Donate |

Diapers

Diaper buying guide

Last updated: November 2012
Getting started

Getting started

Disposable or cloth diapers? That's your first decision. Disposable diapers are undeniably more convenient, but they're costly. You can expect to spend around $2,500 or more by the time your baby is potty-trained. If you use "eco-friendly" disposable diapers, which are biodegradable and/or not bleached with chlorine, you'll pay about $1,000 more depending on the number of diaper changes per day and the brand you use.

Cloth diapers can be much less expensive than disposables, especially if you wash them yourself. (Some parents use a diaper service, which picks up dirty diapers and delivers clean ones.) After paying the initial cost, you'll save hundreds of dollars by reusing cloth diapers again and again. If you wash them yourself, you might even be able to use them for more than one baby.

Many companies offer starter packs of cloth diapers that come with accessories. The accessories vary with the type of diaper you choose, but in general you'll need diaper inserts (cloth pads added to increase absorbency), waterproof covers to lock in moisture, and/or flushable liners that help to contain the mess. Liners eliminate the need to rinse cloth diapers before depositing them in a diaper pail. They do create waste, although less than disposable diapers. And some are biodegradable, like the Kushies brand.

"People still think of cloth diapers as being messy and involving pins and plastic pants," says Betsy Thomas, co-owner of Bummis, a Montreal-based company that makes cloth diapers. "But in actual fact, today's cloth diapers are as easy to use as their disposable counterparts. Snap and Velcro-type closures, high-tech comfort fabrics, and flushable liners have revolutionized cloth diapers, making them an increasingly attractive choice for many parents, especially in times of economic hardships. Although single-use (so-called disposable) diapers still control most of the market, the percentage of parents using cloth diapers is rising steadily."

The Real Diaper Industry Association, a group that represents makers of cloth diapers, says a survey it did found a 30 percent increase in cloth diaper sales between 2000 and 2007.

Despite a growing interest in cloth diapers, disposable ones continue to be the first choice for many parents and a preferred choice at many day-care centers and hospitals.

Recommendations

With disposables, plan on using plenty for your newborn, but don't load up on the newborn size. Unless you're the parent of multiples, it's overkill to buy economy packs at the beginning, some of which contain up to 160 diapers. Your baby is likely to outgrow the newborn size before you use that many. In fact, some babies are too big at birth to ever wear a newborn size. Start with one package of 40-count newborn diapers if your baby weighs about 8 pounds at birth. If she weighs more, start with a package of size 1, then buy in volume after you find the brand you like best. Don't be afraid to experiment; you'll find a favorite brand in time.

Once you know what you need, purchasing the largest-count package you can find is the way to go. Choosing a box of 216 Pampers Swaddlers in size 1, for example, will cost you about $42 (19 cents a diaper), while a pack of 54 will cost almost $18 (33 cents a diaper). You'll save the most money if you buy store-brand diapers in economy-size boxes, which come in counts that range from 92 to 252. You can also find competitive deals on name-brand diapers on sale in packages of various sizes. Browse online to find the most competitive prices and bulk discounts.

Don't be too quick to jump to the next size diaper, either. Selecting the smallest diaper your baby can wear comfortably will save you money in the long run because a larger diaper costs more. Manufacturers usually charge the same amount per package regardless of the actual size of the diapers, but they put fewer diapers in the package as the size gets larger. In addition, a diaper that's too roomy could allow leaks.

Diaper sizes vary from brand to brand. One version's size 1 might fit children from 8 to 14 pounds, while another's will fit those from 8 to 18 pounds, combining sizes 1 and 2 into one package. A brand's weight range usually overlaps: size 2 in one brand will cover kids weighing 12 to 18 pounds; size 3, 16 to 28 pounds; and so on.

With cloth diapers, the type of cloth you choose (as well as whether you go with cloth at all) is a matter of personal preference. They can be a significant money saver, but don't be a slave to the laundry room. Buy enough so that you don't have to wash diapers more frequently than every two to three days.

