All babies need diapers, what to do with the dirty diaper is the question you'll need to answer pretty quickly. While some parents choose to place them in a disposable bag and take the diapers directly to the trash, this solution won't work for every family. A diaper pail can be a convenient day-to-day solution for keeping the smell down, and the poop contained. Critical factors in a great diaper pail are stink containment and ease of use. We researched and tested the most popular diaper pail options to discover all of the sordid smelly details. With differences in odor control, bag changing challenges, and the continuing cost of ownership, each pail has pros and cons to consider. Find out which containment choice will work best for your needs by reading on.
The Search for the Best Diaper Pail
The Munchkin Step is a newly designed pail with features intended to limit escaping odors and to keep smells to a minimum. The pail is a step-to-open design with only one hand required for diaper deposits. It comes with a baking soda insert lid for odor-fighting and a lavender scented bag refill ring that stays sealed when you open the door to limit the blasts of stench that can happen with each new deposit. If smell free isn't cool enough, Munchkin plants a tree with every purchase. You can feel good doing something for the environment while you limit odors.
The twisting action that keeps odors trapped when you close the lid can fail as the pail gets full and the plastic container can absorb odors over time. This container also requires proprietary bags which means you'll continue to invest in this diaper system for your diapering lifetime which adds to the already high cost of the initial purchase. The lavender scented bags and lid insert can be overwhelming. Nevertheless, parents like the twist seal action and the ability to remove only a portion of the bag whenever you want to empty the pail. So if you want a triple threat against odors, and don't mind investing more money over time, then the Munchkin is a perfect choice for you.
Read review: Munchkin Step
The Playtex Diaper Genie Expressions is functionally similar to the Diaper Genie Complete with a proprietary refill system and an odor trapping design with each fresh deposit. The main difference is the visual design and the ability to add a fabric covers (sold separately) in a variety of design options to cover the outside of the pail. This cover makes the ordinary diaper depot more nursery-friendly and arguably less of a nursery eyesore. The Diaper Genie lineup has always fared well in our tests for containing odors, and this unit continues that legacy by offering nearly best-in-class odor containment, although it is bested today by the Munchkin.
This pail lacks a foot pedal. While this isn't necessarily a deal breaker, it is something to keep in mind. You will need to purchase the refill rings to use the pail, which increases your lifetime investment over the competition that works with regular trash bags. However, we feel this is a no-brainer given the Genie bag's superior odor control. If you are looking for an easy to use, yet stylish pail that keeps odors where they belong, we think you'll like the Diaper Genie Expressions.
Read review: Playtex Diaper Genie Expressions
The Tommee Tippee Simplee prides itself on being small and able to fit anywhere. With a capacity of 18 newborn diapers, this could be a good fit for apartments or parents looking to hide the pail under a cabinet or in a closet. The Simplee comes with a color lid in your choice of 3 colors, and it has a proprietary bag with a multilayer system designed to help control odors. As our least expensive pail, it's a great choice for the budget-minded shopper or those with limited space.
While this pail may be a good fit for newborns, it doesn't hold that many diapers and as baby grows the number of diapers it holds will decrease. We believe this limitation makes it less appealing for parents who don't want to change the bag every single day. Although it was not our experience, some users note that the lid can be difficult to open. You will need to push the diaper all the way past the smart seal lid to avoid problems which is not always pleasant if you have an especially messy diaper. The blade located inside the lid is not the most user-friendly. It was not very sharp, and you have to remove the lid to use it. However, if you are looking for a space-saving pail and plan to change the bag daily to keep nursery smells to a minimum, then the Tommee Tippee could be the right choice for your family.
Read review: Tommee Tippee Simplee
simplehuman 38 Liter Rectangular Step Can is a great large capacity solution for storing dirty cloth diapers until they are ready for the wash. We recommend using a cloth diaper pail liner inside the simple human plastic bin liner for ease of maintenance. Liners like the Kanga Care Cloth Diaper Pail Liner and the Planet Wise Diaper Pail Liner can be tossed into the wash along with the cloth diapers, so you should have at least two of them in the rotation to prevent frustration of holding a dirty diaper with nowhere to go. Because it is essential with cloth diapers to flush solids down the toilet before putting them in the dirty bin, the liner shouldn't get too gross. The exception is exclusively breastfed stools which will wash out easily in the washing machine and don't stink like formula or solid-fed stools do. This trash can has a step pedal to open the lid truly hands free, and the lid design makes it difficult to open without the pedal which helps deter curious dogs and toddlers from getting inside. We also really appreciate silently closing lid with their patented lid "Shox" technology.
