The Best Diaper Pail Review
Which diaper pail is the best? Which offers the best odor control and protects you from getting too intimate with the contents within? We took 6 of the most popular diaper pail containers and put them through a series of stinky side-by-side tests to find out all the stinktastic details. We found big differences in odor control (even those with filters struggled), and we found differences in ease of bag changing (where stink also played a factor). We also looked at total cost of ownership to fairly compare the pails that use regular kitchen trash bags to the models that use their own proprietary refills. Read more below to learn how the diaper dumpsters fared in our tests, how they stacked up in the all-important sniff test, and which options we choose as the best pails on the market.
Read the full review below >
Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Diaper Pail
Diaper Genie Essentials
Diaper Genie Elite that won our award, but their lower cost entry, the Diaper Genie Essentials (formerly known as the Diaper Genie II). More than any other product tested, the Diaper Genie Essentials minimized dirty diaper odors, which earned it top marks. Simple in design and easy-to-use, the Diaper Genie provides a quick drop-in for dirty diapers through a clam-shell shaped flap. You can easily operate it with a baby in one hand and the dirty diaper in the other, despite the fact that it lacks a foot pedal like several competing products (including its more expensive brother).
So, what's the downside? Total cost of ownership. At roughly $35 street price, the Diaper Genie is not expensive at first glance. But, you'll need to add in the cost of enough proprietary refill cartridges for the 5,000 diapers your baby will go through, and we estimate that will add about $280+ in cost to the overall ownership of the pail. That places total cost of ownership at about $335 over four years. Is it worth it? We think so, but you'll want to consider whether the convenience of spending an average of $0.15/day is worth the convenience of avoiding nearly 5,000 trips to the outside garbage can. Overall, this makes the Essentials our Editors' Choice for best diaper pail in our tests.
Read review: Diaper Genie Essentials
Best Bang for the Buck
Diaper Champ Deluxe
Read review: Diaper Champ Deluxe
Diaper Champ vs. Diaper Genie
The Diaper Champ versus Diaper Genie debate has raged on for years between newborn parents, with many parents taking a passionate position on one side or the other. And, while there are a number of other products on the market, such as the Munchkin Arm and Hammer pail and the Ubbi, in our ratings and rankings we came down to the same two finalists many others have debated about. We decided to put the argument to rest by detailing a point-by-point comparison of the two based on our hands-on tests. You'll find those details and our answer in the related article titled, "Diaper Champ versus Diaper Genie Cagematch."
Analysis and Test Results
Choosing a diaper pail might feel like one of the more mundane or boring items you will be purchasing for baby's arrival, but given its daily use and ability to affect the smell of your nursery and adjoining rooms, it won't be long before you realize it is probably one of the more important decisions in the baby gear buying realm. Because odor issues are the top complaint, or compliment, that parents have when making pail purchase decisions, 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 were a key consideration in scoring. Given that pretty much all the bins were able to hold diapers, the ease of use, day-to-day smell, and bag changing factors all played a role in determining the final scores and awards given.
Given that all the pails smell to a certain degree, we suggest you store your diaper pail in a location outside your nursery. No matter which product you choose, there will be some kind of odor associated with it and we feel this odor is best housed in a bathroom or well ventilated area. Baby and baby's nose will thank you.
You'll find full details on the often nasty hands-on (and nose-on) process we used to test pails for diapers in our How We Test section. Needless to say, we are happy that this particular review won't be updated for another year, relieving us of our sniffing duties in the meantime.
Types of Diaper Pails
The two photos above show the proprietary bag of the Diaper Genies (left) and the Diaper Champ with a regular kitchen trash bag (right).
Diaper dumpsters come in two main types, those that only work with proprietary bags (bags made specifically for that pail) and those that can accept ordinary kitchen bags (sometimes in addition to the brand specific bags). Beyond the type of bag that each pail will accept, the remaining differences include whether or not they offer some type of odor reduction filter or a diaper drop in 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 when considering the different options are the lifetime cost of owning the pail (including the purchase of bags) and which features are most important to you given the way you plan on using the pail (how often you plan to change it).