If you choose unfolded, pre-folded, or fitted cloth diapers, you'll need two to three dozen to begin with, plus six to 10 waterproof covers. If you go the pocket diaper route, having 12 to 16 should be adequate in the beginning. If you purchase a start-up kit you'll get all the diapers, diaper covers, and flushable liners you'll need for that diaper's weight limit. Pay close attention to washing instructions until you come up with your own system. "People are afraid of the washing, but once they do it they realize that it's no big deal," Thomas says. If you choose cloth, don't think it's all or nothing. Feel free to use disposables when you need or want to, such as when you're traveling with your baby.

Some parents think their children get fewer rashes with cloth diapers. Laura Jana, a pediatrician and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, says there isn't a big difference in the frequency of rashes with cloth vs. disposable diapers. Jana has done consulting work with Procter & Gamble, which makes of Pampers.

See our buying advice for changing tables and dressers, and how to change baby's diaper safely.

Types

Parents have argued about the merits of cloth vs. disposable diapers for years.

Here are the diaper types to consider:

Disposables


A disposable diaper is an absorbent pad sandwiched between two sheets of nonwoven fabric. The pad typically contains chemical crystals that can absorb up to 800 times their weight in liquid and hold it in gel form. That helps to keep liquid away from your baby's skin. According to manufacturers, this means you can leave a baby in a disposable longer than in a cloth diaper without causing him discomfort. Most disposable diapers can absorb far more liquid than a child is likely to produce during a single use. Of course, you'll probably see differences from brand to brand in fit, absorbency, and leakage control. The main improvement in disposables in recent years has been to make them thinner, which is supposed to create less waste for landfills.

Diapers are often sized according to a baby's weight, beginning with preemie and newborn (depending on the brand) and progressing to sizes 1 through 7 (and sometimes even 8). Some store and "eco-friendly" brands are marked simply small, medium, large, and extra large, and weight ranges are listed on the package. An example of this is the Tushies brand. Seventh Generation is another "eco-friendly" manufacturer that makes the Free & Clear diaper and does use sizing numbers. For example, a pack of 30 Free & Clear diapers in size 4 (22 to 37 pounds) retails for $42. Both companies say that they don't use chlorine processing to make their diapers look white. Seventh Generation also says its diapers are free of fragrances, latex, and petroleum-based lotions. Like other manufacturers, Seventh Generation also makes training pants for toddlers.

Some brands, such as Pampers, have different sizing measurements. For example, Pampers Swaddlers come in size XS for babies up to 4 pounds, size PI for babies up to 6 pounds, and size N for those up to 10 pounds. There is also a size 1 for babies 8 to 14 pounds. Luvs makes Newborn diapers for babies between 4 and 10 pounds.

As the size of the diaper increases, you'll get fewer diapers for the same price. For example, a box of 276 Pampers Baby Dry Diapers in size 1 was about $44 earlier this year. But a box of 100 Pampers Cruisers in a size 7 cost the same amount. (The most common size of the largest diapers, size 7, fits children weighing 41 pounds or more.) Manufacturers frequently change the counts in big "discount" boxes.

There are other types of diapers to consider. "Overnight" ones are advertised as more absorbent. A package of Huggies Overnights, for example, says you'll get "12 hours of protection" for your little one's bottom, while Pampers Extra Protection diapers offer to keep your baby "dry overnight." Like other diapers, these types come in a variety of sizes. When your child is older, you can also purchase "swim" diapers, which are designed to contain his mess without becoming soggy with water. (Some cloth diapers also offer swim versions.)

Disposable underwear


Disposable underwear is designed to keep older children dry at night if they urinate while sleeping. Goodnites Underwear, for example, is made in different versions for boys and girls ages 4 and up. Pampers makes a similar product called UnderJams (marketed as a size 8 diaper). The size L/XL, for example, will fit a child between 58 and 85 pounds.

