Updated — September 2018
We've updated this review to remove Babies R Us diapers as they are no longer being produced as a result of the closure of Babies R Us. Kirkland is now the only Best Value winner in the group.
Best Overall Disposable Diaper
$0.97 each (in 124-pack)
Good health and eco-friendliness
Not very cozy
Faulty tab closures
Nature Babycare is an excellent green diaper that is probably the closest thing to cloth diapering you'll find in a disposable with advanced Earth-friendly features. This company and diaper are trying hard to set new environmental standards for diapers while keeping baby's health in mind. The best part? Not only is it green but it earned the highest score for absorption in our tests making it a top performing option as well.
This diaper may not be the best choice for parents on a tight budget as it has a higher price than some of the competition (though not the highest); however, if your wallet allows, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better, eco-friendly disposable diaper anywhere.
Read review: Nature Babycare
Comfy and Durable High-Performance Diaper
$0.24 each (in 184-pack)
Not as green as competition
Babyganics is a comfortable green diaper that lasts as long as you need it to between diaper changes with few complaints online about durability. This diaper impresses in its performance for absorption and it offers some features for eco-friendliness and baby's health.
This diaper is harder to find in stores, so you'll likely need to purchase them online. It is somewhat cheaper than Nature Babycare and may be a good choice for parents who favor comfort and durability over being as green as possible. Overall, it is a good option that can save you some cash.
Read review: Babyganics
Comfy and Affordable
Kirkland Signature Supreme
$0.18 each (in 198-pack)
diapers are a Costco brand traditional diaper with some nods to health and a super high comfort score. This inexpensive option earned high scores for comfort and durability with super soft fabric and few online complaints about faulty tabs or falling apart.
While this diaper is not a top performing option when it comes to absorption or preventing leaks, and some testers don't think it is a good looking option, it will get the job done at a lower price than much of the competition with a similar price. We think this diaper is a potential choice for families on a budget who want good performance and a comfortable fit and feel.
Read review: Kirkland
Top Pick for Health
Seventh Generation Free & Clear
$0.31 each (in 155-pack)
Great health score
Not so comfortable
Seventh Generation is a somewhat economical green diaper for parents that want to be kind to the Earth and want more features with baby's health in mind. Seventh Generation is $0.07 cheaper per diaper than our top Editors' Choice option and has the highest score for health in this review tying with the Bambo Nature diaper (see below). Combining this with good absorption, we think this diaper is a good choice for families who want a healthy, disposable diaper that will get the job done without breaking the bank.
This diaper didn't perform as well as others in our tests for leaks, making it a poor choice for parents who hate leaks or wait until the last minute to make diaper changes. However, if you are looking for the best choice for baby's health and skin, you don't need to look further than Seventh Generation, which is why it won a Top Pick for health.
Read review: Seventh Generation
Notable Non-Award Winners
While these options are not stand out award winners, they are notable depending on what you are looking for or what their marketing promises, both good and bad.
Green and Healthy
$0.34 each (in 198-pack)
is a cool green diaper and a previous winner of an Editors' Choice award. This diaper earned a great score for health tying with only one other diaper out of 23, and some testers felt it was better at absorption than our current Editors' Choice winner. Bambo is chlorine, latex, perfume, and lotion free with an allergy certification and a full disclosure list on the company website, so you know what is in the diaper and what is going near baby's skin. This diaper is comfortable and eco-friendly with some cool manufacturing bragging rights other diapers can't claim.
While Bambo is not the diaper for everyone thanks to a lower price and online-only accessibility, it does fit the bill for those looking for a healthy option with Earth-friendly manufacturing and impressive performance where it counts. Plus, they're cute too!
Read review: Bambo Nature
Honest Company Diapers
$0.70 each (in 34-pack)
diapers continue to disappoint in our testing. We are mentioning Honest diapers as notable for lower quality compared to the competing green diapers in our current diaper review. In previous years, Honest earned slightly above average scores and now is scoring below average in our tests compared to past years and most other green diapers. Is this because other diapers have upped their quality or is it possible that mass production and a wider distribution has resulted in lower quality management or a change in diaper design to meet the demand? We aren't sure, but our test results indicate that there are better diapers on the market for your baby that cost less and have higher scores overall than Honest diapers. With pattern options and cute print customization being their only real upside, we weren't impressed with the Honest option.
