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- By Maralyn Edid
Among the dozens of diapering options, it's not easy to tell which is the least costly and most effective. To help caregivers find the best cheap diapers, Cheapism talked with new parents, sorted through scores of online reviews of cheap disposable diapers, and also peeked at the eco-friendly, washable category. The criteria we assessed include cost per unit, fit, and absorption and leak protection. For comparison, we focused on the prices of size 3 diapers sold in bulk packages of 100 or more. The cost per diaper rather than the package price is the critical number (if the unit cost is not displayed, divide the total price by the number of diapers) and bulk diapers are typically the most economical buy. Always check manufacturer websites for coupons and free samples.
Budget Diapers Buying Guide
The average baby goes through about 2,500 diapers in the first year alone, and most children are not fully toilet-trained until age 3. This means that opting for diapers that cost 15 cents instead of 30 cents each can save parents a good $375 a year. Cheapism surveyed prices of name-brand diapers at Target, Amazon, Walmart, and Diapers.com and checked several in-house brands sold by big-box retailers such as Costco and chain pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS. We defined cheap diapers as those costing 14 cents to 25 cents apiece (in a pack of 100 or more size 3 diapers). Pricier diapers tend to be thinner, softer, and more durable, but we found good buys at the value end of the market.
Our research determined that Up & Up Diapers (from 16 cents) from Target and Luvs Ultra Leakguards (from 17 cents) are the two best cheap diapers; the former stands out for the balance between value and performance, the latter for design and ease of use. Huggies Snug & Dry (from 19 cents) underperforms compared with the brand's premium offerings but impresses legions of parents who appreciate the budget price for a top-drawer name. Pampers Baby Dry (from 24 cents) is another good low-cost diaper, the most expensive on our list, but lauded for fit and minimal leakage. Walgreens' Well Beginnings diapers (from 19 cents) prove to be a washout -- despite frequent sales offering rock-bottom prices -- due to complaints about leakage.
Another bargain-priced disposable diaper worth mentioning is the lesser-known Cuties brand (from 18 cents). Limited accessibility keeps Cuties out of the running -- they're available primarily online -- but they score well with users in terms of overall performance, and experts praise the surprisingly high absorbency, durability, and chemical-free content given the low price.
Diaper Brands.Pampers and Huggies are the major players in the disposables market, each offering several diaper lines at different price points. Aside from the lower-cost Baby Dry, Pampers sells higher-cost Swaddlers (from 28 cents), Cruisers (from 26 cents), and other specialty lines. Huggies adds Little Snugglers (from 28 cents) and Little Movers (from 26 cents) to a long lineup that starts with the budget-priced Snug & Dry. Luvs is a well-known brand distinguished from the two above by offering just one diaper line (a Luvs exclusive at Walmart differs slightly only in outward appearance).In-house brands often land in the budget diapers bucket, and some (e.g., Target) perform almost on par with the big-name competition. Generic diapers, found at outlets such as dollar stores, are the most frugal buy, but parents often say they're not as soft or absorbent and the sizing may be a little off, which can contribute to leakage. Eco-friendly disposable brands generally are priced beyond the Cheapism niche. Earth's Best TenderCare diapers start at 32 cents apiece, for example.
Washable Diapers.Good old cloth diapers are another penny-wise option. Although laundering soaks up energy and resources, reusable diapers appeal to eco-conscious parents concerned about the hundreds of years it reportedly takes disposables to decompose in a landfill. Traditional "prefold" cotton diapers require an initial investment of about $70 (assuming a maximum cost of $2 a diaper and a wash schedule of every three days) and several repeat outlays as the baby grows. Still, reusables should prove cheaper over time, especially if used for more than one child.The new washable "all-in-one" or "pocket" diapers, made of materials such as microfiber, fleece, hemp, and bamboo, go on and off much like disposables and are more absorbent than traditional prefolds. The upfront cost here hits hard -- $12 and up for one diaper -- but fewer than two dozen will do. Our favorite in this category is BumGenius 4.0 (from $17.50), a one-size-fits-all diaper that's user-friendly, long-lasting, and perfume- and dye-free. Other popular one-size pocket-style brands include FuzziBunz (from $17) and GroVia Hybrid (from $17). All-in-ones that come in incremental sizes are prohibitively expensive long term.
Sites such as Diaper Pin and Diaper Swappers host active forums and sales pages for used diapers.
What We Looked For
Diapers, whether disposable or reusable, are a simple product with a clear function: Keep babies dry, keep the contents from spilling out, and protect sensitive skin. All the diapers we researched include absorbent layers and anti-leak design elements. That leaves only a few features to distinguish one diaper brand from another.
Sizing Options.Cheap disposable diapers are cut to fit babies in particular weight ranges, with overlap between sizes. Up & Up, Luvs Ultra Leakguards, and Pampers Baby Dry offer a newborn size (up to 10 pounds), which helped earn these brands a spot on our list of best cheap diapers. Huggies Snug & Dry, by contrast, starts at size 1 for babies weighing 8 to 14 pounds; brand loyalists may have to opt for Huggies' pricier Little Snugglers line, which comes in preemie and newborn sizes. Cheap disposables max out at size 6, and at the upper reaches should be large enough for children weighing 35 pounds and more. One-size cloth diapers, such as BumGenius 4.0, fit babies weighing as little as 8 pounds and up to 35 pounds, give or take.