The Straight Poop
Before we dive into the nitty gritty of all things odorous, we thought it wise to give you a little inside knowledge about the lifecycle of diapers and plastic bags full of diapers. Despite the claims that some diapers and proprietary bags for pails are "biodegradable" (Ubbi claims a biodegradable bag) it is highly unlikely that either bag or diaper is going to have the opportunity to break down once they hit the landfill. In fact, it can take over 100 years for a biodegradable diaper to degrade under the best of circumstances exposed to oxygen, weather, and sunlight; it can take far longer when trapped inside a plastic sausage buried under other trash or dirt (ordinary landfill conditions).
There are two things to consider when you think about diapers in the landfill, one is that they are not likely to biodegrade no matter what the diaper is made of or what bag it is sitting in. Second, the poop inside the diaper is technically not supposed to be in there at all. That's right, when you fold up your disposable diaper into a nice tight package with poop tucked safety inside it and place it in the landfill you are in violation of the law. You have contributed a biohazard to the environment that can potentially leach into the water table and cause all kinds of problems. This is at least part of the reason why landfills are required to have an impermeable liner to prevent toxic substances from reaching the water table.
Most children will go through about 6000 diapers from birth to potty training. This translates to lots of diapers in the trash. So if you add to that that biodegradable isn't really biodegradable in the truest sense, and the marketing is misleading, then you have no real environmentally responsible way of using disposable diapers. In response to diapers being biodegradable, the FTC made its feelings known when it filed charges against the gDiapers company for misleading marketing that their diapers are biodegradable and compostable. Under perfect circumstance they might be, but under "normal circumstances", presented at the average landfill, they aren't.
So if you are going to use disposables, the reality is that you will be contributing a significant amount of diapers to the landfill. For this reason we suggest you consider using cloth diapers and look at our articles on cloth diapering and cloth vs disposable for more insight and information on the debate between the two. However, if the information still doesn't persuade you to try cloth over disposable, then we do suggest you rinse the poop from your disposables before placing them in any pail, and try not get too hung up on which bag (regular or biodegradable) to use. In the end, it doesn't matter as much as you think. If you are interested in cloth diapering there are different options for keeping the dirty diapers until it is wash time. Most traditional pails will not be suitable for this given their tendency to trap all air which allows for the excessive creation of ammonia, which is a hard smell to remove from diapers. We look at cloth diaper bags and pails in our cloth diaper review, here.
Even though the Ubbi and the Dékor claim that they will work for cloth diapers, we don't think these are good choices for cloth diapering due to the build up of ammonia from the lack of air. Instead, we like the products recommended in our review on cloth vs disposable, which are specifically designed with cloth in mind
Criteria for Evaluation
For testing we considered the overall stink of a full pail, the individual stink produced when adding another diaper, the ease of use when throwing a diaper away, and the ease of use changing the bag once it is full. Given that most parents are concerned with the smell generated by this collection of mini stink bombs, we gave more weight to the odor metric than the other metrics.
However, that being said we think a common problem with the use of any of the pails is that parents wait too long between bag changes, which results in very stinking pails and hard to change overfull bags. While the convenience of a diaper receptacle is so you don't need to make a trip to your outside garbage with each diaper, the true spirit of the pail is not to collect 4-7 days worth of poop. Even if the pail can control that level of odor and hold that many diapers, it is still a hot bed of bacteria and potential for the growth of grossness in a warm, moist, dark environment that we suggest you change the bag often to avoid problems altogether.
It is important that you have realistic expectation when it comes to this kind of product. No matter how fancy, what materials are used, or how ingenious the open/close design is, it is still a big pile of poopy diapers and that means it is going to smell like… surprise! a big pile of poopy diapers, especially when changing the bag.
We found that all of the pails did a pretty good job managing odors when they were closed. Each pail offers some way of staying relatively tightly sealed when closed. We experienced only minor differences in odor levels coming from closed pails that had not been disturbed for hours, meaning that the competition is pretty close when it comes to the control of odors on a closed pail. However, the differences become more obvious when the pails are opened and closed to put a dirty diaper in, an activity you are likely to be doing every few hours.
Arm and Hammer Munchkin has a twisting mechanism that twists the plastic bag around to stop the stench from seeping out after each individual diaper is put inside. The Diaper Genie models offer a double clamp system to prevent a lot of odor from escaping. The Diaper Champ has a rotating cup that theoretically limits the amount of stink by sealing the open gap as the cup moves to from open to closed. The Diaper Dekor has what the company calls a Magik™ trap door that auto seals after you drop the diaper in. The Diaper Genie Elite now comes with a odor absorbing carbon filter, but it seems to fall off and doesn't do much more than the baking soda option on the Munchkin model. Only the Ubbi has a simple open hole design that allows for stink to be expelled as long as the door is open. However, Ubbi is the only product not made of plastic (it is made of powder coated steel) which should prevent the absorption of excessive odor over time, so the difference might be a trade off in the long run. Dekor is made from ABS plastic which the company claims will not absorb odors or turn yellow over time.
