My Non-Toxic Baby Guide To Disposable Nappies: How Do Your Nappies Rate?
I’ve been meaning to look into nappies for as long as my blog has existed. There have however been a few things that stopped me from getting to it so quickly- firstly, nappies don’t have an ingredients list on them and so it is much more time consuming and difficult to investigate and assess their toxicity status. Secondly, I was petrified of what I was going to find – and rightly so… I had an idea that some were bleached with chlorine which is definitely not good, but I had no clue that it’s common for a nappy to be fragranced or have a lotion impregnated top sheet (think endocrine disrupting phthalates) and that some are even held together with glues containing formaldehyde!
I wish I could say that Isabella has been in cloth nappies from the get go, but to be honest, we struggle keeping on top of our washing in our house as is! I wish I could say that Isabella has been in eco nappies for all her life… again, it’s not the truth. I was so scared of her nappies leaking, being wet and causing nappy rash that she was in Huggies for much, much longer than I care to admit! Early on, before I started investigating chemicals in baby products and before this blog was even thought of, I did an absorbency test with a glass of water, a Huggies and an Aldi nappy. I was purely just interested in which absorbed the water best and stayed drier. The Huggies nappy won hands down (the Aldi one when squeezed, released a little puddle of water into the nappy again!) After that, I wrongly just assumed Huggies must be the best out there!
I then started this blog and investigated the chemicals in all sorts of baby products, never venturing into nappies because of the fear of finding out what truths might lie there. I’m all for easy substitutes when there is a safe, non-toxic alternative which performs as well. I just wrongly believed nappies were different and the eco nappies weren’t up to scratch – and some aren’t! But there are some awesome choices too!
I feel like at the moment, I’m in the best position I’ve ever been to test nappies. (READ: Over Christmas, Isabella got gastro for 10 days and so I started breastfeeding her day and night. Now, she breastfeeds almost continually each night and I haven’t got around to night weaning her again. – we previously used the Jay Gordon method successfully if anyone’s interested, though it’s never easy and you have to be really ready to do it.) Anyway, at the moment, I have a super hydrated baby who feeds all night and is in the same nappy from 7pm- 7am. Those morning nappies are HEAVY and we’ve had our fair share of leaks I navigate the brands!!s a!
Absorbency in a nappy is important to all of us and so I have carried out an at home absorbency test on a whole range of nappies (the results and photos are below!). I would never go back to a mainstream supermarket nappy now and am kicking myself a bit for not having investigated nappies earlier. We’re all on a journey and sometimes we just have to go at our own pace. I wish I’d been able to get to this point earlier, but it’s important to not beat yourself up and to use that energy to promote action instead. I’ve since found some truly awesome nappies and would NEVER go back to the others now I know more.
How is a nappy structured?
The ingredients of what makes up a nappy varies dramatically between brands, however the essential structure is the same.
A nappy consists of an absorbent core sandwiched between two layers. The inner layer sits right against the baby’s skin and is designed to be soft and to stay relatively dry and the outer layer is waterproof to prevent leaking. The absorbent core is designed to pull moisture in and keep it away from the baby. It is made up of a fluff material (wood pulp, bamboo etc.) and also chemical crystals called SAP (Super Absorbent Polymer). The fluff material distributes the liquid and the SAP absorbs it and locks it away from being squeezed back onto baby.
SAP: is in the absorbent core of every single nappy I have come across. The reason why SAP is used is because it has an amazing ability to absorb liquid- it can suck up 300 x its weight in water. Research is being done to create a plant based SAP, but for now unfortunately it’s all petroleum derived. It has never been proved in studies to be toxic or harmful to humans – whether this is just because there have not been enough studies done on it as it has only been used in nappies since the 80’s, I am not sure. SAP was linked with Toxic Shock Sydrome when it was used in tampons, though this is because of bacterial build up when left for hours rather than actually the SAP ingredient causing it.
Disposable nappies; what to look for when choosing:
- Chlorine Free. Chlorine is often used to bleach the paper liners and wood pulp in nappies. This process can leave traces of a toxic chemical called Dioxin in the nappy as well as releasing it into the environment during the bleaching process in manufacturing. Dioxins are carcinogens and are linked to many health problems. There are lots of chlorine free nappies available, so it’s just not worth going there – for your baby’s health or the environment.
- Fragrance free. Fragrances are frequently used in nappies to block odour. They often have endocrine disrupting phthalates in them which are linked to a whole host of negative health effects. These are unnecessary nappy ingredients as you should change a nappy frequently anyway. Nappies with fragrance should definitely be avoided.
