Diapers and wipes are a must for every parent for the first several years of each child’s life. And with all the brands out there, which ones are nontoxic and are void of chemicals that would impact baby’s hormones? We run into trouble though when we begin questioning what those diapers are made of. Most manufacturers are not transparent about the ingredients they use and that’s completely legal, but it leaves consumers with lots of questions. Diaper and wipe manufacturers aren’t required by law to disclose the entirety of materials and ingredients that make up their products, and only a little research exists on the subject. But not to worry, Mamavation is here to help! You’ve trusted us to expose the dangers of glyphosate in oat cereals and which companies are exposing you, to help your baby build a strong immune system, and to find the safest popsicles for your kids. Now join us as we examine the mysterious world of baby bottom hygiene and expose the common hazardous chemicals you may not know about.
Table of Contents
The Construction of a Diaper: What The Heck is Inside?
Let’s take a closer look at the makeup of a diaper. Disposable diapers are made of a top sheet, the absorbent layer in the center, and a back sheet. Each layer can be made with or without toxic chemicals, so it’s important to inform yourself on typical diaper materials and their safer alternatives.
Conventional disposable diapers use polypropylene for the top sheet layer that touches the baby’s skin. In the center layer, nearly all disposable diapers on the market contain a super absorbent polymer (SAP) called sodium polyacrylate that works to absorb and trap the liquid inside. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) MSDS documents, sodium polyacrylate is completely safe and non-irritating in its final form, however, it’s petroleum-based and can be contaminated with acrylic acid leftover from the manufacturing process.
Acrylic acid at levels higher than 300 ppm has the potential to be harmful to the skin, especially in those who may have a sensitivity to it. Disposable diapers also have an absorbent fluff material in the center layer usually made of wood pulp. In conventional diapers, this wood pulp is bleached with chlorine to make it white, and as we know, chlorine bleach is toxic and generates dioxins which are known to cause cancer in humans. Dioxins also disrupt hormones, damage the immune system, inhibit proper development and cause reproductive system harm.
The outer lining or back sheet of a disposable diaper is a non-woven material typically made from polyethylene or polypropylene plastic to create the waterproof barrier.
Materials and Ingredients to Avoid in Disposable Diapers
Chemicals of concern in disposable diapers include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), sodium polyacrylate, dioxins, petroleum-based plastics and synthetic fragrances. Adhesives and lotions are often added to disposable diapers and can also contain harmful additives and byproducts, so it’s best to avoid any product that uses them or refuses to disclose ingredients.
We’ve read over the available information on diaper materials and applied our expertise to create a list of frequently used toxic chemicals to avoid when purchasing diapers.
- Chlorine-bleached pulp and fluff
- Tributyltin (TBT) has been put on the European Union’s list of priority compounds in water due to its toxic, persistent and endocrine disruptive characteristics. TBT compounds have been detected in human blood and liver tests, and are bioaccumulative.
- VOCs including toluene, ethylbenzene, dipentene, and xylene. These are off-gassing chemicals that can cause impaired immune function and damage to the liver, kidneys, respiratory system and lungs.
- Fragrance is an umbrella term that legally includes over 3,000 different chemicals, and because of laws that protect trade secrets, the combination of ingredients used to create fragrances isn’t subject to labeling requirements. This means manufacturers can use as many of the 3,000 fragrance ingredients as they want in a single product and label it with just one little word. Phthalates are the biggest concern with fragrance chemicals with exposure causing serious ailments including asthma, harm to the reproductive system, and impaired brain development and immune system functioning. This class of chemicals is particularly troublesome to young boys. The American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded that phthalates are not safe for children.
Any diapers with pulp and fluff bleached with chlorine should be avoided. It’s safe to say that any brand not labeled as natural or eco-friendly likely has chlorine in it. Also be aware that greenwashing occurs in the diaper industry too. Take for example Huggies Pure and Natural Diapers. The outer layer is made from organic cotton, but the inner layer is bleached with chlorine, and there have been reports of chemical burns from Pampers Dry Max diapers. YIKES.