Thankfully, the top performing products did a good job at containing odors. The Playtex Diaper Genie Essentials earned the highest score for odor control with a 9 of 10. Even though it lacked the filter of its more expensive brother, we felt it controlled odor better with each new diaper deposit and in the room overall with the simple twisting bag design that trapped in smells better than the competition. The product with the lowest score for odor control is the Ubbi; with a diaper deposit hole that is simple "open" and emitting odors with each new diaper it didn't compare well to other products for odor escaping during use, given that the competition all made at least some effort to limit the time or hole size for odor to escape and Ubbi did not.
It is important to remember the limitations of these kinds of products and to keep your expectations realistic. If your goal is absolutely no odors in the nursery, you might be better off taking each individual diaper to an outside garbage than investing in an indoor pail.
Ease of Disposal
This metric is the reflection of how easy it is to dispose of a single diaper using a maximum of one hand. A few of the products offered a foot action pedal to open their doors for disposal and while these were nice, they weren't necessarily easier to use than the products that were hand only operation. In the end, the major differences included the amount of odor that escaped with each deposit and whether or not there is a tendency for diapers to get hung up on their way in or needed assistance from another hand or a shove to get the job done.
The photos above include shots of each pail's diaper deposit opening. From left to right they are: Arm and Hammer Munchkin, Diaper Champ, Ubbi, Dekor, and the Diaper Genie.
The hands free options of the Diaper Genie Elite worked well even when the bags were full, but the carbon filter on the Elite fell off randomly during use. The Baby Trend Diaper Champ was easy to use at first, but struggled with stuck diapers as the bag got fuller. While not a deal breaker it does mean that the bag should be changed more frequently or the whole pail needs to be shaken to distribute the diapers more evenly. The Ubbi suffered from the release of odor with each new diaper drop and the sliding door needs some downward pressure to get the door to slide open; if you use the child lock you might find the whole operation is easier with 2 hands not one. With the Munchkin we experienced a tension on the lid with each twist of the bag that made the operation difficult. The trap door on the Dekor worked well until the bag started getting full, and it seemed to "relax" over time resulting in more odor released with each new diaper and lack of full closure on the interior door.
The Diaper Genie Elite earned the high score of 8 of 10 in this metric with the closet competitor, the Diaper Dekor Plus Kolor coming in with a 7. The hardest for ease of disposal is the Munchkin; we experienced an increased need for putting our hands in the pail to shove diapers down so the bag could twist and the lid could close.
Ease of Bag Change
The Munchkin bag is the easiest to replace and remove. With a snap and lock proprietary bag that snaps on the rim of the pail it is easy to put in and simple to fold, close, push through the hole and remove. It earned the high score in our tests with an 8 of 10. The hardest bag to change is the Ubbi which eanred only 3 points of 10. The small bag holder can get in the way of bag removal and the smaller body can catch and tear the plastic bags leading to a mess of used diapers on the floor.
In the end we have found that parents can become quite passionate about their diaper disposal system and why they love or loath it. The key to success for this group of products is keeping realistic expectations, changing bags often, and remembering that poop is poop, and it smells like poop. We believe our tests are some of the most comprehensive ever done in a side-by-side comparison method to determine how well each pail does its job. The winners speak for themselves in their test results and in their ability to control odor in a way that is easy to use. If you are ready for the lifetime investment and you are dedicated to managing odor then the Diaper Genie Essentials is definitely your new pride and joy. 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 our Best Value pick, the Diaper Champ.
For more information on all things diaper, you might also want to take a look at our review on the The Battle for the Best Disposable Diapers and The Search for the Best Cloth Diapers. On the subject of changing diapers, you might want to check out our comprehensive The Best Diaper Bag Review. It will give you the straight scoop on the best and most stylish Diaper Bags ranging in cost from less than $30 up to $200.
— Juliet Spurrier, MD & BabyGearLab Team
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.
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