- Phthalate free and lotion free: Phthalates can also hide in lotions which can be used on the inner layer of the nappy. Either look for a nappy without lotion or make sure that they are phthalate free.
It’s great to have something non-toxic, but if it’s hard, scratchy, leaks or doesn’t absorb well, it’s still not a product you want.
- Absorbency. It needs to actually work! The nappy needs to take moisture away from the surface, distribute the liquid and keep it within it’s absorbent core.
- Fit. One brand can’t necessarily offer a great fit for all shapes and sizes. As babies and toddlers grow, they change shape dramatically. Sometimes one nappy brand will just fit better. A good fit is important for comfort and leak prevention. The elastic and pleating of material around the leg of the nappy also plays an important role in leak prevention.
Whilst disposable nappies are convenient, we also want to ensure we don’t negatively impact our children’s future world too much!
More and more companies are producing eco nappies nowadays and whilst I would love to think this completely offsets the problem about sending so much to landfill, there’s a lot of different components to whether something is actually eco-friendly or not.
- Biodegradability: No nappy is 100% biodegradable. A nappy can have many biodegradable ingredients, however the tabs and elastic cuffs at least are not. Biodegradability is important – a nappy with a higher percentage of biodegradable materials will break down faster than one which doesn’t. Unfortunately though, land fill is an environment with no light and air; without this, even a highly biodegradable nappy’s decomposition is extremely slow. Landfill sites are getting better in their circulation but the sad truth is that disposable nappies aren’t ever good for the environment, they can just be less bad.
- Cradle to Grave impact: Disposable nappies can have a large negative environmental impact during aspects of its whole life cycle; from the raw materials if they are not sustainable, to the manufacture if they use chlorine bleaching, to their disposal in land fill.
What are the ingredients in nappies we want to avoid?
A lot of common brands of disposable nappies are:
- Bleached with chlorine (which can leave small amounts of carcinogenic Dioxin residues).
- Contain synthetic fragrances, odour blockers and lotions on the inner layer. (Endocrine disrupting phthalates are often hidden in synthetic fragrances and used as preservatives as well)
- Can have formaldehyde containing glues holding them together.
- Use unsustainable forestry to make the wood pulp and packaging.
- Not biodegradable and have a horrible impact on land fill.
Disposables vs Cloth:
Whilst I originally expected cloth nappies to be miles more environmentally friendly than disposables, the winner is surprisingly less defined. The UK Environment agency in 2008 did a study to evaluate the environmental impact of cloth nappies vs disposables. The conclusion was that the environmental impact of cloth nappies depended highly on how you cleaned them. If you followed these suggestions you were however able to reduce your negative environmental impact by 40% as opposed to disposables (whilst also avoiding unwanted chemical exposure and limiting land fill!)
- Line drying outside and tumble drying as little as possible.
- Choosing an energy efficient washing machine, washing in fuller loads and not washing above 60°C.
- Reusing nappies for other children.
The study found that if someone had cloth nappies and always washed the nappies at 90°C and tumble dried them every time, then the environmental impact was 75% worse than just using disposables given all the water, cleaning products and energy used!
(If you did use cloth and follow the above suggestions, there is no question that they would be better for the environment and limit your baby’s possible chemical exposure from nappies. If you do decide to go cloth – and I applaud you if you do! (I really hope one day to follow suit!) I recommend choosing organic cotton or bamboo nappies as cotton is the world’s most pesticided crop. Also, make sure to choose green, non-toxic detergents!)
How do you compare nappy brands?
Looking at the non-toxic status of nappies is difficult. Nappies don’t have ingredients lists on their boxes and I had to email companies and search their websites. A lot of supermarket brand nappy companies didn’t reply to my emailed questions. I can understand why… If you knew you were going to give answers like “yes, our nappies are bleached with chlorine and contain phthalates” you wouldn’t reply either! Unfortunately nappy companies don’t have to disclose their ingredients by law unlike other personal care products like wipes and shampoos. I am therefore limited to the companies I could get information about and who did reply to my emails. Unless a company is forthcoming with how non-toxic and eco-friendly they are, I make the assumption that they are not, otherwise I’m sure they’d be telling us how wonderful they were! (Which I’m guessing is why the eco-nappy companies did write back and the others didn’t!)