Read the Review: Honest Company Diapers
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Analysis and Test Results
If you're an expecting parent, let us level with you, your baby is going to make a lot of poo. A lot. Way more than you realize. This vast amount of poo will need immediate and continuous containment to avoid turning your life into a bio-hazard zone. Sure, you can try to distinguish your new baby's facial expression for signs of impending explosions so you can rush them to a nearby toilet, but we think it is easier to employ a diaper to do the dirty work (literally) for you.
Disposable Diaper Review vs. Overnight Diaper Review
The Disposable Diaper Review was completed using size 1 diapers (or equivalent) during testing and is primarily for finding the best diaper options for newborns or younger infants. While the information and test results from this review generally apply for any size diaper, we did find a disparity in absorption test results for the smaller sized diapers compared to the larger size 3-4 diapers we tested in the Overnight Diaper Review
, which is largely for older babies with an increased overnight urine output. Therefore, any discrepancy between absorption ratings between reviews for the same diaper is a result of diaper size difference. Specifically, the Luvs Ultra Leaks
and Pampers Baby Dry
options performed significantly better in the larger size than they did in this review.
Seventh Generation earned a Top Pick award for health in our review.
If you are reading this, then we will assume that you're looking for help choosing a disposable diaper (before you flog yourself too much with your green-guilt whip, be aware that even the Sierra Club which takes a position, still admits that the decision is a tough one when trying to be more environmentally responsible). We're here to help by giving you the straight poop on all things diaper.
Feeling overwhelmed? Stop reading this and jump to our buying advice article, How to Choose the Best Disposable Diaper. We wrote it for you. It provides a helpful overview and what you should be considering before making your final decision.
FInding value in something your little one is going to poop in and will be trash within hours of opening it is tricky. Prices for disposable diapers range from around 0.14 to 0.67. This price range is rather large when you stop to consider the number of diapers your baby will go through every day and in their lifetime. Depending on your budget, choosing the right diaper for your family may have more to do with price than any other factor. However, we urge you to consider that quality and absorbency can impact the overall amount of money you'll spend, making a slightly more expensive diaper cheaper in the long run because you can potentially use less of them over time.
The top three performers in this review are 0.37, 0.32, and 0.30 each. Given that several competitors that rank lower are more expensive, you can feel good that you are getting a quality green option for a reasonable price. If this is beyond your budget, you can consider a more traditional disposable that performs well but isn't as green by looking at the Kirkland brand diaper for 0.20. This price is sure to save you money over time.
Bambo is a more eco-friendly option than some of the traditional options we reviewed.
The Great Diaper Questions
Deciding which diaper to buy is a decision that many parents agonize over. We know, we've been through it (and we wish we knew then
, what we know now). In this review, we're going to take on our own Top 10 List of Great Diaper Questions and wrestle them to the ground:
- How many diapers does a baby go through in total?
- How much $ will I spend on diapers over time?
- What is the environmental impact of diapers?
- How do green diapers perform compared to traditional brands?
- What is inside diapers (and why should I care)?
- Which is better: Pampers or Huggies?
- Are big-box private-label diapers just as good as brand name diapers?
- What's the best green diaper?
- Which is best: Cloth vs. Disposable diapers?
- Which diaper should I buy?
OK, in full disclosure, we're not going to take on #2, Cloth versus Disposable, not here anyway. Instead, we're going to refer you to our complete analysis of that issue in a separate article, Cloth Diapers vs. Disposables: How and what to choose?. You can review all things cloth diaper in The Search for the Best Cloth Diapers. But, we are going to tackle the other nine questions right here and now. Here we go!
We tested over 24 disposable diapers in our big diaper show down.
Putting Top Diapers to the Test
We tested 23 diapers giving each the opportunity to vie for awards. We used a combination of hands-on testing (day-to-day diaper use on real baby bottoms, lab testing, and research to compile facts and observations that allowed us to rate each diaper fairly relative to their competition on performance metrics.
The Honest diapers come in a variety of patterns you can choose from for a more custom look.
We made our diaper selections carefully to ensure a complete picture of diaper options across the spectrum of types and brands. We include a variety of green diapers pitted head-to-head against traditional options. We include Pampers and Huggies brands, but we also included private label brands from Costco, Target, and Walmart to see how they fair when compared side-by-side with the big name brands.
Babies go through approximately 6,000 diapers during their diaper wearing years!
Wait! How many diapers are they going to need?
