Safe and Hygienic: How to Properly Dispose of Diapers
Last Updated July 22, 2017
If you’ve got a baby, you’re well-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 be considered when throwing them away - especially when you’re discarding them away from home.
Here’s what you need to know about diapers, and tips on how to safely dispose of them.
What Do I Need to Know About Disposing Diapers?
While cloth diapers have certainly made a comeback in recent years, disposable diapers still reign supreme. They’re easy, they’re convenient, and they do their job pretty darn well. But, the act of simply discarding plastic-wrapped, feces-filled diapers into the trash can actually pose health hazards.
The safest place for fecal matter is in a public sewage or private septic system, where it can be effectively processed and has no chance of coming into 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.
Read: The Best Swim Diapers
What Are The Health Risks of Disposing Diapers?
When you throw your dirty diapers into the trash, they can threaten the health of sanitation workers that may come into contact with the waste matter. Additionally, if landfills are not constructed properly, bacteria from fecal matter can leech into the groundwater and contaminate it (source).
In fact, over 100 viruses can be detected in human excrement - many of which can live for months outside of the body.
Some of the bacteria and viruses that can be present in human fecal matter are (source):
Clearly, fecal matter has the potential to be dangerous.
How Can I Avoid The Smell When Disposing Diapers?
The good news is that even though 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 (source).
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.
How Do I Dispose of Diapers Properly?
1. Dump Contents of Diaper into Toilet and Rinse
Though nearly every mom skips this step, technically 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 is ALWAYS supposed to be dumping the contents in the toilet and rinsing the diaper (source).
To do this, simply dump or gently shake feces into the toilet and flush.
2. Wrap Up The Diaper
Wrap up your diaper into a tight ball in order to secure the remaining waste in the diaper. To do this, roll the front of the diaper up into itself toward the back until it is a tight ball. Secure it by using the tabs on the back of the diaper and wrapping them around the front.
3. Place the Diaper in a Sealed Container
Placing the diaper in a sealed container of some sort will trap the odor of the diapers, keeping your home smelling fresh and - if you’re out and about - preventing the people around you from having to deal with the smell. There are several options to accomplish this.
Diaper Pail - A diaper pail (like the popular brand Diaper Genie) is like a wastebasket designed specifically for diapers. It is typically kept in the baby’s nursery next to the changing table. As diapers are tossed in, they are collected in a large plastic bag which is then removed when full. The top of the diaper pail is 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 sealable 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 gets bigger and wears larger diapers. This option can get expensive over time, but is an easy and convenient method to use when you are away from home or traveling.
Plastic Grocery Bag - Though some municipalities make you pay for them now, most places still give plastic grocery bags away for free - and if you’re like most families, you have quite a large collection of them 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.
“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. In fact, 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 and secure it with the tabs, and throw it away in the airplane bathroom. Keep in mind that flight attendants are prohibited from disposing of diapers during food service, so it’s preferable that you either hang on to it in your diaper bag, or toss it yourself (source).
4. Dispose of Your Diaper (if Appropriate)
Once your diaper is safely sealed, it’s time to decide whether you should keep it or toss it. If you’re at home, just throw it away. However, if you’re out and about, be respectful that others may be sensitive to the residual smells of your diaper and it may be best to tuck it in your diaper bag and toss it at home.
Places where it is okay to throw away your diapers are:
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.
Disposing of Diapers Doesn't Have to be Difficult
When disposing of diapers, remember these steps:
Dump the contents in the toilet.
Wrap up the diaper to contain the mess.
Seal the diaper in plastic to contain the smell.
Choose an appropriate disposal location.
Wash your hands.
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.
What do you find most challenging about proper diaper disposal? Tell us in the comments below. And share this with a mom who might needs the tips!