Do You Really Need a Diaper Pail? [+ Alternatives]


Do you need a diaper pail?

Changing a baby’s diaper is simultaneously the simplest parenting act, and surprisingly complicated. There are so many options for diaper changing gear that deciding between diaper pails can feel like an earth-shattering – or at least nose-shattering – decision. But do you actually need a diaper pail?

No, you don’t need a diaper pail to successfully diaper your baby. Skipping a diaper pail is a great way to save space or cash.

When we were expecting, a diaper pail was high on my partner’s priority list. Containing the smell of baby poop was a major concern. We started out using a pail but gave it away after a few months, because honestly it was just gross.

Of course, everyone’s situation is different and you may love having a diaper pail. Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of diaper pails, and alternatives to save you money and space.

What is a Diaper Pail?

Diaper pails are basically fancy trash cans for dirty diapers that allegedly lock in smells. They use different mechanisms like twisting the top of the bag to trap in odors. How well they actually achieve this end is debated. If you like your diaper pail, it is a baby item that you’ll use from the day your baby comes home from the hospital until they potty train.

Do You Need a Diaper Pail?

No, you don’t need a diaper pail. Whether you use a diaper pail or an alternative method to dispose of stinky diapers is truly a matter of personal preference. There are a number of alternative options, like individually bagging diapers, that easily substitute for a traditional diaper pail.

Here are pros and cons of diaper pails:

Many contain smells fairly well (though not perfectly)They’re gross
You can keep dirty diapers in a separate part of your houseSmell will escape every time you open it
You don’t have to throw out diapers individuallyYou may have to shove a dirty diaper into a bag full of old, dirty diapers
Can be used with cloth diapersSome require special bags, which are pricy
Added cost
They take up space

My bias is probably showing with the above pros and cons list. I found our diaper pail to be super gross.

Even though it trapped in smells really well, you still have to open it to deposit a new diaper. As soon as you do, you get hit in the face with putridness. Not to mention having to push your hand – already holding a baby poop diaper – through the small pail opening and into a bag of old diapers.

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Finally, if you remember nothing else from this article, I hope you remember this: you definitely do not need a diaper pail for pee-only diapers. You can throw them in your regular trash and they won’t smell, assuming you take out your trash at least weekly. We didn’t know this in the beginning and we could have saved ourself a lot of hassle.

Alternatives to Diaper Pails

A key to being able to skip a diaper pail is finding an alternative system for disposing of poop diapers. Here are four alternatives to buying a diaper pail:

Throw Diapers Directly into Outside Trash

Depending on your set up, the simplest alternative is to throw poop diapers straight into your outside trash. This works well if your baby poops infrequently, and you live somewhere it is easy to access your outside trash. You’ll also want to make sure your trash has a decent lid if you go with this route.

Individually Bag Dirty Diapers

We live somewhere with rats and with a trash system that won’t take loose trash so putting them directly outside wasn’t an option for us. Instead, we bag poop disposable diapers in small plastic bags like you would dog poop.

We wrap each diaper up in a bag and throw it in our regular trash inside. Some people use diaper baggies or dog poop bags for this, but I’ve found we end up with enough random plastic bags (even when I try to avoid them!) that we don’t need to buy bags.

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I was worried about the plastic waste of this system so I weighed our diaper pail bag vs. smaller plastic bags. The amount of plastic was pretty similar, and you may even use less plastic with bagging individually if you fit more than one dirty diaper in a bag.

I’ll simply twist the bag around the diaper, then turn it inside out and twist again to trap smells until I need to add another diaper to the bag. In a grocery bag, I can fit 2-3 diapers easily.

Use a Wet Bag

If you are concerned about the plastic wasted by individually bagging, consider opting for wet bags instead. Wet bags are reusable, waterproof bags that can hold diapers until you can dispose of them. To wash, simply throw them in your laundry.

Wet bags are incredibly handy for any new parent (they’re on my list of budget baby gifts that are actually useful). I highly recommend having at least one to keep in your diaper bag for blow outs, used bottles, etc.

To use wet bags in lieu of a diaper pail, simply zip up dirty diapers and then empty the wet bag when you go to take out your trash. You’ll throw the wet bag in the wash after so you’ll want at least two bags to rotate.

Wet bags are not as smell proof as a diaper pail so this strategy works best for people who take out their trash at least every other day.

I love my wet bags for holding my dirty cloth diapers. I also have smaller sized ones that I keep in our diaper bags for dirty or wet clothes. They are great to take along to the pool or beach too. I have two big ones and a handful of small ones so I can rotate them while washing.

Note: I briefly had a Skiphop wet bag but would not recommend them. They are more waterproof than some other wet bags but they were thick and plastic-y making them harder to wash and dry.

Consider a Regular Trash Can or Bucket with Lid

Some people swear by using a simple stainless steel trash can or even a regular bucket with a lid for their diapers.

This would work best for people who already have these items on hand to try out. A stainless steel trash can be repurposed once you finish diapering your baby, unlike a diaper pail. A bucket would be an easy and basic option, but plastic is more porous and may hold smells.

If you are looking to repurpose an old household item for holding diapers, an old paint can is a great diaper pail alternative. Metal paint cans have a lid, are made of steel and designed not to corrode.

Best Diaper Pail

What if you read all those alternatives and the diaper pail route is still for you? Which diaper pail is the best?

If you do want a diaper pail, I really recommend not settling for any old pail. This is one baby item where details do make a big difference on function, and keeping smells at bay.

First and foremost, pick a diaper pail that doesn’t require special bags. Special bags will be a recurring cost until you potty train.

We actually got a new diaper pail recently for my cloth diapers (and yes, it is still gross). I opted for an Ubbi diaper pail because it could use any bag, is made of non-porous stainless steel, and is simple and durable.

The Ubbi is honestly the only diaper pail I feel comfortable recommending. It traps in the smell of foul, old cloth diapers extremely well. My Ubbi was recently put over our heat vent and I had no idea that our dirty diapers were hot and marinating all night until I opened the pail – it was impressive.

It is also easy to clean and looks sleek for a diaper pail. It does have a little bit of a lingering smell in the pail between uses but I imagine you could address that with baking soda or a deep clean. I got mine secondhand and it still seems new, so it is durable.

Is a Diaper Pail Worth It?

Whether a diaper pail is worth it will depend on your personal preference. Diaper pails that are well-built and use regular trash bags should last through multiple babies. However, diaper pails add extra steps to disposing diapers and increase the ick-factor with their bags of old diapers.

Diaper pails that require proprietary bags are definitely not worth the extra expense. Years of special bags will quickly add up in price.

Overall, there are easy and free alternatives to using a diaper pail that make diaper pails not a required baby item.

You know what other baby gear you don’t need? Check out our take on:

And if you want to read more about diapers, find out whether disposable or cloth diapers are actually cheaper or read some of our diaper reviews and comparisons.

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