While we like that this pail can transition to your kitchen trash can, there is going to be a significant upfront cost making it a poor choice for parents on a tight budget. It is by far the most expensive option we tested but we think the quality and ability for long-term use balances out the cost. While the can will last for years, there are reports of the plastic lid cracking over time, making the more expensive steel lid a good choice if your wallet allows. Overall, this can is an ideal choice for cloth diapering families who don't mind a long-term investment that lasts for years.
Read review: simplehuman 38 Liter Rectangular Step Can
Planet Wise Hanging Wet/Dry Bag is a super convenient and versatile bag that is perfect for cloth diapers. It has a handle on the top for hanging, and we love that it saves floor space making it a great option for traveling. The exterior of the bag is 100% cotton and feels like a light canvas material. The interior uses "non-toxic water repellent" and is "made with a high-quality polyurethane laminate (PUL) inner that is anti-microbial and inhibits the growth of bacteria and fungi." The interior lining of the bag does not contain any holes from sewing the seam shut, sealing the lining and making it fully waterproof. These bags are machine washable and can remain water resistant for over 100 washes, which is very cool given how often you'll be washing it. Just be sure to follow the manufacturer's directions for washing to get the most life out of your bag.
While we love how lightweight and convenient this bag is, the cloth is going to wear over time, especially with excessive washing. The exterior and interior fabric are not connected which has caused some issues. While it was not our experience, some users report that the upper seam near the zipper can separate and allow moisture to develop between the lining and fabric and the zipper occasionally breaks. Planet Wise offers a 100% 60-day warranty, so act fast if you receive a faulty bag or need a replacement for any reason. Also, while it does a decent job of containing odors, it does not have a trap and lock system found on some of the competition. Overall, if you want an alternative option for your cloth diapers, this is an excellent choice to consider seriously.
Read review: Planet Wise Hanging Wet/Dry Bag
The Ubbi is the only non-plastic dedicated diaper pail in this roundup of competitors, which means it doesn't absorb or retain odors over time (woohoo!). The Ubbi comes in a variety of fun colors, and the diaper dumping hole is large enough for most diapers. This pail is designed with a rubber seal to contain odors when closed, and you can use any bag making it easy to keep replacements on hand. The opening can lock closed which prevents little ones from exploring the contents or adding toys to the mix, which happens more often than you'd expect (yikes!).
Unfortunately, this pail has a hard to use design, and the opening doesn't have any features for smell containment when making a new deposit resulting in more than a poof of stink every time you toss in a diaper. Despite the escaping odors, it is steel and many parents will appreciate the sturdy design, odor resistant materials, and locking lid.
Read review: Ubbi Diaper Pail
For those who balk at the thought of spending over $335 in total cost of ownership on the Diaper Genie Complete, the Diaper Champ Deluxe is an option worth considering. While the Diaper Champ offers proprietary bags (with an estimated $180 in total lifetime cost), it also works well with normal kitchen trash bags which helps keep costs lower over time and is more convenient. The total cost of ownership over four years will be about $92 using kitchen bags (assuming an average of 215 bags for about $53), which saves between $145 and $243 over four years using the Diaper Genie. We like the design and function of the Diaper Champ and find it is easy to use and change bags.
This pail's design means diapers can get stuck in the rotating the cup when the bag is fuller, and a whiff of noxious fumes can escape with each new deposit. Also, the pail fails to contain odors as well as much of the competition when changing bags. Changing the bag more frequently can help mitigate the smell and diaper sticking, and many parents feel the savings is worth the small drawbacks. We recommend investing in extra-thick, scented bags to minimize the pail absorbing stinky odors. Although this system is a value-oriented solution, it doesn't address odor control well which cost it the Best Value award. However, it does a good job and makes a budget-friendly solution for families that don't want the hassle or added expense of buying specific bags. If you go this route, you'll want to keep an eye on little ones who might find the rotating cup an irresistible plaything for making toys magically disappear.
