Updated January 2024
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. There also might be lack of understanding of diaper components and terminology.
This guide focuses on identifying diapers that don’t have a plastic or otherwise toxic topsheet in contact with your baby’s skin. It also looked more deeply than other guides into vague terms that brands use, such as “plant based.”
I was not paid to write this, nor do I have any sponsorship from any diaper companies.
This post may contain affiliate links, namely the Amazon Associates program, that I may earn small amounts from. I donate some of it and use the rest to cover the costs of this website. See the bottom of this page for more details.
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.
WHY THE TOPSHEET MATERIAL IS SO IMPORTANT:
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. And what part of the diaper is touching the baby? The topsheet! We know that plastic is toxic, especially flexible plastics (like those used in diapers) and especially when heated (such as against a warm body).
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) can be emitted from plastics, adhesives and other components of disposable diapers, which is a risk for inhalation and absorption through the skin.
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).
Diapers can also contain toxic phthalates, parabens, fragrance, hormone disruptors, artificial dyes, preservatives, allergens, neurotoxic chemicals, lotion additives and other toxicants. Wetness indicator strips can contain things like quaternary ammonium compounds. And the brands don’t have to disclose any of it!
There is much that can easily be found on all this so I didn’t write extensively about the background of all the different toxic components; however I did consider them when narrowing down the best choices.
When choosing the least toxic options, I focused on:
- What material the topsheet (that touches babies bottom) is made of. Conventional diapers as well as many of the more natural brands all have a petroleum/ plastic-based top sheet, which is foremost what I wanted to avoid. I’m also looking into whether this toxicity concern about bamboo applies to bamboo diapers, but I still think bamboo is a better choice than plastic.
- What bleaching method is used. Unbleached would be most ideal. I think people have gotten too caught up in TCF (totally chlorine free) vs ECF (elemental chlorine free) that they overlook all the other hazards that diapers can contain. I think people should be more concerned with the topsheet that is actually touching the baby. Other things I have read back this up and say there isn’t much difference between TCF and ECF and the risk of both is minimal. But TCF is preferable over ECF.
- Certifications of Oeko Tex (for disposable) or GOTS cotton (for cloth) are a great assurance that at least some toxic things have been confirmed to be avoided. But again, topsheet is still paramount to me.
- I created a separate list of which “natural” diapers contain additives such as aloe or lotion ingredients. I haven’t seen any other guides point out that the full ingredients of these are never disclosed and could potentially be full of Toxicants that could be absorbed into baby’s skin and create irritation.
- SAP (sodium polyacrylate, which absorbs moisture) material. 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. It is in all disposable diapers though.
- PFAS testing is noted, but I don’t weigh it heavily because that was a one time test done by an organization, and not all brands on my recommendations were tested. If a company ever starts doing batch testing for all diapers they manufacture, I would consider that. Common forms of PFAS that could be contributing to what was found in diapers are fluoropolymer plastics such as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) or Gore-Tex®. Plastic is one of the riskiest parts for PFAS, which is another reason why I avoid diapers with plastic topsheets.
Here is what one company had to say about the PFAS diaper testing:
I did not factor in concerns about the toxicity of wetness indicators because from what I understand, they aren’t as much of a concern as the other factors I considered.
I also did not factor in environmental concerns such as biodegradability/ compostability, because toxicity was my main concern. I do note these at times but did not go in depth. Luckily in the case of diapers, the less toxic options 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.
LEAST TOXIC DISPOSABLE DIAPERS:
It was not possible to choose an absolute best choice because there are no perfect options for diapers or wipes; you have to pick what are the most important criteria to you. I would consider these six options as all on approximately the same level of being the best available options that don’t have a plastic topsheet or additives. There’s also an element of having to trust that these brands are being truthful about their claims. Let’s also put pressure on these companies to switch to organic and unbleached or TCF materials!
For brands that I know make newborn size, overnights or pull-ups, I noted it. 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. I didn’t include specific prices because those can vary depending where you buy them, and what size.