Irritant-Free Diapers.Some babies (and parents) are particularly sensitive to components that may show up in budget-priced diapers, such as latex, chemical dyes, perfumes, or the chlorine that bleaches some of the raw materials. Luvs, for example, gets dinged in some parent reviews for its strong fragrance. But even in the low-cost diaper universe, it's possible to avoid such irritants. None of the products we researched use chlorine during the production process, and none contain latex. Target's Up & Up diapers are made of cotton and wood fluff pulp, and include a hypoallergenic inner liner with aloe and vitamin D. Walgreens' Well Beginnings diapers also feature a hypoallergenic inner liner with natural botanicals, aloe, and vitamin E. Cuties are completely hypoallergenic and free of potentially irritating ingredients such as latex and fragrances. Costco's Kirkland Signature Supreme diapers (from 20 cents) are hypoallergenic, as well, and contain no perfume scents.In general, though, completely hypoallergenic and irritant-free disposables are pricier than discount diapers. The Seventh Generation Free & Clear brand features an unbleached fiber core and contains no dyes, perfumes, or petroleum-based lotions but starts at 31 cents a diaper.
Diaper Features We Ignored
Wetness Indicators.One feature commonly found on high-priced premium diapers is a "wetness indicator," an area usually on the front of the diaper that turns red or blue when the diaper needs changing. Up & Up and Huggies Snug & Dry are graced with this frill through size 2, and Pampers Baby Dry features it throughout, but most reviewers consider it unnecessary.
Graphics.Many upscale diapers (and some discount diaper brands, as well) are imprinted with popular cartoon characters such as Disney personalities or Dora the Explorer. These may appeal to parents and children but don't affect diapers' performance. Ditto for the decorative designs found on some lines.
Diaper Performance Reviews
There's no shortage of diaper reviews, even for the cheap brands. We found hundreds of comments by parents on vendor sites, including Amazon, Viewpoints, Diapers.com, Target, and Walgreens, and on blogs, forums, and parenting sites such as BabyGearLab and Parents.com. As we read through the reviews, it became clear that several budget diaper brands do, in fact, satisfy all the critical criteria. That is, they're absorbent and only rarely leak, and fit most babies comfortably without irritating.
When it's time to make a choice, remember that no two babies are alike. An inexpensive brand that fits a best friend's child perfectly may not work for yours. Finding the right diaper is like finding the right dress or suit -- some styles are more becoming and fit better than others. A little trial and error is often necessary.
Absorption and Leakage.What every parent or caregiver wants is a diaper that keeps a baby dry and doesn't spew its contents, day or night. Not surprisingly, every diaper brand touts its multitude of absorbent layers (often with a proprietary formula) and a design that guards against leaks. If leakage is a recurring problem with any of the best cheap diapers, it's either time to move up to the next size or switch to a different brand.Comparative testing of 24 different diapers by BabyGearLab included three of our picks: Target's Up & Up, Luvs Ultra Leakguards, and Huggies Snug & Dry. The experts weren't particularly impressed by these budget diapers, which turned in underwhelming performances compared with some pricier options. Tests found that the first two slightly bested the latter on leak protection but lagged in absorbency.
The in-home experience may be different, of course, and hundreds of parents assign positive ratings to all three brands, as well as to Pampers Baby Dry, for absorption and leakage. We did come across a spot of grumbling about overnight protection. (Tip: Try double diapering or a premium brand for sleep time; you can still save money by using budget diapers during the day.) Overall, though, the strong consensus in reviews is that these diapers neatly meet parents' expectations.
Compared with Target's Up & Up, other store brands don't fare so well. Judgments about Walgreens' Well Beginnings are inconsistent, and even the most supportive reviews often mention leakage, which may be due at least in part to the diaper's stiffness and lack of give.
BumGenius 4.0, a cloth diaper alternative, wins accolades from parents who have tried traditional cloth as well as disposables. Many assert BumGenius diapers are far less likely to leak, especially at night (an extra insert helps).
Snug Fit.Diaper construction and design only go so far when it comes to preventing leaks. A snug fit is the necessary complement. Here, too, diaper reviews indicate that our top choices meet the standard. Stretchy material, grippy tabs, adjustable waist, elastic around the legs, and various iterations thereof are the primary reasons these diapers please so many parents.That said, some brands seem better suited for certain body types than others -- the shape is more contoured, perhaps, or offers more rear coverage. Huggies Snug & Dry seems to work particularly well for boys, according to parent reports, while Pampers Baby Dry seems to be a good match for lanky babies. The Luvs Ultra Leakguards line accommodates a range of baby shapes. Up & Up diapers aren't as stretchy as the premium brands, but reviews suggest they're OK for chubbier babies. Walgreens' Well Beginnings, on the other hand, draw barbs from parents of larger children.
The one-size-fits-all design of BumGenius 4.0 should work for babies up through toilet training. Some diaper reviews, however, claim they're too large for newborns and too tight for chubby toddlers. Reviews of earlier versions gripe about elastic that stretched out and laundry tabs that wore out, but the newest model seems to have addressed these issues and also sports more generous sizing.