Even if a nappy is non-toxic, it still needs to perform its function well as otherwise it’ll leave your baby with nappy rash which isn’t healthy either. I have tried samples of all of the below brands. Some brands I only got a sample pack of 2, so I could feel them and try them for fit and use one on Isabella overnight and then I used the other for the absorption test.
I think it is also important that a disposable nappy is eco-friendly. We shouldn’t just be concerned about what chemicals make contact with our baby when the use of a product has the potential to come back and bite in their future world too. (And let’s face it, we go through a HUGE amount of nappies per child before they are toilet trained!)
I’ve also included the cheapest prices I could find the nappies for, which are the prices they are per nappy (size 4) when bought in bulk – newborn nappies are always cheaper than this in each brand. A lot of us mums aren’t back to working full time yet or are paying child care fees and so cost has to be thought about at least!
Like what you see in the old school nappy ads, I got a certain amount of coloured water (that way you can see how far the liquid is spreading.) I chose 300 ml as that is the liquid weight of Isabella’s average morning nappy (!) and used size 4 nappies which is the recommended nappy for Isabella’s weight range (she’s 10.5kg). I tipped that quantity of water evenly over the front part of the nappy. Isabella is a tummy sleeper and the times when her nappy has leaked, often the back of the nappy is still completely dry! I then stretched out the nappy to let the liquid distribute and absorb. I left it for 4 minutes and then pressed and rubbed the nappy to help liquid distribution and simulate body weight and movement. After 5 minutes, I pressed the nappy with a piece of paper towel to see how much residual fluid was left and not absorbed into the nappy. Results in photos below.
So how do the nappies rate?
Absorbency test results.
My Recommended List:
Bambo Nature: (Made in Denmark)
Non-Toxic Status: Excellent
These are chlorine free (peroxide bleached) and contain no fragrances, lotions or phthalates. They have non- toxic inks/dyes and glue. Safe plastics are used where applicable. This company is very open about disclosing all its ingredients and really tries to avoid any toxic ones.
Fit/ Absorbency: Excellent
These have a slim, really good fit. They have great elastic and material pleating around the legs as well as being a bit of a larger nappy in general. which ensures there would be no leaking. These were very absorbent and they distributed liquid well. They feel soft and comfy.
Environmental status: Excellent
These are made with FSC certified wood pulp and also have the Nordic Swan Eco label. This label looks at the cradle to grave impact as well as having a whole list of chemicals which can be hazardous to humans which the products can’t contain. They have recyclable packaging.
Bulk price/ nappy: 70c
Comment: I only discovered these nappies recently and I really like them. They are as non-toxic, absorbent and eco-friendly as disposable nappies come. They also fit well and feel soft and comfy. A top nappy!
Moltex: (Made in Germany)
Non-Toxic Status: Excellent
These are elemental chlorine free and contain no lotions or phthalates. They have non- toxic inks/dyes and glue. Safe plastics are used where applicable. They do contain a tea leaf extract odour blocker, but this is phthalate free.
Fit/ Absorbency: Excellent
These are soft to feel, they fit really well and have a good elastic around the leg. They have excellent absorbency. On an exceptionally hydrated and rolling night, we have had a leak. But usually I can bet it’ll be a dry night using these.
Environmental status: Excellent
Moltex nappies have won awards for sustainability and they are produced with 100% clean energy. The inner filling can also be composted. The website recommends slitting the nappy and emptying the contents of the inner into the compost. The outer layer is also 100% biodegradable.
A fantastic non-toxic nappy which fits and absorbs well and is also as environmentally friendly as a disposable nappy gets!
Bulk price/ nappy: 83c
Comment: A touch more bulky than the streamlined Bambo Nature. Some people might love that there’s an odour blocker, but I prefer to have no extras that don’t need to be there and to change a nappy regularly as I think that’s healthier anyway. I really like these nappies and think they are an excellent choice, though they are also a bit more expensive.
Ecoriginals: (Made in China- ISO certified factory)
Non-Toxic Status: Excellent
These are elemental chlorine free and contain no fragrances, lotions or phthalates. They have non- toxic inks/dyes and glue. Safe plastics are used where applicable.
Fit/ Absorbency: Very good
These are lovely and super soft nappies to touch. They fit well although don’t have quite as tight pleated elastic around the leg making them not quite as leak resistant potentially as some nappies for a highly mobile sleeper overnight. The tabs work well and are easy to roll up once used. Absorbency is excellent. These actually topped the absorbency test. These aren’t quite as streamlined as some.