Pull-Ups


As your child starts potty-training you can begin letting him wear pull-ups, which are diapers that look and feel a bit more like regular underwear. Some are designed to let the child feel a change the moment it gets even a little bit wet, so he can learn when he needs to go to the bathroom. Huggies Pull-Ups with Cool Alert have a "wetness liner" that feels cool after a child urinates; the company also makes Learning Designs diapers, which have characters on them that fade when the diaper gets wet. Pampers Easy Ups Trainers have a Feel ‘n Learn Liner that lets children feel a small amount of wetness immediately, so they know it's time to head to the toilet. The image on the diaper will also fade when wet. Many diapers are now designed for girls or boys with the absorbency pad placed in the best place depending on gender. (See "How to change baby's diaper safely" for related information.)

Cloth diapers


Cloth diapers are usually made from absorbent fabrics: cotton fleece, terry (like towels, but softer), flannel (similar to the material used in flannel sheets and pajamas, but denser and thicker), and unbleached hemp, wool and/or other materials. Flannel is the softest against the skin and the most absorbent.

Organic cotton cloth and eco-friendly diapers made from bamboo are widely available, but you'll pay more for them compared with nonorganic cotton. A dozen white or unbleached medium diapers from Green Mountain Diapers costs about $32. A dozen of the same size in organic cotton cost $36. Bummis offers a starter kit of organic diapers that comes with, among other things, cotton pre-fold inserts, five reusable fleece liners, and flushable Bio-Soft liners. The kit also includes 24 infant-size diapers or 18 baby-size diapers. It retails for $170.

Many parents cite environmental concerns when they choose cloth diapers, since one child can contribute thousands of disposable diapers to the local landfill before they are potty-trained. Of course, using "flushable" diaper inserts with your cloth diaper also adds to the sewage waste stream. But cloth can also make sense from an economic standpoint (see Cloth vs. disposables for more information). Standard cloth diapers can cost $16 to $24 depending on the brand, size, and features. An "all-in-one" infant cloth diaper from Kushies for babies 10 to 22 pounds, for example, sells for about $16. A cloth diaper from BumGenius that comes with two inserts (one for an infant and one for a toddler) retails for about $18. They fit babies 7 to 35 pounds.

Another example is the Bummis Tots Bots Easy Fit One Size Cloth Diaper, which can be used with a baby from 8 to 35 pounds by adjusting the rise of the diaper using snaps on the front. It retails for $24 at online stores, uses Velcro closures, and comes with an absorbent liner insert.

Some cloth diapers have inserts that you wash and reuse, and others have liners that can be tossed. A pack of flushable liners by Kushies (also labeled as biodegradable) comes in a pack of 100 for about $10, for example.

Fully washable diapers tend to be less expensive to maintain than those that need disposable inserts. Some cloth diapering systems can be used with a variety of inserts--ones you can wash, ones you can flush, and some you can compost.

You might need to wash organic cotton and bamboo diapers several times to enhance their absorbency before your baby wears them, so check the care instructions. There are five types of cloth diapers to choose from. (With the first three diaper types, you'll also need to use waterproof pants.)

All-in-one diapers


These are a variation on pocket diapers in which the diaper is sewn to the outer waterproof cover (you still fold the diaper into the pocket). Bummis Easy-Fit Diaper is an example. They're convenient for quick changes on the go and, with an extra diaper inside, can work well overnight. But they're bulky and thick, so they might need more time in the dryer after laundering. Some are one size; instead of buying larger sizes as your baby grows, you simply secure the front flaps on the outer snaps as your baby gets bigger.

Fitted or contour diapers


These are shaped more like disposables, with a narrow crotch and wide wings that wrap around a baby's waist. Some require diaper fasteners, but others are fastened with Velcro. Still others have snaps, like the Baby BeeHinds one-size hemp fitted diaper. Some fitted diapers have elastic at the waist and legs, and a more absorbent layer in the center. With contour diapers, you have to buy different sizes as your baby grows.

Pocket diapers


Pocket diapers, such as Kushies, consist of a waterproof covering that includes a pocket into that you insert a folded diaper or a disposable or washable liner. Velcro fasteners or several rows of snaps (for different fits) keep the covering closed. The outer cover comes in a range of sizes.

