The Battle for the Best Disposable Diapers

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Babies depend on their caregivers to provide comfort and security. Parents depend on diapers to keep babies dry and comfortable. You can depend on BabyGearLab for objective scientific reviews of diapers so you can quickly find the best product for your family.
Which is the top-performing diaper? We took 20 disposable diapers and put them head to head to find out: 9 of the top green diapers versus 11 traditional diapers. We also set out to determine if there was any real difference between private-label brands like Walmart's Parent's Choice and top-brands like Pampers or Huggies. All the diapers were put through a combination of hands-on testing and lab testing, and rated on a variety of performance factors relative to competitors. This review focuses on disposable diapers, which remain the most popular choice due to their convenience compared to cloth diapers. But, when you consider that your little peanut is going to blow through roughly 6,000 diapers, you'll want to think carefully about what you buy, where you buy it, and the environmental impact you'll leave in your wake.

Read on to find out what we learned in our hands-on testing, and which diapers came out on top.

Read the full review below >

Review by: Juliet Spurrier, MD and Natalie Kellum November 15, 2012

Top Ranked Disposable Diapers Displaying 1 - 5 of 20 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
BAMBO Nature
BAMBO Nature
Read the Review
Attitude
Attitude
Read the Review
Earth's Best TenderCare Chlorine Free Diapers
Earth's Best TenderCare Chlorine Free Diapers
Read the Review
Nurtured by Nature
Nurtured by Nature
Read the Review
Nature Babycare
Nature Babycare
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Top Pick Award    Editors' Choice Award     
Price $0.44 List | $0.48 each from Amazon$0.45 List | $0.41 each from Amazon$0.30 List | $0.32 each from Amazon$0.27 List | $0.32 each from Amazon$0.35 List
Overall Score 
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77
Editors' Rating
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Pros Highest scoring diaper across all of our tests. Fabricated with earth's and baby's health in mind, function and construction is excellentBiodegradable, vegetable-based, CO2 neutral, hypoallergenic, no animal testing, performed very well in our absorbency testinghypoallergenic, all reasonable efforts to be earth friendly , have good fit and a soft feelenvironmentally friendly, chlorine-free, very hypoallergenic, above average absorbency, good fit and true to sizefragrance free, chlorine free, breathable, biodegradable, natural & renewable material
Cons Fourth most expensive diaper we testedExpensive, large sizing, lack of graphics makes it difficult differentiate front from backhas a little of a waxy feel, but still softnot the best absorbency, little stiff and waxy, inner seat was cotton soft leaving behind some cotton messnot as cloth like compared to regular diapers, would not say overly stiff just more paper feel back sheet
Bottom Line The best performing diaper we tested. Quality tough construction. Green. Hypoallergenic. Amazing absorption. Premium priced, but worth it.Attitude is a well-made, eco-healthy diaper with excellent absorbency. If the large sizing works for your baby, we highly recommend.Great diaper that offers green and hypoallergenic qualities while still absorbing well. Not to mention it is at an exceptional price pointNice diaper with great environmental and health standards. Not the absolute best, but in the top 5.Conquers the demanding task of being naturally fabricated, while still functioning at a high level.
Date Reviewed Oct 31, 2012Oct 31, 2012Oct 31, 2012Sep 01, 2012Oct 31, 2012
Weighted Scores BAMBO Nature Attitude Earth's Best TenderCare Chlorine Free Diapers Nurtured by Nature Nature Babycare
Absorbency - 35%
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Fit / Leakage - 30%
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Comfort - 20%
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Eco - Health - 15%
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Product Specs BAMBO Nature Attitude Earth's Best TenderCare Chlorine Free Diapers Nurtured by Nature Nature Babycare
Type of Diaper Green Green Green Green Green
Chlorine-Free Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes, chlorine-free wood pulp
Latex-Free Yes Yes Yes
Perfume-Free Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Dye-Free Yes (Pigments w/o heavy metals) Yes Yes
Biodegradable 80% compostable Biodegradable inner shell & padding partially biodegradable
Contains SAP Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Absorption details Claims to use less SAP by adding wheat starch absorber, Acrylic polymers, No phthalates Polyactic Acid, Cellulose, Corn & Wheat, reduced use of petrochemicals Natural & absorbent material (contains corn & wheat) Distribution layer made of natural material (PLA)
Misc materials details Wood pulp in absorbtive layer from sustainable forestry All products free of 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide (carciNogens), Reduced petrochemicals, Renewable vegetable-based materials), Biodegradable packaging Fewer petro-chemicals 20-30% less petro-chemicals than leading brands Naturally breathable, TBT-free, No oil-based plastics against baby's skin, Outer cover & leakage barrier of GM free corn based film, Natural & renewable material, Packaging compostable
Wetness Indicator Yes No No No No
Stretchable side wings Yes No No No No
Stretchable Back of Diaper No Yes (great stretch) Yes Yes Yes
Eco-Awards Nordic Swan Eco-Label EcoLogo, (CO2 neutral) Good Environmental Choice Eco Label

BabyGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products
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Up & Up (Target brand)
$0.14
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BAMBO Nature
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Attitude
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Pampers Swaddlers
$0.27
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Nature Babycare
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Nurtured by Nature
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Cuties
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Fisher-Price Happy Days
$0.21
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The Honest Company Diapers
$0.55
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Pampers Swaddlers Sensitive
$0.30
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Huggies Pure & Natural
$0.34
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Seventh Generation Free & Clear
$0.32
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Kirkland Signature Supreme
$0.23
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45
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Huggies Little Snugglers
$0.25
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52
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Huggies Snug & Dry
$0.20
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Broody Chick Eco-Natural Diapers
$0.55
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Babies R Us Supreme Diapers
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Parent's Choice (Walmart)
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LUVS Ultra Leakguards
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The Diaper Dilemma
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. And, it's got to be contained somehow to avoid making your home into a complete bio-hazard site. Enter the diaper.

If you are reading this, then we're going to assume that you're looking for help on choosing a disposable diaper (and by the way, before you flog yourself 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.

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. You also might enjoy our related article on diaper materials, What Is Inside Those Dispoable Diapers?.

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. Just 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 are inside diapers (and why should I care)?
  1. Which is better: Pampers vs. 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 or Disposable diapers?
  1. Which diaper should I buy?

OK, in full disclosure, we're actually not going to take on #2, Cloth versus Disposable, yet. We have a very detailed test in progress on the top 16 cloth diapers, and we're going to wait until that is complete before we try to answer that question (check back here in Oct 2013). Sign up for our email list, our Tweets, or friend us on Facebook, and you'll be sure to hear when we've released the cloth diaper review (at which time, we'll update this review too). But, we really are going to wrestle those other 9 questions to the ground right 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.
Credit: BabyGearLab Staff
Putting 20 Top Diapers to the Test
To inform this review we took 20 of the most popular and highly regarded diapers and put them through a gauntlet of tests and analysis to figure out how they compared side-by-side, and what, exactly, is inside these things. We used a combination of hands-on testing (day-to-day diaper use, just like you, but with careful notes after every change), lab testing, and research to compile facts and observations that would allow us to rate each diaper fairly on four 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...
Credit: BabyGearLab Staff
We made our selections of which diapers to test carefully, to make sure we could provide a complete picture of diaper performance for our readers. We've included 9 green diapers, which are pitted head-to-head against 11 top traditional diapers. We, of course included the full suite of Pampers versus Huggies offerings, but we also included big box private label brands from Costco, Target, Walmart, and Babies R Us to see how they would stack up when compared side-by-side brand name diapers.

Whoa, 6,000, that's a Lot of Diapers
In the first year, your newborn baby is going to go through about 2,500 diapers. You'll go through more diaper changes per day in the first few months, 10-12 per day on average, and then things will settle into an average of 6 per day for the rest of the first year. In year two, you can expect that average pace to slow to 3-4 per day, and perhaps even continuing to about 2-4 per day in year three until potty training takes hold. Even after potty training, you'll still probably 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)
Credit: Pampers, Huggies, US CDC Weight-for-age 50th percentile

Add it all up, and your precious bundle of joy is going to create a mountain of roughly 6,000 diapers. That's a lot of diapers to put in the landfill, which is why a growing minority of Moms are willing to pay a premium for green-diapers, or choose cloth diapers (expect our detailed review of the top 16 cloth diapers in Oct 2013).

