back to us within 24 hours with a comprehensive rundown — Pampers diapers are chlorine- and latex-free, but do contain lotion, fragrance, and artificial dyes.
In terms of construction, these diapers have something others don’t: a mesh overlay above the absorbent core. While this innovative feature makes for a more breathable diaper (great for summer weather when baby is hot and fussy), it doesn’t do anything to help lock in liquid.
Points to consider
On its website, Pampers says, “the fragrance in Pampers is used at a very low level in each diaper and has been carefully selected and evaluated to be non-allergenic and non-irritating to the skin. Our clinical research has shown there is no increased risk for diaper rash for babies using scented diapers compared to unscented diapers.” While not as strong-smelling as Luvs, the fragrance was noticeable — a good or bad thing depending on how sensitive you (or baby) are to smell.
Needs stretchier waistline
Pampers plain diapers are due for an update in the design department. Specifically, we’d like to see a stretchier waistline. One mom attributed blowouts to the lack of elastic in the back.
Seventh Generation Free & Clear Baby Diapers
Seventh Generation Free & Clear Baby Diapers
Why we chose it
Our other eco-friendly finalist takes home the award for most improved. One mom, in particular, was shocked by how far Seventh Generation diapers had come since she last used them eight years ago. “I used this brand when I was a nanny and hated it then,” she says. “I was quite surprised by all of the improvements — no smell, absorbing well, no sagging.” She also said it worked great overnight and had the highest quality tabs compared to other diapers. “They can be adjusted many times and stretch, making it more comfortable for the baby.”
Eco-friendly and comfortable
The structural purity of Seventh Generation diapers is highly competitive with The Honest Company diapers — no chlorine, lotion, fragrance, latex, or artificial dyes here. Parents also noted that the Seventh Generation diapers felt softer than many of the other eco-friendly ones.
Points to consider
Not as good as The Honest Company
The much-improved Seventh Generation diapers have come a long way in the last decade, but they aren’t much cheaper than The Honest Company (only $0.04 less per diaper) and can’t trump that company when it comes to depth and stretch.
These diapers look eco-friendly. The graphics are cute enough (polar bear in a sweater, anyone?), but the diapers are noticeably darker than all of the other diapers we tested, with the pale brown appearance of a used coffee filter. They also inexplicably have the word “protected” on the waistline, which we found odd.
How we chose the best diapers
Daytime, disposable diapers
The average child goes through about 5,000 diapers (roughly 8 per day) before being fully potty trained. Because it’s in direct contact with baby’s skin, a diaper has to be gentle. But because it’s a diaper, it also has to be strong. We focused on daytime, disposable diapers (as opposed to overnight or cloth diapers), starting with all the manufacturers we could find. Surprisingly, they number less than 35 (including store brands).
We talked to diaper manufacturers, consultants, and medical professionals to get the inside scoop on helpful and harmful diaper materials. Then we tracked down the materials list for each diaper to figure out if anything in them should be avoided, for the sake of baby or the environment. We also paid attention to which companies are upfront about their materials and communicative with concerned consumers. Most diaper companies gladly shared their materials list with us, but not all did. We’re not comfortable recommending a diaper material to sit against a baby’s skin all day unless we know what it’s made of, so if a company couldn’t (or wouldn’t) disclose their materials, we said goodbye.
“Babies grow really quickly,” says Ally Funkhouser Dye, a pediatric nurse. “On average, a baby doubles their birth weight by six months of age and triples their birth weight by a year of age.” To account for all this non-stop growth spurt, the best diaper isn’t just an infant diaper, but is instead able to grow with your baby. This also saves you from seeking out a new diaper brand every few months.
Diaper sizes are based on weight and typically range from N for newborn to a size 6, which is typically around 35 lbs, or the size of an average three-year-old. Some brands do carry an even smaller “preemie” size. If diapers didn’t offer sizes that’d cover the full infant to toddler weight range, we gave them the boot. (Note that the price of diapers varies based on size.)
Durability, feel, and smell
We pulled and tugged to see which diapers sprang back and retained their shape, rather than tearing or remaining stretched. We identified which best matched our ideal projection of a silky-smooth, pillow-soft texture. Lastly, we did a quick sniff-test. Most diapers contained little to no fragrance, but some picks, including the well-known Luvs, were so strong we could smell them from across the room. Extra odor is one thing a diaper really doesn’t need to supply.
