Updated November 2023
Pictured: Top two from top left, both are newborn size: Nest, Naty. Bottom two are Dyper, size 1 and newborn
INTRODUCTION AND IMPORTANCE
I’m honestly shocked at most of the “non-toxic” diaper recommendations out there. I think there is a lot of paid sponsorship behind many of them, which might explain why diapers that aren’t actually so great are often recommended.
This is the most in-depth deep dive into diaper toxicity I have seen, and I was not paid to write this, nor do I have any affiliations or special relationships with any diaper companies. I rank disposable diapers, wipes, and a bit about cloth diapers at the end. I did this research to search for diapers for my own baby, so I was deeply invested.
The reason that diaper toxicity is something I prioritize is that a baby wears diapers in contact with their delicate skin 24/7 for the first several years of their lives! And “some 4,000 such nappies might be used in the first three years of a baby’s life.
Under “realistic use” conditions, a study “detected a number of hazardous chemicals in disposable diapers that could migrate through urine, for example, and enter into prolonged contact with babies’ skin. Among the chemicals found in excess of safety thresholds were the perfumes Lilial and Lyral, and aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins and furans. Glyphosate was also listed in the agency’s report, at lower levels”(Source).
There are #NoPerfectOptions for diapers or wipes; you kind of have to pick what is most important to you and also fits your budget.
Criteria I focused on:
- What material the top sheet (that touches babies bottom) is made of. I noted if it contains aloe. Conventional diapers all have a petroleum/ plastic-based top sheet, which is foremost what I wanted to avoid. Certifications of Oeko tex (for disposable) or GOTS cotton (for cloth) are a great assurance that at least some toxic things are avoided! I’m also looking into whether this toxicity concern about bamboo applies to bamboo diapers, so for now my top choice uses sugarcane. I still think bamboo is a better choice than plastic.
- SAP (sodium polyacrylate, which absorbs moisture) material. All disposable diapers contain it. I recommend looking into SAP and deciding how you feel about it; much of what you’ll see claims it’s totally non toxic, but other sources say otherwise.
- What bleaching method is used (TCF is totally chlorine free and therefore the best). One of the guides says this isn’t a huge deal though.
Toxicity was my main concern, but there are other factors, like biodegradability/ compostability, I mention at times but did not go in depth. Luckily in the case of diapers, the less toxic ones are also more environmentally friendly. Oeko-Tex is a certification that basically signifies that the end product has less toxicity, including dyes. FSC is a Forest Stewardship certification eco label regarding trees used for paper, that means good, but not necessarily super great. Some people avoid all things made in China, so I noted if I noticed that’s where they are made.
#MyTopPicks FOR LEAST TOXIC DISPOSABLE DIAPERS
The ones with stars are ones I have tried (some were for my first child before I did all this research) and can give you more info about my experience using them. For brands that I know make pull-ups, I noted it.
–Believe Diapers have a Bamboo fiber (with nothing added to it) directly in contact with your baby’s skin, and there have been no harmful chemical pesticides used to grow or treat the bamboo. Fluff Pulp is TCF (Totally Chlorine Free) and made from U.S. virgin wood. Minimal SAP. The outer layer is non-woven. There is no use of chlorine, latex, alcohol, PVCs, lotions or phthalates when making a Believe Diaper. They have a wetness indicating strip. They donate one diaper for each one purchased. See their wipes too; they are the least toxic and most eco friendly wipes I have found. I love the diapers too! They have a soft, wide sides that increase comfort and leak protection. And they now offer pull ups/ training pants. They are now through Amazon. Amazon Associates link: https://amzn.to/47qmQYh
-Aleva has an unbleached bamboo top-sheet and back-sheet, that contain a natural anti-bacterial agent called Bamboo Kun and a fluff and plant-based SAP core. Only goes to size 4. I’m requesting more details about their materials.
