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We took a deep dive researching disposable diapers, the ingredients that go into them, and the effect those ingredients have on our children and the environment.
Our goal was to find the best diapers that are biodegradable, chemical-free, eco-friendly and organic.
Traditional disposable diapers have lots of harmful ingredients. From chemical fragrances to plastics, they're terrible for our children and terrible for our planet.
We took a deep dive into each of the diapers to judge their eco-friendliness and the ingredients and chemicals in the diapers so you can tell exactly which ones are great and which ones should be avoided.
The Best Options For Non-Toxic and Safe Disposable Diapers
The bottom line is that there are a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to what should be avoided.
But our recommendation is this: better safe than sorry.
Just because dioxins might be in trace amounts or there's no cut and dry evidence that certain other chemicals might be bad for humans, it's better to avoid them if possible.
Here are our simple rules for the ideal non-toxic and disposable diapers:
Our simple rules for the ideal non-toxic and disposable diapers.
- Totally chlorine-free (TCF)
- Dye-free (or at least eco-friendly dye used)
- Biodegradable (but not a huge concern)
- Top & back sheets made from bamboo
We looked into each of these diapers to look for each of the above rules. If they meet our standards, they're given a Good rating.
If there are some standards they don't quite meet, they'll get an Iffy rating, and if they're just not any good, they get a Bad rating.
The best disposable diapers.
These diapers meet all of the above criteria. They have no toxic chemicals, are all made of bamboo, and many of them are much better for the environment than traditional diapers.
Any of these diapers would be a great choice for the parent looking for a good, non-toxic diaper for their little one.
Eco Pea makes a line of bamboo diapers that do a relatively good job at being eco-friendly and nontoxic.
They’re free of fragrance, phthalates, latex, lotions and dyes. The core is made of traditional SAP and totally chlorine-free cellulose fluff.
These diapers contain aloe in the liner which you may or may not want to avoid.
The diapers are only available through their website, either on 1-off purchases or a subscription service that saves you $10 per bag.
All in all, a good diaper that we only wish was a little cheaper.
Like any of the diapers we give a “Good” rating, these offer a bamboo top and back sheet and are free of all the nasty chemicals we want nowhere near our baby’s bottoms.
They’re free of phthalates, latex, PVC, TBT, parabens and the core is made from totally chlorine-free wood pulp and a traditional SAP core.
These diapers seem to have many reports of the tabs ripping off when putting them on or even while the child is wearing them.
We reached out to Little Toes in April 2020 to ask them about this, and they tell us that as of November 2019, the diapers have tabs that are reinforced and also have a wetness indicator.
All in all you can’t really go wrong with these diapers, but the price is a bit expensive and we couldn’t really recommend them over others.
Bambo Nature diapers aren’t actually made of bamboo which you might expect. While not made of bamboo, they’re free of phthalates, TBT, dyes, PVC, lotions and fragrances.
These ones are highly lauded for their certifications: they’ve earned the Nordic Swan Ecolabel which is a notoriously difficult certification to get. This standard means that the brand has been tested on energy and resource consumption, factory emissions, waste product creation, and hazardous substances in the diaper.
It’s also great that the packaging of these diapers is 100% recyclable, which isn’t necessarily the case with all diapers. They’re also a very transparent company, which is refreshing.
Since the biodegradability of even bamboo diapers isn’t really a sure thing, it’s possible that these diapers are actually more eco-friendly than bamboo diapers.
These use a polypropylene (plastic) top-sheet and a polypropylene/polyethylene (plastic) back-sheet, which is a negative. They’re also only elemental-chlorine free and not TCF (total chlorine free), which might be a deal-breaker considering there are diapers out there that are TCF and cheaper, too.
While in terms of health we’d prefer a diaper that is bamboo and TCF, in terms of eco-friendliness, these are pretty good.
Bambo recently rebranded and changed their diapers. This review is for the newer “Love” line that come in a green bag. The Love line is a little thinner and also has a wetness indicator.
Andy Pandy’s disposable bamboo diapers are a very popular choice.
They’re totally chlorine-free, biodegradable, contain no phtalates, BPA, PVC, TBT, alcohol or preservatives. These do have an aloe liner which we would prefer not to be there, but it’s at least a natural liner and not a chemical-based lotion.