What is this Going to Cost me?
If you are price conscious when buying diapers, here is the breakdown: let's assume our estimate of approximately 6,000 diapers over your baby's lifetime use. When you are trying to consider price, keep in mind that you'll use a lot more size 3 & 4 diapers than the smaller sizes. We recommend price-comparison using Size 3 as a standard, since it will be a more realistic cost average and 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 $0.27/diaper on average. If buy Target Up & Up you will spend about $0.144/diaper; a considerable savings. If you buy a quality green diaper like Earth’s Best TenderCare you will be spending about $0.30/diaper; for the BAMBO Nature, about $0.44/diaper. That sounds a lot different, 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:
  • $860 - Target's Up & Up, our Best Value award winner
  • $2,600 - Bambo Nature, best performing diaper in our tests, Top Pick award winner

In comparison to the eco-healthy brand Earth’s Best, using Pampers Swaddlers would only save you $200 over an estimated 4 years, an average of $4 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/more healthy one. But between the Target brand and the Earth’s Best brand, there’s a bigger gap of approximately $940, or roughly $20 more per month. That’s a significant amount of money. On the other hand, spending an average of $20 per month more on your baby's diapers can be justifiably considered a prudent investment in your baby's health and well-being. We believe that Earth's Best offers not just environmental benefits, but more importantly, it contains materials we believe are healthier and safer for your baby. Target Up & Up is halfway there on eco-health, with some of the things we advocate for your baby's health like chlorine-free, latex-free, perfume-free, and dye-free; it's a good option at a great price, but Earth's Best and Bambo are better options if you can afford them.

Is It Worth Paying a Premium for the Best Diaper?
Justifying the step-up from Earth's Best, a great performing green diaper, to the best performing Bambo Nature diaper, is the hardest one to economically justify. While we feel strongly that Bambo is the best diaper we tested, it costs almost 50% more than Earth's Best. We awarded Earth's Best our Editors' Choice because we felt it offers the right balance between cost and performance for most families. On the other hand, Bambo might be the perfect diaper to use for overnight, where it's impressive absorbency is of real practical benefit. Or, if you just want the best for your baby, even if it means spending a bit more, then Bambo is our pick.

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.
Credit: BabyGearLab Staff
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.

It is this last bullet that may be the deciding factor in the "which is greener" debate between cloth diapers and disposables today. If you use modern cloth diapers, most likely with a flushable liner, you are very likely flushing your baby's poo. Flushing poo is much 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 your 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 20 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.
Credit: BabyGearLab Staff
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 materials. To help address parents concerns about the materials inside disposable diapers, and what risk they may or may not pose your baby, we've created a detailed article titled, What Is Inside Those Disposable Diapers? In it, you'll find an overview of each of the potentially hazardous materials that may be in some diapers, what the problem is with that material, and what we recommend you do about it.

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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.
Credit: BabyGearLab Staff

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 gather that they feel the same way. We came up with a combination of hands-on testing and lab tests to get at the real-world absorbency performance of each diaper. And we found huge differences in absorbency.

The big surprise for us was how well the green diapers performed relative to traditional diapers on absorbency. The top 5 performing diapers in absorbency where green diapers. We frankly expected just the opposite coming into this test.
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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.
Credit: BabyGearLab Staff

Which Is Better: Pampers versus Huggies?
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Credit: BabyGearLab Staff
We were surprised to find this question easier to answer than we expected: Pampers.

Take a look at our side-by-side chart:
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. Only on the basis of eco-health, in the case of Huggies Pure and Natural, and on price for Little Snugglers and Snug and Dry brands, did Huggies offer an advantage. Pampers won hands down in terms of absorbency, fit/leakage, and comfort in our tests.

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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.
Credit: BabyGearLab Staff

If you are trying to decide between Pampers and Huggies, we recommend you go with Pampers even though they will cost you a little more. But, frankly, we advise you to look outside of either of these well known brands. For a lot less money, the Up & Up diaper offers comparable performance to Pampers (a bit worse on absorbency, a bit better on eco-health). And, for just 3 cents more than Pampers, Earth's Best offers a much more eco-healthy diaper with better performance.

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 & 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...
Credit: BabyGearLab Staff
No.

We tested private label 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 offered and in how they performed.

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

Compared to Huggies Little Snugglers, there was more competition: Target performed better, all the others worse.

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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.
Credit: BabyGearLab Staff

Here's where each of the Big Box diapers ranked out of 20 diapers tested:
  1. Pampers Swaddlers placed 6th overall, providing a good reference standard
  1. Target Up & Up placed 8th out of 20 overall. It was the best performing big box diaper, lowest priced, and the only big box brand diaper one we recommend. It earned our Best Value award.
  1. Huggies Little Snugglers placed 14th overall.
  1. Costco's Kirkland Signature Supreme. Performed relatively poorly, not that cheap either.
  1. Babies R Us Supreme. Relatively low cost, but not recommended.
  1. Walmart's Parent's Choice. The worst performing diaper in our absorbency tests, attractively low price, but not worth it.

