Green Diapers vs. Traditional: What's the Best Choice?

by Juliet Spurrier, MD and Nikki B. Strait
Tuesday January 8, 2013 5:35pm
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Is it worth the cost to consider green diapers? We put ourselves on a mission to find out.
The following analysis is based on test results from our review: Battle for the Best Disposable Diapers.

If you’re like most moms you probably know that eco-friendly, or “green” disposable diapers are on average more expensive than, let’s say Pampers or Huggies, and you’re wondering if they’re really worth the additional cost. Which performs better?
  • Do traditional diapers, with their freedom to use more synthetic materials, have a performance advantage over green diapers when it comes to absorbency and other metrics?

BabyGearLab took this critical issue head on, using the data from our comprehensive testing and review of 20 top disposable diapers, because frankly, there’s no way any mom would have time to do the extensive tests herself. And what we found really shocked us.

What Makes a Green Diaper Green?
We divided up the 20 diapers we tested into two groups: green and not. So what makes a diaper green? The key characteristic common to the green diapers was a preference for environmentally friendlier and/or healthier materials such as:
  • Chlorine-free
  • Perfume-free
  • Dye-free
  • (partially) biodegradable

Absorbency Performance Comparison
What do you really want from a diaper? To keep your baby dry, healthy and happy, right? So, we thoroughly tested the green diapers versus traditional diapers on absorbency (to learn more about our methods, you can read our article, “How We Tested Disposable Diapers”), and this is what we learned: on average, green disposable diapers were more absorbent than traditional disposable diapers. Yes, you read that right. And by almost 30%.

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We were surprised to find Green diapers outperforming traditional diapers by a wide margin in our absorbency tests. (Click on the chart to enlarge.)
Credit: BabyGearLab

This really surprised us, because we expected the more synthetic diapers to have a performance advantage on absorbency. But, what we found was the opposite.

The two top absorbing diapers were both green, BAMBO Nature and Attitude Eco-Friendly Diapers, both of which scored perfect 10s in their absorbency performance tests. In contrast, Pampers Swaddlers and Pampers Swaddlers Sensitive diapers were the top two traditional diapers in absorbency, and they scored a 9 and 8, respectively, coming in at fourth and fifth place.

On average and individually, green diapers outperformed traditional diapers on absorbency.

Leakage and Fit Tests
Well, there’s more to a diaper than absorbency. Like Leakage and fit. You want your baby’s diaper to not only absorb the pee, but make sure that it fits well enough to keep the poo in there, too. So, how do green diapers stack up on leakage and fit? Again, the answer surprised us.

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Green diapers outperformed traditional disposable diapers in our Fit and Leakage tests.
Credit: BabyGearLab

On average, green diapers scored higher than traditional diapers on leakage and fit, by almost 20%. In fact, the #1 and #2 best-performing diapers in our leakage and fit tests, were two green diapers: Earth’s Best Tender Care and BAMBO Nature, both of which scored 9 of 10. In comparison, Pampers Swaddlers and Pampers Swaddlers Sensitive were the top performing traditional diapers; both scored 8s, and came in third and fourth place respectively.

The green diapers were on average and individually, better fitting and therefore better at controlling leakage.

Comfort Test Comparison
Comfort is a key factor in diaper performance, and we frankly didn't have an intuition as to whether green or traditional diapers would have the upper hand here. In some sense, the marketing of green diapers such as Huggies Pure and Natural, emphasizing "organic cotton" leaves us expecting higher comfort, and indeed Green diapers on average earned significantly higher scores on comfort, but not so Huggies Pure and Natural which finished 11th place on comfort (and really isn't all that green from our point of view).

Once again, green diapers dominated.

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Green diapers tended to use higher quality materials, which contributed to higher average scores on comfort compared to traditional disposable diapers
Credit: BabyGearLab

The top 3 green diapers, all scoring 9s in the comfort category, outperformed the top 3 traditional diapers, which all scored 8s in the comfort category. And, on average, too: with the green diapers scoring an average 7.9 compared to traditional diapers’ 6.2, green diapers were on average 20% more comfortable than traditional diapers.

On average and individually, green diapers were more comfortable and softer than traditional diapers.