Disposable Diapers Ranked from Not Our Favorite to Best
Mamavation sent several popular disposable diapers to an EPA-certified lab to test for indications of PFAS “forever chemicals” inside diapers. Disposable diapers and cloth diapers were purchased between February and August of 2023. For this consumer study, some diapers were purchased directly by Mamavation while others were donated by community members. Each product was recorded in our database and then sent directly to the lab.
Testing: Mamavation’s EPA-certified laboratory uses marker testing to identify the potential presence of PFAS “forever chemicals” in the inside and outside of disposable and cloth diapers. Organic fluorine is a marker for PFAS because all PFAS chemicals are carbon-based compounds that contain fluorine. The specific lab method used to test for total fluorine was the Determination of Total Fluorine by Oxygen Flask Combustion and Ion-Selective Electrode. If total fluorine was observed at a detection level of 10 ppm or greater, the lab did the Determination of free Fluoride Ion in the product by Ion-Selective Electrode and then subtracted that from the Total Fluorine to determine the amount of organic fluorine. This marker testing is likely to show the presence of PFAS. Organic fluorine can also capture other fluoropolymers, pharmaceuticals, and common hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants, such as 1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane (commonly known as R-134a) and 2,3,3,3-tetrafluoropropene (commonly known as HFO-1234yf), which are all also PFAS. None of which you want around your food, personal care products, or diapers!
Scott Belcher, Ph.D. & Associate Professor with the Center for Environmental & Health Effects of PFAS at North Carolina State University says “fluoropolymers, such as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) or Gore-Tex®, are extremely common forms of PFAS that could be contributing to the organic fluorine found in diapers. Methods used for detecting individual PFAS, such as PFOA or GenX, cannot directly identify PTFE. However, the analysis of total organic fluorine does account for all PFAS contaminants in kids’ backpacks, including PTFE. Therefore, this method of testing serves as a good ‘spot-check’ of consumer products.”
Not Our Favorite Disposable Diapers & Cloth Diapers
Our lab found indications of PFAS “forever chemicals” inside the products within this category. The detection limit of our testing was 10 ppm, meaning these brands had traces above 10 ppm. Note: If there were traces below that amount, our testing would not have been able to detect it.
- Babyganics Skin Love Diapers — outside results 12 ppm organic fluorine, inside results non-detect organic fluorine. 2nd product from the same lot — outside results non-detect and inside non-detect.
- Kirkland (Costco) Diapers — inside results 26 ppm organic fluorine, outside results non-detect organic fluorine. 2nd product inside results 10 ppm organic fluorine, outside results non-detect organic fluorine.
- Kudos Diapers — OEKO-TEX certified brand. Size 4 Inside results 48 ppm organic fluorine, outside results 53 ppm organic fluorine. Size 4 2nd diaper results 16 ppm organic fluorine, outside results 19 ppm organic fluorine. Kudos Diaper Size 5 inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine.
- Rascal & Friends Diapers — Inside results non-detect organic fluorine, outside results 10 ppm organic fluorine. The second diaper sent was non-detect for both the inside and outside of the diaper.
Better Disposable Diapers & Cloth Diapers
Our lab did NOT find indications of PFAS “forever chemicals” within the products of this category. However, there are other materials or ingredients used that we find somewhat concerning. For disposable diapers, we placed diapers that were processed using ECF here or had unknown fragrances, lotions, or dyes. For reusable cloth diapers, we placed products here using additional waterproofing materials made of PUL or TPU. For more context, we’ve included notes from our partners from The Gentle Nursery. We do not recommend brands that are marked with a * because of lack of ingredient disclosure, however, we still think it’s important for you to know we did not find an indication of PFAS on them.
- DYPER Plant-Based & Sustainable Bamboo Diapers — OEKO-TEX certified. Inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. 2nd diaper inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (Get 50% off your monthly diaper subscription by using this link.) (ECF) (Notes from Gentle Nursery: DYPER’s makes a quality plant-based diaper that is phthalate and fragrance-free. Their original disposable diapers are made with viscose fabrics made from bamboo fibers using a closed-loop system. Dyper indicates that their diapers are free from phthalates, PVC, fragrances, and lotions, however, ECF processing has placed them here but they are otherwise a great option. This brand is also available on Amazon Prime.)