Editors' Choice Award for Overall Best Diaper
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Earth's Best Diapers won our Editors' Choice Award for best all-around diaper. Costing only slightly more than Pampers, Earth's Best delivered matching absorbency, but better fit and comfort scores. And, it's one of the best green diapers too.
Credit: BabyGearLab Staff
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 Earth's Best.

We feel that this is a great diaper because it performed well in absorbency and fit and is both hypoallergenic and eco-friendly while still being at a reasonable price point. At about 30 cents per diaper, Earth's Best offers parents a lot for their money. The diaper scored a 9 out of 10 in our absorbency testing, being beat out only by diapers that cost nearly 50% more. Earth's Best cost about 3 cents more per diaper than Pamper's Swaddlers, outscored Pampers in most of our tests, and nearly tied in absorbency. Using the 6,000 diaper estimate during your child's 3-5 year diaper stage, it will cost about $180 more to use Earth's Best than Pamper's Swaddlers, and we at BabyGearLab feel that this superior product is worth it.

Best Value Award Winner
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Up and Up diapers by Target are a great value at 14 cents a piece, performing better in absorbency testing than diapers that cost closer to 20 cents a piece (with the exception of Fisher-Price Happy Days which performed the same in absorbency). Target's store brand is also hypoallergenic with an effective fit and nice comfort.
Credit: BabyGearLab Staff
If you're on a budget looking for a good diaper at a good price we suggest Target's Up & Up brand, winner of our Best Value Award. These diapers beat all other contenders in the 15 cents or less arena and competed with other diapers costing more. The UP & UP brand does make efforts at being hypoallergenic by avoiding latex and chlorine while adding aloe and vitamin D. Avoiding chlorine is also a step towards being eco-friendly, and we appreciate that Target donates a 5% of their after-tax profits to local communities. The diaper is well-constructed and impressed us in hands-on testing with a soft materials that complemented a good fit. Though not the best in any of our testing categories, the UP & UP diaper did well in most of them, making it a great value.

Top Pick Award for Best Green Diaper
Here's a shocker. Our Top Pick award for the Best Green Diaper goes to the highest scoring diaper of any kind across our range of tests: the Bambo Nature diapers. This diaper scored amazingly well in absorption while the comfort and construction were awesome. If it wasn't for the premium price, Bambo would have won our Editors' Choice award too.

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Bambo Nature won our Top Pick Award for Best Green Diaper. And, it's not just green, it is the best performing diaper in our tests overall, proving that eco-friendly doesn't mean sacrificing functionality.
Credit: BabyGearLab Staff
Bambo is about as close to a cloth diaper as a disposable can be. The materials used are truly fabric-like, which lends itself to a great fit and soft feel. Bambo is also very eco-friendly, being awarded the coveted Nordic Eco Swan Label. Bambo diapers make every effort at being hypoallergenic with no chlorine, dyes or latex. Bambo Nature does use SAP, but with tough construction and high quality materials the likelihood that your baby comes in contact with little crystals after wetting is very slim compared with other disposables. Bambo Nature was the only eco diaper that had an efficient wetness indicator and the simple graphics are very cute. They run about 44 cents a piece, so if you're willing to pay a little more for the very best, they are our top pick.

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:
  • Earth's Best — this is the diaper we recommend to friends and family. We feel it offers the best combination of price and performance. It's a great diaper and one we recommend without hesitation.
  • Up & Up — 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's about halfway to where we'd like it to be on eco-health metrics, but if you flush the poo rather than throw it away inside a diaper, you'd probably be more green than most users of the top green diapers.
  • Bambo Nature — if you want the best, and are willing pay a premium for it, then Bambo is our pick. Bambo is also a great choice for overnight, since it offers great absorption capabilities, and compared to other overnight diapers it is competitive. Adding weight to that recommendation, our founder and Mom-in-Chief, Dr. Juliet Spurrier, has switched from Seventh Generation to Bambo for overnight diaper use with her own children.

Juliet Spurrier, MD and Natalie Kellum
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 How to Choose the Best Disposable Diapers

by Juliet Spurrier, MD and Natalie Kellum
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