Diaper Pail vs Regular Trashcan Explained for New Parents

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With the average baby requiring about 7,000 diaper changes between birth and potty-training, finding the right receptacle for your baby’s diapers is essential — and tedious.

Just think about it: You’ve spent months planning your baby’s nursery, weeks setting it up and decorating it, and yet what will make or break the entire room is how it smells! And that depends on how well your diaper pail prevents odors from escaping.

When it’s time to choose a receptacle for baby’s room, some experienced parents will tell you to choose a less expensive trash can. After all, it’s only a pail with a lid, right?

Others insist that you need to use a high-end diaper pail for the easiest operation and best odor control.

But what is the real difference between a diaper pail vs trashcan, and which one is the better choice for you?

A diaper pail (like the Diaper Genie or Munchkin diaper pail) is the better choice for most parents when it comes to disposing of diapers. They’re quite easy to use when your hands are busy wrangling a squirming (and stinky!) baby, and they work extremely well to control odors until you’re ready to take out the trash.

However, most of the time it’s no big deal to just throw a dirty diaper away in a regular trashcan. Wet diapers don’t smell any worse than your everyday trash, and you can always run the trash out if the odor gets too intense.

You won’t need a diaper pail in every room in the house, but having a good one in your main diaper changing area is a good idea.

Let’s take a closer look at this comparison.

How Does a Diaper Pail Work?

Click to see Diaper Genies on Amazon

Diaper pails are different from a lidded trash can in several ways.

They typically feature a quick-closing lid with a tight rubber seal to keep odors from escaping.

The foot pedal (on some models) opens the pail so you don’t have to use your hands. This is actually a much better (and hygienic!) choice because you’re likely to be holding your baby, or at least have, um, “dirty” hands.

After you drop the diaper in, it quickly shuts and seals tight, pushing the diaper down into the bag.

On the other hand, some brands feature an odor-controlling filter for enhanced odor control. Other models also have safety features to keep young children from being able to open the pail.

Most odor-controlling diaper pails come with their own brand-specific diaper pail bags. Unlike standard trash bags, the bags designed for diaper pails are multi-layered to lock in odor and bacteria. They are also scented for further freshening and come in a continuous sheet.

Click to see Diaper Genie refills on Amazon

And that’s not it!

A few diaper bags have perforations and others use a built-in cutter on the diaper pail. When the bag is full, you tear along the perforations or cut the bag, tie the ends, and remove it for disposal.

That makes it pretty quick and easy to take out all the dirty diapers and get the pail back in action.

Odor-controlling diaper pails store a lot of diapers and require changing only about once per week, so it’s one less thing to worry about during what will be one of the busiest times of your life.

However, these pails come in different sizes and you can always find smaller, space-saving options that may need to be emptied more frequently.

Common diaper pails you’ll see in baby stores and online are the Playtex Diaper Genie and the Munchkin diaper pail.

The Pros of Diaper Pails

Click to see the Ubbi diaper pail on Amazon

Here’s why it might make sense to invest in a solid diaper pail (or a few) or add one to your registry.

Hands-Free Operation

This is important for several reasons.

Not having to use your hands means you don’t have to take your hands off your baby.

It’s likely that you’ll either be holding your baby, or your baby will be next to you on the changing table. You must have at least one hand on your baby at all times during changes!

You can use the foot pedal to open the diaper that helps you to avoid picking up any germs lining the diaper-pail lid. If you haven’t washed your hands yet, you’ll appreciate being able to dispose of the dirty diaper without having to touch the pail.

Better Room Atmosphere by Sealing In Odors

Your baby is the sweetest thing! Naturally, you want your baby’s room to smell just as sweet.

Diaper pails feature special designs to seal in odors. Dirty diapers drop into a separate chamber inside the pail, where they’re completely sealed off. Ideally, you won’t even smell them next time you open the pail to drop in a new diaper.

Some feature a rubber seal to keep unpleasant odors from escaping, while others have a charcoal or carbon filter. The special bags that are made for diaper pails are layered to lock in odors and often fragranced with a baby-friendly scent.

Childproof Lids

This safety feature is important when your baby becomes a toddler. Babies are automatically attracted to anything you want them to leave alone, and a diaper pail is no exception.

The last thing any mom wants is to find her baby playing with poopy diapers.

This is also important for families with more than one child. Even before an infant is able to open a diaper pail, an older sibling may be able to get into it.

Narrow, Space-Saving Design

Diaper pails are designed to have a smaller footprint. Many of the best diaper pails use a narrow design intended to stack the diapers neatly into the diaper pail bags.

