While we all want the best and safest products for our baby, much of the common advice on choosing between diaper brands is based on misconceptions and marketing, rather than fact. This post explains what you should really look for in a diaper, and my top recommended brands.
What to look for in a diaper:
The most important factor is choosing a diaper that is fragrance free, since fragrance can often contain phthalates and other potentially harmful chemicals. This rules out Luvs and all varieties of Pampers except “Pure Protection.” Fortunately, the majority of brands are fragrance-free.
To go one step further, you may decide to choose a brand that gives full disclosure of materials and carries independent certifications, such as Naty, but this is not essential. The materials used in disposable diapers are actually quite safe and many of the claimed benefits of eco-friendly brands are exaggerated, as explained further below.
You will be using a lot of diapers. More than you could ever imagine. The cost of this can quickly add up, especially if you choose one of the most expensive eco-friendly brands. The average cost of a size 1 diaper ranges from 12 cents to 40 cents, so there is a big difference between brands. If you are on a tight budget, there are probably better places to invest your money in order to avoid chemicals (such as glass baby bottles and safer skin care products). See below for more advice on the cheapest way to buy diapers.
Finding a diaper that fits your baby well and doesn’t leak is paramount. Some of the eco-friendly brands use less absorbent material, making leaks much more likely. This is not much of a concern during the early months, when your baby will already be waking often to feed, but once she starts sleeping through the night, a diaper that absorbs well becomes very important. Fit can also affect how well a diaper works, and some brands will fit your baby better than others. This requires a little trial and error, to see what works best for your own baby.
What not to worry about:
Super Absorbant Polylmer (SAP)/ sodium polyacrylate
This material, which can absorb up to 100 times its weight in water, is used in the absorbent inner core of disposable diapers. It forms gel crystals which can sometimes be seen if a used diaper breaks open. Although these crystals could potentially cause mild skin irritation if in direct contact with skin for a long time (e.g. if your baby sleeps in a broken diaper), in general this material is very safe. This is good news, because SAP is found universally in disposable diapers, even environmentally-conscious brands such as Seventh Generation, Bambo, and Naty.
Some eco-friendly brands use less SAP and make up the difference with bio-degradable materials such as corn or wheat starch. To me, this is a big disadvantage, since these diapers are more likely to leak and more likely to trigger allergies. On this basis, I do not recommend Earth’s Best, which uses corn and wheat.
Chlorine Bleaching/ Dioxins
Much of the advice online about non-toxic diapers emphasizes the need to find a diaper that uses “TCF” (totally chlorine free) bleaching. The argument is that conventional chlorine bleaching can result in dioxins, but this concern is misplaced.
While it is true that dioxins are potentially quite toxic, the bleaching method that produced significant amounts of dioxins was phased out in the 1990s. These days, the amount of dioxins that may be present in bleached paper or wood pulp of diapers is infinitesimally small and makes no difference to overall exposure to dioxins, as this study found. As a result, “chlorine-free” or “TCF” bleaching should not be a major consideration in deciding between brands.
Although parabens are worth avoiding, these preservatives are not commonly found in disposable diapers. Although some greener brands proudly advertise being paraben free, even conventional brands such as Pampers and Huggies are paraben-free too.
The Best Diapers for Newborns
Based on chemical safety, cost, and function, my top recommendations are:
- 60% plant-based and biodegradable materials. Only natural and hypo-allergenic materials against baby’s skin.
- Independently tested and verified by OEKO-TEX as not releasing harmful chemicals. No VOCs, parabens, or latex.
- Soft and absorbent, although slightly more likely to leak than conventional diaper brands.
- Approximate cost per newborn diaper: $0.35
- Free of all known allergens, phthalates, parabens, and any other harmful chemicals, with verification by Eco-Cert.
- Environmentally-conscience manufacturing (made in Denmark).
- Soft and fully breathable, to help prevent diaper rash.
- Run slightly wider than other diaper brands and can leak if too big for your baby.
- Also available in a newer version (in a white bag). The new diapers have a wetness indicator, are slightly softer and less bulky, and closer in sizing to other brands. But most parents seem to find that the classic version performs better and is less likely to leak.
- Approximate cost per newborn diaper: $0.35-0.50
- No fragrance or parabens. Hypoallergenic and breathable.
- Very soft and unlikely to leak.
- Probably the best value and best performing diaper.
- Pocketed back waistband is very effective at preventing diaper blowouts.
- Newborn umbilical cord cutout.
- Huggies also has a lower-cost Snug n Dry version available in newborn sizes, but the material is not as soft or breathable, there is no wetness indicator, and they are easier to put on incorrectly (with leg cuffs folded in- causing leaks). If they work for you, the cost saving can be significant though.
- Approximate cost per newborn diaper (Little Snugglers): $0.24
- Approximate cost per newborn diaper (Snug n Dry): $0.14
- Fragrance free and hypoallergenic, unlike regular Pampers
- Very soft and absorbing. Good for sensitive skin and babies prone to diaper rash.
- Some occasional batches ordered online have a chemical smell, but these could be counterfeit. When ordering, check that it says shipped and sold by Amazon – or use subscribe and save.
- Approximate cost per newborn diaper: $0.30
Diaper Brands to Skip
- Pros: An extra soft quilted liner made from cotton (in newborn to size 3) and sustainably sourced materials (e.g. FSC certified wood pulp)
- Cons: A redesign in early 2019 has not been well-reviewed, with many reports of leaks and the diapers breaking open easily.
- Smallest size is often too big for a newborn
- Prone to leaks and quite a few reports of rashes, perhaps from Aloe added to lining.
- When I purchased these diapers a few years ago, I noticed a chemical smell from the packet which filled the entire room, which makes me suspect that they are not as chemical-safe as advertised.
- Frequent reports of severe diaper rash, perhaps because they contain materials derived from corn and wheat, which often trigger allergies.
The Bottom Line
Since Naty provides a little extra reassurance when it comes to environmental impact and material safety, they are one of the best options for newborns. They may not perform quite well enough for older babies though.
If performance and value-for money are higher priorities, my top pick would be Huggies Little Snugglers.
How to Save Money When Buying Diapers
The cheapest way to buy diapers is usually to sign up for monthly deliveries from Amazon, taking advantage of the 20% discount available through Subscribe & Save.
To get this discount, you just need to be a Prime member, and subscribe to 5 or more items each month (they don’t have to be the same items every month and it is very easy to swap items on or off your list).
If you are not yet a Prime member, get a 30-day free trial here.
Amazon also offers Prime members a 15% completion discount for everything on your Amazon Baby Registry