Read review: Baby Trend Diaper Champ Deluxe
Not Recommended: Flawed Clamp System
Playtex Diaper Genie Complete
The Diaper Genie Complete is the newest Diaper Genie addition and is similar to the older Elite with a foot pedal that lifts the cover. Our main complaint is the newly designed clamp system that seems to retain a large load in its upper vestibule instead of depositing it into its main trash compartment. The result? Reopening the upper door to see if the diaper has fallen through, and when it hasn't, manually pushing it through by hand (gross). We believe this is a big fail. Yes, it is larger than the Expressions, has a foot pedal for one-handed disposal and comes with one full-size refill, but that is where the benefits end. The clamp system does an okay job of preventing the stink from escaping when it works and its signature unscented proprietary liner with 7-layers contains smells well. But, as the system ages, the plastic will begin to retain some odors, and you'll need to continually pony up for the proprietary refills to keep the signature Genie system going which means a higher longterm cost of ownership than competitors. There have also been multiple reports of the system breaking down, whether after one month of use or 3 years. So, be prepared a possible replacement. Overall, we think there are better Diaper Genies to consider and think parents should avoid the poorly designed clamp system in favor of a better design.
Not Recommended: Outdated & Cumbersome
The Diaper Dekor Plus is a hands-free pail with a step-to-open, lockable lid that prevents the need for digging for toddler toys amongst the dirty diapers. The interior has a trap door that should contain odors when you make a deposit, but it releases a poof of eye-watering stink which isn't pleasant multiple times a day. While the door helps keep the majority of the odor contained when not in use, it isn't smell-free. This pail is large, making it a clunky and cumbersome addition to the nursery. And, while the large capacity may be appealing, the horrible stench that builds inside means you'll need to empty it frequently (before it gets full) to keep smells under control, thus negating the capacity benefit. The brand-specific bags have an overpowering powdery fragrance that does not help the diaper disposal stink poof, and they are challenging to install. The bags will also increase your lifetime investment and they are hard to find, so you'll probably need to order them online and keep a few on hand to avoid running out. You can theoretically use the Dekor as a trash can after the diaper years, but the plastic interior will probably absorb too much poop smell to make it a useful candidate. We believe the overall look of this pail is satisfactory, but despite being a color-coordinated pail with locking lid, we think there are nicer options available that contain smells better, are easier to use, and have a lower initial price and lifetime investment.
Read review: Dekor Plus
Why Use a Specially Designed Diaper Pail?
A special pail for diapers can provide significant odor containment advantages over a standard kitchen trash can. These products are designed to tightly seal in the odors created by dirty diapers in a way that typical trash cans are not. However, merely sealing the pail tight isn't enough. Just as important to smell containment is what happens when you open and close the container to make a deposit. The best products provide a mechanism for inserting a dirty diaper that minimizes the stinky smell that escapes during use. Also, the best receptacles have a design that makes it easy to change a full bag without experiencing excessive odors.
How We Evaluated
Diapers are stinky and finding a way to dispose of them while keeping odor at a minimum is crucial to a pleasant smelling nursery. We spent over 100 hours researching and testing various diaper pails to find out which options are the best. Because all of the bins can hold diapers, the ease of use, day-to-day smell, and bag changing factors all play a role in determining each pails rank.
Whether you are diapering your first child or your fifth, you need to find an appropriate way to dispose of those dirty diapers. We believe containing odor is a top priority in your search to find a suitable pail. Because odor issues are the top concerns parents have when making a pail purchase decision, we put more weight on the bin's ability to control odors than any other factor. Even in our tests for ease of changing the pail's bag, differences in the overall smell involved is key.
We find that all of the products did a pretty good job managing odors when not making a deposit. Each pail stays relatively tightly sealed when closed by using either an inner bag seal or a limited opening feature. We only experienced minor differences in odor coming from closed pails that were not disturbed for hours, meaning the competition is pretty close when it comes to the odor control for a closed pail. However, the differences between the competition are more obvious when the pails are opened and closed to put dirty diapers inside, an activity you will be doing every few hours.
Despite various innovative designs to minimize the odors released when placing a diaper in the pail, the stinky whiff coming your way with an open door occurs with every product. The level of stink when making a fresh deposit varies from a mild poof to a nasty blast and is an expected byproduct of housing baby's waste in one receptacle for an extended period. The stink bomb cloud can linger for a significant period and become a nasal buzz kill on your newborn bliss, which is why this is where the competition gets heated. The pails with the least amount of escaping stink won over our noses and minds because the options that fail to contain the stench were so offensive we'd pay just about anything to avoid smelling them multiple times a day.