In the first year, your tiny mini-me is going to go through about 2,500 diapers. If that number is daunting and hard to grasp, it breaks down to something like 10-12 diapers a day on average for the first few months, then about 6 per day for the rest of the first year. In year two, you can expect that pace to slow to about 3-4 per day, and that pace may continue into year three when potty training starts to take hold. Even after potty training, they'll probably still use one overnight diaper per day for another year or two.
Estimated diaper usage over time is shown to be a total of nearly 6,000 diapers in the chart above. Your mileage will vary since babies grow at differing rates and the total depends on potty training timing, and overnight use after potty training. (Click on the chart to enlarge)
Add it all up, and your precious bundle of joy is going to amass a mountain of roughly 6,000 dirty diapers (up to 9,000 in some report estimations). That's a lot of diapers to put in the landfill, which is why a growing number (still the minority) of Moms consider green-diapers or choose cloth diapers.
So, what is all that going to cost me?
If you are price conscious when buying diapers, here is the breakdown: let's assume our estimate of using approximately 6,000 diapers over your baby's lifetime is correct. Price per diaper varies depending on the size of the diaper; the bigger the diaper, the higher the price. Also, when considering price, keep in mind that they'll use a lot more size 3 & 4 diapers than the smaller sizes. We recommend doing your price-comparison using Size 3 as a standard, because it will give you a more realistic cost average since some manufacturers may deeply discount small sizes to get you hooked, only to charge more later.
The Kirkland is a durable diaper that withstands a busy baby.
If you buy a name brand diaper like Pampers Swaddlers, you'll be spending approximately $0.33/diaper on average. If you buy Kirkland, you will spend about $0.20/diaper. If you buy a quality green diaper like Seventh Generation, you will be spending about $0.30/diaper, or for the Nature Babycare, it's about $0.37.
What does that come to for the four years you will be using diapers?
Kirkland will cost approximately $1,200 for 4 years and $25 a month
Seventh Generation will cost approximately $1,800 for 4 years and $37.50 a month
Nature Babycare will cost approximately $2,220 for 4 years and $46.25 a month
Keep in mind that these prices are high; if you sign up for a subscription program like Amazon offers, you will get 20% lower prices on most of the brands.
Is It Worth Paying a Premium for the Best Diaper?
The step-up from Seventh Generation, a great performing green diaper, to the best performing Nature BabyCare diaper, is about $11 more per month over the four years your baby will wear diapers. But the price jump from a cheaper diaper like the Kirkland is closer to $26. You might be wondering if it is worth the extra money to buy the better diaper.
While we feel strongly that Nature Babycare is the best diaper we tested, it does cost about $0.07 more per diaper than Seventh Generation. It costs $0.17 per diaper more than Kirkland. That is about $26 more a month to buy Nature Babycare over Kirkland. The numbers decrease somewhat if you consider Seventh Generation. So is it worth it? Let's compare the scores.
- Kirkland (below left), 6 absorption, 3 health, 1 eco, 58 overall
- Seventh Generation (below right), 8 absorption, 8 health, 6 eco, 70 overall
- Nature Babycare, 10 absorption, 7 health, 8 eco, 76 overall
The difference between Kirkland and Seventh Generation is significant. Seventh Generation offers a good balance between cost and performance for most families. This diaper scored well in most metrics, better than Kirkland, with the bonus of providing some Health and Eco-friendly advantages. For $12 more per month, we feel the benefits are great if your budget can afford it. But, if you want the best, even if it means spending a bit more, then Nature Babycare is our pick. However, we also understand that despite what you want sometimes it comes down to what you can afford. The Kirkland brand offers a better than average performing diaper at a lower than average price point.
The Nature Babycare diaper is a top performing green diaper you can feel good about.
Disposable diapers have a significant environmental impact. When you consider that an estimated 90% of US babies use disposable diapers, and there are 4 million babies born each year, each going through 6,000+ diapers, the environmental impact of disposable diapers going into landfills is huge.
Here's some information we believe to be factual:
- The Environmental Protection Agency reports that about 20 billion disposable baby diapers end up in landfills every year, a shockingly large amount, yet we feel that might be low (our estimate is nearly 22 billion). This amount creates approximately 3 billion pounds of US landfill waste each year.
- Traditional disposable diapers do not degrade well in landfills due to plastic materials used and lack of exposure to air (which hampers biodegradation)
- Some % of disposed of diapers contain feces (the right thing to do is flush feces before throwing away the diaper — who knew?) which present a bio-hazard risk to landfills and may seep into groundwater.
Who Knew? Now YOU Do!
