All babies need diapers, what to do with the dirty diaper is the question you'll need to answer. We researched over 15 pails and narrowed down the options to 10 competitors to test and review. A diaper pail can be a convenient day-to-day solution for temporary dirty diaper storage and keeping the smells at bay. While some parents choose to place diapers in a bag and take the diapers directly to the trash, this solution won't work for everyone. Critical factors include odor containment and ease of use, so we tested the pails to discover all the sordid smelly details. With differences in odor control, bag changing challenges, and the continuing cost of ownership, each product has pros and cons. Find out which choice will work best for your family by reading on.
The Search for the Best Diaper Pail
The Munchkin Step is a neat pail with features designed to limit escaping odors and to limit smells. The pail is a step-to-open design with only one hand required for diaper deposits. It comes with a baking soda insert lid for odor-fighting and a lavender-scented bag refill ring that stays sealed when you open the door to limit the blasts of stench that happen with each new deposit. If smell free isn't cool enough, Munchkin plants a tree with every new purchase. You'll be doing something good for the environment while you limit odors.
The twisting action that keeps odors trapped when you close the lid can fail as the pail gets full, and the plastic container absorbs odors over time. This container also requires proprietary bags, which means you'll be investing in this diaper system for your diapering lifetime. These liners add to the already high cost of the initial purchase. The lavender-scented bags and lid insert can be overwhelming to those with sensitive sniffers or allergies. Nevertheless, parents like the twist seal action and the ability to remove only a portion of the bag when emptying the pail. If you want a triple threat against odors and don't mind investing additional money over time, then the Munchkin is the perfect choice for you.
Read review: Munchkin Step
The Playtex Diaper Genie Expressions is functionally similar to the Diaper Genie Complete with a proprietary refill system and an odor trapping design. The main difference is the visual design and the ability to add a fabric covers (sold separately) in a variety of designs to cover the pail. This cover makes the ordinary diaper depot more nursery-friendly and arguably less of an eyesore. The Diaper Genie lineup has always fared well in our tests for odor containment, and this option continues that legacy by offering nearly best-in-class odor containment, only bested today by the Munchkin.
This pail lacks a foot pedal making it a to-hand operation. While this isn't necessarily a deal-breaker, it is something to consider. You need to purchase the refill rings for the pail, which increases your lifetime investment over the competition that work with trash bags. However, we feel this is a no-brainer given the Genie bag's superior odor control. If you want an easy to use, stylish pail that traps odors, we think you'll love the Diaper Genie Expressions.
Read review: Playtex Diaper Genie Expressions
The Tommee Tippee Simplee prides itself on being small and fitting almost anywhere. With a capacity of 18 newborn diapers, this could be a good fit for apartments or parents looking to hide the pail under a cabinet or in a closet. The Simplee comes with a lid in your choice of 3 colors, and it has a proprietary bag with a multi-layer system designed to control odors. With the lowest price in the review, it's a great choice for the budget-minded family or those with limited space.
While it may be functional for newborns, it doesn't hold that many diapers, and as baby grows, their diapers will also grow, so the number of diapers it can hold will decrease as your little one gets older. We believe this limitation makes it less appealing for parents who don't want to change the bag on a daily basis. Although it was not our experience, some users note that the lid is challenging to open. You need to push the diaper past the smart seal lid to avoid lid problems, which may not always be pleasant if you have a particularly messy diaper. Also, the blade inside the lid is not the most user-friendly; it was not very sharp, and you need to remove the lid to use it. However, if you need a space-saving pail and don't mind daily bag changes to control odors, then the Tommee Tippee is a suitable choice for your situation.
Read review: Tommee Tippee Simplee
simplehuman 38 Liter Rectangular Step Can is a great large capacity solution for holding dirty cloth diapers until wash day. We recommend using a cloth diaper pail liner inside the simplehuman plastic bin for ease of maintenance. Liners like the Kanga Care Cloth Diaper Pail Liner and the Planet Wise Diaper Pail Liner can go in the wash along with the cloth diapers, so you'll want at least two liners in the rotation to prevent the frustration of dirty diaper with nowhere to go. Because it is essential to flush solids down the toilet before putting them in the dirty bin with cloth diapers, the liner shouldn't get too gross. Though, breastfed stools should rinse out easily in the washing machine and don't stink like formula or solid-fed stools, so you don't necessarily need to rinse them. This trash can has a step pedal to open the lid, making it hands-free, and the lid design makes it hard to open by hand, which helps deter curious dogs and toddlers from investigating the contents. We also appreciate the silent lid for less disturbance of sleepy babies.