Pre-folded diapers


These are also rectangular but not nearly as big as unfolded diapers, so some parents find them easier to use. They require you to fold them once or twice to fit inside a waterproof diaper cover. But they can be versatile; depending on how you fold them, they can be adapted to accommodate the different absorption needs of boys and girls, or the less-solid waste of a newborn. You'll need to buy a different size diaper and diaper cover as your baby grows. The Green Mountain Pre-fold diapers, for example, come in Newborn, Small, Medium, Large and XL-Toddler. Pre-folded diapers are most commonly used by diaper services. They typically come with folding instructions that differ for boys and girls.

Unfolded diapers


These are rectangles of flat fabric that you fold to fit your baby's shape, holding them in place with diaper pins or a Snappi diaper fastener (a pinless diaper fastener with T-shaped grips on each end that hook into diaper fabric) in three places (the left and right sides, and the center). Unfolded diapers can also be folded and placed inside a Velcro or snap-closing waterproof cover, which you'll have to buy in different sizes as your baby grows.

Features


Cloth diapers are easy to use, but some parents find them less convenient than disposables because they have to be washed. When shopping for either type, look for features that improve fit, comfort, and absorbency.

Fasteners


The type of fastener varies from brand to brand. Most now have Velcro fasteners, which, unlike tape, don't lose their sticking power when they come in contact with baby creams or powders, or when you make adjustments.

Contoured fit


Many diaper brands have elastic around the waist and legs to help prevent leaks.

Lotion

Some disposable diapers have petroleum-based lotions in the liner, and some are scented with light fragrance.

The lotion is meant to lubricate the skin and protect baby's bottom. Ilona J. Frieden, M.D., director of pediatric dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco Children's Hospital, says the lotions "may be helpful, but as with any additional substance there might be a small number of infants who are either irritated by, or allergic to, the substances added."

"The same can be said of fragrances," she adds, "except they are really there for the benefit of parents rather than infants, and so don't really serve a very good purpose. But true allergic reactions to fragrances in this age group are very rare."

Frieden says that fragrance is not something parents need to avoid, but that scented diapers "are certainly not needed."

Stretch sides


These sides help the diaper to do a better job of molding to a baby's body, which can help stop leaks. Diapers with stretch sides can be more comfortable, too. This feature is found on disposable diapers and on waterproof cloth diaper covers and all-in-one cloth diaper styles.

Ultra-absorbent core


Most disposable diapers have materials in the crotch padding that enhance absorbency.

Wetness indicator

Some diapers, such as Pampers Swaddlers Sensitive, have a wetness indicator that lets you know your baby needs a change.

Cutout (for newborns)

Newborn sizes of many brands of disposable diapers have a curved front or cutout to avoid irritating the still-healing navel area. Some parents just fold a regular diaper down until the area fully heals.

Fashion and style


You'll find plenty of diapers specifically for boys or girls, and not just because of where the most absorbency is placed in the diaper. Some manufacturers offer cartoon characters or patterns printed on diapers that are geared toward one gender or the other. You'll also see manufacturers offering "limited edition" prints and patterns, such as Huggies, which has offered a limited edition diaper in a "blue jeans" style.

Brands


Disposable
In addition to the major national brands of disposable diapers outlined below, there are also many store brands, including but not limited to the following: Stop & Shop's Cottontails, Costco's Kirkland Signature, Target's Up & Up, Walmart's Parent Choice, and  Kmart's Little Ones. 

Cloth
For cloth diapers, major brands of unfolded, prefolded, fitted, all-in-ones, pocket diapers and/or diaper covers are listed below too.