It is this last bullet that may be the deciding factor in the "which is greener" debate between cloth diapers and disposables. If you use modern cloth diapers, most likely with a flushable liner, you are most likely flushing your baby's poo. Flushing poo is far less damaging to the environment than throwing it away (and creating a biohazard risk in landfills). But you can, and should, flush poo from disposable diapers to prevent this environmental impact.
How do green diapers perform compared to traditional?
Choosing between a traditional or green diaper hasn't always been easy. Many people have assumptions about green diaper performance which we found to be largely false: green diapers outperformed traditional diapers on absorbency and most other metrics. Hooray!
You can find the full details of our analysis, based on test data and findings from our comprehensive review here:
Diapers are constructed in three layers, an inner layer that sits against baby's skin is designed to be soft, stay relatively dry, and wick away moisture into the core. The absorbent core is designed to pull moisture in and trap it to keep wetness away from baby to avoid rashes. The outer layer is waterproof to prevent leaks.
What's in My Baby's Diaper?
All of the disposable diapers in our tests look a lot alike. They each contain an absorbent core, an inner layer designed to keep baby dry, and a waterproof outer layer. Each diaper may include vastly different materials than another, and some of these ingredients may be considered risky or potentially toxic. To help address parents concerns about the contents inside disposable diapers, and what risk they may or may not pose to a baby, we've created an article entitled, What Is Inside Those Disposable Diapers? This article is an overview of each potentially hazardous material that may be in some diapers, what the problem is with that material, and what we recommend you do.
The secret sauce inside the absorbent core layer of every disposable diapers is a synthetic material called Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP). It is magic in it's ability to suck up to 300 times it's weight in water, which is why it is so widely used. Researchers are now making a plant-based SAP in labs, but as far as we can tell, every diaper in our review likely uses the more time-tested petroleum-based SAP.
Absorbency is The Performance Standard for Diapers
As we note in our How We Tested Disposable Diapers article, we believe that absorbency is the most critical performance criteria for diapers. Given how much emphasis manufacturers give to claiming top absorbency, we think they must feel the same way. We performed a combination of hands-on testing and in-house lab tests to wring out the real-world absorbency performance of each diaper. What we found was a huge difference in absorbency, even more so than in previous years.
The photos above include the top tanked diaper for absorption, Nature Babycare with a score of 10 (left), and the lowest scoring diaper for absorption, Poof with a 1 (right).
Every year we've tested diapers, we've been impressed with the fact that green diapers have delivered top scores for absorbency. This year was no exception. The top 5 diapers in absorbency were all green diapers! All had scores of 8 or over. The top traditional diapers, Kirkland and Walmart White Cloud, both scored 6s. These results indicate to us that the green diapers perform better than traditional choices overall.
Which Is Better: Pampers or Huggies?
For the first time in our three years of testing, the winner here was a tie. We tested Pampers Swaddlers, Pampers Swaddlers Sensitive, Pampers Baby Dry, Huggies Little Snugglers, and Huggies Snug & Dry. Both Pampers Swaddler varieties earned an overall score of 46, and the Baby Dry style earned a 45. Huggies Little Snugglers earned a 46 and Snug & Dry a 48.
If you are trying to decide between Pampers and Huggies, we recommend you go with Pampers. Both brands have similar scores for absorbency and similar prices, but Pampers offers a little more for baby health. This health bump makes it the winner in our book. However, we advise that you look outside both of these well-known brands at the award winners or the notable Bambo Nature.
Are Big-box Diapers the Same as Pampers and Huggies
We tested private brand diapers from the three major big-box retailers: Target, Walmart, and Costco. In the end, we concluded that each was different from other name-brand diapers (Pampers and Huggies) as well as each other in both features and performance. In general, all varieties placed fairly low in the group with only Kirkland and Walmart's White Cloud breaking the top 10. All Pampers and Huggies varieties scored in the lower half. These results mean the store brand diapers performed better than the popular brands overall and will likely cost you less as well.
Gone are the days of one or two disposable options that were as simple as choosing between Huggies or Pampers. With the addition of green diapers and options found only on the internet, the variety and the sheer number of brands has expanded considerably in the last decade. Add to this the potential for cloth diapering and it is no wonder your head is spinning and you may feel compelled to grab a pack randomly or buy the cheapest thing you can find. Thanks to our in-house testing and tiny testers, you can now make a more informed choice to ensure you find the right diaper for you and your little one. Even if you step outside the award winners, you'll be making an informed purchase based on your goals and unbias reporting.