While we like that this pail can transition to an ordinary trash can, there is a significant upfront cost that makes it a less desirable choice for parents on a tight budget. It is by far the most expensive option in the review, but we think the quality and potential long-term use perhaps justifies the higher price. While the can will last for years, there are reports of the plastic lid cracking over time, which makes them more expensive steel lid a better choice if your wallet allows. Overall, this can is an ideal choice for cloth diapering parents who don't mind paying a higher price for the quality and long-term use.
Read review: simplehuman 38 Liter Rectangular Step Can
Planet Wise Hanging Wet/Dry Bag is a convenient and versatile bag perfect for cloth diapers. This bag has a handle for hanging, which saves floor space, making it a great option for travel. The exterior is 100% cotton and feels like a light canvas. The interior uses a "non-toxic water repellent" and is "a high-quality polyurethane laminate (PUL) inner that is anti-microbial and inhibits the growth of bacteria and fungi." The interior lining of the bag does not contain any holes from sewing the seam shut, sealing the lining, and making it fully waterproof. These bags are machine washable and remain water-resistant for over 100 washes. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's directions for washing to get the most longevity from your bag.
While we love how lightweight and convenient it is, the cloth is going to degrade over time, especially with regular washing. The exterior and interior fabric are not connected, which has caused some issues. While it was not our experience, some users report that the upper seam near the zipper can separate and allow moisture to develop between the lining and fabric and the zipper occasionally breaks. Planet Wise offers a 100% 60-day warranty, so act fast if you receive a faulty bag or need a replacement for any reason. Also, while it does a decent job of containing odors, it doesn't trap and lock smells like the competition. Overall, if you want an alternative option designed specifically for cloth diapers, this is an excellent choice to consider seriously.
Read review: Planet Wise Hanging Wet/Dry Bag
The Ubbi is the only non-plastic diaper pail in this roundup, which means it doesn't absorb or retain odors (woohoo!). The Ubbi comes in a variety of fun colors, and the diaper dumping hole is large enough for most sized diapers. This pail is designed with a rubber seal to contain odors when closed, and you can use any trash bag, making it convenient to keep bags on hand. The opening can lock closed, which prevents little ones from exploring the contents or adding toys to the mix, which happens more often than you'd expect (yikes!).
Unfortunately, this pail has a hard to use design, and the opening doesn't have any features for smell containment when you open it to make a new deposit, which results in a blast of odor every time you toss in a diaper. Despite the escaping odors, it is steel, and parents will appreciate the sturdy design, odor-resistant materials, and locking lid.
Read review: Ubbi Diaper Pail
Not Recommended: Flawed Clamp System
Playtex Diaper Genie Complete
The Diaper Genie Complete is the newest Diaper Genie and is similar to the Elite with a foot pedal. Our chief complaint is the new clamp system that retains a large load in its upper vestibule instead of depositing it into its main trash compartment. The result? Opening the lid to find the diaper hasn't fallen through, which requires a manual push to get it down by hand (so gross). We believe this is a big fail. It is larger than the Expressions and has a foot pedal for one-handed disposal, but that is where the perks end. The clamp system does an okay job of preventing odors from escaping when it works and its signature unscented proprietary liner with 7-layers contains smells well. However, as the pail ages, the plastic will retain odors, and you'll need to regularly pony up for the proprietary refills to use the signature Genie system, which means a higher longterm cost of ownership than some competitors. There are also multiple reports of the system breaking down. So, be prepared for a possible replacement expense. Overall, we think there are better Diaper Genies to consider and think parents should avoid the poorly designed clamp in favor of a better design.