This means the diaper pail has a sleek, discreet build that isn’t bulky. They can be fit neatly into a corner or between a changing table and dresser.

The Cons of Diaper Pails

Let’s take a quick look at the disadvantages of having a diaper pail.

Disposal Bag Set-Up

Setting up a diaper pail can be slightly more tricky when compared to trash cans.

First, you’ll usually need to buy bag refills that match your diaper pail’s brand. They’re not usually one size fits all the way trashcan bags are.

And while emptying the diaper pail is usually quick and easy, installing a new roll of bag refills can be a bit of a pain if you need to do it frequently — or God forbid you run out of refills!

Small Openings

The opening of a diaper pail is designed to be about the size of one balled up diaper.

That means that diapers don’t always “drop in” easily like they would into a large trash can opening. At times, you’ll have to stuff the diaper down into the compartment which can get a little messy.

How Does a Trash Can Work for Diapers?

Some parents prefer regular trash cans for dirty diapers for their simplicity and inexpensive price tags, as well as the less expensive bags they require.

Since many are available with pedal-activated lids, parents often feel that they work just as well as a more expensive diaper pail.

Others prefer trash cans because they require more frequent bag changes and therefore the human waste spends less time inside the home.

If you don’t mind the occasional odor, trash cans can be a good alternative to diaper pails. But just how good?

The Pros of Trash Cans

Here’s why it might make sense to skip the diaper pail and just use your regular household trash.

More Affordable

Typical trash cans are inexpensive, plus you probably already have a few around the house.

Many parents feel the higher price tag (even basic models will run about $50) of the latest fancy diaper pail isn’t worth paying for something intended only to store dirty diapers.

Trash cans come with lids and foot-pedals too, so some parents feel they work just as well as the much more expensive diaper pails.

Also, a trash can uses regular trash bags which are less expensive and easier to find than the brand-specific diaper bags used for diaper pails.

Simple & Functional

Trash cans are simpler, which makes them very appealing to parents who dislike the complex designs of the latest diaper pails.

Many diaper pails require filter changing and use special bags in a ring-shaped dispenser requiring loading into place at the top of the pail.

Some also have a cutter to cut the bag when the pail is full. Then the bag must be tied off at the end and taken away and the pail opened in the middle to pull the next bag through.

This popular type of diaper pail has three different openings for replacing bags, filters, and placing diapers.

Doesn’t already sound very complicated? It’s precisely why many parents prefer the much simpler, no-maintenance-required method of a simple trash can.

Emptied More Frequently

Trash cans fill up faster because you’ll throw away more than just diapers and wipes in them. That means you’ll empty them more frequently than a diaper pail.

Diaper pails feature designs that require bag changes less often than trash cans. The diapers pack in tight into the inner bag and don’t need changing more than once or twice a week.

Plus, many parents feel uncomfortable with the idea of keeping human waste indoors – and in their baby’s room – for such a long period of time.

However, with the (way) more expensive cost of diaper pail bags, it doesn’t pay to empty them more often.

A trash can doesn’t hold diapers as efficiently and the bags are less expensive. Parents can change the bag in a trash can as frequently as they desire.

The Cons of Trash Cans

With the advantages done, let’s discuss the drawbacks of choosing trash cans over diaper pails.

Lack of Odor-Control

The biggest trash can con is their lack of odor-control technology. They don’t have the tight seal at the lid included in diaper pails. They also don’t come with filters.

Regular trash bags are single-layered, versus the multiple layered designs of diaper pail bags which help to lock in odor.

A trash can will definitely smell worse – and make your baby’s room smell worse – than a diaper pail.

No Child-Proof Features for Security

Trash cans usually feature wide top openings without any child-proof lock.

Certain models of trash can will lock shut, but if you’re going to invest in one of those you might as well buy a Diaper Genie.

Furthermore, the wide and loose top lets more odor escape!

Wrapping Up

While diaper pails are more costly and complex than a trash can, many parents feel they are worth the extra expense and effort.

This is especially true for parents who plan to have more than one child and will use the diaper pail for several years — that helps offset the cost quite a bit.

Helpful features like odor-control, hands-free operation and child-proofing are definite advantages in a baby’s room.

However, don’t feel like you need to buy or register for 12 diaper pails. You won’t need one in every room in the house!

Keep one or two in your main changing areas and the rest of the time, it’s not a huge deal to throw a diaper away in the regular trash.

For more helpful comparisons, check out:

Hope this helps!