Several of the products offer an open/close system designed to limit the amount of odor that escapes with each new offering. The Diaper Champ Deluxe has a rotating chamber that seals most of the smell inside. Diaper Genies twist the interior bag trapping odors and they have a clamp to prevent a lot of stench from escaping. The Munchkin Step has a similar twisting bag. The Diaper Dekor has what the company calls a "Magik™ trap door" that auto-seals after you drop in the diaper. The Ubbi has an open hole that allows smells to waft out as long as the door is open. However, Ubbi is the only non-plastic (powder-coated steel) option which should prevent the absorption of excessive odor over time, so it may be a trade-off depending on your tolerance for smells and quickness making deposits.So what else can you do to combat those nasty diaper odors? We find the following tips to be helpful, starting with the most obvious.
- One way to not have to deal with nasty blasts of stench involves not disposing of poopy diapers inside the pail, but instead taking them outside immediately or depositing the contents into the toilet first.
- Emptying your container daily will help you avoid a build-up of diapers, and therefore, the stink.
- At the end of each day, spray a disinfectant spray (whether a store bought brand or a homemade vinegar spray) into the pail.
- Baking soda does wonders for odor control, as it is a natural deodorizer. It is helpful to sprinkle a bit (or you can place a whole box) at the bottom of the pail after each bag change.
- It can be helpful to combat the odor with other, more preferential, smells. Dryer sheets or coffee grounds do a decent job of combating the stink. Essential oils can also be helpful. Adding 5-10 drops of eucalyptus, lavender or melaleuca (tea tree) oil to a cotton ball and placing at the bottom of the pail can also provide some relief.
- Finally, wash your pail out every so often with hot water and soap, and let dry in the sun.
Diaper Pail Buying Advice
Choosing a diaper pail might feel like one of the more mundane or boring items you will purchase for your baby, but given its daily use and impact on the smell of your nursery and house, it won't be long before you realize it is one of the more important baby gear decisions.
Types of Diaper Pails
Diaper dumpsters come in two main varieties, those that only work with proprietary bags (bags made specifically for that pail) and those that can work with regular kitchen bags (though a minority will work with both). Outside of the bag style that each pail accepts, the remaining differences include whether or not they offer an odor reduction feature or a diaper deposit method that seals odor into the bag, so your senses aren't assaulted each time you drop a stink bomb inside. Some things to keep in mind are the lifetime cost of owning the pail (including the purchase of bags and odor fighting features) and which features are most important to you given how often you plan to change it or where you want to store it.
We think the most important factors to consider when buying a diaper pail are the following:
- Odor Control — how well does the pail contain the odor of stinky diapers? This control includes sitting there doing nothing and when you make a dirty diaper deposit.
- Ease of Diaper Disposal — how simple is it to dispose of a dirty diaper with one hand, with a baby in the other?
- Ease of Bag Change — how straightforward is it to change a full bag of dirty diapers, and does the process create vomit inducing odors or spilling?
- Total Cost of Ownership — what is the estimated total cost of owning and using the pail over the expected life of the product, including replacement diaper bag refills? Those with proprietary bags often cost more over time, though the advanced odor protection of some may make this additional cost worthwhile.
We attempt to address each of these factors to determine the very best pails on the market. We placed the highest importance on odor control because we consider that to be the essential purpose of a diaper pail and the main reason parents purchase one.
- Rinse poop off of the diaper and into the toilet before placing in the pail. This prevents adding bio-waste to the landfill and decreases the overall smell.
- Roll the diaper up tightly into a ball and attach adhesive tabs to keep it rolled before putting it into the pail.
- Change the bag at least every 2 to 3 days to keep smells at bay.
- Wash the pail with warm soapy water regularly. Dry pail.
- If smells persist, try open drying in the sunlight for UV assistance killing bacteria that cause odors.
Ease of Disposal
Ease of disposal is how easy it is to dispose of a single diaper using one hand. A few of the products offer a foot action pedal to open doors for disposal, and while these are nice, they aren't necessarily more straightforward to use than the products that are hand only operation. In the end, the significant differences include the amount of odor that escapes with each deposit and the tendency for diapers to get hung up or need assistance from another hand to get the job done.