- Eco by Naty Diapers — OEKO-TEX certified. Size 2 diapers inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. Size 5 diapers inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (Notes from Gentle Nursery: Eco by Naty is a high-quality, responsible diaper brand. Up until recently, they used TCF processing but recently switched to ECF, which is why they’re only rated Better (not Best). We love that they’re free from fragrances/perfumes and lotions and that their inner topsheet is made from plant-based polyethylene, not a petroleum-based material.)
- EcoOriginals Eco-Friendly Diapers – Newborn size — Inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (ECF) (Notes from Gentle Nursery: Ecoriginals is a good choice for a mostly clean diaper. The diapers have an unbleached cotton top sheet and are made without phthalates, fragrances, lotions, and bleach. The dyes they use are AZO-free, which we love seeing. Plus, the diapers are luxuriously soft as well as breathable and absorbent for your baby’s comfort. However, EcoOriginals did not make it to the “best” category because they recently switched to ECF processing.)
- Hello Bello Diapers Premium Protection — inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (ECF) (Notes from Gentle Nursery: Made with a plant-based core liner and free of fragrances and lotions, however, uses ECF processing so it made our better list.)
- Honest Company Diapers — Inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (ECF) (Notes from Gentle Nursery: Honest Diapers are designed to be a cleaner option for parents. The diapers have a polypropylene and polyethylene topsheet and are free from lotions, and parabens. They also use heavy metal-free ink and disclose citrus extract & liquid chlorophyll as a fragrance. Because they have a wetness indicator, we encourage them to get EWG Verified in the future. Parents like that the size 1-2 diapers have a blowout protection pocket to help prevent leaks, and the newborn size has an umbilical cord cutout. Overall, Honest diapers are a good option to consider and they are available through Amazon Prime, however, they made it to our “better” list because they recently swapped to ECF.)
- Honest Training Pants Size 2T-3T — Inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (ECF) (Notes from Gentle Nursery: Honest Training Pants are ECF and made with polyethylene and polypropylene. Honest also claims to be free from latex, lotions, fragrances, common allergens, phthalates, optical brighteners, PVC, organotins (MBT, DBT, TBT), or harsh petrochemical additives. While they’re made to Honest Company standards, there are mixed reviews regarding overall quality, absorption, and softness. However, they are one of the cleaner training pants to consider — if they work well for your toddler. They are also available through Amazon Prime, however, they made our “better” list because they recently switched to ECF.)
- *Huggies Pullups Size 2T-3T — Inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (Notes from Gentle Nursery: PullUps New Leaf diapers are made with minimal materials and ingredients, but we don’t know much about the colorants, adhesives, or even the bleaching process used, therefore we cannot recommend these diapers.)
- *Huggies Snug & Dry Size 3 — Inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (Notes from Gentle Nursery: While the Snug & Dry line is fragrance-free and made to be hypoallergenic, we don’t know much about the adhesives, dyes or even what type of bleaching they use, therefore we cannot recommend these diapers.)
- *LUVS Diapers Size 2 — Inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (Notes from Gentle Nursery: Unfortunately, LUVS does not provide disclosure of their ingredients or bleaching methods, but we do know they use fragrances & lotion. Therefore, we cannot recommend these diapers.)
- Mama Bear (Amazon) Gentle Touch Diapers — Inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (ECF) (Notes from Gentle Nursery: Mama Bear Diapers contain no added lotions or perfumes and are made to be safe for sensitive skin. With a polypropylene topsheet, this brand is a good option to consider. Mama Bear offers a range of sizes, from Newborn to Size 7. Mama Bear is also available on Amazon Prime making it very convenient.)
- Millie Moon (Target) Diapers Size 3 — OEKO-TEX certified. Inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (ECF) (Notes from Gentle Nursery: Aside from their recent switch from TCF to ECF, Millie Moon diapers are still a great non-toxic disposable diaper to consider. Testing ND for fluorine, plus being highly absorbent and free from added lotions and fragrances, Millie Moon makes our “Better” list.)
- Pampers Pure Diapers Size 5 — Inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (TCF)(Notes from Gentle Nursery: A total chlorine-free diaper that’s also fragrance-free and made intentionally with better materials, Pampers Pure is a better choice for your baby’s diaper. While the diaper tested ND for fluorine and uses TCF bleaching, it also contains unknown fragrances & dyes, which means it doesn’t make our best list simply because of a lack of ingredient disclosure from the manufacturer. However, these diapers are available on Amazon Prime making them very convenient.)