Environmental status: Very good
These are 80% biodegradable which is super impressive. They are made from FSC certified wood pulp. They also have compostable packaging. They don’t however have any independent certifications about their eco-friendliness in manufacture,
Bulk price/ nappy: 58c with subscription
Comment: I love that Ecoriginals is an Australian family company who are really trying to make a great product. The nappies feel soft and fit well. I personally found the fit better for a day nappy or a night weaned baby at night as when very full, the elastic doesn’t grip the leg quite as well. The price point is much better than some other brands if you use their subscription service – and that makes a big difference when you buy so many! An excellent choice. It’s our go-to daytime nappy.
Muumi Eco Nappies: (Made in Finland)
Non-Toxic Status: Excellent
These are chlorine free (they use oxygen) and contain no fragrances, lotions or phthalates. They have non- toxic inks/dyes and glue. Safe plastics are used where applicable.
Fit/ Absorbency: Very good
These are a bit thicker and so more bulky, but have good pleated elastic around the legs and have very good absorbency. The liquid distributes well and we had no problem with leaks. They are soft to touch.
Environmental Status: Excellent.
These nappies contain FSC certified wood pulp and also carry the Nordic swan eco certification. They are made using hydroelectric energy in a factory which recycles all waste sending nothing to land fill. They use 100% oxygen to bleach their nappies and are very careful where their raw materials come from. Their packaging is also biodegradable.
Bulk price/ nappy: 70c
Comment: I really liked these nappies. They are super eco- friendly (on the disposable nappy scale!) and are non-toxic and do very well in fit and absorbency. They are a bit more bulky than the bambo, but they are great.
Much Better Than Most:
Naty: (Made in Denmark)
Non-Toxic Status: Excellent.
These are chlorine free and contain no fragrances, lotions or phthalates. They have non- toxic inks/dyes and glue. Cornstarch based papers and bioplastics are used as well as safe plastics.
Fit/ Absorbency: Disappointing.
These nappies are a bit papery and scratchy to feel. The fit isn’t as good as some and we had overnight leaking. The tabs also don’t stick to the paper and so it isn’t easy to roll them up to throw away.
Environmental status: Excellent.
These do have the SSNC good environmental choice eco label which means they must be pretty good environmentally from cradle to grave. They are also made from FSC certified wood pulp. They are also apparently more than 60% biodegradable.
Nappy price in supermarket 27 pack: 52c
Comment: A great non-toxic, environmentally friendly nappy at a fantastic price point. Unfortunately, the nappy feels a bit papery and scratchy and doesn’t have the fit and absorbency I’d like.
Thankyou: (Made in China)
Non-Toxic Status: Very Good
These are elemental chlorine free and contain no fragrances or phthalates. They have non- toxic inks/dyes and glue. Safe plastics are used where applicable. They do have an Aloe Vera and Vitamin E infused top sheet, but this is phthalate free.
These fit well though are a bit more bulky than some of the nappies and have a little less extra material around the legs which predispose them a touch more to leaks. They also could have rated a bit better on absorbency…
Environmental Status: Good
They are made from FSC certified wood pulp. They contain between 36-46% biodegradable materials.
Nappy price in big box (supermarket price as can’t find in bulk): 45c
Comment: I love this company because its profits go to supporting women and children in need. These nappies are soft and fit well. They could be a bit more leak proof, but are better than most. I’d prefer it didn’t have the Aloe and Vitamin E infused top sheet as I don’t like any extras that don’t need to be there, but they are great nappies and are available at a really good price point. Definitely my top pick of nappies from the supermarket!
Tooshies by TOM: (Made in Mexico)
Non-Toxic Status: Very Good
These are elemental chlorine free and contain no lotions or phthalates. They have non- toxic inks/dyes and glue. Safe plastics are used where applicable. They do use citrus extract and liquid chlorophyll as an odour blocker, but this is phthalate free.
Fit/ Absorbency: OK
These are a fairly slim fitting nappy with a good fit and elastic pleating around the legs. They seem to have a less wide absorbent core than all the other nappies which results in them being less absorbent than some others too.
Environmental Status: Good
These contain wood pulp from sustainable forests, but they aren’t FSC certified and have no other independent certification. They are over 45% biodegradable.
Bulk price/ nappy: 61c
Comment: I love the prints on these and they fit well, although they aren’t as eco-friendly as some brands or as absorbent. I’d prefer them without the odour blocker because I don’t like any extras that don’t need to be there but they are a great choice and so much better than the mainstream supermarket brands.