Bumkins

Founded in 1989, this Arizona-based company provides distinctively designed, high-quality, family-oriented merchandise such as bibs, smocks, aprons, clothing, and cloth diapers. Available at Target, Babies "R" Us, and online.
www.bumkins.com
 

Bummis

Pronounced bum-eez, this Montreal-based company was started by three mothers in the 1980s. It produces one- and two-piece cloth diaper sets, training pants, swimsuits, and cloth-diapering accessories. Available at specialty stores and online.
www.bummis.com

Fuzzi Bunz

Founded in 1999 by Tereson Dupuy, a Louisiana mother of three, the company uses soft fleece in its cloth diapers to ensure dryness. Diapers are available in more than a dozen colors and in two sizes. Check company website for a retailer near you.
www.fuzzibunz.com

Happy Heinys

A California-based company that is a division of MLB Industries, Happy Heinys makes cloth diapers in a variety of sizes and colors, along with accessories such as diaper inserts, creams, and lotions. Visit company’s website for retailers near you.
www.happyheinys.com

Huggies

Owned by the 140-year-old Wisconsin company Kimberly-Clark, Huggies are distributed in 150 countries. Varieties include newborn to toddler diapers, overnites, jean diapers, swimmers, baby wipes, and diapers for bed wetters, among others. Available everywhere diapers are sold.
www.huggies.com

Kissaluvs

Born in 1998 in a family’s dining room, this family owned and operated company is dedicated to creating and providing natural family products, such as all-in-ones, fitted, contoured, and organic diapers. Available at specialty stores and on the company’s website.
www.kissaluvs.com

Kushies

This 50-year-old Canadian company was awarded the privilege of displaying the Ecologo of the Canadian Ministry of the Environment on its patented cloth diapers, and has received many awards for its products. The company produces a variety of cloth diapers in an array of colors, training pants, accessories, and changing pads. See company website for retailers near you.
www.kushies.com

Luvs

Procter & Gamble, a global company that provides consumer products in the areas of pharmaceuticals, cleaning supplies, personal care, and pet supplies, also owns Luvs diapers. Luvs come in a variety of sizes, from newborn (4 to 10 pounds) up to toddlers (35 pounds), and baby wipes.
www.luvsdiapers.com

Mommy's Touch

This company’s products are 100% made and manufactured in the USA by “a high-quality work force of Work at Home Moms (WAHM).” It produces a variety of cloth diapers and nursery accessories. Visit the company’s website for retailer information.
www.mommystouch.com

Nature Babycare

Naty, a small company founded by Marlene Sandberg, a Swedish mother and a champion of environmental causes, provides environmentally aware parents ecological options in personal care products with its Nature Babycare and Nature Womencare lines. Along with a variety of disposable diapers, the company also sells nursing pads, bibs, creams, and lotions.
www.naty.com/us

Pampers

Victor Mills was an American chemical engineer who, while working for the Procter & Gamble Co., revolutionized child care with the invention of the disposable diaper. He began work on that product in the 1950s, using his grandchildren as test subjects. Today, Pampers are found around the world. Available in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors, Pampers are sold wherever diapers are sold.
www.pampers.com

Seventh Generation

This company’s mission statement is “to inspire a more conscious and sustainable world by being an authentic force for positive change.” Products include household cleaners, laundry care, personal care, and baby care. Available at major supermarkets and natural food stores, and online.
www.seventhgeneration.com

Soft Bums

Founded by the husband-and-wife team Sarah and Brian Van Bogart, this Minnesota-based company has been selling the unique Echo cloth diapering system, formerly called PerfectFit, since 2008. It sells two styles of diapering systems, nursery accessories, and even detergent. See company’s website for retailer information and online purchasing.
www.softbums.com

Swaddlebees

Started by Margarita McClure, a mother with a mission to change America’s diapers, Swaddlebees offers a wide range of organic cloth diapers. It offers all-in-ones, fitted diapers, diaper covers and inserts, accessories, and items “just for moms.” See company’s website for retailers and online purchasing.
www.swaddlebees.com

Tiny Tush

Based in Wisconsin, this family-owned company has been a manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer of cloth diapers and natural baby products since 2000. It offers cloth diapers, diaper covers, inserts, sprayers, liners, wipes, fasteners, wet bags, and organic nursing pads. Visit company’s website for retailers near you and online purchasing information.
www.tinytush.com

Tushies

This company produces diapers using certified nonchlorine bleached wood pulp blended with cotton for natural high absorbency. Available at natural food stores and online.
www.tushies.com

