The Best Diapers
To put it simply, a diaper should work — and it should be safe 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.
They're not just cool looking. These diapers are made of some of the simplest, eco-friendly, and baby-safe materials. Their high sidewalls protect against leaks and blowouts.
The Best Diapers
When it comes to what we are willing to put on a baby’s skin — we don’t mess around. And, when it comes to diapering, we’re not very forgiving about weak performers. We checked every diaper’s materials, looked into their eco-friendliness and their price point, and came back with four we’re happy to recommend.
The Honest Company made diapering hip again — and they’ve gotten well-deserved recognition for leading the charge in eco-friendly baby gear. The company’s earth-friendly (and baby-friendly) manufacturing practices are notable — no other company articulated the origin and exact makeup of its diapers as well as The Honest Company did. Oh, and the cute diaper designs and the close fit perfect for smaller babies shouldn’t be overshadowed.
It may come as a surprise to some, but Kirkland Signature Supreme diapers — sold at Costco — were a parent favorite. The diapers aren’t just well-priced; parents loved the great fit, stellar overnight performance, and conscientious materials.
Our two runners up were the tried-and-true Pampers Swaddlers — the diaper the hospital probably sent your baby home in — and the much-improved Seventh Generation diapers, which have come a long way in the last decade, but aren’t any cheaper than The Honest Company and still have an overly earth-friendly look.
How We Found the Best Diapers
We talked to manufacturers, consultants, and medical professionals. We tested the durability, feel, and overall absorbency. And we talked to real parents who graciously allowed us to test disposable diapers on their kids and relayed all of the details. About the only thing we didn’t do was poll the babies themselves — because, well, we’re a little rusty when it comes to translating baby talk.
Considering that the average child goes through about 5,000 diapers before being fully potty trained (about 8 a day until they’re potty trained), we were surprised to find there are only about 35 disposable diaper brands to choose from, including generic store brands.
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. Same goes for cloth diapering — that’s another review entirely.
Rick Jezzi is 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. He 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.”
Knowing this, we focused our attention on daytime disposable diapers and set out to learn more about the construction process.
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 polyproylene 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.
We tracked down the materials list for each diaper to figure out if anything in them should be avoided. We noticed three words popping up again and again, and to be honest, they all sound a little scary: polypropylene, polyethylene, and polyacrylate.
The most important question is: are any of these materials harmful? Jezzi’s answer—one that’s shared by other researchers and various scientific studies—is no. Phew.
Are any of these materials harmful? No.
But what about 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. And 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.
Even though the dioxin risk of chlorine-bleached diapers is already low, most diapers aren’t bleached with pure chlorine anymore. “Manufacturers have moved away from pure chlorine, a powerful bleaching agent, in favor of chlorine dioxide, which has a much, much lower dioxin discharge,” Jezzi says. And some have gone completely chlorine-free: “There are some diaper brands that use totally chlorine-free bleached pulp, which means they use oxygen or hydrogen peroxide, but these pulps are very expensive and add a lot of cost for virtually little consumer benefit. The benefit is mostly environmental for the pulp mill which has fewer dioxin in its water effluent. It’s more a marketing positioning for the diaper company.”
Most diaper companies gladly shared their materials list with us, but not all did. We’re not comfortable recommending a diaper sit against a baby’s skin 24-hours a day unless we know what it’s made of. If a company couldn’t or wouldn’t disclose their materials, we said goodbye.
We cut diapers that don’t come in multiple sizes.
A Note on Price We’ve used size three manufacturer prices to calculate price per diaper. Note that price per diaper doesn’t just vary by brand, retailer, and sale; prices also vary by size (smaller sizes are cheaper) and by the size of the pack you buy (buy in bulk or by subscription to save).
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. It made sense to us that the best diaper would grow with your baby, since that’s one of the major things they’re up to.
“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.”
If diapers didn’t stock at sizes that’d cover the full infant to toddler weight range, we gave them the boot — this includes Huggies Little Snugglers (only available in sizes one and two), Huggies Little Movers (only sizes three, four, and five), and Aleva Naturals Bamboo Diapers (which cap out at 24-lb. size threes).
We got our hands on them to gauge durability, feel, and smell.
We pulled, stretched, and tugged to see if the diapers sprung back and retained their shape or fell flat and remained stretched. Some, when put under pressure, tore easily or fell apart in our hands.
We also considered the feel. Surprisingly, there were a few diapers that more closely resembled sandpaper or scratchy paper towels, than the ideal silky-smooth, pillow-soft texture we were hoping for.