- Pampers Splashers Swim pants size medium — Inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (ECF)(Notes from Gentle Nursery: Surprisingly, these diapers appear to be free from added fragrances and are made with minimal ingredients. The company doesn’t disclose specifics about its adhesives or colorants, but otherwise, this appears to be an OK choice for a swim diaper, considering it tested ND for fluorine.)
- *Pampers Swaddlers Size 2 — Inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (ECF) (Notes from Gentle Nursery: These diapers are particularly concerning because they contain a long list of ingredients, including a non-descript fragrance. While they tested ND for fluorine, we can’t recommend this brand based on the use of added fragrance and lotion.)
- Target Up & Up Pull Ups — Inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (ECF) (Notes from Gentle Nursery: There isn’t a lot of information available about Up & Up diaper ingredients, but in general, the ingredients are somewhat simple and do not include fragrance and lotions. These diapers use polyolefin, polypropylene, polyester, and polyethylene but we don’t know much about the adhesives or dyes used.)
Best Disposable Diapers & Cloth Diapers
Our lab did NOT find any indications of PFAS “forever chemicals” within these diapers. These products also avoid the problematic ingredients and materials we are concerned about. All brands here use TCF processing and avoid most of the other problems we covered. Reusable diapers do not use PUL materials. For more context, we’ve included notes from The Gentle Nursery.
- TOP PICK: HealthyNest Ultra Organic Soft Diapers — EWG Verified & manufacturer is OEKO-TEX certified. Mamavation’s lab did not detect organic fluorine on the inside or outside of the diaper. (Use discount code “MAMAVATION” for 15% off sitewide no minimum purchase, eligible for use on subscriptions, 1 use per customer.) (TCF) (Notes from Gentle Nursery: HealthyNest Diapers are made entirely with plant-based fabrics; the topsheet itself is made from a plant-based polypropylene and polyethylene blend. What we love most about HealthyNest is that the company goes above and beyond to disclose its entire ingredient list. The diapers are the first to be EWG Verified, meaning that they have provided full manufacturing transparency, use good manufacturing practices, and avoid ingredients of significant concern (including phthalates & lead). There is simply no other diaper company on the market that we know of that discloses their dyes, adhesives, and materials to this degree — or even close to it. Combined with the fact that the diapers tested ND for organic fluorine, HealthyNest gets our top recommendation.)
- Abby & Finn Diapers — Inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (TCF)(Notes from Gentle Nursery: These diapers are TCF and have a polypropylene top sheet. They’re a well-liked diaper brand, but they are facing supply issues and have been out of stock for some time.)
- Andy Pandy Bamboo Diapers — OEKO-TEX certified. Inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. 2nd product inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (Notes from The Gentle Nursery: Andy Pandy diapers have been a long-time favorite for non-toxic disposable diapers. One of the first bamboo-based diapers on the market, Andy Pandy has tested clean for organic fluorine and also claims to be free from PVC, fragrance, and phthalates. They use TCF processing and viscose material made from bamboo fibers, and the diapers contain a wetness indicator. Since they have a wetness indicator, we would encourage them to get EWG Verified. The company assures us that there are no harmful pesticides used on the bamboo fiber.)
- Coterie Diaper — Inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (Use discount code “MAMAVATION24” for 20% off products!) (TCF)(Notes from Gentle Nursery: Coterie diapers are made with TCF chlorine-free processing and a polypropylene top sheet. They are super soft and parents rave about their absorbency, making this a good choice for a non-toxic overnight diaper. They are also free from fragrance, dyes, & lotion.)
- Eco Boom Bamboo Diapers — Inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (TCF) (Notes from Gentle Nursery: Similar to Andy Pandy, Eco Boom diapers are made with a bamboo viscose topsheet and TCF total chlorine-free processing. They are also free from dyes and fragrances, however, they use natural aloe oil as a lotion and have a wetness indicator. Because of the wetness indicator, we encourage them to get EWG Verified in the future. They’re also very soft and known for being highly absorbent and sensitive-skin friendly.)
