The Battle for the Best Disposable Diapers

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What is the top-performing disposable diaper and why? We took 24 disposable diapers and put them to the test in a bum to bum competition to find out. Eleven of the top green diapers and 13 traditional diapers were put through a series of tests designed to compare the diapers relative to each other. Our goal was to determine which diapers performed the best and if there was any real difference between store-label brands like Walmart's Parent's Choice and top-brands like Pampers and Huggies.

Keep reading to find out what we learned from our tests, and how each diaper stacked up against the sometimes soggy competition.

Read the full review below >

Test Results and Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 24 << Previous | View All | Next >>

Analysis and Award Winners

Review by:
Juliet Spurrier, MD and BabyGearLab Review Team

Last Updated:
May 22, 2014

Best Overall Disposable Diaper

Bambo Nature

Editors' Choice Award

Price:   $0.48 List
$0.36 each (in 198-pack) from Amazon
Sale - 26% Off

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We put the diapers through a variety of side-by-side comparison tests to find the absolute best, then we looked at cost per diaper to determine the most favorable buy. Our Editors' Choice award represents what we would do for our families, balancing quality and cost, and the diaper we picked was Bambo Nature.

Bambo is about as close to a cloth diaper as a disposable can be. The materials used are truly fabric-like, which presents a great fit and soft feel. Bambo is also very eco-friendly, having been awarded the coveted Nordic Eco Swan Label. Bambo diapers make every effort at being hypoallergenic and good for baby with no chlorine, dyes, or latex. Bambo Nature does use SAP (they aren't alone, all the disposable diapers use this), but with quality construction and materials, the likelihood that your baby will come in contact with the little jelly blobs after wetting is slim compared to other disposables. Bambo Nature was the only eco diaper that had a wetness indicator and the simple graphics were very cute. So if you're willing to pay a little more for the very best, they are our top pick.

Best Bang for the Buck

Earth's Best Tender Care

Best Value Award

Price:   $0.36 List
$0.44 each (in 140-pack) from Amazon

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We feel this is a great diaper because it performed very well overall, is a good fit, while still meeting a reasonable price point for a green diaper. Cheaper than Bambo Nature, Earth's Best offers parents a lot for their money.

Earth's Best Tender Care scored a 9 of 10 in leakage; beating all the competition. It costs only about the same as Pamper's Swaddlers Sensitive, and outscored Pampers overall. Using the 6,000 diaper estimate for your baby's 3-5 year diaper stage, it will cost about $60 more to use Earth's Best over Pamper's Swaddlers Sensitive, and we at BabyGearLab feel that this superior product is worth it for your baby and the environment.

Best for a Tight Budget


Best Value Award

Price:   $0.24 List
$0.14 each (in 144-pack) from Amazon
Sale - 42% Off

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If you're on a budget and looking for a good diaper at a good price we suggest Cuties brand, winner of one of our Best Value awards. This diaper ranked 9 out of 24 in the overall score with a great price point. Several more expensive diapers failed to match its score for absorbency and other metrics. Cuties makes efforts at being hypoallergenic by avoiding perfume while adding aloe, chamomile, and vitamin D. The diaper is well-constructed and earned above average scores for comfort and durability. Though not the best in any of our testing categories, Cuties did well in most of them except Eco and Health, which made them a great value.

Analysis and Test Results

If you're a new or expecting parent, let us level with you: your baby is going to make a lot of poo. Way more than you realize. This vast amount of poo will need immediate and continuous containment to avoid turning your life into a complete bio-hazard zone. Sure, you can try to distinguish your new baby's facial expression for signs of impending explosions so you can rush them to a nearby toilet, but we think it is easier to employ a diaper to do the dirty work (literally) for you.

If you are reading this, then we're going to assume that you're looking for help choosing a disposable diaper (before you flog yourself too much with your green-guilt whip, be aware that even the Sierra Club can't decide whether cloth diapers or a green-disposable are more environmentally responsible). We're here to help by giving you the straight poop on all things diaper.

