The choices may seem endless when searching for a disposable diaper. It's impossible to know from glancing at the package how one brand compares to another in absorbency, fit, and comfort, or whether or not a more expensive diaper is worth the price. Our goal is to spare you this guess-work and aid in the decision making process. This article will give you the information you need to make an informed decision for you and your baby.
Refer to our companion article on diaper materials, for the inside skinny on what makes a diaper work.
For those trying to decide whether to go with cloth or disposables, Cloth Diapers vs. Disposables: How and what to choose is a helpful article which attempts to take on this question in an objective, fact-based, manner.
In the Beginning
- First, consider your infant's needs as well your priorities. Every family has their bottom line. Cost? Health? The environment? The perfect fit? Or do you want it all?
- Second, don't buy in bulk until you are satisfied with a specific diaper's performance and fit.
- Third, wait to buy baby's first diapers until just before or after he/she is born and you know their weight. A few packages of newborn diapers (up to 10 lb) may be all you need before heading onto size 1 (8-14 lb). Ordering diapers online is a breeze, and typically they can arrive at your doorstep before you even get home from the hospital.
- Important tip: European brands, like Nature Babycare, have unique sizing systems.
- Last, cost per diaper will be best once you are ready to buy in bulk. The prices listed for each brand in our Best Disposable Diaper Review comparison chart reflect bulk rates.
Choose a Diaper that Exceeds in Absorbency
Absorbency is the most critical trait of any diaper, disposable, and cloth alike. Absorption covers how much liquid a diaper can hold, how well that liquid wicks away from the baby and distributes throughout the diaper's core, and how well it continues to keep that moisture away from baby's skin. Poor absorption can expose baby's skin to persistent dampness, which can lead to diaper rash. Our absorption tests gave us some interesting insights into how each of the disposable diapers we tested compared to one another both in absorption and overall function. In our testing, the diapers that claimed the highest absorbency scores also earned the best overall ratings.
Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP)
Please allow us to delve briefly into the construction of diapers. For us to assess diapers fairly, we must discuss the details of their contents. We want to make sure everyone is aware of the secret chemical ingredient that is in almost every brand of disposable diaper. Whether a diaper is green or traditional, the absorbent core of the diaper contains SAP: Super Absorbent Polymer.
In the middle of the absorbent core layers, between the outer cover and inner liner, you will find SAP powder, which looks like fine white sand. SAP is the meat of your diaper's absorbency sandwich; it provides the primary method of absorbing urine and wet fecal matter and trapping it in the core.
Even green diapers like Bambo, Seventh Generation, Honest Company, and gDiapers rely on SAP for absorption and consider it safe. In fact, gDiapers has an informative SAP page on their site explaining why they've concluded SAP is safe and non-toxic. In our research, we have not found any scientific research that shows otherwise.
Find a Good Fit to Help Avoid Leaks
The weight of your baby determines the diaper size you need. However, much like baby's clothes, fit between disposable diaper brands vary. Most diapers help ensure a leak-free fit by providing a double elastic sealing edge, one alongside the absorbent core, and one alongside the outer shell of the diaper.
However, despite this similarity, we found that not all diapers were equal in fit, and they performed differently in leak tests. In our testing, we found that materials differed significantly from diaper to diaper and that this affected fit and leakage. Some were softer and conformed to the body nicely, while others were stiffer, leaving small gaps that created a poor fit.
Every Baby is Unique
Of course, every baby has different proportions, so finding a disposable diaper with the perfect fit can involve some trial and error. Let's face it; even the best absorbing diaper may leak if the fit is not right. Parents may need to try a handful of brands to find the diaper that fits their baby best. Again, try to avoid buying in bulk until you find your "go-to" diaper, and remember to pay attention to the weight range, so you know you are purchasing the right size.
Keeping your baby comfortable requires not only stellar absorbency and an adequate fit but also materials that feel soft on a baby's skin. Securing tabs need to stay put and should have soft or rounded corners. Also, edges and seams need to feel seamless to avoid chafing. Because it is impossible to truly know what you are getting your baby into without buying and comparing them all side-by-side, we reviewed these qualities for you. Of course, your baby will be the first to let you know if there are issues, and as one of our little in-house testers did, might even start indicating which diapers they like the best.
For the Eco-Health Minded
Save the Earth
Much debate surrounds which is more earth-friendly: green disposable diapers or cloth diapers. Some brands manufacture their diapers with attention to minimizing their carbon footprint. However, they end up in the landfill where even compostable diapers will fail to biodegrade if in a dark, airless environment. Alternatively, cloth diapers require lots of precious water and electricity to clean over and over.