They’re a comfortable diaper, but there are some reports of leakage when using them and sometimes having durability issues.
But that aside, they’re a solid choice for an eco-friendly and non-toxic disposable diaper.
Iffy Disposable Diapers—The Ones With Issues
These diapers have some positives going for them. But, after researching them and looking into their ingredients, we found issues that make them worse than the best diapers.
Most of these diapers have questionable ingredients or are from companies that aren't transparent enough with their ingredients and manufacturing process to give them a good rating.
They're also not at all biodegradable and not made of bamboo.
Earth + Eden (Amazon)
Earth + Eden are a private label brand of Amazon that would like you to believe that they’re more eco-friendly and natural than they actually are.
The core of the diaper is made from traditional sodium polyacrylate (SAP) and elemental chlorine-free wood fluff (not totally chlorine-free, but it’s from sustainable forests)
Then we get to the rest of the diaper which is made from typical petroleum-derived polyethylene/polypropylene. It’s not at all biodegradable or compostable for this reason. Besides that, they’re free of lotions, fragrance, parabens and latex.
These diapers can only be found on Amazon—they’re not available in any stores or elsewhere online.
There’s nothing special about these diapers and they can’t be recommended over better options. They are, however, quite cheap and are a better alternative to many traditional diapers like Huggies and Pampers.
Babyganics only offer a partial ingredients list in their diapers. They’re totally chlorine-free and they say they’re fragrance-free but they definitely have a scent, which is confusing.
We feel that the Babyganics brand is trying to give the impression of being more eco-conscious (with “ganics” in the name, as in “organics”) and non-toxic than others, but in reality that’s not really true.
They’re free of “petroleum-based lotions” but we prefer no lotion whatsoever, because there’s a list of mystery ingredients that tend to be in lotions. They’re also formulated with “NeoNourish Seed Oil Blend: our own blend of tomato, sunflower, cranberry, black cumin and raspberry seed oils” which is something we’d prefer to avoid, really.
They’re not eco-friendly, they’re made of petrochemicals and are very non-transparent about the ingredients list.
Thrive Market is an interesting store. You have to pay a monthly fee to access their online-only store that aims to be healthy, sustainable and affordable.
Their diapers aren’t made of bamboo but aren’t bad. In terms of biodegradability, we don’t believe they’re at all compostable.
The back sheet and top sheet are made from plant-based PLA (bioplastic), and the core is made from traditional SAP, bio SAP, and wood fluff from sustainable forests. They do have polypropylene in the leg/waist system, and after reaching out to the company, they told us that they’re free of phthalates.
If you’re already a member of Thrive, their diapers are a great value. While they’re not perfect nor the best of the bunch, they make a decent budget pick.
Parasol is a new company that aims to be more eco-friendly but misses the mark in a bad way.
This company’s website will lead you to believe that they’re making a an eco-conscious diaper that’s “chemical-free” and “less waste, less pollution and a happier mama earth” but since they’re made with petroleum-derived plastics, they’re not eco-friendly at all.
These diapers are total chlorine-free, latex-free, have no fragrances, parabens, phthalates, preservatives or latex.
The top sheet and inner sheet are made of petroleum-derived polypropylene and polyethylene which is bad, and the core is made of traditional SAP and wood pulp. Since the polypropylene comes into direct contact with your child, there are better options available.
At the price we can’t recommend these diapers over better options that cost less and find it disappointing that this company is misleading customers into thinking their diapers are eco-friendly in any way.
The Honest Company
These diapers used to be better, but unfortunately in 2018 they reformulated the ingredients list. It now includes more petroleum-based plastics—the top sheet (inner layer) is made from polyethylene & polypropylene which will come into direct contact with your child’s skin.
The core is made of totally chlorine-free wood pulp from sustainable forests and traditional SAP. They’re also free of fragrance, lotions, TBT and pthalates.
The Honest Company is a very popular company and a lot of parents swear by these diapers. We think it’s disappointing that they changed the formulation and would like these diapers more if they used bamboo or at least a non petroleum-derived inner layer. It’s also not clear what the designs are printed with.
Because of this, and the fact that they’re not at all biodegradable, we can’t give them a good rating.