Feeling overwhelmed? Stop reading this and jump to our buying advice article, How to Choose the Best Disposable Diaper. We wrote it for you. It provides a helpful overview of the options that are out there, and what you should be considering before making your final decision.

The Great Diaper Questions

Figuring out which diaper to buy is a decision that many parents agonize over. We know, we've been through it (and we wish we knew then, what we know now). In this review we're going to attempt to take on our own Top 10 List of Great Diaper Questions and wrestle them to the ground:
  1. How many diapers does a baby go through in total?
  1. How much $ will I spend on diapers over time?
  1. What is the environmental impact of diapers?
  1. How do green diapers perform compared to traditional brands?
  1. What is inside diapers (and why should I care)?
  1. Which is better: Pampers or Huggies?
  1. Are big box private-label diapers just as good as brand name diapers?
  1. What's the best green diaper?
  1. Which is best: Cloth vs. Disposable diapers?
  1. Which diaper should I buy?

OK, in full disclosure, we're actually not going to take on #2, Cloth versus Disposable, not here anyway. Instead, we're going to refer you to our complete analysis of that question in a separate article, Cloth Diapers vs. Disposables: How and what to choose?. You can review all things cloth diaper in our review titled, The Search for the Best Cloth Diapers. But, we really are going to wrestle those other 9 questions to the ground right here and now. We promise.

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We tested 20 disposable diapers, putting 9 of the top-rated green diapers head-to-head against 11 traditional diapers.

Putting 24 Top Diapers to the Test

In 2013 we took 20 of the most popular and highly regarded diapers and put them through a gauntlet of tests and analysis to figure out what exactly is inside these things and how they compared side-by-side. In 2014, we took a step up and tested 24 diapers; giving an even larger group of diapers a chance to vie for our top awards. We used a combination of hands-on testing (day-to-day diaper use on real baby bottoms, carefully monitored and annotated), lab testing, and research to compile facts and observations that would allow us to rate each diaper fairly on 6 key performance metrics relative to their competition.

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Are the private-label diapers from Target, Costco, Walmart, and Babies R Us exactly the same as the name-brand diapers (except for the price)? We set out to find out, and the answer may surprise you...
We made our selections of which diapers to test carefully, to ensure a complete picture of diaper performance for our readers. We've included 11 green diapers, which are pitted head-to-head against 13 top traditional diapers. We included the full suite of Pampers versus Huggies offerings, but we also included private label brands from Costco, Target, Walmart, and Babies R Us to see how they would fair when compared side-by-side with the brand name diapers.

Wait! How many diapers are they going to need?

In the first year, your tiny mini me is going to go through about 2,500 diapers. If that number is daunting and hard to grasp, it breaks down to something like 10-12 diapers a day on average for the first few months, then about 6 per day for the rest of the first year. In year two, you can expect that pace to slow to about 3-4 per day, and that pace may continue into year three when potty training really takes hold. Even after potty training, they'll probably still use one overnight diaper per day for another year or two.

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Estimated diaper usage over time is shown to be a total of nearly 6,000 diapers in the chart above. Your mileage will vary since babies grow at differing rates and the total depends on potty training timing, and overnight use after potty training. (Click on the chart to enlarge)

Add it all up, and your precious bundle of joy is going to amass a mountain of roughly 6,000 dirty diapers. That's a lot of diapers to put in the landfill, which is why a growing number (but still a minority) of Moms consider green-diapers or choose cloth diapers.

So, what is all that going to Cost me?

If you are price conscious when buying diapers, here is the breakdown: let's assume our estimate of using approximately 6,000 diapers over your baby's lifetime is correct. Price per diaper varies depending on the size of diaper; the bigger the diaper, the higher the price. Also, when considering price, keep in mind that they'll use a lot more size 3 & 4 diapers than the smaller sizes. We recommend doing your price-comparison using Size 3 as a standard, because it will give you a more realistic cost average since some manufacturers may deeply discount small sizes to get you hooked, only to charge more later.

