Hands-on Gear Review
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Price: $0.55 list
Pros: Exceptionally unique and cute graphics, earth friendly and baby health conscious
Bottom line: Cute graphics, eco/health conscious, but other diapers scored better at a lower price
Manufacturer: The Honest Company
We like the mission of the Honest Company, and their diapers have a lot positive features. But given the high cost, competing green diapers are a much smarter option in our opinion. Absorption was fairly impressive compared to many of the diapers we tested, and performance on other metrics was similar to the top 5 diapers we tested. Out of the 11 green diapers we tested, The Honest Company diaper placed better than last year at 4th overall; but, it was one of the most expensive diaper we tested (more expensive than the highest scorer). The Honest diaper offers cute graphics, and are legitimately a health and earth-friendly brand. The company has made a sincere effort at delivering an Eco-friendly diaper, which we appreciate, but at this time we feel there are other superior options at lower prices.
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BabyGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
We love the mission of Honest Company, and respect the efforts the company is making to create a quality line of eco-health oriented products. However, the actual performance of the Honest Diaper in our tests was not as impressive as some competing diapers, which cost less than Honest. We also have objected, in multiple emails to the company co-founder Christopher Gavigan (he has never replied in writing), to the company's previous use of marketing claims that we feel mislead customers into thinking the diaper is entirely plant-based, when in fact it is not (more on this below, see Other Pretty Important Information).
Absorption and Leaks
The Honest Company diaper scored fairly well for absorption in our tests, earning an 8 in this metric, which tied with both Pampers brand diapers. Only BAMBO Nature and Nature Babycare scored higher with a 9 and 10 respectfully. Attitude and Broody Chick came close with a score of 7, and Earth's Best Tender Care]] made a strong effort with a 6 out of 10.
It scored above average for leaks in our tests with a 6 out of 10, which was on the low side for the top green diapers, but still a respectable score that beat Nature Babycare by 1 point. Earth's Best scored much higher, with a 9 out of 10 in our tests, and it is significantly cheaper on average. BAMBO Nature and Broody Chick both scored higher in this metric, with a 7 and 8 respectfully. Broody Chick was higher than The Honest Company for price, and scored only slightly better overall in our tests.
The absorption test for The Honest Company (left), Nature Babycare (middle), and BAMBO Nature (right) are shown below. The larger green area indicates more surface moisture; less green indicates better absorption.
Comfort and Durability
BAMBO Nature scored higher with an 8, and that was only matched by Babyganics Rear Gear. Honest earned some points for the overall softness of the materials compared to the other diapers we tested, and extra points for friendly side and back elastic that was nice on baby's skin and increased overall comfort and fit.
For our durability tests it scored a 4 out of 10. Both Best Value pick, Earth's Best Tender Care, which scored a 6, and Editors' Choice, BAMBO Nature, which scored a high 8, did better in this category. Price did not seem to be an influencing factor for this metric, with diapers in every price range scoring high and low with no real discernible pattern. Honest did score better than Nature Babycare by a point, and it tied with Broody Chick again, which also earned a 4.
Eco and Health
In our eco and health metrics, Honest did fairly well with 5 for health and 7 for eco. Honest earned health points for being free of chlorine, latex, lotions, fragrances, common allergens, phthalates, PVC, heavy metals, organotins (MBT, DBT, TBT) and petrochemical additives (whew!). It does add in what they call a "natural citrus and chlorophyll odor inhibitor", but we aren't fans of add ins no matter what they are, and we feel a diaper doesn't need an odor inhibitor. If a diaper smells, in our opinion, it really ought to be changed not altered so it doesn't smell as bad as quickly.
In general, Honest gives a good nod to baby's developing systems. But it did have some healthy competition in our tests. BAMBO Natureearned an impressive 8 out of 10 in this category, which was the highest of any diaper we tested. Nature Babycare also did well with a 6 out of 10. Both diapers scored higher in our tests than Honest, and both diapers cost less and are more widely available.