Price Comparison
Looking at retail prices we calculated the average price of a green diaper (on a per diaper basis) at $0.40, while a traditional diaper averaged at $0.22, which makes the green diapers on average 44% more expensive than traditional diapers. Whoa! That is a real difference, and something to really consider.

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Green diapers cost significantly more on average than traditional disposable diapers, but the top choices are relatively close.
Credit: BabyGearLab

Green Diaper Prices Vary Considerably
But there is a great range here, too. The difference between the most expensive green diaper and the least expensive green diaper is considerable, ranging from $0.27 to $0.55.

The difference between the most expensive traditional diaper and the least expensive is less dramatic, ranging from $0.14 to $0.31.

Is 3 Cents More Too Much to Pay?
Herein lies the good news: one of the top performing green diapers, which is also BabyGearLab’s Editors’ Choice (Earth’s Best Tender Care) is only $0.03 more expensive per diaper than the #1 traditional diaper (Pamper’s Swaddlers). Our feeling is that 3 cents premium, which works out to less than $5/month, will be worth it for most people, due to the combination of better performance and reduced risk of health issues.

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Pampers Swaddlers was the top performing traditional diaper in our tests, but Earth's Best performed even better overall, is a green diaper, and costs only 3 cents more. We think the additional cost is justified for what you get.
Credit: BabyGearLab

Our Conclusion: Go Green
Based on all the information provided above, we believe it’s much better to be go green, since green disposable diapers outperformed disposable diapers on every metric except price.
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This price vs value chart displays both price per diaper and our overall performance scores. This view provides an interesting look at disposable diapers.
Credit: BabyGearLab

Even on price, the Earth's Best diaper is very similarly priced to Pampers Swaddlers, yet offered significantly better performance overall. Our recommendations:
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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
  • If you are currently using (or are planning to use) Pampers or Cuties and that’s working within your budget, switch to (or use) Earth’s Best Tender Care.
  • If you are currently using (or planning to use) a green diaper and cost is not an issue for you, please do us all a favor and switch to (or use) BAMBO Nature or Attitude because both are top performers, and offer increased biodegradability.
  • If you are currently using (or are planning to use) any other traditional diaper because of its lower price, switch to Target’s Up & Up which offers many green characteristics at a great price (more on this below).

Click here for a side-by-side comparison chart:
Halfway to Green: Target's Up & Up
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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
There’s also another disposable diaper worth considering in the context of green versus traditional diapers. And that’s our Best Value winner, the Up & Up Target brand disposable diaper. What we discovered was, while it’s marketed as a traditional diaper (with no advertising using words like “green” or “natural”), it actually works more like a “green” diaper than a traditional one. It’s latex-free, chlorine-free, and perfume-free. And it’s just $0.14 per diaper, the least expensive diaper in the entire group.

The Up & Up also received a 7 in absorbency, a 7 in fit/leakage, and an 8 in comfort, with an overall score of 69 including the eco-health rating, and a 61.5 score excluding the eco-health rating, making it the 3rd best traditional diaper, just below Pampers. And even more impressive is that the Up & Up diaper performed just about average if compared only within the green diaper group.

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Juliet Spurrier, MD
About the Author
Dr. Juliet Baciocco Spurrier is a board certified pediatrician, mother of two, and founder of BabyGearLab. Juliet earned her Bachelor of Arts degrees in Anthropology and Italian Literature from the University of California at Berkeley and her Medical degree from Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington DC. She completed her pediatric residency at the Doernbecher Children's Hospital at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, OR, and subsequently practiced pediatrics in both the Pacific Northwest and Silicon Valley. Juliet serves as Mom-in-Chief at BabyGearLab, where she oversees all baby product review activity, assuring that each review delivers on our commitment to quality.

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Lenea · Mother of one  Feb 28, 2013
10:14am PT
Hi, this is Halley's sister! This was a great article, your site is so informative and helpful when trying to find good, safe baby products! Thank you!
LGmommy · Kenilworth, N.J.  Aug 1, 2013
12:26pm PT
This is a great resource. I would love to see BJ's Generation Earth diapers tested as well. I tried them and had a few overnight leaks but the price is great (.18 per diaper) and they fit nicely. I would love to see how a more affordable alternative compares to the top green diapers,
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