If you buy a name brand diaper like Pampers Swaddlers, you'll be spending approximately $0.32/diaper on average. If you buy Cuties, you will spend about $0.24/diaper; a considerable savings. If you buy a quality green diaper like Earth's Best, you will be spending about $0.36/diaper; or for the BAMBO, it's about $0.48. That sounds like a big price difference, but what is the full difference in cost to keep your baby healthier and help save the environment?

Here are our full lifetime baby diaper cost estimates by brand:
  • $1,440 - Cuties, one of our Best Value winners
  • $2,880 - Bambo Nature, best performing diaper in our tests and Editors' Choice award winner

Keep in mind that these prices are high; if you sign up for a subscription program like Amazon offers, you will get 20% lower prices on most of the brands.

In comparison to the eco-healthy brand Earth's Best, using Pampers Swaddlers would only save you $360 over an estimated 4 years, an average of $6 per month. That's not much, and frankly a very reasonable price to upgrade to Earth's Best which we feel is both a better diaper, and a substantially greener and more healthy. Or, you might consider going even further, to BAMBO Nature, which will cost you $1,080 more over 4 years than Pampers, or another $22.50 per month. On the other hand, spending an average of $22.50 per month more on your baby's diapers can justifiably be considered a prudent investment in your baby's health and well-being. We believe that Bambo offers not just environmental benefits, but more importantly, it contains materials we believe are healthier and safer for your baby. Cuties is perfume free but doesn't offer much more for your baby's health like being chlorine-free, latex-free, and dye-free; it's a good option at a great price, but both Earth's Best and Bambo are better options if you can afford them.

Is It Worth Paying a Premium for the Best Diaper?

The step-up from Earth's Best, a great performing green diaper, to the best performing Bambo diaper, is about $15 more per month over the 4 years your baby will wear diapers. But the price jump from a cheaper diaper like the Cuties Best Value Pick or Target's Up & Up is a bit more. You might be wondering if it is worth the extra money to buy the better diaper.

While we feel strongly that Bambo Nature is the best diaper we tested, it does costs about $0.12 cents more per diaper than Earth's Best. It costs $0.24/ diaper more, or twice the price, of Cuties, and $0.34/ diaper more than Up & Up. That is $24 more a month to buy Bambo over Cuties and almost $35 more a month over Up & Up. The numbers decrease somewhat if you consider Earth's Best over Bambo. So is it worth it? Lets compare the scores.
  • Up & Up, 3 absorption, 4 health, 2 eco, 41 overall
  • Cuties, 6 absorption, 1 health, 1 eco, 49 overall
  • Earth's Best Tender Care, 6 absorption, 5 health, 3 eco, 62 overall
  • Bambo, 9 absorption, 8 health, 8 eco, 82 overall

We feel the difference between Up & Up and Cuties is significant enough to merit the $7/ month price increase. Cuties offers a diaper that performed better in our tests for a price that most budgets can afford. The difference between Cuties and Earth's Best is also significant. We awarded Earth's Best a Best Value award because we felt it offered the right balance between cost and performance for most families. This diaper scored well in all categories, better than Cuties, with the bonus of offering some Health and Eco-friendly advantages. For $20 more per month we really feel the advantages are great if your budget can afford it. But, if you just want the best for your baby, even if it means spending a bit more, then Bambo is our pick.

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Environmental Impacts

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Most of the eco-friendly diapers we tested did exceptionally well in absorbency. We were pleasantly surprised when our lab testing debunked the myth that earth-minded disposables are less effective at containing moisture than more traditionally manufactured brands.
Disposable diapers have a significant environmental impact. When you consider that an estimated 90% of US babies use disposable diapers, and there are 4 million babies born each year, each going through 6,000 diapers, the environmental impact of disposable diapers going into landfills is very large.

Here's some information we believe to be factual:
  • The Environmental Protection Agency reports that about 20 billion disposable baby diapers end up in landfills every year, a shockingly large amount, yet we feel that might be low (our estimate is nearly 22 billion). This creates approximately 3 billion pounds of US landfill waste each year.
  • Traditional disposable diapers do not degrade well in landfills due to plastic materials used and lack of exposure to air (which hampers biodegradation)
  • Some % of disposed diapers contain feces (the right thing to do is flush feces before throwing away the diaper) which present a bio-hazard risk to landfills and may seep into ground water.

