How To Choose The Perfect Diaper Pail For Cloth Diapers

This post contains affiliate links.

After deciding to try out cloth diapers you’re probably wondering what else you need besides cloth diapers to be successful in cloth diapering.

You’ve likely given some thought to selecting the right cloth diapers since so many different types are available. If you haven’t yet or are still confused about what to choose, make sure you check this post about choosing the right cloth diaper type. I’m sure it will help you a lot with your decision.

Anyhow, there isn’t only a variety of cloth diapers available; the same principle applies to cloth diaper accessories. You can get overwhelmed quickly about the abundance of choice on the markets nowadays, and it’s hard to differentiate between quality and not-so-great products.

Diaper pails are one of those cloth diapering accessories that can get quite pricey, so I decided to put together this guide for buying the best diaper pail for your cloth diapers.

A wicker basket lined with a cloth pail liner with dirty cloth diapers inside it.

What Is a Diaper Pail for Cloth Diapers?

A diaper pail for cloth diapers is a container lined with a cloth pail liner where you store dirty cloth diapers until wash day. As a general rule, they are designed to contain at least 2-3 days of dirty diapers and usually have some sort of odor control in place among other features.

It should last you at least from the beginning of your cloth diapering until potty training and in best case scenario you’ll be able to use it through all your children’s diapering periods. Many will easily be repurposed into trash cans for regular household trash.

Do You Need a Diaper Pail for Cloth Diapers?

A diaper pail for cloth diapers isn’t a must-have accessory but it can definitely help make your cloth diapering experience better, especially if you have young children and/or pets that could start digging through the pail content.

If you live in a hot and humid climate, you’ll probably have a bit more challenge keeping dirty cloth diapers from smelling. Check out this post to learn more about possible smells and how to prevent them!

One option is to use a lidless diaper pail to allow the air to circulate. However, if the weather is just too much for this to work (still, you’d be surprised that an open pail smells less than a closed one), many parents will opt for a diaper pail that will keep their cloth diapers out of reach and odor-free (at least to some degree).

Another option to use is just a hanging wet bag (affiliate link to Amazon) instead of a diaper pail with a pail liner (affiliate link to Amazon). If you just can’t decide which to choose, check out this post where I compared using a diaper pail vs. a wet bag and decide for yourself which one you’ll choose.

Can You Use a Regular Diaper Pail for Cloth Diapers?

If you’re looking into purchasing a new diaper pail, you’ll notice there are a lot of diaper pails on the market that are intended for disposable diapers.

Surely, there are some diaper pails on the market that will work for both cloth and disposable diapers but generally the diaper pails for disposable diapers are designed in a way that completely close the air circulation, making it easier for unwanted bacteria or mold to grow in the pail.

Since you’re not throwing dirty cloth diapers away but instead you’re washing them in your washing machine, you want to keep them as easy to clean as possible.

(If you’re worried about cloth diapers ruining your washing machine, definitely check out this post where we debunk this myth once and for all.)

That said, before purchasing a diaper pail, make sure to check if the description of the diaper pail says it is designed for cloth diapers (as well).

Diaper Pail Features to Consider When Buying a New One

Odor Control

Reducing odor from dirty diapers is one of the most common reasons for parents to get a diaper pail.

Odor control is achieved by many different mechanisms; from using non-porous materials like stainless steel which doesn’t absorb smells to using deodorizers in the diaper pails and keeping the opening for inserting dirty diapers closed as much as possible.

Keep in mind that since all (or most) of the odors will be kept inside the diaper pail for the most part but you will be able to smell them whenever you open the pail, so be prepared for this.

Make sure to wash dirty cloth diapers every 2-3 days (link to a more in-depth post about washing frequency) to prevent any bacteria or mold growth, since the dirty diapers don’t have air circulating around them that generally relieves the smells.

Deodorizers don’t seem like a big advantage to me because they need to be replaced every once in a while but that’s just my personal stance. I just really like it if I can buy something once and simply start using it without worrying about the cost of upcoming maintenance. Even if these deodorizers don’t cost as much, they are still producing additional waste.

Of course, you can deodorize your dirty diapers with baking soda and a couple of drops of your favorite essential oils, which likely won’t produce significant additional waste, so the choice is yours.

Diaper Pail Size

The diaper pail volume should be around 3.5 US gallons (13 liters) for 1 day’s worth of storing cloth diapers and about 7-10 US gallons (26.5-39 liters) for 2-3 days. A diaper pail should be able to contain 2-3 days worth of dirty cloth diapers, which generally means up to 24 cloth diapers.

If the diaper pail doesn’t state the exact volume, you can calculate it with this handy calculator for round cylinder types and this calculator for the boxy cuboid types, where you enter the dimensions of the diaper pail and get the volume.

When choosing the right size of the diaper pail, make sure to take into account the size of your washing machine — if it is on the small side and can only fit a day’s worth of cloth diapers, there is no need to get a large diaper pail because you will never fill it up.