-*Naty / Eco Nature Baby Care is Oeko-Tex certified, and the only one that mentioned (in three messages) anything being 100% organic and non-gmo: The 💯 sugarcane “bio plastic” (no actual plastic) that touches babies skin. The core contains fluff wood pulp (FSC certified), and traditional sodium polyacrylate (SAP). They switched to ECF bleaching , but claim it avoids the release the harmful dioxins as good as TCF. The outer back sheet cover layer is plant based PE non-woven (organic sugarcane and 20 % PE non-woven). At least some sizes are expensive (newborn was low priced though). My review: They are a little wide. I didn’t like their old design but for the new ones, all the bad aspects (scratchy and tabs falling off) have been remedied. They have a cute design printed on the front, and little hearts or flowers all over (see pic in comments) and no wetness indicator strip. Be aware that if you ask them questions, they refer to “topsheet” and “backsheet” using opposite terminology than everyone else in the industry. They make a newborn size; if that is too large for your baby, other brands I hear are the smallest include Honest, Bambo and Earth Eden. They make pull ups too.
-*Nest says their top sheet is composed of plant-based polyethylene from sugarcane and cotton, and it’s infused with RRnew, an organic enzyme additive during production, allowing the materials to act like natural fibers. They are TCF and the core is comprised of a combination of fluff and SAP. Free of phthalates. Oeko-Tex 100 & SGS certified. They are expensive at least for some sizes. They make training pants/ pull ups too. My review: Newborn size runs big and wide and costs more than naty. Has a cute rainbow printed on the waistband. More information about the additives: “Our proprietary blend of organic compounds has been rigorously tested to ensure safety while greatly enhancing the biodegradation of the treated materials. Enzymes: Enzymes are proteins that act as catalysts, speeding up chemical reactions. In the case of Eco0ne, enzymes help to break down the long polymer chains of plastic into smaller, more easily digestible molecules. Microbial nutrients: These nutrients provide the food microbes need to grow and reproduce. As the microbes grow, they consume the plastic molecules, breaking them down into harmless byproducts. Organic acids: These acids help to break down the chemical bonds that hold plastic molecules together.” Much of their formula is proprietary so I didn’t press for more details. Personally I am wary of all the extra additives so won’t be buying this brand again. If your primary objective is being environmentally friendly, you might be interested in these things.
–Kudos. Oeko Tex. Top sheet is 💯 cotton but not organic. The layer underneath that is: PLA sourced from corn starch and sugar cane, and “green polyethylene” from sugar cane. In the manufacturing process, there are other process additives used that amount to less than 1% of the material by weight. Underneath that is TCF FSC pulp and traditional SAP, with a plastic barrier layer. The outer cover is Green Polyethylene sourced from sugar cane (greater than 98% sugarcane). The leg elastic, closure system (landing zone, ears, tabs, and hooks), and waistband elastic are plastic based. Diapers are packed in green PE bags sourced from sugarcane. Size 4 boxes also come with a special reusable and recyclable paper diaper caddy. Question I am awaiting response to: Does the green polyethylene contain any other ingredients besides sugarcane? Here is more information about their cotton: They are “using the safest, most sustainable non-organic cotton possible sourced entirely from farmers in the U.S., chlorine-free, and cleaned with a breakthrough process that involves zero chemicals, water, or process heat. You can learn more about the cotton here. Some pesticides and fertilizers are always involved in the production of cotton — organic and non-organic. Once the cotton fiber is exposed to the air (i.e. once it is grown), no pesticides are applied to the surface of the cotton.” To me this sounds like pesticides were used while the cotton was growing. I haven’t tried these, and have heard that they used to be good but they are not the same quality as before, the sizing is way off and they came in a white unmarked package. It didn’t even say Kudos. It just says made in China, yet they proudly claim they are made in Germany on their site.
-EcoOriginals is Oeko Tex and says “Only pure cotton, FSC wood-pulp and non-GMO cornstarch will touch your baby’s sensitive skin” Which sounds good but you may want to see if they have a certification or something to ensure non-gmo. Also nothing is organic including the cotton (cotton crops use lots of pesticides) and they are ECF. I hear they are super soft.