Who Knew? Now YOU Do!

It is this last bullet that may be the deciding factor in the "which is greener" debate between cloth diapers and disposables. If you use modern cloth diapers, most likely with a flushable liner, you are most likely flushing your baby's poo. Flushing poo is far less damaging to the environment than throwing it away (and creating a bio-hazard risk in landfills). But you can, and should, flush poo from disposable diapers in order to prevent this environmental impact.

How do green diapers perform compared to traditional?

Making the choice between using a traditional or green diaper has not been easy. And, many people have assumptions about green diaper performance which we found to be false: green diapers outperformed traditional diapers on absorbency and most other metrics.

You can find the full details of our analysis, based on test data and findings from our comprehensive review of 24 top diapers, here:

What's in My Baby's Diaper?

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Diapers are constructed in three layers, an inner layer that sits against baby's skin is designed to be soft, stay relatively dry, and wick away moisture into the core. The absorbent core is designed to pull moisture in and trap it to keep wetness away from baby to avoid rashes. The outer layer is waterproof to prevent leaks.
All disposable diapers in our test look a lot alike. They each contain an absorbent core, an inner layer designed to keep baby dry, and a waterproof outer layer. Yet each diaper may contain vastly different materials than another, and some of these ingredients may be considered risky or potentially toxic. To help address parents concerns about the materials inside disposable diapers, and what risk they may or may not pose baby, we've created a detailed article entitled, What Is Inside Those Disposable Diapers? This article is an overview of each potentially hazardous material that may be in some diapers, what the problem is with that material, and what we recommend you do.

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The secret sauce inside the absorbent core layer of every one of the 20 disposable diapers we tested is a synthetic material called Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP). It is magic in it's ability to suck up to 300 times it's weight in water, which is why it is so widely used. Researchers are now making a plant-based SAP in labs, but as far as we can tell, every diaper in our review likely uses the more time-tested petroleum-based SAP.

Absorbency Is The Performance Standard for Diapers

As we note in our How We Tested Disposable Diapers article, we believe that absorbency is the most critical performance criteria for diapers. Given how much emphasis manufacturers give to claiming top absorbency, we think they must feel the same way. We preformed a combination of hands-on testing and in-house lab tests to wring out the real-world absorbency performance of each diaper. What we found was a huge difference in absorbency; and the results were different than our previous test done in 2013.

In 2013, the top 5 performing diapers for absorbency were all green diapers. Given last years test results, we sort of anticipated they'd all to be green again (surprise, surprise). This year, green diapers still performed well when compared to the traditional diapers for absorbency, but they didn't manage to secure all top 5 spots. The top 5 diapers in absorbency included 3 green diapers and 2 traditional. Pampers Swaddlers, and Swaddlers Sensitive, managed to crack the absorbency code and bumped their way up to the top 5 for absorbency, tying with The Honest Company diaper.

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Worst versus best performing diapers in our absorbency test shown side-by-side. The large green areas in the Walmart brand, Parent's Choice, on the left, indicate significant wetness in the layer closest to baby's skin. In comparison, the BAMBO, although much more expensive, was dramatically more effective.

Which Is Better: Pampers or Huggies?

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Once again, for the second year in a row, the winner here was Pampers. We tested Pampers Swaddlers and Swaddlers Sensitive, and three types of Huggies: Pure & Natural, Little Snugglers, and Snug & Dry. Pampers came out on top in both overall score, and in almost every individual performance metric. Take a look at our side-by-side chart:
Only on the basis of eco-health, in the case of Huggies Pure & Natural, and on price for Little Snugglers and Snug & Dry varieties, did Huggies offer an advantage. Pampers won in terms of absorbency, leakage, and comfort in our tests. However, the spread between the two did decrease in absorbency, at least for the Sung & Dry, which managed a 7 of 10 rating compared to both Pampers styles that earned 8 of 10. Huggies Pure & Natural and Little Snugglers were much lower with a 5 and 4 respectfully.

