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How to Dispose of Dirty Diapers: The Right Way

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD
Safe ways to get rid of those poopy diapers.

If you’ve got a baby, you’re probably accustomed to changing diapers. But, have you ever wondered whether you’re disposing of them properly?

Since they harbor human waste, disposable diapers have the potential to be a public health hazard. There are also many things to consider when throwing them away — especially when you’re doing so away from home.

We’ve researched and compiled some useful information about diaper disposal. Here are our findings and five tips to dispose of diapers safely.

Key Takeaways

  • Disposable diapers have the potential to be a public health hazard if not disposed of properly.
  • Fecal matter should be dumped into the toilet before disposing of the diaper.
  • Wrap up the diaper into a tight ball and secure it.
  • Place the diaper in a sealed container such as a diaper pail, a resealable plastic bag, or a plastic grocery bag.
  • Use a dog waste bag if you are outside and don’t have access to a trashcan.
  • Always make sure to check with local waste management regulations before disposing of diapers.

What To Know About Disposing Diapers?

While cloth diapers have certainly made a comeback in recent years, disposable diapers still reign supreme. They’re easy to put on, convenient to use, and do their job pretty darn well. But, the act of merely discarding plastic-wrapped, feces-filled diapers into the trash poses health hazards.

Take Note

You should always dump the feces into the toilet before disposing of a diaper (1).

The safest place for fecal matter is in a public sewage or private septic system, where it can be effectively processed and avoid coming in contact with the general public. However, most of us don’t do that. We simply wrap up our diapers and throw them in the trash.

How To Dispose Of Diapers Properly

Here are 5 steps to properly dispose of dirty diapers.

How to dispose of dirty diapers

1. Dump Diaper Contents Into Toilet

Though nearly every mom skips this step, fecal matter is not supposed to end up in landfills for the reasons outlined above. Regardless of which disposal method you choose below, bear in mind that the first step in tossing a diaper should always be dumping the contents in the toilet and rinsing the diaper.

To do this, dump or gently shake feces into the toilet and flush.

2. Wrap Up The Diaper

Wrap up your diaper into a tight ball to secure the remaining waste in the diaper by rolling the front of the diaper up into itself toward the back. Secure it by wrapping the tabs on the back of the diaper around the front.

3. Place the Diaper in a Sealed Container

Placing the diaper in a sealed container will trap the odor of the diapers, keeping your home smelling fresh and — if you’re out — preventing the people around you from dealing with the smell. There are several options to accomplish this.

  • Diaper Pail – A diaper pail (like the popular brand Diaper Genie) is a wastebasket designed specifically for diapers. Typically kept in the baby’s nursery next to the changing table, it collects tossed diapers in a large plastic bag which you can remove when full. The top of the diaper pail is also engineered to trap odors, preventing your home from smelling like dirty diapers. Diaper pails are an easy way to dispose of diapers without having to run them outside — or empty your household garbage — more frequently.
  • Resealable Bag – A resealable plastic bag will also help trap smells. A quart-sized bag may work for a newborn, but you may quickly have to switch to gallon-sized bags as your child wears larger diapers. This option can get expensive over time but is a convenient method to use when you are away from home or traveling.
  • Plastic Grocery Bag – Though some municipalities now only offer brown paper bags, if you’re like most families, you probably have quite a large collection of plastic bags stashed somewhere in your home. Put them to use as a free diaper disposal tool. Simply place the dirty diaper in the bag, twist it to trap the smell, turn the ends inside-out back over the bag, twist it again, and then tie it. Your diaper should now be double-wrapped and ready for scent-free disposal. If you prefer to be environmentally friendly, you can also use brown paper bags to dispose of diapers securely. Just fold them as tightly as possible over your used diaper! These biodegradable diaper bags with odor neutralizers are another environmentally friendly option.
  • “Doggie Bags” – For years, pet owners have been able to buy a roll of small plastic blue or green bags with a fastener that clamps to their leash for ease of use when their pet “does their business” on a walk. There’s no reason you can’t clip one of these ingenious inventions to your diaper bag for on-the-go discreet disposal. Some manufacturers sell them specifically for babies, but if you can’t find one in your local baby supply store, just head to your local pet shop and pick up some dog poop bags!
  • Air Sick Bag – If you’re on an airplane, grab an airsickness bag from the seat pocket in front of you. Place the diaper in the bag, roll down the top, secure it with the tabs, and throw it away in the airplane bathroom. Remember, flight attendants are prohibited from disposing of diapers during food service, so it’s better to hang on to it in your diaper bag or toss it yourself (2).