Earth’s Best is very vague in their description of these diapers. They’re also misleading people into thinking this is an eco-friendly product when it certainly isn’t. They list very few actual ingredients, and it’s unclear if there are any phthalates or lotions in the diaper.
They say they’re chlorine-free, but it’s not clear if this is elemental chlorine (ECF) or totally chlorine free (TCF). They do claim to be fragrance and latex-free. They also claim to be “dye-free” so it’s unclear what’s being used for the colored print on the diaper.
They also get a bad rating in terms of eco-friendliness. No disposable diaper is really all that eco-friendly, but since they’re essentially greenwashing and very secretive of the ingredients, these diapers are not recommended.
2021 Update: This brand no longer makes total chlorine-free (TCF) diapers—they’re now just elemental chlorine-free. For this reason, we have lowered their rating.
An online subscription delivery service, DYPER is a great, transparent company that makes an excellent non-toxic and eco-friendly diaper. In order to purchase these diapers, you need to sign up for a monthly subscription that delivers the diapers straight to your door.
They also have an “SOS” service where, if you run out of diapers, you can order a free 1-day delivery (depending on where you live) of a sleeve of diapers to tide you over until your full order arrives.
They’re made of a fully bamboo top and back sheet with a Sumitomo SAP and Total-Chlorine-Free wood fluff core. They also have none of the toxic ingredients we prefer to avoid: no latex, PVC, TBT, phthalates, perfumes or lotions.
On their website they have instructions for composting the diapers at home. The say you can only recommend wet diapers, not those with feces in them, and you need to physically remove some of the non-compostable parts, but it’s a good step in the right direction.
For those that want it, they have a very unique service where, for a fee, you can ship them your soiled diapers to their partner TerraCycle who will compost the diapers for you. This service costs an extra $39 per delivery, which equals about 15 cents per diaper. At this extra cost, the service is likely only for those with a high budget.
This is also the only company that purchases carbon offsets for each package of diapers sold. Typically, these proceeds from these carbon offsets are used in developing countries to help fund systems to reduce future emissions. Essentially, this is meant to reduce the company’s carbon footprint.
All in all, if you’re okay with a diaper subscription, we truly think that this is the best non-toxic and eco-friendly diaper on the market, period.
Aleva Naturals is vague in telling us if their diapers are total chlorine free or elemental chlorine free (ECF). Since they only say “chlorine free” it’s likely that they’re only ECF.
While they do say that the top and back layers are made of bamboo, they’re also vague as to what the rest of the diaper is made of. This includes the core, which is an important aspect of whether or not the diaper is non-toxic and eco-friendly.
We will try to reach out to the company to clarify the ingredients used, but until then we can’t recommend this diaper.
Attitude is a brand that makes some great non-toxic cleaners and they’ve entered the diaper market as well.
Attitude as a company itself is carbon neutral and uses 100% renewable energy, but they’re rather opaque when it comes to these diapers. It’s not clear whether these are totally chlorine free or just elemental chlorine free, and their ingredient list is quite vague.
The back and top sheet are made from biopolymer plastics. It’s not entirely clear what the exact ingredients are in the diaper, but we can’t rate it higher than diapers that use bamboo for these parts.
Attitude diapers are also very expensive. For these reasons, we can’t recommend them.
ABBY & FINN
A newer company that offers online-only and a subscription service, ABBY & FINN’s disposable diapers are relatively non-toxic but don’t quite hit the mark when it comes to eco-friendliness.
If you’re someone that would like to completely avoid synthetic materials, these diapers aren’t for you. They use polypropylene (PP) and polyurethane for the top sheet and back sheet, so they’re not fully biodegradable and for this reason, we can’t give them a good rating.
They are, however, totally chlorine-free (TCF) and use no latex, fragrances, lotions & moisturizers or dyes and have no phthalates.
On the upside, with their diaper subscription you can choose multi sizes in a single box—seasoned parents know that babies grow fast, so this can help reduce wasted diapers.
Bad Disposable Diapers—Avoid These Ones
These diapers are ones that you should avoid at all costs if you're looking for a non-toxic and eco-friendly diaper.
They're generally made entirely of plastics, have harmful ingredients like chemical fragrances, or are just downright toxic.