Round one: a simulated absorbency test. We gathered our remaining diapers, whipped up a batch of mock urine (a mix of filtered water, sa
lt, and blue food coloring), and got to work. Positioning the diapers vertically, we released 120 ml of liquid (the amount daytime diapers are intended to hold) into the absorbent core, waited a minute, applied filter paper to the surface and recorded the trace amounts of liquid. We then added pressure in the form of a 15 lb. medicine ball to simulate the weight of a real baby. We recorded any leaks or breakdowns in the diaper and then repeated the steps with an additional 120 ml of liquid since babies can sometimes re-wet a diaper before they’re changed.
In round one, we were surprised to find that all the diapers performed well — no deal breakers among the group. In our second round of absorbency testing, we asked three sets of parents to have their babies give the diapers a spin, and the results were more striking. Some of the diapers that had performed best during our first round of testing were their least favorite, and vice versa. Our at-home testing revealed that the best diapers account for mobility and breathability, while also providing a secure fit, adjustable straps, soft materials, and protection against leaks and tears.
Guide to Diapers
How to find the right diapers for your family
Wait till baby is born to buy diapers
In anticipation of a newborn, first-time parents often stock up on newborn-size diapers only to find out after baby arrives that they’re actually a larger size. “If you have an 8- or 9-lb. baby, they’re already at the size one diapers,” says Levell. “You can always get a bunch of size one diapers knowing that they’ll definitely use those at some point and grow into them, but sometimes it’s best to wait to buy until after the baby is born.”
That said, it’s cheapest to use smaller diapers for us long as you can before moving up. That’s because the bigger the diaper, the fewer a package contains, and therefore the higher the cost per diaper. For example, a pack of The Honest Company diapers (of any size) costs $14 — if those are size one diapers, it’s a pack of 44 and they’re $0.32 each; if those are size threes, there are only 34 in a pack and they’re $0.41 each. There’s overlap between sizes (a size three diaper from The Honest Company fits 16–28 lb. babies and a size four fits 22–34 lb. babies). For as long your baby is within the overlap area, buy down a size.
Cut through misinformation about materials
The most important question for many parents: Are any of these diaper materials harmful?
The short answer — No.
While we’ve all seen the paranoia-inducing headlines that make it seem like diapers can cause toxic-shock syndrome, they don’t. The real concern was over super absorbent polymers used in tampons in the ’90s.
What about the chlorine bleaching process that’s used to whiten pulp in the absorbent core? What you’re worried about there isn’t the chlorine but a byproduct of the bleaching process, dioxins. The diaper industry has thankfully solved that issue, too.
Feel familiar with common contents
- Polypropylene is a synthetic plastic used for the liner and leg cuffs. It’s used in products like ropes, thermal underwear, and carpets.
- Polyethylene is the laminated film that forms the outer layer and is the most common type of synthetic plastic. It’s also used in plastic bags.
- Polyacrylate is another name for the sodium-based SAP used in the absorbent core. They can look like small clear beads or crystals (you may have seen these before on or around your baby), and are also used in plant fertilizers.
The same diaper can go by different names
Hoping to understand the real differences between variations of similar diapers, we contacted reps at Huggies and Pampers. What is the difference between Pampers Swaddlers and Pampers Swaddlers Sensitive? Their materials list are nearly identical; but we were told that the Swaddlers Sensitive line is hypoallergenic. And the difference between Huggies Little Movers and Huggies Little Movers Plus simply comes down to where they’re sold (Huggies Little Movers Plus is only available at Costco). Similarly, Huggies Snug & Dry Ultra Diapers are only sold at Walmart. If you can get a better price for a diaper that seems nearly identical to the one you were looking for, chances are they’re effectively the same.
Be aware that changing brands may mean changing sizes
“Just like clothing for adults, sizing is not always the same across different brands,” says Jezzi. “Not all diapers are identical. That’s why it’s important for parents to experiment to find the best fit.” The performance of the stretch ear feature is key in providing a good fit across the various size ranges on a diaper. Among our four finalists, all intended to fit a baby weighing 16–18 lbs, there were noticeable variations in their size three diapers.
Not all size three diapers are the same. We measured as much as a four-inch difference at the waist.
While modern features like elastic waistbands and adjustable Velcro straps have made sizing easier, we found some diapers fit better than others. For example, all of our testers commented on how The Honest Company diapers run small, while Poof diapers are visibly larger than many. If you aren’t sure how a given brand will fit, buy smaller quantities at first to try out before you fully commit.
