Shopping Tips for Diapers
Which are the best baby diapers — reusable cloth or disposable diapers? The impacts of diapers, which come from manufacturing, consumer use and disposal, vary significantly depending on whether the product is reusable or disposable. The most important impacts include:
- Water consumption and pollution from manufacturing disposable diapers or growing cotton for reusable cloth diapers.
- Water and energy consumption at home or in a commercial laundry to wash reusable diapers.
- Solid waste from manufacturing and landfill disposal of disposable diapers.
What to look for
Cradle to Cradle certification, which identifies products that have met stringent health and environment standards (requiring ingredient analysis and a life cycle assessment)
Organic cloth reusable diapers or diapers with flushable inserts. Cloth diapers consume more water, but disposables generate more landfill waste. If you have a high efficiency washing machine and know how to use it effectively, organic cloth diapers are estimated to have the lowest overall environmental impact. If you live where fresh water is limited, disposables better preserve regional water resources.
Diapers bleached using a totally chlorine-free (TCF) method.
When buying diapers, select the product that works best for you and your baby. Maintaining hygiene and your child’s comfort are the most important considerations. From an environmental perspective, reusable and disposable diapers both have significant impacts and neither type has an overwhelming advantage. Do what you can to pick the best baby diapers within either type:
- If you opt for home laundered cloth diapers, reduce your impact by choosing organic cotton products and by using an efficient washing machines with recommended detergent and cold or warm water. Air dry for the smallest environmental footprint.
- If you opt for disposable diapers, select a flushable version to avoid the solid waste impacts of adding diapers to municipal waste streams.
Our scientists have rated 273 Diapers products
Which are the best baby diapers — reusable cloth or disposables? The impacts of diapers, which come from manufacturing, consumer use and disposal, vary significantly depending on whether the product is reusable or disposable. Read More
Environment scores are assigned to diapers by combining company-level environmental indicators (weighted at 75%) with supplemental product-level environmental indicators (weighted at 25%). Available product-level information only applies to a single part of the life cycle (e.g. processing), or does not provide a definitive environmental preference (e.g. diaper type, packaging). Environmental attributes that are relevant to diapers that are only addressed via a company’s Environment score include production waste, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, and biodiversity and ecosystem impacts.
Product-level Environment scores for this category are based on:
- Materials management indicators, including the type of diaper and choice of absorbent material, as well as packaging attributes
- Positive product management indicators, specifically certifications of either the product as a whole or of a significant material component of the product
- Toxic waste indicators, specifically the type of bleaching process used
We selected these supplemental product-level attributes after reviewing category life cycle assessments (including a series of recent peer reviewed studies from the UK Environment Agency and a 1992 study from Franklin and Associates) and assessing data availability.
Health scores are not assigned to diapers, because this product category does not typically result in significant human exposure to potentially harmful ingredients. We note that some consumers have reported concerns that a new diaper material (Dry Max in Pampers Swaddler and Cruiser diapers) is causing skin problems and we will revisit assignment of health scores if the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s investigation of these complaints concludes that some diaper ingredients may have adverse health effects.
Product-level data on social performance are generally unavailable for products in this category, so GoodGuide relies on company-level social scores to characterize the performance of a product on this dimension.
For each of the supplemental attributes selected, we apply the following scoring rules:
- Diaper Type – Reusable diapers are given preference over disposable diapers. Although the overall impact of a reusable or disposable diaper are not significantly different according to published life cycle assessment studies, consumers have the ability to significantly decrease the impact of reusable diapers by using low impact laundering methods. In addition, reusables have the benefit of requiring less packaging than disposables. Among disposable diapers, flushable diaper components are given preference over types that must be discarded as trash because municipal treatment systems are a more environmentally friendly disposal option than solid waste management systems.
- Certifications – Four textile/fabric certifications are applied to the diaper products we rate: Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Organic cotton, Oeko-Tex materials, and Cradle to Cradle (C2C). Of these four, C2C is favored because it applies to the whole product, and can be independently verified. The other claimed certifications are specific to one ingredient or apply to only one component of the diaper assembly.
- Packaging – ‘No packaging’ is given the highest score with reusable, durable bags as a second choice. For the vast majority of products with ‘traditional’ packaging, there is variability in packaging both materials and designs. Due to this variability and the absence of a comprehensive and robust method for comparison, preference was given to packages with recycled content.
- Material Processing – Diaper components are typically subjected to a bleaching process. Historically, bleaching was done using elemental chlorine produced and released large amounts of chlorinated organic compounds (including dioxins) into the environment. This method is generally no longer used in the US. Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) processing is the preferred processing option for bleaching diaper components because it uses a non-halogenated bleaching process, typically with hydrogen peroxide or another oxygen-based process. Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) processing is currently the most prevalent bleaching method.
Note re: Diaper Ingredients
Due to data gaps, it is currently not possible to incorporate detailed ingredient-level evaluations into diaper scores. In the absence of regulatory product labeling requirements, diaper manufacturers exhibit a significant amount of variability and lack of specificity when disclosing ingredient information. Disposable diapers may only disclose one ingredient specific to a single component of the diaper assembly. Reusable diapers may disclose cotton, polyester, rayon or nylon as one of several blended ingredients. Reviewing information from diaper packaging and website descriptions, it is not currently possible to construct a consistent ingredient profile. In addition, the absence of life cycle assessments on some common diaper ingredients hinders any relative environmental evaluation of different diaper compositions.