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

Is it worth the cost to consider green diapers? We put ourselves on a mission to find out.
Article By:
Juliet Spurrier, MD and BabyGearLab Team

Last Updated:
Friday
February 13, 2015
The following analysis is based on test results from our review: Battle for the Best Disposable Diapers.

If you're like most parents 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. Do you sacrifice performance for a clearer conscious? Which type 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 24 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 (no, really, it did).

You may also be interested in reading our related article titled, Cloth Diapers vs. Disposables: How and what to choose?

What Makes a Green Diaper Green?


We divided up the 24 diapers we tested into two groups: 11 green and 13 traditional. 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
  • Latex-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"). After all our testing was complete (whew) we had learned that on average, green disposable diapers were more absorbent than traditional disposable diapers. Yes, you read that right! Whats more, they beat the pants off the traditional diapers by almost 30%!

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

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

The two top absorbing diapers were both green, BAMBO Nature and Nature Babycare Eco-Friendly Diapers, which scored a 9 and 10 out of 10 respectfully. In contrast, Pampers Swaddlers and Pampers Swaddlers Sensitive were the top two traditional diapers in absorbency, coming in at fourth place they both scored an 8.

Winner


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

Leakage and Fit Tests


But, there is more to a diaper than absorbency; like leaking 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 for leakage and fit? Again, the answer surprised us. Well, truth be told, this is our second year doing this review, so we weren't totally surprised.

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

On average, green diapers scored higher than traditional diapers on leak and fit, by almost 20%. In fact, the #1 and #2 best-performing diapers in our leak tests, were two green diapers: Earth's Best Tender Care and Broody Chick, which scored a 9 and 8 out of 10. In comparison,the top performing traditional diapers, Pampers Swaddlers Sensitive and Pure 'n Gentle Ultra both scored a 6 of 10.

Winner


The green diapers were on average, and individually, better at controlling leaks.

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 & Natural, emphasizing "organic cotton" left us expecting higher comfort, and indeed green diapers, on average, earned higher scores on comfort. However, in all fairness, out of all the metrics this one really didn't have a clear favorite green or traditional. Representatives from each were scattered throughout the top 10.

Last year our review indicated green diapers as a clear winner. This year the results weren't so cut and dry.

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

The top 3 diapers for comfort included 2 green and 1 traditional diaper. Babyganics and Andy Pandy secured the top spots with a 9 and 8 out of 10 respectfully and Walmart's White Cloud rounded out the top 2 tying with Andy Pandy and recieving an 8. The next 3 highest ranking diapers for comfort included 1 traditional and 2 green again. Huggies Little Snugglers, Babmbo Nature, and Pure & Natural (though we feel this diaper is only pseudo-green) scored 7, 8, and 6 respectfully; sprinkling the top 6 with a mix of both diaper types. And, with the green diapers scoring an overall average of 5.3 compared to traditional diapers' overall 4.7, also seem to support a slight favor to the green but not an overwhelming win.

Winner


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

Price Comparison


Looking at retail prices we calculated the average price of a green diaper (on a per diaper basis) at $0.35, while a traditional diaper averaged at $0.22, which makes the green diapers on average 16% more expensive than traditional diapers. While that is a significant difference, and something to consider, it is less of a difference than last year. Depending on your budget, many green diapers are reasonably priced.

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

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 $0.32 to $0.65.

The difference between the most expensive traditional diaper and the least expensive is about the same, ranging from $0.14 to $0.33.

Is 2 Cents More Too Much to Pay?


Herein lies the good news: one of the top performing green diapers, which is also one of BabyGearLab's Best Value award winners(Earth's Best Tender Care) is only a few cents more expensive per diaper than the #1 traditional diaper (Pamper's Swaddlers). Our feeling is that a few cents, which works out to less than $5/month. Add to the price a better performance and reduced risk of health issues and we think a little extra per diaper will be worth it for most people.

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.
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.

Our Conclusion: Go Green


Based on all the information provided above (and in companion articles), we believe it's much better to go green. Green disposable diapers outperformed disposable diapers on just about every metric except price.
This price vs value chart displays both price per diaper and our overall performance scores. This view provides an interesting look at disposable diapers.
This price vs value chart displays both price per diaper and our overall performance scores. This view provides an interesting look at disposable diapers.

However, even on price the Earth's Best Tender Care are very similarly priced to Pampers Swaddlers, and offered significantly better performance overall. Our recommendations:
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.
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.
  • If you are currently using (or are planning to use) Pampers or Huggies varieties, 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 Cuties which offers a good performing diaper for a good price.

Click here for a side-by-side comparison chart:

Dr. Juliet Spurrier is founder and Mom-in-Chief at BabyGearLab
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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