Not Recommended: Outdated & Cumbersome
The Diaper Dekor Plus is a hands-free pail with a step open, locking lid that prevents toddler toys from being placed in amongst the dirty diapers. The interior has a trap door that should contain odors when you make a deposit, but it releases an eye-watering odor poof that isn't pleasant. While the door keeps the majority of the odor contained when closed, it isn't smell-free. Given its size, this pail is a clunky and cumbersome nursery addition. While the large capacity may be appealing, the horrible stench means you'll need to empty it more frequently (before it gets full) to control odors, thus negating the capacity benefit. Also, the brand-specific bags have an overpowering powdery fragrance that does not help create a smell-free environment, and they are challenging to install. The bags also increase your lifetime investment, and they are hard to find, so you'll likely need to order them and keep a few on hand to avoid running out. You can theoretically use the Dekor as a trash can after the diaper years, but the plastic interior will probably absorb too much poop smell to be a useful candidate. We believe the overall look of this pail is satisfactory, but despite being a color-coordinated pail with locking lid, we think there are nicer options that contain smells better, are easier to use, and have a lower initial price and lifetime investment.
Read review: Dekor Plus
Why You Should Trust Us
The diaper pail review is a labor of stink love led by BabyGearLab founder, Dr. Spurrier. Dr. Juliet Spurrier is a board-certified pediatrician and mother of two whose quest for a smell-free diaper pail began over 11 years ago. After testing multiple pails in several reviews over the past six years, she is the definitive expert on all things diaper pail and odor control. The team also includes Senior Review Editor, Wendy Schmitz. Wendy is also a mother of two and had been researching and testing diaper pails since her first was born ten years ago and professionally with BabyGearLab since 2014.
We tested the majority of the pails side-by-side for odor containment and ease of use. With a combination of used baby diapers in some homes and bagged dog poop in others, we put the pails to the test with above and beyond poop fulfillment. After living with the used pails in our homes monitoring odor containment, we performed further in-lab testing for functionality, ease of use, features, and more.
Why Use a Specially Designed Diaper Pail?
A special product for diaper disposal can provide significant odor containment advantages over a standard kitchen trashcan. These pails are designed to tightly seal in the odors from dirty diapers in a way that ordinary cans do not. However, sealing the pail lid tightly isn't the entire equation. A good pail also considers what happens when you open and close the container to make a deposit. The best products have a mechanism to minimize the stinky smell that escapes when inserting a dirty diaper. Also, the best receptacles include a design that makes it easy to change a full bag without experiencing overwhelming odors.
How We Evaluated
Diapers stink and finding a way to dispose of them while keeping odor at bay is crucial to a pleasant smelling nursery. We spent over 100 hours researching and testing a variety of diaper pails to determine which options work the best. The ease of use, day-to-day smell, and bag changing methods all play a role in determining pail rank.
Whether you're diapering your first child or your fifth, you need a way to dispose of the dirty diapers. We believe containing odor is a top priority in finding a suitable pail. Because odor issues are the top concern when making a pail decision, we put more weight on the bin's ability to control odors than any other factor. Even in our tests for ease of changing the pail's bag, differences in the overall smell involved is key.
We found that all of the pails did a relatively good job managing odors when closed. Each pail stays fairly tightly sealed when closed by using either an inner bag seal or a limited opening feature. We only experienced minor differences in odor coming from closed pails that were not disturbed for hours, meaning the competition is pretty close when it comes to odor control of closed pails. However, the differences between the competition are more obvious when the pails are opened and closed to put dirty diapers inside, an activity you will frequently be doing.
Despite various innovative designs to minimize escaping odors when placing a diaper in the pail, the stink puff naturally wafts out when the door opens. The level of stink that happens when making a fresh deposit varies from a mild poof to a nasty blast and is an expected byproduct of housing baby's waste in one receptacle for an extended period. The stink bomb cloud can linger for a significant period and become a nasal buzz kill on your newborn bliss, which is why this is where the competition gets heated. The pails with the least amount of escaping stink won our noses and minds because the options that don't contain the stench were so offensive we'd pay just about anything to avoid smelling them.
Several of the products offer an open/close system designed to limit the amount of odor that escapes. Diaper Genies twist the interior bag trapping odors, and they have a clamp to prevent a lot of stench from escaping. The Munchkin Step has a similar twisting bag. The Diaper Dekor has what the company calls a "Magik? trap door" that auto-seals after you drop in the diaper. The Ubbi has an open hole that allows smells to waft out as long as the door is open. However, Ubbi is the only non-plastic (powder-coated steel) option, which should prevent the absorption of excessive odor over time, so it may be a trade-off depending on your tolerance for smells and swiftness making deposits.So what else can you do to combat those nasty diaper odors? We find the following tips to be helpful, starting with the most obvious.