Like most big diaper brands, Luvs really don’t have much to offer in terms of eco-friendliness or health considerations for your child. Luvs is the budget brand of Pampers, so they’re essentially Pampers but worse.
They’re ECF (elemental chlorine-free) but not totally chlorine free. They’re also free of latex, but other than that the brand is not transparent about much else. Since they have a strong perfume scent and prints, its safe to say they’re not fragrance or dye-free.
They’re not eco-friendly or non-toxic and are full of plastics and are not a good diaper for those who care about either of these things.
Up & Up (Target)
Target’s in-house brand of diapers is popular because they’re cheap, but they can’t be recommended from either a health or eco-friendly standpoint.
Target isn’t very transparent with the materials used in the diaper. They’re ECF (elemental chlorine-free) and free of sulfates, parabens, petroleum and perfumes. They however use some sort of mystery lotion and it’s unclear if they’re latex free or not.
They don’t disclose the makeup of the diaper including the top and back sheets, but we can definitely assume they’re made of polyethylene and polypropylene.
Because of the lack of transparency, the lack of any sort of eco-friendliness and it being made primarily of petroleum-based plastics, we give these diapers a bad rating.
Made Of is an interesting new brand that’s trying to bring “better” diapers, wipes and household products to the market.
The problem with these diapers is that they’re not nearly as good as they’d like to trick you into believing. They’re not non-toxic and they’re not biodegradable or eco-friendly at all.
For a brand that talks about transparency all over the site, they’re anything but transparent. They’re greenwashing badly, and it’s gross.
The description says “That’s why these high-capacity diapers do the dirty work without dirty words like petrochemicals, phthalates and parabens” but the ingredients indicate they’re actually made with petrochemicals (plastics) and are not even remotely eco-friendly or biodegradable.
At least as of November 2019 the diapers are now totally chlorine-free, not just elemental chlorine-free.
Avoid this greenwashing brand of diapers.
Huggies diapers are a brand to avoid. They essentially include a list of all the ingredients we’d want to avoid if we want a safe, non-toxic and eco-friendly diaper.
As you might expect, the top sheet and back sheet are made of polypropylene and polyethylene, the core is made from the same along with elemental chlorine bleached fluff, polyester and traditional SAP.
At least they’re fragrance and lotion free, unlike Pampers.
Having said that, Huggies are the exact type of diaper we think you should avoid using if you want a diaper that’s eco-friendly, non-toxic and safe.
There’s a laundry list of things to avoid in these diapers.
They are made entirely out of petroleum-based plastics—the top sheet (inner) is made out of polypropylene and has mystery lotion, the core is made out of polypropylene and polyethylene, and they’re full of toxic fragrance.
Because they’re fully made out of plastics they’re not at all eco-friendly, and these materials have a real concern of leeching toxic chemicals onto your baby’s skin.
Lotion in diapers often contains petrolatum, which is sometimes contaminated with known cancer-causing toxic chemicals.
If you at all care about using eco-friendly & non-toxic diapers, Pampers Swaddlers deserve a hard pass.
Mama Bear (Amazon)
Mama Bear is a private label brand of Amazon who decided to enter into the “eco-friendly” diaper niche.
They’re only elemental chlorine-free, not totally chlorine-free, and the ingredients list is rather nontransparent. There’s no fragrance, but they appear to have a petroleum-based polypropylene top sheet or back sheet (it’s unclear which) and have no statement about lotions, dyes or phthalates.
Other than that, these diapers are not at all eco-friendly and because of this and the lack of transparency, we have to give them a bad rating.
Pampers has come out with their own line of “green” diapers which, as you might imagine, aren’t quite at the level we’d want to see them at.
They do use totally chlorine-free fluff pulp and traditional sodium polyacrylate (SAP) in the core, but the top sheet (inner layer) is made from a blend of petroleum-based polypropylene and plant based fibers, and the back sheet (outer layer) is made of polypropylene, polyethylene, polyester and cotton.
They’re also free of fragrance, lotion, parabens and latex.
If you’re someone that buys regular Pampers then these are clearly a better choice, but when compared to better diapers on the market, these are not very eco-friendly and we also can’t confirm whether the have hormone-disrupting phthalates or not.
While Pampers is definitely greenwashing with these diapers, it’s at least a step in the right direction. Having said that, we can’t recommend them.