Eco-friendly is really where Honest did some of its best work in our tests, scoring a 7 out of 10 in this metric. It had some good company near the top with Nature Babycare and Attitude scoring them same. Broody Chick was almost as good with a 6, but once again BAMBO Nature outdid them all with an 8 out 10. Honest earned points in our tests for using sustainably harvested pulp, plant based components, no chlorine processing, and for earning several eco-awards including being cruelty free and being a Certified B Corporation.
Relative to the other diapers in our test, both green diapers and conventional, Honest Diapers are among the most expensive. However, a discount can be obtained through their monthly subscription service which bundles in wipes in a combined package. We feel the requirement to buy both diapers and wipes in a subscription bundle makes it hard to figure out the actual cost per diaper. Fortunately, Honest Company allows you to buy in smaller quantity packages without signing up to a subscription, but the cost is relatively high per diaper compared to competing bulk packages. Adding to expense in the Honest Diaper case, we feel per unit price needs to be calculated including shipping costs since you can't buy the product at your local big box retailer. Thus we calculate the Honest Diaper price at: $13.95 for a pack of 36 size 3 diapers + $5.95 shipping = $0.55/diaper. To get a lower price per diaper (still high compared to alternatives), you need to sign up to the subscription which is delivered in higher volume packages. The subscription price for size 3 is about $0.40/diaper at the time of this review, $79.95 per month + $5.95 shipping gets you 216 size 3 diapers, and has the added benefit of including 280 wipes for free, an $11 value. If you subtract $11 for the wipes, the net cost per diaper is $0.35. However, other diapers are available for steep discounts if you buy them on subscription. For example, Earth's Best subscription price from Amazon (which includes free shipping and 20% off if you join their free Amazon Mom's program) is $0.26 per diaper, a substantial savings compared to Honest Diaper's subscription price, and for an excellent green diaper that offered better overall performance in our tests.
We believe that a subscription model can be a convenient and economic option, once you've settled into a specific brand, but we prefer the simpler subscription model offered by Amazon which offers more flexibility to choose the product(s) you want, a straight-forward discount, clear per unit pricing, and free-shipping. Amazon's subscription discounts vary, but range from 5% to 20% off the regular Amazon price. The deeper discounts, of 20% off, are available in some cases if you join Amazon Mom's. Unfortunately, Honest Diapers are not available from Amazon. Too bad, because with Amazon's discounts the Honest Diaper might be much more compelling.
Parents swayed by the marketing and famous figure endorsement might be drawn to this diaper. BAMBO Nature, our Editors' Choice, is a great green diaper that scored significantly better overall, earning higher scores in every metric at a much cheaper price. And while you may not get to choose your own patterns for the cover, you do get a pretty cute little animal graphic.
Despite very cute graphics, and a strong green offering, we feel these diapers did not perform well enough in our testing relative to other eco/health brands to justify the higher price. Both BAMBO Nature and Nature Babycare scored higher overall, and both were higher in the key metric of absorption. In addition, they both scored better in the eco/health; metrics that green diapers should excel in. Both are significantly cheaper than Honest. This diaper wasn’t bad, it did rank 5 out of 24 in our tests, a bump up from last year, but its high price still makes us shy away from recommending this diaper. It just isn’t as good as diapers that are cheaper.
Other Pretty Important Information
A History of Misleading Marketing Claims
Last, we found the Honest Company's previous marketing to be misleading when it came to describing their product's inclusion of synthetic materials. Which led us to wonder how honest they are really being.
Synthetic Chemical Free, Ummm, Not Really
While company co-founder Christopher Gavigan told us the Honest Diaper is 80% plant-based,the most prominent page of the website (on Jan 18, 2013) about the Diaper Bundle described the product as "100%… plant based" and not exposing your baby to any "synthetic chemicals (ever!)" (see highlighted section of this screen capture from 1/18/13). However, after our previous review of the Honest Company and a conference call with the one of its founders where they openly admitted to their use of petroleum-based SAP when we inquired for details, the website now clearly states it does have some sodium polyacrylate (SAP) or less SAP for absorbency, just like conventional diapers. We don't know how the diapers can simultaneously include the petroleum-based chemical SAP as a key ingredient and also be 100% free of synthetic chemicals, however, we do appreciate the changes they have made to the description of their product and the effort to be more transparent.
