Whether you're trying to decipher language on labels or curious which brand is right for your baby, here's what experts say about diapers that are chemical-free and better for the earth.

By Maressa Brown
October 16, 2020
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From bottles to clothes, cribs to swaddle blankets, parents are required to make a gazillion decisions about the supplies they'll procure for their kids well before labor and delivery. It's easy to feel overwhelmed with a multitude of choices, and that's absolutely the case when diaper shopping. 

If you're hoping to find a diaper that's free of certain questionable chemicals and/or better for the environment but confused by all the eyebrow-raising lingo on labels, you're not alone. 

Experts share the basics on organic and nontoxic diapers. 

Choosing Organic Diapers

Parents who are concerned about the environment may opt for organic diaper options, meaning they are made from plant-based materials. These parents may be motivated by the fact that disposable diapers end up in landfills, says Jennifer Mayer, LMT, birth and postpartum doula and owner of Baby Caravan in Brooklyn. In fact, about 20 billion are added to landfills throughout America annually, creating an estimated 3.5 million tons of waste, according to a report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Additionally, disposable diapers introduce pathogens into the environment, potentially polluting drinking water, according to the report. That's why parents might want to opt for eco-friendly, sustainable materials as they consider the toll the manufacturing process is taking on the environment.

But disposable diapers aren't uniformly labeled, and they're weakly regulated, meaning specific ingredients or materials can vary vastly from brand to brand, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). That said, if a product is labeled or implied as organic, it must meet certain requirements. "For textiles used in diapers, the product must be certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)," explains Tasha Stoiber, Ph.D., a senior scientist at EWG. "For the Global Organic Textile requirements, the product must contain at least 95 percent organic certified fibers. And to use a label 'made with organic,' the product must contain a minimum of 70 percent organic certified fibers." You can ensure that the product meets these standards by checking the label to see if it's certified by GOTS. 

Organic Diapers to Consider

If you want to minimize the environmental impact of your child's diapers, you might consider any of the following types of diapers:

Reusable cloth diapers: "These are either washed at home or through a diaper service," says Mayer. Because you're not tossing them out, they won't be adding to the landfill load. But they're not without their own drawbacks. "You need to use a ton of water to wash them," notes Whitney N. Casares, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, a pediatrician in Portland, Oregon and author of the  New Baby Blueprint: Caring for You and Your Little One. One solution might be to use cloth diapers only part-time. "I’ve seen people use cloth diapers at home and then disposable diapers while the child is outside of the home, say at daycare," says Dr. Casares.

Compostable diapers: "These are similar to disposable diapers since you only use them once, but are then composted through a service, so they don't end up in the landfill," says Mayer. 

Disposable diapers made with organic or eco-friendly materials: Often made with plant-based materials like bamboo, these diapers boast heightened biodegradability.

Choosing Nontoxic Diapers

Of course, it also comes down to taking a baby's health into account. "Many parents are trying to avoid unnecessary contact with chemicals and potential hormone disruptors touching their baby's skin," says Mayer. That’s why they’d opt for nontoxic diapers or ones that steer clear of harmful ingredients.

According to EWG, since a newborn's skin is significantly thinner and more permeable than that of an adult, perpetual exposure to certain toxins could affect babies' developing bodies and brains. For instance, research shows exposure to phthalates, an endocrine-disrupting chemical, has been linked to asthma, eczema, and alterations in physical development. 

But Dr. Stoiber says a nontoxic label “doesn't really mean much unless there's a third-party certification to go along with it." She adds: "Companies are supposed to substantiate claims such as 'natural' and 'nontoxic,’ but it's evident from store shelves that these terms are often used quite loosely and can be confusing for consumers."

Nontoxic Ingredients to Consider

Experts recommend looking for the following info when shopping for nontoxic products:

Chlorine-free: Used to bleach diapers, parents might be concerned about shot-term irritation and long-term health impact of diapers containing chlorine.

Free of tributyltin (TBT), phthalates, latex, and parabens: These ingredients have raised concerns about their effects on children’s health. For example, TBT is toxic to aquatic life, according to the EPA, while latex might spur an allergic reaction in some children, says Dr. Casares. 

Expert-Approved Diaper Brands to Try

The Consumer Product Safety Commission doesn't require diaper manufacturers to disclose their ingredients publicly, but the brands below are transparent in their products. 

The Honest Company: Mayer says she uses this eco-friendly option on her 20-month-old. Honest diapers are made from plant-based materials and designed with sustainably harvested fluff pulp and without latex, chlorine processing, fragrances, or lotions. "Plus, they are easy to buy in bulk with shipping, have cute patterns, and good absorbency," she notes. 

Earth's Best: Made from non-chlorine bleached materials such as corn and wheat, Earth's Best TenderCare Chlorine Free Disposable diapers contain fewer petro-chemicals and have breathable sides, a moisture barrier cuff, and refastenable tabs. 

Seventh Generation: Made from chlorine-free wood pulp and nontoxic absorbent gel, they're also latex- and perfume-free, as well as hypoallergenic. Seventh Generation diapers are also the first and only diaper to be USDA Certified Biobased, with 30 percent biobased ingredients. According to the USDA, biobased products "are cost- comparative, readily available (made by small companies and large corporations), and perform as well or better than their petroleum-containing counterparts."

Dyper: This brand’s diapers are unprinted, unscented, soft, durable, and absorbent. They're made with viscose fibers from responsibly sourced bamboo and packed in clear bags made with oxo-degradable materials. Plus, the company offers a service that allows you to return them for composting, and for every delivery, Dyper purchases carbon offsets on behalf of subscribers to help reforestation efforts. The brand has also earned a Standard 100 certification by OEKO TEX, a leading Swiss safety certification body that tests for harmful substances in consumer products.

The Bottom Line

Parents who want to opt for organic and/or nontoxic diapers have several options to choose from. And there's nothing wrong with trying a few until you find the perfect one for your tot. As Dr. Casares says: "Don't be afraid to try out different ones and see what fits the best in terms of budget, style, and efficiency."

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