-*Poof. Non GMO (but not organic) corn (not a huge fan of that) and Bamboo next to skin. Chlorine Free Wood Pulp. Non gmo Corn SAP core. “No bleach or chlorine.” But from my personal experience, they didn’t work well for chunky toddler because of the tab design.
For the following that contain aloe, the concern is, what else is in there besides aloe? They are vague about it. Also, it’s not organic; not sure what pesticides or possible additional processing chemicals could be in there. These are all so much cheaper than the ones above though.
-*Andy Pandy has a Bamboo topsheet they claim has no pesticides. They used Sumitomo, which is a brand of SAP. “It is made in Japan and is known for its excellent quality that allows us to use lesser amount than other brands or types of SAP.” TCF bleaching. No GMOs. But some might not like that it has aloe (Aloe essence: Triglyceride, Vegetable, Additives) in the lining, and is made in china. And they are almost as expensive as Naty, for xl size.
-*Dyper. Oeko Tex certified. Bamboo (with aloe liner; they haven’t given details about it) touching skin. Sumitomo sap. They have changed to ECF so aren’t as good of a choice anymore. Sounds and looks the same as Andy pandy but might be the cheapest of this category for most sizes. You have to buy big boxes though. They make training pants (pull ups) too. No chlorine, latex, alcohol, perfumes, PVC, lotions, TBT or Phthalates. They have no prints, so there’s no ink to worry about. Packed in clear bags made with oxo-degradable materials. “With proper care, diapers can be composted at home, using commercial facilities or mailed away for centralized composting. With each delivery, we purchase carbon offsets on behalf of our subscribers to help reforestation efforts.” They also just added an optional composting service; you mail the diapers back to them for it. Because of this, they are my top recommendation if being eco-friendly is your priority, if you mail the diapers back. They are somewhat wide and do have a wetness indicator strip. They often run great sales such as half off.
-Boo. Outer and inner layers are Bamboo with aloe liner on the inner one. ECF wood pulp core with sumitomo sap. See comments about compostability. These run big.
-Eco boom. Bamboo next to skin. “Natural aloe oil” is added to the inner layer. The absorbent core contains fluff pulp and Sumitomo traditional sodium polyacrylate (SAP). Made with biodegradable backsheet and packaging. Made in China. “Non toxic adhesive.”
-*Eco Pea (formerly named Cutie Pea): Bamboo top- and back-sheet, cellulose fluff, and a SAP core. Contains aloe vera essence, “extracted from the aloe vera plant and used in topical form (very nominal amount), This contains vitamin E amongst other vitamins and minerals.” TCF. No phthalates, latex or BPA, and the company does many earth friendly efforts. These diapers look exactly like Andy pandy, have a wetness indicator and get very good customer reviews. These are cheaper than some of the other ones with aloe. Note their sizing is different; size 4 is equivalent to other brands size 5.
-Dewor (appears to be discontinued). Bamboo touches skin. The core contains fluff pulp and traditional sodium polyacrylate (SAP). Free of lead, latex, chlorineparaben, phthalate, dyes/ ink, lotions and fragrance. “Our manufacturing facility is the only plant that produces bamboo diapers in China and we are the only manufacturing facility with FDA and ISO certifications in China.” Only goes to size large. Similar to eco boom. Contains aloe oil.
-Little Toes. Bamboo touches skin. Fluff pulp and superabsorbent polymer (SAP) on which there is currently no information of origin. “May start falling apart with heavy saturation” and only selling size medium apparently.
BETTER DISPOSABLE DIAPERS (But Not Best)
These all have a plastic topsheet touching skin. I’m NOT saying these are all otherwise equal; some of them have other issues as well:
-Healthy Baby. These are “verified by EWG” but I don’t really understand why. The topsheet is 50% plant-based polyethylene (not specified what kind) and 50% polypropylene.
-*Millie Moon (formerly Cloud Island) from Target are oeko Tex (this is what I’d recommend if you have to buy diapers at a store). However, in 2023 they made some changes including to ECF and chemical composition. -*Bambo
-*Honest (this is the 2nd best option from a store). –
Earth and Eden -Hello Bello. I tried a free one and the design was awful, leaked.