- Freestyle Hyper Bamboo Absorbent Diapers — Inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (Use discount code “MAMAVATION” for $30 off products (which is basically 30% off )) (Notes from Gentle Nursery: Freestyle diapers are quite innovative, featuring a BambooTek absorbent core instead of a wood pulp core with sodium polyacrylate. This means that they’re neither TCF nor ECF because it doesn’t apply to the BambooTek core. Freestyle could be a good option to try if your baby reacts to other diapers. The top sheet is made from polyethylene and polypropylene, and the company indicates that the diapers are phthalate- and fragrance-free and also do not contain lotions.)
- Offspring Chlorine Free Baby Diapers – NB/1 Size — Inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (TCF) (Notes from Gentle Nursery: Offspring looks like a promising brand of diapers from Australia. The diapers are TCF and made without the use of optical brighteners, odor absorbers, or fragrances. The company indicates that the dyes are free from heavy metals like lead.)
- Seventh Generation Diapers for Sensitive Skin — Inside non-detect organic fluorine, outside non-detect organic fluorine. (TCF) (Notes from Gentle Nursery: Seventh Generation diapers are made without fragrances and lotions and tested clean for organic fluorine. They also use ink free from heavy metals. Though the inner topsheet is made from polypropylene, they tend to be a good option for babies with sensitive skin.)
The Big Deal About Baby Wipes
It’s obviously important to keep your baby’s bottom clean, but why is it so critical to choose the right wipe to get the job done? It turns out there are loads of chemicals in conventionally made baby wipes, and when used on the delicate skin of an infant, especially when it’s irritated or broken, those chemicals easily migrate into the bloodstream. We’ve also learned about the importance of preservatives to prevent mold, but there are some nasty ones being used in many baby wipes on the market including the highly toxic methylisothiazolinone, DMDM hydantoin, bronopol and paraben preservatives that are immune and reproductve toxicants and suspected neurotoxins. Also of concern are other ingredients that include petrochemicals, SLS, tocopheryl acetate and lanolin which can all harbor hazardous contaminants like formaldehyde, dioxins and pesticide residue from the growing and manufacturing processes, not to mention the massive source of chemicals hiding under the umbrella term “fragrance” as mentioned above.
Wipes are a tough category to interpret because there are so many ingredients involved, even in the safest ones, but we’ve done the work and are recommending you the following worst offenders. And fear not! We’ve got a lot of great alternatives for you too.
Ingredients to Avoid in Disposable Baby Wipes
As with diapers, natural and non-toxic materials reduce the risk of irritation and diaper rash, allergic reaction and exposure to hazardous chemicals and fragrances. There are a handful of ingredients to avoid when choosing baby wipes, but if you keep this list handy you’ll have a good idea which products to stay away from just by reading the label even if all the ingredients aren’t listed.
- Synthetic fragrances and phthalates
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
- Preservatives including methylisothiazolinone, DMDM hydantoin, bronopol, parabens and phenoxyethanol
- Petrochemicals including propylene glycol and PEG ingredients
- Tocopheryl acetate
- Lanolin (pesticide residue)
Disposable Wipes Ranked from Not Our Favorite to Best
It was a little more difficult to find really good baby wipes because so many use multiple preservatives. And while we know that preservatives are necessary, we obviously want them to be the safest ones possible.
Not Our Favorite
These brands are constructed of non-biodegradable materials and contain any or all of the chemicals of concern.
- Boogie Wipes
- Johnson & Johnson
- Parent’s Choice
These wipes are made of more natural materials and ingredients, but still have some undesirable aspects such as one or two moderately concerning chemicals. Most of these brands aren’t in the Best category because they contain preservatives like sodium benzoate and phenoxyethanol. Not acutely toxic, but not ideal either for a baby.
- Aleva Naturals
- Amazon Elements
- Aveeno Baby
- Bloom Baby
- Burt’s Bees
- Bum Boosa
- Caboo–made with bamboo
- Earth’s Best
- Parasol Co
- Seventh Generation
- The Honest Co
- Thrive Market
- Water Wipes
These brands made the elite list because they contain all safe ingredients and materials.
- Doctor Butler’s Organic–made with bamboo
- Jackson Reece–organic wood pulp
- Natracare--made with organic cotton