Better than the mainstream supermarket brands:
Seventh Generation: (Made in USA)
Non-Toxic Status: OK
These are chlorine free (completely unbleached) and contain no fragrances, lotions or phthalates. They have apparently non- toxic inks/dyes and glue. Safe plastics are used where applicable.
Pigments are used to colour these nappies brown. The pigment ingredients aren’t fully disclosed by the supplier which leaves Seventh Generation having to make the claim that to the best of their knowledge there are no toxicity issues with it. I’d prefer to know for sure!
Fit/ Absorbency: Poor absorbency
These are a slim fit nappy and fit well around the leg. They don’t leak, but don’t do so well with absorbency either and I think baby would get a bit damp. It was the lowest performing nappy in the absorbency test.
Environmental Status: Better than the mainstream brands, but I wanted more from an eco nappy!
These nappies are not biodegradable or compostable according to their website. They are made from FSC certified wood pulp.
Bulk price/ nappy: $1.07
Comment: These look like the most natural nappy of them all as they are an unbleached brown colour and have no prints… I was surprised to learn it was actually coloured that way! These aren’t my favourite nappy- while they are OK in their non-toxic status and fit, they don’t absorb as well as I’d like and I’d want something more environmentally friendly to satisfy my already huge guilt about using disposable nappies!
And now for Huggies…
Having used Huggies for so long with Isabella, I really persevered with my questions to the company. I got a reply, but it was clearly a cut and paste and didn’t answer my questions. Upon re-questioning on the topics they avoided, they never wrote back. I don’t think this is unique to Huggies by any means. I think this is common across most of the mainstream brands unfortunately as they don’t have any legal disclosure requirement for ingredients.
Huggies: (Made in Australia)
Non-Toxic Status: The company doesn’t disclose enough about their ingredients to comment.
I had no reply when I asked about chlorine, phthalates, lotion and fragrance in their nappies. I can only assume that the nappies contain them until notified otherwise. They do contain non-toxic glue and safe plastics.
Fit/ Absorbency: Very good
These nappies fit well though they are a bit bulky. They have good elastic pleating around the leg, good leak resistance and excellent absorption.
Environmental Status: No information.
The website does say that the wood pulp is from sustainable sources, but there is no independent certification. They once went into partnership with a nappy recycling company but it seems like it never got off the ground.
Nappy price (supermarket price as can’t find in bulk): 46c
Comment: I would not use these nappies on Isabella again.
What do we use at home?
We’ve been using a whole lot of different nappies to try them all out for this article! Ecoriginals have become our go-to daytime nappy though- I love that they are non-toxic, environmentally friendly, an Australian family business and have a good price point with subscription! For night time because Isabella rolls so much and we need the most leak proof nappies possible, I swap between Moltex and Bambo Nature.
Eventually one day I would like to give MCN (modern cloth nappies) a go. They are better for the environment if you clean and dry them mindfully and they definitely do reduce chemical exposure! I’ll let you know all about it and whether it’s too much work or not when I make the plunge!
As you can see, there’s a whole range of non-toxic nappies at different price points to choose from which is wonderful. The more we as consumers become aware of the importance of choosing a non-toxic and eco-friendly option and make purchases accordingly, not only are we making the right choices for our baby, but we are also creating pressure for companies to start doing the right thing by making safe and responsible products.
I hope you found this helpful. I learnt so much in writing it and feel empowered myself now that I understand what I should be avoiding and which the safest products are to buy for my Isabella!
(P.S. A simple way to make your disposable nappy a bit more environmentally friendly:
In my research, I stumbled upon this fact that should be well and truly in mainstream knowledge but isn’t. By packaging up a nappy with poo and putting it into landfill, we contaminate ground water and create a huge bio hazard risk. Even if using disposable nappies, when you can, flush the poo from it down the loo before you package it up to send to land fill! (Though don’t flush the wipes!!! Flushing wipes causes all sorts of problems for drainage and the environment!) I’m still trying to incorporate this into our nappy change regimen to be honest… but it makes sense to me as to why it’s important and I try my best to implement it when I can. X)
These rankings are purely based on my subjective opinion from what I have found out from my research into each nappy brand through emails and looking at brands websites. I also based my rankings on my personal experience of trialling each of the nappies at home. This list does include some affiliate links. These links do not cost you more to purchase. A small fee from your purchase however is payed to me. This supports the basic running of the My Non-Toxic Baby blog. Thank you for your support.
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