Under the Nile

Since 1998, this company has been producing soft and durable cotton apparel, toys, cloth diapers, and accessories for infants and children. All its products are made from 100% handpicked organic Egyptian cotton, without the use of pesticides or chemicals throughout the entire production process. See company’s website for a variety of products and to check purchasing information.
www.underthenile.com

bumGenius

Manufactured by Cotton Babies, a Colorado-based company, bumGenius cloth diapers are designed to make cloth diapering easy for everyday people. The company believes that cloth diapering should be as inexpensive and easy as using disposables. Available at specialty shops and online.
www.bumgenius.com

Cloth vs. disposable

There are plenty of reasons parents argue about cloth vs. disposable diapers. Advocates of cloth worry about the environmental impact of disposables going into landfills, while users of disposables point out that putting diapers in a washing machine uses energy. Some cloth diaper users think their children get fewer diaper rashes and potty-train faster because they can feel when their diaper is soiled. Fans of disposables counter that their children get fewer diaper rashes because the superabsorbent gel in most versions holds and wicks away wetness from a baby's skin and neutralizes the alkaline pH of urine, significantly reducing the risk of diaper rash.

"It's a great innovation that keeps your baby much drier than cloth diapers," Ilona J. Frieden, M.D., director of pediatric dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco Children's Hospital, says about disposable diapers. "Because of the gel in disposable diapers, irritant diaper rashes that were once commonplace are now rare."

In the end, let convenience and cost be your deciding factors. A lot will depend on your lifestyle, what you're comfortable using, and what type of diaper works best for your child. If your baby is in day care, for example, you'll need to use disposables, at least during the day. Some parents use cloth diapers at home and disposables when they're traveling.

If you're not sure which type of diaper to use you could try both types, as Michelle Hong, a mother of three who lives near Washington D.C., did. When her first child was born, the family was living overseas in Japan. Put off by the prospect of laundering cloth diapers in the notoriously small Japanese washing machines, Hong used disposables. When she moved back to the U.S. she began using cloth diapers with her second baby, and then transitioned her older baby to cloth as well.

What motivated Hong to try cloth was simple economics. "First and foremost was expense," she recalls. "I am staying home and my husband is a public school educator, and I was trying to find cheaper ways to cut expenses. What's another load or two of laundry?" She says she also felt good about her choice because of environmental concerns. "When I think of all the diapers one child goes through, it pretty much turns my stomach--and I am not the ‘greenest' person." She says she often switched back and forth between disposables and cloth with her third child.

Hong says she didn't notice a big difference in diaper rashes between disposables or cloth. She advises parents interested in cloth diapers to talk with other parents who are using them. "There's a learning curve, but there's no big difference," she says. "There's a little extra work of carrying around a wet bag, and coming home and dumping it in the diaper pail, but it was worth it to me. I had time vs. money."

It was a different situation for Lexi Rohner, who has triplets in addition to a teenager and lives near Los Angeles. "I was never really looking for cloth diapers in the first place," Rohner says. "But with three, everything that could be the most convenient was really important." In addition to having three bottoms to keep clean at once, two of Rohner's little ones have cerebral palsy. Her daughter's condition is mild, but one of her son's has more serious problems. Now 3 ½ years old, her son can't walk without assistance, and she isn't sure when he'll be out of diapers. "I've used everything from nighttime diapers to pull ups," Rohner says.

In the beginning Rohner shopped for disposables at places like Target and Costco, then found a brand she liked best and can order through Diapers.com, which ships directly to her home. "It's like anything else," says Rohner, who knows many parents with twins and triplets. "Someone else's experience isn't going to be the same as yours. I have to choose the most practical thing for my family."

   

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters!
Choose from safety, health, cars, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Babies & Kids News

Connect

and safety with
subscribers and fans

Follow us on:

Cars

Cars New Car Price Report
Find out what the dealers don't want you to know! Get dealer pricing information on a new car with the New Car Price Report.

Order Your Report

Mobile

Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more
left arrow right arrow
See also:
See buying guide down arrow
See buying guide down arrow
See buying guide down arrow
See buying guide down arrow
See buying guide down arrow
See buying guide down arrow