-*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: 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. Tested PFAS free. They don’t have a wetness indicator. Amazon Associates link: https://amzn.to/41QevLr
-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. If their claims are true, this would be the least toxic option. Unfortunately I didn’t hear back when I requested more details about their materials, and I haven’t tried them myself. Amazon Associates link: https://amzn.to/3O2t60v or their website link.
-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 ECF (Elemental 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 newborn size and pull ups/ training pants. They do have a wetness indicator which does have some toxicity concerns but not a priority to me. Amazon Associates link: https://amzn.to/47qmQYh and discount link to their website (not an affiliate link or code).
-*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. At one point they were TCF but they don’t say anything about it now and didn’t respond to my question about it, so I assume it may have changed to ECF. 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. Amazon Associates link: https://amzn.to/420G84r
-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. Newborn size and pull ups offered. Tested PFAS free. Amazon Associates link: https://amzn.to/3RVblkN
–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. Some of their sizes tested positive for PFAS. 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. Not available on Amazon are the time of this writing. Update 1/17/24 (3 years after first writing this post) I asked if Kudos had a discount code after readers asked. Now you can get 10% off your first purchase with this code: CLEANGREEN.
DIAPERS THAT CONTAIN ADDITIVES:
All of the following contain aloe or other additives, and the concern is: What else is in there besides aloe? They are all vague about it. Also, the additives are not organic and we are not sure what pesticides or possible additional processing chemicals could be present. These are all much cheaper than the best choices 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. Tested PFAS free.
-*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. Tested PFAS free.
-Boo. Outer and inner layers are Bamboo with aloe liner on the inner one. ECF wood pulp core with sumitomo sap. They might be compostable in certain facilities. I hear the sizes 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.” Tested PFAS free.
-*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.
-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.
DIAPERS WITH PLASTIC TOPSHEET (Better than conventional but not best options):
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 (formerly Healthy Nest). 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 plastic. Tested PFAS free.
-*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. Tested PFAS free. This and Honest are the only brands on this list that make overnights that I’m aware of.
-*Honest (this is the 2nd best option from a store) tested PFAS free. This and Millie Moon are the only brands on this list that make overnights that I’m aware of.
-*Bambo. Makes pull ups too.
-Earth and Eden
-*Seventh Generation tested PFAS free
-*Abby and Finn tested PFAS free
-Rascal + Friends tested PFAS free
-Mama Bear tested PFAS free a
-Freestyle Hyper Bamboo tested PFAS free
-*Hello Bello. I tried a free one and the design was awful, leaked.
-Offspring tested PFAS free
-Coterie tested PFAS free
-Terra: Currently on their website FAQs they say their topsheet is a proprietary polypropylene plastic. In the past they may have claimed their topsheet was cornstarch. I didn’t get a response to my questions by email. They make pull ups too.
“PLANT BASED” PLASTIC TOPSHEET:
Beware of this marketing terminology and always look for details of what kind of plants were used, because it’s often GMO corn.
-Thrive Market. They also contain a “plant-based” absorbent core made from GMO corn.
-Kit and Kin uses a corn top sheet.
-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. Makes pull ups too.
-Pura: I didn’t get a response to my questions, and their website is unclear/ conflicting exactly what the topsheet is made of.
-Earth’s 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).
-Happy Little Campers: The top sheet is a “cotton blend” but they don’t say what else is in the blend. And they use Aloe Vera and Vitamin E plant extracts additives, so that’s a no from me.
DIAPERS THAT DO NOT DISCLOSE MATERIALS OR DIDN’T ANSWER QUESTIONS :
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). Tested positive for PFAS.
-Freestyle are unclear what the topsheet is but they say polypropylene plastic is used. They did not respond to requests for clarification.
-Aden and Anais
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 be returned to the earth to be used again, rather than sealed away forever (which is what modern landfills do with disposables).
As far as toxicity, if you use organic fabrics touching the skin, this would also be the less toxic than 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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