If you know you want the ones on the bigger side because you either have multiple children in cloth diapers, run a daycare where you use cloth diapers exclusively, or just have a large washing machine, here are some of the biggest ones:

  • Ubbi diaper pail (affiliate link to Amazon). It holds up to 13 US gallons (49 liters) or about 55 newborn diapers/20 toddler diapers.
  • Dekor Plus (affiliate link to Amazon). It holds up to 17 US gallons (65 liters) or about 60 newborn diapers (advertised).
  • OsoCozy diaper pail. It holds up to 13.5 US gallons (51 liters).

Diaper Pail Material

Diaper pails are commonly available in two different materials; in stainless steel and plastic.

Steel diaper pails are much less common than plastic ones and are a bit more expensive initially. Nevertheless, they are excellent for odor control because they do not absorb any odors so they won’t start to smell with time. They are generally more durable and sustainable than their counterparts made of plastic. They are however a bit more complicated to clean because they can develop rust if not cared for properly.

Plastic diaper pails have a much greater presence on the market at the moment. They are generally cheaper than their steel counterparts but aren’t as durable. You can easily clean plastic with common household cleaning supplies. A plastic diaper pail can start absorbing smells after some time, so be prepared if you don’t clean it often enough.

Foot Pedal Opening

Diaper pails have different manners of opening them and foot pedal opening is one of them. It allows you to discard the diaper with one hand while keeping the other one on your wiggly baby. It’s also great because you don’t have to get both hands dirty by manually opening the lid with a different hand but you’ll still have to wash both hands after the diaper change anyway.

If you’ve ever owned a trash can that a foot pedal can open, you’ll know these can generally break quite quickly if loaded too heavily. Of course, diaper pails are typically designed to bear a certain weight but take this into account anyway and make sure you don’t overfill the pail.

Foot pedal opening can also be quickly figured out by toddlers (my 1.5-year-old is living proof) so if you’ve got curious children and pets that just won’t keep out of the pail, this feature probably won’t be the best choice for you.

Childproof Lock

A childproof lock can be a great feature, especially if you already have older children and/or pets. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, if a toddler is determined to explore something interesting to them, they’ll find a way!

While this is definitely a nice feature to have to ensure children’s safety, sometimes it can be kind of a pain to work around this when you need to discard a dirty diaper quickly.

Anyhow, I think this feature is still worth it regarding children and pet safety.

Easy Cleaning

For me, simplicity goes a long way, mainly because cloth diapers are a bit more time-consuming than disposable ones.

That is why easy cleaning and maintenance are a must for me because I don’t want to waste any more time on cleaning than the absolute necessity.

You’ll appreciate this even more if you have any insect problems in your home. Read this post to learn how to get rid of flies and maggots in your diaper pail!

Choose simple designs that don’t have a thousand nooks & crannies that you’ll never be able to clean properly.

If you choose stainless steel, follow the exact instructions on the product to prevent rust to develop.

Silent Closing

Silent closing is more of a bonus point and likely not the most essential feature to look for when purchasing a diaper pail.

Still, it can be pretty practical, especially when trying to do a diaper change in the dark to disrupt the baby as little as possible.

Does It Make Sense to Buy a Used Diaper Pail?

In an effort to be as sustainable as possible you might wonder if it would make sense to buy a used diaper pail.

I’d definitely consider this option, especially if the previous owner seems trustworthy and they claim they’ve only used it a couple of times.

If the diaper pail had been used continuously for a couple of months/years, I’d probably only consider the pails made of stainless steel or non-porous plastic because these won’t develop any smells.

If nothing else, you can still buy or accept a used one and repurpose it as a regular trash can for inside or outside use.

My Personal Favorite

I’ve covered a lot of information already but if you’re still not sure which features to choose and what to prioritize, I am sharing with you which one I would purchase, the Ubbi Stainless Steel Diaper Pail (affiliate link to Amazon).

I especially love that it’s made of steel and not plastic (I’m trying to move away from plastic as much as possible), it’s easy to clean and use, it has a childproof lock, it’s big enough for 2-3 days (great for our needs), because you can repurpose it after you don’t need it for cloth diapers anymore or donate to a friend, and because it is pretty and comes in such a great variety of colors.

Cloth Diaper Pail Alternatives

Cloth diaper pails can be expensive, especially if you’re on a tight budget and you chose cloth diapering to save all the bucks you possibly can.

The good news is that they aren’t a necessity and you can use various other cheaper products that will do the job just fine but don’t expect any of the above fancy features from them.

Here are some of the alternatives you can use instead of a diaper pail:

  • a large hanging wet bag (check out this post where I compare wet bags to diaper pails),
  • trash can lined with a cloth pail liner or without (if they have a foot pedal, make sure to check the maximum weight they can take because the step pedal can easily break),
  • a wicker basket (lined with a cloth pail liner or without),
  • a hamper (lined with a cloth pail liner or without).


When I first became a mom, it shocked me how much more waste we produced by adding a tiny little member to our family. Since then, it's become very important to me to be more sustainable as a family. I'm excited to share with you what I'm learning along the way!

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