How to Properly Dispose of Dirty 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 and there are many things to consider when throwing them away – especially when you’re doing so away from home.

We’ve compiled some useful information about diaper disposal and five  tips to dispose of them safely.

Table of Contents

    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 can pose 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 not come 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.

    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 (2).

    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.

    Clearly, fecal matter has the potential to be dangerous.

    Coping With The Smell Of Dirty Diapers

    The good news is that while the scent of dirty diapers can be overpowering, it is not dangerous to your health and will not make you ill. Even in the unlikely event that particles of fecal matter become airborne, the likelihood that they will cause illness is extremely low (4).

    Still, the smell of fecal matter is a quality-of-life issue and though it may not make you sick, it can be unpleasant. So, proper management of both the hard fecal waste AND the trapping of smells are important to consider when disposing of diapers properly.

    You may find expert suggestions as sucking on lozenges or dabbing a drop of essential oils like peppermint or cinnamon on your upper lip while diapering, helpful in dealing with that dirty diaper smell (source). When the smell doesn’t leave your home, try opening windows, diffusing essential oils, or using baking soda inserts for scent control (5).

    How To Dispose Of Diapers Properly?

    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.
    • Ziploc Bag – A Ziploc or other 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 are selling 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 (6).

    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 where you can throw away your diapers are:

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

    Places where you may want to avoid tossing your diapers are:

    • 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 at least use hand sanitizer if you’re traveling and don’t have immediate access to a sink) to make sure your hands are safe and clean.

    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, there could be potentially dangerous emissions to you and your family.

    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 a second time or bury after burning.


    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 that come with changing a baby.

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    4 Reader Comments

    1. Favour

      Please is it right to burn my child’s diapers and also menstrual pads?

      I would appreciate your urgent response.

      Thanks

      Favour

      • Jenny

        Hi Favour, thanks for the comment.

        Is there any particular reason you want to burn them?

        It’s usually not considered a good idea because of the dioxins that get released when you burn diapers. Most disposable diapers contain many different chemicals and plastic lining, therefore if you’re burning them in an enclosed space like an indoor fire place, there could be potentially dangerous emissions to you and your family.

        If done outdoors on a large fire, the worry would be much less. Hope that helps.

    2. Tammy Davis

      It’s not a good idea to burn dirty diapers — not even clean diapers!! I would try the paper bag disposal of all. It’s just better for mother Earth.

      • Team Mom Loves Best

        Yes, Tammy! We agree with you wholeheartedly :). Thanks for reading and commenting.

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