The hands-free Diaper Genies work relatively well even when the bags are full. The Diaper Champ Deluxe is easy to use at first, but struggles as the bags become fuller and diapers can get stuck as the cup rotated. While not a deal breaker, it does mean that the bag will need changing more frequently or you can shake the whole pail to distribute the diapers more evenly. The Ubbi suffers from the release of odor with each new diaper drop, and the sliding door needs some downward pressure to get the door to open; if you use the child lock, you might find the whole operation is more manageable with two hands, not one. The Munchkin Step is a step open, but the bag twists after each use to trap odors and can make it harder to get a new diaper inside. The trap door on the Dekor worked well until the bag started getting full, and it "relaxes" over time resulting in more odor escaping with each new diaper and lack of full closure on the interior door. The Tommee Tippee Simplee Diaper Pail requires pushing the diaper thru a trap door inside the pail under the main door. That means touching the inside of the bag, and if there is any spillage from the previous diaper you'll be encountering that too! Ewww! The simplehuman 38 Liter Rectangular Step Can has a nice foot pedal that releases the lid so you can drop your cloth diaper inside. The Planet Wise Hanging Wet/Dry Bag utilizes a simple zipper to open and shut, but you aren't likely to manage this with only one hand.
Ease of Bag Change
Changing diaper pail bags is never a fun experience. It is something that you want to complete quickly and efficiently before the noxious odors take you out. It is essential to consider this as it is something you will be doing multiple times a week for a few years.
Several of the pails, such as the Playtex Diaper Genie Expressions, the Munchkin Step, and the Tommee Tippee Simplee, offer an integrated blade inside the can to cut the bag where needed. This is convenient as you can empty the pail as often as you like without worry of wasting bag space. However, not all of the systems are created equally. The Simplee was a bit more difficult than the others because you have to completely remove the lid and hold it while trying to cut the bag. The Step and Expressions allow the lid to stay open on a hinge while feeding the bag through the blade to release it. With the proprietary system, all three make it easy after the bag has been removed to get a new bag ready. All you have to do is pull extra bag out, tie a knot at the end and you are ready to go!
The systems that allow you to use a regular trash bag, like the simplehuman 38 Liter Rectangular Step Can, Ubbi, and Diaper Champ Deluxe, means emptying dirty diapers will be more like a typical trash can. You will need to remove the entire bag, regardless of how full it is, when you are ready to take the stink outside. Replacing the bag on the simplehuman, whether using a reusable fabric bag or plastic trash bag, was the easiest as it the same as changing out a trash bag and securing it around the edges. While the Ubbi and Deluxe are not difficult, there are more steps involved because of the unique designs inside the lid to get it fastened.
Buying a pail is not the end of the story when it comes to cost, but how much extra cost is involved depends on the product and how you use it. We made calculations based on manufacturer claims and our personal experience of how many diapers fit in each bag or refill and we did a cost analysis of the lifetime cost of owning each product based on the same number of diapers used with each unit. The Munchkin Step is not only a top performer but is fairly affordable. It does use a proprietary system, making the lifetime cost just above $200. The Diaper Genies earned the top scores in our tests for odor control, but they are the most expensive models to own over the course of your child's diaper wearing years. The average cost of ownership is somewhere over $300. However, because this product tends to control odors better than the competition it may make the cost of ownership worthwhile for you. If cost is a concern and the idea of buying special bags for diapers has you cringing, you might consider the Diaper Champ Deluxe. While not as good at containing odors, you can use this pail with ordinary 13-gallon kitchen trash bags, which will save you money over time with a lifetime cost closer to $92. If you do not want to invest any more money beyond the container, the Planet Wise Hanging Wet/Dry Bag is the way to go. The ability to wash the bag and not use any type of disposal bag system could save you a couple hundred dollars overall.
We find that parents become quite passionate about their diaper disposal system with lots of reasons why they love or loathe them. The key to happiness is keeping realistic expectations, changing bags often, and remembering that poop is poop, and it smells like poop (surprise!). We believe our hands-on tests and research are some of the most comprehensive ever done to determine how well each pail does its job. The products we like best fight odor and are easy to use. If they work with any old bag that is a bonus too, but in the end, if getting good odor protection means a proprietary bag, it didn't count against the pail. If you are ready for a diapering lifetime investment (including the continued purchase of bags and odor features) and you are committed to managing odor, then the pails with special bags manage odor better than the competition. If you are more concerned about keeping lifetime costs low and you don't mind a little waft of odor with each deposit, then you are likely to be happy with the Diaper Champ Deluxe or similar simple pails that work with any bag of appropriate size.
— Juliet Spurrier, MD & BabyGearLab Team