With the remaining brands, we looked at variations between similar diapers and contacted reps at Huggies and Pampers to ask about the differences. What is the difference between Pampers Swaddlers and Pampers Swaddlers Sensitive? Their materials list are nearly identical; but were told that the Swaddlers Sensitive line is hypoallergenic. And the difference between Huggies Little Movers and Huggies Little Movers Plus simply came 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. Knowing this, we opted to test the “base” version of these diaper brands.
Lastly, we did a quick sniff-test. Most diapers contained little to no fragrance, but Luvs was so strong we could smell it from across the room…and that wasn’t a good thing. “It made me sick to my stomach,” said one tester. We agreed.
Then we tested them for efficacy.
Our first round of testing involved a simulated absorbency test (think those ’90s-era TV commercials with the blue liquid, but more scientific). We gathered our 13 remaining diapers, whipped up a batch of mock urine (a mix of filtered water, salt, and blue food coloring), and set to work.
We were surprised to find that all the diapers performed well — no deal breakers among the group.
Positioning the diapers vertically, we released 120 ml of liquid (remember this is how much Jezzi says daytime diapers are intended to hold) from a syringe 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. We were surprised to find that all the diapers performed well — no deal breakers among the group.
By the end of our blue-liquid tests we had five test filter papers for each diaper that’d we’d hoped detailed how effective the diaper was at preventing leaks and wicking moisture away from a baby’s body, but it was all generally inconclusive.
In our second round of absorbency testing, we asked three sets of parents to have their babies give the diapers a spin and record the results. To prevent bias, we kept the names of the diapers anonymous whenever possible (some brands have the name printed on the diaper itself).
The results were surprising. Some of the diapers that had performed best during our first round of testing were their least favorite, and vice versa. Only one diaper was an obvious cut for everyone: Babyganics. It performed poorly in both the first and second round tests. Multiple blowouts, major leakage, and a subpar fit were the factors we weighed most heavily. The main takeaway? There’s no substitute for the real thing.
Our Picks for the Best Disposable Diapers
Lives Up to the Hype
If trendy baby diapers are a thing, then Jessica Alba’s ethical consumerism company carries the “it” item.
The Honest Company diapers make a great first impression with modern, abstract designs and no labels or slogans (its competitor, Seventh Generation, printed the words “protected” on the waistline, which we found odd). In durability testing, it fared well, garnering high marks for its springy shape and high sidewalls that protect against leaks. We noticed that industry newcomers — like Poof and Parasol — are attempting to compete in the same space by imitating The Honest Company’s build and minimalist style. For now though, The Honest Company reigns supreme, thanks to its reasonable price tag and transparent philosophy.
Our testers praised The Honest Company diapers for their high sidewalls.
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 crazy simple: wheat and corn blended with wood pulp harvested from sustainably managed forests and all simply stated on The Honest Company site. 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).
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.
Parents praised the cute patterns and the diapers’ ability to handle “heavy wetters,” but cautioned that they run small compared to other brands. “To avoid poop blowouts, purchase the next size up,” noted one mom. “Good for skinnier babies,” said another.
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 find peace in knowing exactly what goes into them.
We did a little happy dance for parents everywhere when Kirkland Signature Supreme diapers impressed us because this Costco brand 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 16 cents a diaper, which is well under the 33 cent average and a steal compared to Poof, the most expensive diaper we tested, which boast a triple-bar wetness and indicator and claim to feel “like wearing a silk scarf” for 54 cents each. But, if you’re ordering your Kirklands from Amazon, they’ll be about the same price as The Honest Company diapers.
Were we surprised to feel as impressed by Kirkland Signature as The Honest Company? Not necessarily. Early on, Jezzi had indicated 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 percent as good as a name brand diapers like the two key national brands — and they’re cheaper.”
Wallet-friendly prices aside, what made us truly excited were the five-star reviews from both testers and parents alike.
From a durability perspective, Kirkland’s diapers are similar to Huggies’ — they’re very soft feel 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. When analyzing the look of our finalists, it came in second only to The Honest Company. The graphics printed on the outer layer — dragonflies and a sleeping zebra — were subtle and gender neutral.
And then there were the comments we received from parents. Kirkland diapers received near perfect scores — the one parent who didn’t give it straight 5s attributed minor leakage to user error (“Dad should have changed the diaper sooner — it was VERY full.”). The parents raved about absorbency and fit, and how the diaper still made it easy for their little one to move around. One mom even said they 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.
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 most hospitals and many daycares — a fact confirmed by the medical professionals and parents that we spoke to. In fact, two of the parents had used Pampers for years. So what’s to love?
Pampers are moderately priced (coming in second among our finalists at 28 cents per diaper) and has brand backing from one of the largest companies in the world, Proctor & Gamble. While the materials list wasn’t as easy to dig up as some of the others, P&G was incredibly responsive (“It has the best email support of any company I’ve ever dealt with,” said one of our researchers), and the brand got back to us within 24 hours with a comprehensive rundown. The diapers are chlorine- and latex-free, but do contain lotion, fragrance, and artificial dyes.