4. Dispose of Your Diaper (If Appropriate)

Once your diaper is safely sealed, it’s time to decide whether to keep or toss it. If you’re at home, just throw it away. However, if you’re out and about, respect others’ sensitivity to the residual smells of your diaper. It may be best to tuck it in your diaper bag and toss it at home.

Places you can dispose of diapers:

  • Home.
  • A friend’s outdoor garbage can.
  • A public bathroom.
  • A park trash can.
  • Airplane trash can.

Places to avoid disposing of diapers:

  • A friend’s bathroom or kitchen.
  • A doctor’s office.
  • Outside where there is no trash receptacle.
  • In an airplane by giving it to the flight attendant.
  • Small, enclosed spaces.

5. Wash Your Hands

Remember, fecal matter can harbor bacteria and viruses — even if you have no visible residue on your hands. Wash your hands with soap and water (or use hand sanitizer if you don’t have immediate access to a sink) to make sure your hands are safe and clean.

Health Risks of Improper Diaper Disposal

When you throw your dirty diapers into the trash, they can threaten the health of sanitation workers who may come in contact with the waste matter. Additionally, if landfills are not correctly constructed, bacteria from fecal matter can leech into the groundwater and contaminate it.

Over 100 viruses can be detected in human excrement — many of which can live for months outside the body.

Some of the bacteria and viruses which may be present in human fecal matter are (3):

  • Gastrointestinal viruses.
  • Hepatitis.
  • E. coli.
  • Salmonella.
  • Norovirus.
  • Polio.

Can I Burn Used Diapers Instead?

This is usually not considered a good idea because of the dioxins released when you burn diapers. Most disposable diapers contain various chemicals and plastic lining, so if you’re burning them in an enclosed space like an indoor fireplace, you could be releasing potentially dangerous emissions.

If done outdoors on a large fire, the worry would be much less. However, those who do burn diapers have reported that single-use diapers do not burn easily, and they often have to burn them a second time or bury them after burning.


What is the Easiest Way to Dispose of Diapers?

In short, the easiest way to dispose of diapers safely is to first plop the feces in the toilet. Then, tightly roll up the diaper and then put it into a separate bag. Throw the bag away immediately and be sure to wash your hands thoroughly!

How Long Do Diapers Stay in Landfills?

You are not going to like this answer. Potentially, diapers can hang around landfills for 450 years. With the plastics and other materials used in diaper production, it takes centuries for these products to break down.

That’s one good reason why cloth diapers have had a resurgence in popularity.

How Long are Unopened Diapers Good For?

Since it takes one diaper approximately 450 years to disintegrate, the expiration on diapers is almost nonexistent.

Most likely none of the plastic diapers that have been made to date have expired, so don’t worry about using up the diapers you have in a timely manner. Unless you’re raising an immortal child, your diaper supply couldn’t possibly go bad.

What is the Most Eco-Friendly Way to Diaper?

Reusable cloth diapers are the most eco-friendly choice. Since you’ll throw away significantly fewer diapers by using cloth ones, you’re preventing plastic diapers from sitting in landfills this way.

The drawback to this method? It’s a lot more work. You can’t wrap up a reusable diaper and forget about it like you can with plastic diapers.

Why Can a Diaper Not Be Recycled?

It isn’t safe to recycle diapers. Since diapers have fecal matter, it’s a hazard to do anything with them other than dispose of them. It sucks, but this is how we keep everyone from getting sick.

Is There a 100% Biodegradable Diaper?

Unfortunately, there is no such creation as a 100% biodegradable diaper.

With the amount of materials that go into diaper production, so far, there isn’t a cost-effective way to swap out all those materials with biodegradable ones. If you prefer to take an eco-friendly approach, reusable diapers are the only way to do it.

Dispose With Ease

Whether you’re at home or on the go, good hygiene and respect for the comfort of others are paramount when disposing of a diaper properly. Using these tips will keep the germs — and the smells — at bay, and prevent exposing others to the hazards of fecal matter.

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Headshot of Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett is a veteran licensed pediatrician with three decades of experience, including 19 years of direct patient clinical care. She currently serves as a medical consultant, where she works with multiple projects and clients in the area of pediatrics, with an emphasis on children and adolescents with special needs.