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Cagematch comparing Huggies vs. Pampers. On the left side are the Huggies, Snugglers (top left) and Pure and Natural (bottom left). Pampers Swaddlers (top right) and Pampers Swaddlers Sensitive (bottom right). As is evident, Pampers won our absorbency test hands-down versus Huggies.

If you are trying to decide between Pampers and Huggies, we recommend you go with Pampers. Huggies Snug & Dry is cheaper, but it just didn't measure up to either Pampers variety. Both Little Snugglers and Pure & Natural will cost you more than Pampers, so with their lower scores and higher price, it is sort of a no brainer. However, we advise that you look outside both of these well-known brands at either our Value Pick or our Editors' Choice award winners. For less money, Cuties offers comparable performance to Huggies and was close to Pampers (a bit worse on absorbency) for cheaper. And, for just a few cents more than Pampers, Earth's Best offers a much more eco-healthy diaper with better performance and the top score for absorbency for about the same price!

Check out this side-by-side comparison to see how Pampers and Huggies stack up versus the three award winners from this review:

Are Big-box Private Label Diapers the Same as Pampers and Huggies

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Are the private-label diapers from Target, Costco, Walmart, and Babies R Us exactly the same as the name-brand diapers (except for the price)? We set out to find out, and the answer may surprise you...

We tested private brand diapers from the four major big box retailers: Target, Walmart, Costco, and Babies R Us. In the end, we concluded that each was different from other name-brand diapers as well as each other in both features and performance.

Take a look at our side-by-side chart:
When compared to Pampers or Huggies, all the big box brands were inferior in our tests.

The Huggies varieties had a little competition: Kirkland Supreme came close to matching their overall scores, missing it by only 1-3 points depending on specific Huggies type.

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The big box store brands' absorbency tests side-by-side (from upper left clockwise: Walmart's Parent's Choice, Babies R Us Supreme, Costco's Kirkland Signature Supreme, and Target's Up &amp; Up). Target's Up &amp; Up came out on top by a wide margin in our absorbency test, and yet tied the Walmart brand for lowest price.

Here's where each of the Big Box diapers ranked out of 24 diapers tested:
  1. Pampers Swaddlers Sensitive placed 7 out of 24, providing a good reference point.
  1. Huggies Little Snugglers placed 13th.
  1. Costco's Kirkland Signature Supreme was the highest ranking store brand at 16th, but was more expensive than diapers that ranked higher.
  1. Target Up & Up placed 18th out of 24. It was last year's Value Pick, but it just didn't do as well this year.
  1. Walmart's Parent's Choice, had an attractive low price, but isn't worth it.
  1. Babies R Us Supreme. Relatively low cost, but the worst performing diaper in our absorbency tests and overall; not recommended.

So, Which Diaper Should I Buy?

Here at BabyGearLab, we try to present you with enough information, in detail, so that you can make your own decision. But, our Editors are frequently asked by friends or family members to make a specific recommendation. That is easy for us to do, since we choose our award winners to reflect those very recommendations. To summarize:
  • Bambo Nature — as our Editors' Choice, this is the diaper we recommend to friends and family. We feel it offers such better performance that it justifies its higher price. It's a great diaper, eco-friendly, and one we recommend without hesitation. Bambo is also a great choice for overnight, since it offers great absorption capabilities.
  • Earth's Best Tender Care — this may be the right diaper for most people, because it sells for not much more than Pampers, but offers significantly improved performance in a green diaper. On a price-performance basis, we think it is a bargain given its performance. You'll also find it at 20% lower price if you sign up for Amazon's subscription program.
  • Cuties — this is the diaper we recommend to friends and family who are on a tight budget. A very good diaper at a great price. It isn't great on the eco-health metrics, but if you flush the poo rather than throwing it away inside the diaper, you'd probably be more green than most users of the top green diapers.
Juliet Spurrier, MD and BabyGearLab Review Team
Helpful Buying Tips
How to Choose the Best Disposable Diaper - Click for details
 How to Choose the Best Disposable Diaper

by Juliet Spurrier, MD and BabyGearLab Review Team