-Abby and Finn
-Coterie -Rascal + Friends
Plant based (beware of this marketing) PLA against skin, but potentially from GMO corn:
-Earths Best. The core contains wood pulp, and a blend of traditional petroleum-based SAP and bio-based super-absorbent polymers (produced from corn and wheat – GMO status unknown). I think this is the one I tried that had a very bunchy waistband that seemed uncomfortable.
-Thrive Market. They also contain a “plant-based” absorbent core made from GMO corn.
-Kit and Kin uses a corn top sheet.
-Healthy Nest (different than “Nest” brand): Plant based plastic. -Bio Babby. They never gave details on what the “biodegradable plant starch” is.
-Joonya: Topsheet is “ Made from GMO free PLA (corn starch based) and Green PE (sugar cane based) renewable materials.” But “based” could mean other stuff /plastic is mixed in.
-Pura diapers: I’m awaiting response to my questions, because their website is unclear/ conflicting exactly what the topsheet is made of.
Doesn’t disclose materials (Usually, when there is a lack of disclosure, that means petroleum-based materials are used):
-*Babyganics. Also is sprayed with NeoNourish complex of cold-pressed seed oils (tomato, sunflower, cranberry, black cumin, and raspberry).
-Freestyle are unclear what the topsheet is but they say polypropylene plastic is used. I’ll see if I can get clarification.
Did not respond to questions:
-Aden and anais
DIAPER RANKINGS FROM OTHER BLOGGERS
I looked at the following lists, but in my lists I also included diapers and criteria that aren’t mentioned in these articles.
–This one is the best of them, but doesn’t always list aloe.
–Her description of corn in Naty is only for the old kind.
–Her descriptions eliminate everything from actually Being a best option except Andy pandy, IMO. Her description of corn in Naty is only for the old kind.
–This is baby gear lab, not the most trustworthy on non toxic aspects.
See this link for my guide. It used to be included here but got too long so I made it a separate post.
As far as the environment, cloth is absolutely better than any disposable! There are arguments that claim otherwise, but those don’t take into account the fact that disposables throw away urine and poop, both which contain vital nutrients that are meant to be returned to the earth to be used again, rather than sealed away forever (which is what modern landfills do with disposables).
Also, cloth is definitely a #moneysavingtip, because although it seems like a big investment, disposables will cost more than that in the long run. You can buy cloth diapers used (but I’d make check what they were washed with and ensure no fragrance was used, and then be sure to sanitize. They also might be able to be sold when you’re done.
I suppose I should note that the very greenest option would be “elimination communication,” but some criticisms of that say that it could train babies and kids to “hold it” which can be harmful. Honestly I haven’t looked into it past that.
The concerns about reusable diaper covers: Besides wool covers, the rest ALL use some type of TPU/ PUL waterproofing, which has toxicity concerns. The coating usually doesn’t touch babies skin, but would get washed with the inserts, probably contaminating them, unless you wash separately, which would be more work and more water. “Wet bags” used to temporarily hold dirty diapers are also coated with waterproof materials, and are a breeding ground for bacteria. Diaper covers and inserts also often use polyester or microfiber that are not non/toxic and get micro plastics into the water supply.
Least toxic inserts or prefolds I could find: I used cloth diapers part of the time with each baby, and used organic cotton prefolds from Green Mountain Diapers. #moneysavingtip is they sometimes do “seconds” discount sales for slightly irregular prefolds. Prefolds in general are cheaper than ready-made inserts. I just lay the prefolds inside a cover; I don’t stuff pockets, so that the organic cotton is what is touching their skin.
I also tried to buy prefolds from Osocosy, but I couldn’t verify they were certified organic (lesson learned: don’t trust answers given by sellers on Amazon, even if it’s the brand itself that is the seller). I also tried these organic cotton pre-folds from Wal Mart but they are thin, more like cheesecloth and pretty useless as prefolds. However, they might work well as a substitute for microfiber cleaning cloths!