Donate surplus diapers
If you aren’t able to get through an entire package before your baby needs to go up a size, you can donate the unused leftovers to a local diaper bank. (Most places prefer that they’re in the original packaging, so don’t throw away the bag!) Women’s shelters, hospitals, lactation clinics, and daycares are other viable options. You can also donate your diaper reward points to nonprofits like the National Diaper Bank Network, the March of Dimes, or Feeding America.
Is it important that diapers are latex-free, dye-free, and lotion-free?
We know that we should be mindful about what goes against a baby’s skin. “Babies have thinner skin that is still developing and it doesn’t achieve adult-like thickness until late adolescence,” says Funkhouser Dye. “So, if you give a baby a medication, they’ll absorb more of it into their bloodstream because they don’t have that barrier.” But some manufacturers have put that knowledge to marketing use. Let’s go through the significance of some common “free” claims.
According to Jezzi, most companies moved away from using latex bonded nonwoven materials in diapers decades ago: “One of the only places that latex may still be used is in the printing process for diaper graphics [on the outer layer]. It’s akin to Elmer’s Glue and is used to bind the pigment to the film, but it’s a very small amount.” Unless your baby has a known latex allergy, this likely won’t be an issue.
In a perfect world, diapers wouldn’t contain any dyes, pigments, or colorants, but it’s nearly impossible to avoid, given that even the most eco-friendly diapers use them. All of the diapers we researched — including more natural brands like The Honest Company and Seventh Generation — use some form of colorant in their diapers, but they’re often labeled as “pigment” or “ink” which aren’t the same as dyes. Jezzi says dyes are seldom, if at all used. Pigments are less likely than dyes to cause an allergic reaction because they’re actually ground particles that tend not to dissolve when exposed to liquid. Unless you notice a reaction on your baby’s skin, dye shouldn’t be a concern.
All three medical professionals we spoke with said that lotion isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but, if given the choice, they’d go without. “Personally, I think it’s better for a parent to apply lotion on their own, so that way they can use a really thick, unscented lotion of their choice,” Funkhouser Dye says. “If you don’t know what kind of lotion is being used in a diaper, there could be a higher likelihood for an allergic reaction to occur.” If a diaper includes lotion, it’s likely petroleum-based.
Diaper companies aren’t required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to disclose the chemical makeup of fragrances because they’re considered trade secrets. Most companies claim that fragrance is only used in small doses or is non-hypoallergenic, but there’s no real way of knowing whether they’re harmful (or not) without knowing more. The only one of our top picks to include fragrance is Pampers Swaddlers.
How can I tell if the diaper is causing a skin reaction?
According to Funkhouser Dye, “For a diaper rash, you’re going to have redness of the skin where the diaper sits. It’s not going to be in areas — like skin folds — that the diaper doesn’t touch. Also, you usually have really distinct lines and sharp borders if it’s an irritant that’s the cause.”
Claire Levell, a registered nurse for the special care nursery or NICU, reports “Usually, when babies get red bottoms or a rash, it’s because they’re on antibiotics and it changes their bowel movements to have more liquid stool.” And while Funkhouser admits that “Diaper rashes occur for a lot of different reasons” including “contact irritant,” others are yeast or fungal infections and food allergies.
What about overnight diapers?
Initially, we included overnight diapers in our list of contenders, but soon realized — after talking to experts — it was like trying to compare apples to oranges.
Jezzi says it’s important to understand the distinctions between daytime and overnight diapers, as their requirements in absorbent capacities are quite different.
“The biggest difference is in absorbing capacity. With daytime diapers, you’re looking at an average absorbing capacity of 120 ml of liquid under action — the baby is moving around, playing, sitting, crawling, etc., so you have to design for that,” he says. “The activity level is different with nighttime diapers because the baby is sleeping and there’s a longer period of time in between changings. Those diapers usually hold up to 300 ml.”
How is a diaper constructed?
Every diaper, regardless of brand, has the same five functional parts:
- Waterproof outer layer or shell. Usually a petroleum-based plastic that holds the diaper together.
- Absorbent core. This is the most important part of a diaper because it prevents leakage. It’s usually made up of a mix of pulp — wood, wheat, or corn-based materials — and Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP), chemical crystals that expand to lock in liquid and can retain 30 times their weight, also known as superabsorbent gel.
- Inner layer. Also referred to as the liner or top sheet, this is the part of the diaper that has the most contact with the baby’s skin and is usually made up of a polypropylene fabric (more on this in a minute). Sometimes it also includes polyester or cotton for cushioning.
- Fasteners. U.S. diapers mostly use Velcro, which is repositionable (and a lot more forgiving than the old-school plastic tape bands).
- Stretchiers. The technical term for the elastic bands around the legs and waist.
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