- Don't dispose of poopy diapers inside the pail, but instead take them outside immediately or deposit the contents into the toilet first.
- Empty your container daily to help avoid a build-up of diapers, and therefore, odor.
- At the end of each day, spray a disinfectant spray (store-bought or a homemade vinegar spray) into the pail.
- Baking soda does wonders for odor control, as it is a natural deodorizer. It is helpful to sprinkle a bit (or you can place a whole box) at the bottom of the pail after each bag change.
- It can be helpful to combat the odor with other, more preferential, smells. Dryer sheets or coffee grounds do a decent job of tackling the stink. Essential oils can also be helpful. Adding 5-10 drops of eucalyptus, lavender, or melaleuca (tea tree) oil to a cotton ball and placing at the bottom of the pail can also provide some relief and are less offensive than scented liners.
- Finally, wash your pail out every so often with hot water and soap and let it dry in the sun. UV rays help destroy odor-causing bacteria.
Diaper Pail Buying Advice
Choosing a diaper pail might feel like one of the more mundane or boring items you'll need for your baby. Still, given its regular use and impact on the smell of your nursery and house, it won't be long before you realize it is one of the more important baby buying decisions.
Types of Diaper Pails
Diaper dumpsters come in two main varieties, those that only work with proprietary bags (bags/liners specifically for that pail) and those that can work with regular kitchen bags (though a minority will work with both). Outside of the bag style that each pail accepts, the remaining differences include whether or not they offer an odor reduction feature or a diaper deposit method that seals odor into the bag, so your senses aren't assaulted each time you drop a stink bomb inside. Some things to keep in mind are the lifetime cost of owning the pail (including the purchase of bags and odor-fighting features) and which features are most important to you, given how often you plan to change it or where you want to store it.
We think the most important factors to consider when buying a diaper pail are the following:
- Odor Control — how well does the pail contain diaper odors? This smell control includes sitting there closed and when you make a dirty diaper deposit.
- Ease of Diaper Disposal — how difficult is it to dispose of a dirty diaper? Can you do it with one hand holding a baby?
- Ease of Bag Change — how straightforward is it to change a full bag of dirty diapers, and does the process create vomit inducing odors, or can it potentially lead to spilling?
- Total Cost of Ownership — what is the estimated total cost of owning and using the pail over the expected life of the product, including replacement diaper bag refills? Those with proprietary bags often cost more over time, though the advanced odor protection of some may make this additional cost worthwhile.
We attempt to address each of these concerns to determine which products are the best pails on the market. We placed the highest importance on odor control because we consider that to be the essential purpose of a diaper pail and the main reason parents purchase one after the convenience of throwing diapers away in-house.
- Rinse poop off of the diaper and into the toilet before placing it in the pail. This act prevents adding bio-waste to the landfill and decreases the overall smell.
- Roll the diaper up tightly into a ball and attach adhesive tabs to keep it rolled before putting it into the pail.
- Change the bag at least every 2 to 3 days.
- Wash the pail with warm soapy water regularly. Dry pail.
- If smells persist, try open drying in the sunlight for UV assistance, killing the bacteria that cause odors.
Ease of Disposal
Ease of disposal is how easy it is to dispose of a single diaper using one hand. A few of the products offer a foot pedal to open doors for disposal, and while these are nice, they aren't necessarily more straightforward to use than the products that are a hand only operation. In the end, the significant differences include the amount of odor that escapes with each deposit and the tendency for diapers to get hung up or need assistance from another hand to get the job done.