I used the synthetic covers I already had (I happened to have Grovia, SoftBums, Bum Genius, and Mama Koala), which I washed separately from the inserts. If I was starting over I’d try these or other covers that come with organic inserts: Thirsties Natural One Size Pocket Cloth Diaper, Hook & Loop Closure, Forest Frolic. The covers still have waterproofing, but I hear that it’s TPU, which is better than PUL. Be aware of things like Grovia’s organic inserts, which have a waterproof layer attached. Also, beware of things marketed as organic that aren’t certified organic.
I also had these organic Workhorse diapers from Green Mountain, which can be used without a waterproof cover as long as you keep an eye on them and change promptly. They take substantially longer to dry than a prefold though.
For both the prefolds and workhorses from Green Mountain, they were the best I could find as far as organic options. Here is how they explained it : “No, they are not certified as organic but our made of organic versions are made of GOTS certified cotton. We have GOTS certificates on file for our cotton purchases, but that is not enough to achieve the GOTS certification. For the product to be GOTS organic certified and display the GOTS logo, the entire process must go through the certification process and we hope to do that someday. We can say “made of organic cotton” because they are made of certified organic cotton. To my knowledge, there are no GOTS certified twill prefolds or twill fitteds sold in the USA of any brand. All of the cotton Cloth-eez items, both organic and conventional, meet the Standard 100 confidence in textiles OKEO-TEX, which means they have been tested and proven to not have harmful substances in them.”
Other options are organic flats to use as inserts. “All in one” diapers also exist, but if you’re worried about the waterproof and synthetic parts contaminating the other parts, that’s a concern. Also, they take longer to dry and have a greater risk of mold.
Here’s my fave blogger explaining least toxic cloth diaper options. One is wool diaper covers. Two things that I personally couldn’t get past are the ethical issues with wool (although organic is supposed to avoid those), and the necessity to wash the wool with lanolin (which might not actually be difficult, but seemed daunting to me). Lunapaca might be a good brand but didn’t respond to my question about certifications. Best inserts are certified organic cotton or hemp. Note that bamboo cloth is not non toxic due to extensive processing, despite being marketed as such.
Leak Prevention Tip: On disposables, the ruffle part around the legs must stick out, not be tucked in. Cloth diaper inserts or pre folds must also remain fully out of sight under the diaper cover. Also, change any diaper frequently; blow outs sometimes happen because the diaper is saturated and full of urine, so it doesn’t have enough space to hold poop.
LEAK AND DIAPER RASH TIPS
The good news is that the less chemical-laden diapers are usually less irritating. I’ve barely dealt with any diaper rashes, but what I found to work best for treatment was a baking soda bath. Other often- recommended treatments are coconut oil or breastmilk, but if the rash looks to be caused by yeast, these could potentially make it worse. If you suspect yeast, that comes from within, so look at diet and sugar intake. If I was to use a cream product, I would use this. I would not use any kind of butt paste made with essential oils or zinc oxide (however if you do want to try that, using a natural sunscreen like Badger would work the same).
For diaper rashes, it also might be helpful to look at pictures/descriptions of types of diaper rash or seeing a doctor who will know the differences, and then identify an appropriate treatment.
Change diapers frequently to minimize the amount of time that the baby’s skin is exposed to urine and feces. Allow the baby to spend time each day without a diaper so that skin is exposed to air.
If rashes are reoccurring, other things to consider in addition to diet are: Frequency of diaper changes, and Brand/ ingredients of diapers, Wipes, and any products applied to diaper area.
The biggest reasons that zinc oxide may not be good to use for diaper rash is that it depends on the rash (this goes for breastmilk too… some sources say it can feed “yeast” based rashes.) It’s also not great to use with cloth diapers.
Although zinc is a fundamental prerequisite for human health, large quantities of it can cause zinc toxicity. Most plants, animals and minerals have an injurious side to them. So when used on the skin to address eruptions, zinc can suppress the body’s efforts to drive out impurities through the skin eruptions and drive the illness deeper into the body.
I used Ubbi because it’s stainless steel. Amazon affiliates link: https://amzn.to/3rPaoO3
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