Don’t trust the green leaf on the packaging—these diapers aren’t exactly the most eco-friendly out there.
The top and back sheet are made of petroleum-derived polypropylene and polyethylene. Since this comes into contact with your baby’s skin, that’s really not a good thing, nor is it biodegradable at all.
The core is made of totally chlorine-free wood fluff from sustainable forests and traditional SAP. They also have no fragrances or lotions, but it’s not clear if they have any phthalates.
From the website: “Seventh Generation diapers are not biodegradable, nor can they be composted. Many of the materials used are synthetic, and do not biodegrade.”
There’s really not much else to say about these diapers and we can’t give them a good rating.
The World of Diapering is a Messy One
Many parents have a romantic idea of diapering their new baby in organic cloth diapers. It sounds ideal, right? There's no waste, no risk of exposure to chemicals and other nasties, and it's just so perfect.
The reality is that not everyone has the time, or even wants to deal with cleaning poopy cloth diapers.
And even better yet: there are a bunch of brands that offer non-toxic, safer disposable diapers that are better for our environment, contain less yucky chemicals, are typically fragrance-free and are slightly more biodegradable than brands like Huggies and Pampers.
The Nasty Toxic Ingredients in Brands Like Huggies
Unfortunately, typical baby diaper brands like Huggies use a lot of potentially harmful chemicals in both the manufacturing and finished product.
This not only makes them potentially harmful to your little one, but can also be bad for the environment.
Chlorine is used to bleach two parts of the diaper.
- The outer diaper material, so it looks white. (without bleaching they'd be yellowish)
- The fluff pulp used inside the diaper is bleached so it's more absorbent.
Unfortunately, the bleaching process leaves behind trace amounts of chemicals called dioxins.
Dioxins are a group of highly-toxic chemical compounds that have negative effects on our environment and our bodies.
They've been linked to cancer, endocrine system and reproductive system disruption, and more.
In disposable diapers, you'll find two designations: totally chlorine free (TCF) and elemental chlorine-free (ECF).
- Totally Chlorine-Free (TCF): A TCF diaper is ideal. This means that it doesn't use any chlorine bleaching agents at all. Instead, they use methods like oxygen, peroxide or ozone-based bleaching. We strongly prefer TCF diapers.
- Elemental Chlorine-Free (ECF): ECF diapers are bleached with chlorine dioxide instead of chlorine gas. ECF bleaching should also prevent the formation of dioxins. ECF diapers are okay but not preferred over TCF.
Greenwashing warning: Don't trust a company that says their diaper is "chlorine-free." This almost always means that they're only free of elemental chlorine, not totally chlorine free. If they were totally chlorine free, they'd be shouting it from the rooftops.
Sodium Polyacrylate (SAP).
Ever had a diaper break apart? You might have noticed little gel-like balls on your baby's skin.
Those are sodium polyacrylate (SAP) crystals which are used to make the diaper absorbent. These little crystals can hold up to 300 times their weight in water, so it's obvious why they're used.
SAP has been linked to skin irritation, respiratory issues and was linked to toxic shock syndrome via tampon use in the 1980s. However, this was more likely due to women leaving the tampons in too long.
There are no disposable diapers that don't use SAP. At this point, there are simply no alternatives that can absorb as much liquid as SAP.
If you'd prefer a diaper that has no SAP, your only alternative is cloth diapers.
The Other Toxic Ingredients Found in Diapers
Fragrances - While these give a somewhat pleasant touch to the experience of changing a poopy diaper, if being non-toxic is the goal, fragrances are a no-go.
The term fragrance when used in products is an umbrella term, and there are currently 3059 chemical ingredients that can be used in fragrances. And what's worse is that manufacturers can just list "fragrance" and not the individual ingredients that go into the fragrance.
Some of these 3059 ingredients have been linked to health effects like cancer, allergies, reproductive issues and more.
Dyes - While dyes are not as big of a deal, a 2005 study showed that for babies with skin rashes, switching to dye-free diapers eliminated these rashes.
Dyes are typically used on the outside of the diaper for the fancy little pattern, around the leg cuffs, the elastic, and the wetness indicator.
Lotions - Much like fragrance, the problem with lotions in diapers is that you have no idea whats in them.