The hands-free Diaper Genies work relatively well even when the bags are full. The Ubbi suffers from the release of odor with each new diaper drop, and the sliding door needs some downward pressure to get the door to open; if you use the child lock, you might find the whole operation is more manageable with two hands, not one. The Munchkin Step is a step open, but the bag twists after each use to trap odors and can make it harder to get a new diaper inside. The trap door on the Dekor worked well until the bag started getting full, and it "relaxes" over time resulting in more odor escaping with each new diaper and lack of full closure on the interior door. The Tommee Tippee Simplee Diaper Pail requires pushing the diaper through a trap door inside the pail under the main door. That means touching the inside of the bag, and if there is any spillage from the previous diaper, you'll be encountering that too! Ewww! The simplehuman 38 Liter Rectangular Step Can has a nice foot pedal that releases the lid so you can drop your cloth diaper inside. The Planet Wise Hanging Wet/Dry Bag utilizes a simple zipper to open and shut, but you aren't likely to manage this with only one hand.
Ease of Bag Change
Changing diaper pail bags is not a good time. It is a task you'll want to do quickly and efficiently before the noxious odors make you hurl. Because you'll be executing this chore multiple times a week for a few years, you'll want to consider how challenging it is to complete without making a mess or being knocked out by the fumes.
Several of the pails, such as the Playtex Diaper Genie Expressions, the Munchkin Step, and the Tommee Tippee Simplee, have an integrated blade in the can to cut the bag when you are ready to remove it. This design is convenient because you can empty the pail frequently without wasting bag space. However, not all systems are equally useful. The Simplee is a bit more challenging than the competition as you must completely remove the lid and hold it while cutting the bag with one hand. The Step and Expressions allow the lid to stay open on a hinge while feeding the bag through the blade to release it. With the proprietary system, all three are easy once the bag is removed to prepare a new bag. All you need to do is pull the plastic liner out and tie a knot at the end. Now, you are ready to go!
The options where you use a regular trash bag, like the simplehuman 38 Liter Rectangular Step Can and the Ubbi translates into emptying dirty diapers like a typical trash can. When the pail becomes too stinky to handle, you'll need to replace the entire bag no matter how full or empty it is. Replacing the bag on the simplehuman, whether using a reusable fabric bag or plastic trash bag, was the easiest as it the same as changing out a trash bag and securing it around the edges. While the Ubbi is not difficult, there are more steps involved because of the lid design.
Unfortunately, buying a pail is not the end of the story when it comes to investment, but how much extra cost you'll incur depends on the product you choose and how you use it. We made calculations based on manufacturer claims and our personal experience of how many diapers fit in each bag or refill, and we did a comparative cost analysis of the lifetime cost of owning each product based on the same number of diapers used with each unit. The Munchkin Step is not only a top-performer but is relatively affordable. It does use a proprietary system, making the lifetime cost just above $200. The Diaper Genies earned the top scores in our tests for odor control, but they are the most expensive models to own over your child's diaper-wearing years. The average cost of ownership is somewhere over $300. However, because this product tends to control odors better than the competition, it may make the cost of ownership worthwhile for you. If cost is a concern and the idea of buying special bags for diapers has you cringing, you might consider the Ubbi. While not as good at containing odors, you can use this pail with ordinary 13-gallon kitchen trash bags, which will save you money over time with a lifetime cost closer to $122. If you do not want to invest any more money beyond the container, the Planet Wise Hanging Wet/Dry Bag is the way to go. The ability to wash the bag and not use any disposal bag system could save you a couple of hundred dollars over your diapering years.
Parents can be pretty passionate about their diaper disposal system, spouting a myriad of reasons why they love them or can't wait to throw them. The key to diaper pail heaven is having realistic expectations of what a pail can offer, changing bags often to prevent odor build-up, and remembering that poop is poop, and it smells like poop (surprise!). Shockingly, putting a bunch of soiled diapers in the same location will compound the odor into a greater odor! Our hands-on tests and research are the most comprehensive ever done to help determine how well each pail does its job. The products we like best fight odor better than the competition and are easy to use. If they work with any old bag that is a bonus too, but in the end, if getting good odor protection means a proprietary bag, we didn't count it against the pail. If you don't mind a diapering lifetime investment (including the continued purchase of bags and odor features) and you are committed to managing odor, then the pails with special bags manage odor better than the competition and better than ordinary kitchen trash bags. If you care more about keeping lifetime costs low or want the convenience of using bags you have on hand, then you are likely to be happy with the Ubbi or similar basic pails that work with any bag of appropriate size.
— Juliet Spurrier, MD & BabyGearLab Team