Nonetheless, if you and your family do not want to commit to cloth diapering, but still want to make an effort toward being eco-conscious, more green diapers exist than ever before. These options may include chlorine-free processing, use of renewable resources, boast minimal packaging, use biodegradable materials, and often contribute to charities in an attempt to offset their footprint. But, in our analysis comparing cloth vs. disposable diapers we concluded that cloth is a much better option for the eco-health minded parent (and for the budget-minded parent too).
One thing we can assure you of is that you don't need to sacrifice quality to be more Earth-friendly. In our tests of disposables, the green diapers were the top performers, handily outperforming traditional brands like Pampers and Huggies on basic performance metrics like absorbency, leakage, and comfort.
Keeping Baby Healthy
Whether your child has chemical sensitivities, allergies to perfume, or latex, or you are just a parent that is concerned about minimizing your baby's exposure to synthetic chemicals; we can all agree that baby's health comes first. Health-conscious qualities in disposables are now more commonplace. They are often present in well-performing, more affordable options like Seventh Generation, as well as high-end brands like Nature Babycare, and BAMBO Nature. One word of caution would be the industry's use of the word "Hypoallergenic," which is a non-regulated word that means very little and is not an indicator of a product designed with baby's health in mind. We at BabyGearLab believe that in this area, less is more.
Our recommendations are:
- Chlorine-free - recommended. Chlorine treatment of diapers can leave trace quantities of a dangerous chemical called Dioxin. We don't feel it is worth the risk, and there are a lot of chlorine-free options available.
- Fragrance-free & Dye-free - recommended. Fragrance and dyes are unnecessary in a diaper, and some babies can be allergic to them. Leave them out. The best way of dealing with dirty diaper smells is by changing the diaper, not adding fragrance to it.
- Super Absorbent Polymer - You will be hard-pressed to find any disposable diaper, even a green diaper, without Super Absorbent polymer (SAP). If that is your desire, the only practical option may be cloth diapers. However, we have been unable to find any evidence-based literature to suggest SAP use in disposable diapers is harmful. Even Bambo Nature, the winner of the coveted Nordic Swan Eco-label, uses SAP (in their "mix of wheat starch and acrylic polymers which do not contain phthalates").
- Consider Cloth Diapers - without a doubt, cloth diapers are better than ever before, and represent a superior choice for eco-health metrics. They cost much less, reduce environmental impact, come in colorful, cute patterns, and do not contain materials that leave us anxious. What's more, modern cloth diapers are a lot easier to work with than the ones your parents might have used. See our comprehensive review of the best cloth diapers for more information.
Price per Diaper Estimates
New parents commonly price compare using newborn or size 1 diaper prices. However, we advise caution in using this approach. Here's why:
- The cost of size 1 diapers is deceptively low when compared to a weighted average diaper cost across all sizes and typical amounts used per size.
- Manufacturers may offer their size 1 as a low-cost loss-leader, knowing that most parents stay with the brand until their baby is out of diapers. Then they set higher prices for the larger sizes, seeking profits in the more frequently used size 2, 3, and 4 diapers.
We Used Size 3 for Our Price Comparison
Based on our analysis of weighted average costs across six popular diaper brands, we believe the Size 3 diaper cost represents the approximate weighted average cost, and can reasonably represent the lifetime cost of diapers. You'll see in our reviews that we calculate an estimated diaper per unit price using size 3 bulk-volume diaper prices at Amazon (or other retailers, if not available at Amazon) to estimate a fair price. We did not include shipping prices because Amazon offers Prime, which we feel is a bargain for frequent Amazon shoppers.
Subscription Pricing Discounts
Some vendors offer additional discounts if you purchase a diaper purchase "subscription." Subscription discounts can be smart and convenient if you have settled on a specific brand you are comfortable using. But, we urge you to avoid subscription pricing until you have determined which diaper works best for both you and baby. The prices we show are estimates; the list or street prices do not reflect subscription prices.
To aid you in your selection process, we encourage you to take a look at our companion articles:
Choosing a disposable diaper can be daunting. The sheer number of options available, and the inability to try them all can leave a parent confused and frustrated. We recommend that absorbency be your top priority, and the rest will follow. In our tests, the diapers that scored the highest in absorbency usually scored very well in the other metrics. Besides, we feel that going green is the right thing to do (as well as a natural choice) since our testing revealed that most of the high-scoring diapers were both Earth and health-friendly at a variety of price points sure to work with most budgets.