They can use a variety of chemical ingredients and not disclose them on the label. Best to avoid any diapers that use lotion. Along with dyes, lotions are also sometimes the cause of allergic reactions and rashes.
Phthalates - These are a class of chemicals used to soften plastic and make it more durable. Modern diapers are typically made from plastic resins, which give it the leak-free capability.
While the risk of phtalates is still uncertain, it's true that physical exposure can lead to possible side-effects. Some phtalates can adversely affect the reproductive system and development.
Tributyltin (TBT) - This chemical is extremely toxic to aquatic life. The TCF in diapers comes from the wood pulp fluff in the core. TBT is used as an anti-fungal agent in wood pulp mills, and in some diapers you'll find TBT contamination.
The effects of TBT on humans are not known right now, but since it's so toxic to our rivers and oceans, it's best to support brands that don't have it in their diaper.
The Main Parts of the Diaper—And Why It Matters
Diapers are made from three layers, and each of these layers is important in judging if a diaper is eco-friendly, non-toxic and safe.
Top sheet (inner layer) - This part is the inner part of the diaper, making close contact with your baby's skin. It's super important that this layer be made of a non-toxic and safe material. Many traditional diapers will have this layer made of synthetic plastics, which is a no-go.
The best non-toxic and eco-friendly diapers use 100% renewable bamboo for the top sheet.
Back sheet (outer layer) - A waterproof outer layer typically made from petroleum-based plastics. The best eco-friendly and non-toxic diapers use a backsheet made from bamboo.
Again, the best diapers will use a 100% bamboo fiber back sheet as well.
Core - This layer is typically made from two materials. First is a fluff component, which is typically made from wood pulp. The other component is chemical crystals called Super Absorbent Polymers (SAP).
All disposable diapers use this crystals and some websites incorrectly state that some diapers don't.
While some brands state that they use a minimal amount of SAP, this is the component that absorbs the pee, and there are no good alternatives yet.
The Environmental Impact of Disposable Diapers
The environmental impact of disposable diapers is a big concern for many, and for good reason. Since the average baby will go through about 2000 diapers per year, that adds up to a lot of diapers in the landfill.
The Impact of Diapers on Our Natural Resources
Disposable diapers use a lot more natural resources to produce than cloth diapers. We've seen figures that state we use 3.4 billion gallons of oil and over 200,000 trees per year producing disposable diapers.
Unfortunately, while a lot of diaper brands claim their products are biodegradable, that's not really all that true.
Landfills are designed in a way that makes biodegradation almost impossible. The landfill is typically lined with clay or other methods of keeping any of the toxic items that are thrown into the landfill.
Then, as trash is added, layers of dirt are added. Since there is very little oxygen or moisture, which are the key components of biodegradation, it's an environment where very little will occur.
There's No Such Thing as a Compostable Diaper
Unfortunately, some estimates put the time for a diaper to decompose to be 500+ years.
And while that may be for a typical plastic diaper, it's safe to say that just because a diaper is made out of more natural materials, it's not going to be much faster.
In fact, the FTC stipulates that in order for a product to be claimed to be "biodegradable", it must completely break down to nature in a period of 1 year. Needless to say, that's not going to happen even with the most biodegradable of diapers.
The problem arises when brands use the term biodegradable to essentially mislead customers into thinking that they're helping our environment by purchasing their diapers over a "non-biodegradable" competitor.
In fact, the FTC recently fined a company over their claims that their diapers and wipes were biodegradable.
But This Doesn't Mean It's a Bad Thing
We believe that any steps toward being more eco-friendly should be applauded. Just because the diapers aren't exactly going to biodegrade in a short amount of time, it's still a step in the right direction.
Our environment is in a very precarious position right now, and any and all steps that manufacturers take toward slowing down the environmental impact consumer products have is a a good thing.
Supporting brands that are biodegradable sends a message to the industry that there's a demand for more eco-friendly products, which is always a good thing.
There's Hope For Composting
Some parts of the continental USA have services that compost diapers. Essentially, these services will come to your home, pick up the diapers, take them back to their factory and compost them for you.
Some brands like DYPER give directions on how you can compost your diapers at home, but this only works for wet diapers—not for those with poo in them. You'll also have to remove some of the parts of the diaper that can't be composted.