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 are to smell.
Design was minimal: an outline of Sesame Street’s Elmo on the waistline, but nothing more.
In terms of construction, the diapers had something others didn’t: a mesh overlay above the absorbent core. The upside? It made it breathable. The downside? It wasn’t as good at locking in liquid as some of our other finalists. While we applaud Pampers’ out-of-the-box thinking and P&G’s great customer service, we do think there’s room for improvement: We’d like to see a stretchier waistline (one mom attributed blowouts to the lack of elastic in the back) and an updated look. And until fragrances become more regulated by the FDA, we prefer diapers without.
Another Eco-Friendly Runner Up
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 was 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.”
The Seventh Generation diapers are four cents more per diaper than The Honest Company diapers, but are still highly competitive — again no chlorine, lotion, fragrance, latex, and artificial dyes here. Parents also noted that the Seventh Generation diapers felt softer than many of the other eco-friendly ones. Our main complaint? These diapers simply 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. And while looks aren’t everything, the diaper’s “just average” depth and stretch ultimately couldn’t trump The Honest Company’s equivalent.
Did You Know?
Most babies will be fine with latex, dyes, lotion, and fragrance.
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.” And we’d seen the labels like latex-free and dye-free — but was that pure marketing? We found out that yes, most of it is.
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.”
Our verdict: Unless your baby has a known latex allergy, this likely won’t be an issue for him or her, especially because latex is only used on the outside of the diaper, and therefore has less skin contact.
The terminology here is tricky. 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. They’re also used in other products like contact lenses and food packaging. Given that even the “dye-free” diapers contain pigments, there’s really no way to avoid colorants in disposable diapers.
Our verdict: 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. Unless you notice a reaction on your baby’s skin, we don’t think it’s something to try to avoid.
If a diaper includes lotion, it’s likely petroleum-based, but this too isn’t always clear. 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.”
Even so, it seems that diaper-related allergic reactions are rare.
“I’ve never once heard a question related to diapers or their effect on a baby’s bottom,” says Morgan Aurelio, a midwife.
Claire Levell, a registered nurse, who works in a hospital’s special care nursery or NICU, has had a similar experience.
“I really have not seen a diaper cause any sort of skin reaction,” she says. “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. That’s where I see the most breakdown.”
Funkhouser Dye points out other possible causes.
“Diaper rashes occur for a lot of different reasons. One can be a contact irritant. But others are caused by yeast or fungal infections,” she says. “I had a kiddo that got a diaper rash every time she drank orange juice, so sometimes it can also be what they eat.”
And it’s usually easy to tell if the diaper itself is the culprit.
“A yeast or bacterial infection looks really different than something caused by an irritant,” Funkhouser Dye says. “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.”
Our verdict: Lotion can be a “nice-to-have,” but isn’t really necessary. If you want more control over what you’re putting on your baby’s bottom, forgo diapers with built-in lotion and apply it yourself.
Diaper companies aren’t required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to disclose the chemical make up 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.
Another big problem with fragrance: you might not like the smell. One pack of Luvs had our office smelling like a nursery for weeks.
Our verdict: Your choice here. The only one of our top picks to include fragrance is Pampers Swaddlers.
A size three is not a size three is not a size three.
“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, 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.
Although they’re all intended to fit a baby weighing 16–18 pounds, each diaper has different dimensions. More modern features like elastic waistbands and adjustable Velcro straps have made sizing easier, but we found some diapers fit certain baby body types better than others.
For example, all of our testers commented on how The Honest Company diapers run small, and, as a result, are a good fit for more petite babies. On the flip side, Poof diapers looked and felt visibly larger than many of the other diapers we tested. One mom said the Poof diapers were “huge,” while another noted how they were “very high rise,” and came all the way up to her daughter’s chest. As a result, it was uncomfortable for the baby when she was sitting and playing and the Velcro tabs irritated her skin. So, just because a diaper’s packaging says it should fit your baby, doesn’t necessarily mean it will. Buy smaller quantities at first to try on a few before you fully commit.
Don't jump the gun.
In anticipation of a newborn, first-time parents often stock up on newborn-size diapers only to find out after their baby is born 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.”
Also, 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 $13.95 — if those are size one diapers, it’s a pack of 44 and they’re 32 cents each; if those are size threes, there are 34 in a pack and they’re 41 cents 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). If your baby is within the overlap area, it’s cheapest to hit the upper limit of the smaller size before moving up.
You don’t have to toss leftover 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.