Is SAP a Skin Irritant?
In a section on the Honest Company website titled, "What's Inside", the company was highly critical of competing diapers use of SAP in their absorbent core, previously stating "sodium polyacrylate (SAP) is the main component of those absorbent gel crystals found in many diapers and it can be a skin irritant." They mocked competing diaper companies for including SAP by stating, "Great idea to use it in something that's in direct contact with infant skin 24x7, right?" This was not very honest in our opinion, since Honest Diapers also includes SAP as a key ingredient in their absorbent core.
In contrast to their comments about SAP causing skin irritation when criticizing competitors' use of it, when talking about their own use of SAP in their diaper's core, Honest Company states, "[SAP has] been rigorously tested and found to be safe and non-toxic." In reply to our inquiries about their use of SAP, the company's Senior Product Manager said, in justifying their use a petroleum-based chemical in the diaper, "no one's going to use a diaper if it doesn't work!"
Honest claims to use a blend of plant-based absorbers and "reduced" petroleum-based SAP, but refused to answer BabyGearLab's request that they quantify the amount of synthetic petro-chemical SAP included in their diapers relative to competing brands. However, we are encouraged that the truly misleading propaganda, and contradicting statements, on their website have either been removed or altered to be a little more honest.
Is Putting a Petro-chemical in a Diaper "Earth Friendly"?
Similarly, the company's other co-founder, Jessica Alba, described in the April 2012 issue of Parenting Magazine her disappointment in learning that "some so-called 'earth-friendly'" brands of diapers include petroleum-based chemicals as ingredients. Describing a brown diaper she used on her own baby, she said in Parenting, "But then I found out that the inside of the diaper had that same petroleum-based stuff in it that other diapers had." She failed to disclose in the interview that her own Honest Diapers also include petroleum-based stuff inside their diaper. We feel that kind of omission is deceptive, and likely leads consumers into believing that Honest Diapers don't have any petroleum-based chemicals inside.
We asked Honest Company if Jessica could provide clarification about her comments in Parenting, and whether she was aware at the time of the interview that Honest Diapers include a petroleum-based chemical as a key ingredient. In her reply to BabyGearLab she said, "It's really difficult in quick interviews to get into all the nuances of product design and the science behind each ingredient. I've learned it's best to keep things simple. I am well aware our diapers contain a small amount of SAP and never meant to imply otherwise. Also, while I'd prefer everything to be totally petrochemical-free for ecological reasons, everything has to be balanced with effectiveness too." We believe as a founder and celebrity endorser of the Honest Diaper, Jessica has a legal responsibility to be careful to avoid misleading consumers in her widely viewed promotional interviews and public relations on behalf of the company. The FTC guidelines for celebrity endorsers make it clear that, "both advertisers and endorsers may be liable for false or unsubstantiated claims made in an endorsement."
How Do You Define, Honest?
We feel the company makes an interesting product, but the history of their misleading marketing both on the website, and by celebrity co-founder Jessica Alba, are a distraction from their product's genuine integrity and only serve to somewhat undermine the sense of trust and ethics so emphasized in the company philosophy and name.
While we are not very familiar with the details of the FTC's Section 5: Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices (pdf) guidelines, we have to wonder if the company has crossed an ethical and perhaps a legal line in their previous marketing statements. To us, the statements were misleading, and we see consumers posting on the web that are [mistakenly] convinced that the Honest Diaper is free of petroleum-based chemicals as evidence that consumer confusion exists. After contacting the company to express our concerns, we have seen very positive revisions to their website and packaging. We hope we continue to see this trend toward being honest from The Honest Company.
Editors Note: Our original review of Honest Company diapers was published on Oct 31, 2012. We updated the review in January 2013 following an email dialogue with Honest Company and subsequent phone interview with Honest Company co-founder Christopher Gavigan. This review, updated May 2014, is our third significant third update of the Honest Company diaper that includes new test results of their updated product.
— Juliet Spurrier, MD and BabyGearLab Review Team
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Most recent user review: July 24, 2014
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