Choosing a Cloth Diaper Pail - Wet Pail, Dry Pail, or Hybrid?

Baby with cloth diaper
Getty Images / Stephanie Neal Photography

If you choose to use cloth diapers for your baby, you'll need a cloth diaper pail. There are two main types of cloth diaper pails - wet pails and dry pails - plus a hybrid system. Take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of the various types to determine which cloth diaper pail might be best for you.

What is a Wet Pail?

A wet diaper pail is one that stores used cloth diapers in water before washing.

A solution of water, odor and stain eliminators, baking soda and essential oils can be used to reduce smells and staining in a wet pail. Some parents swish cloth diapers in a toilet or rinse them in a utility sink to loosen or remove waste before putting them in a wet pail. Any large plastic container with a lid will work as a wet pail. It should be filled about halfway with water.

    What is a Dry Pail?

    A dry diaper pail is one where used cloth diapers are stored with no rinsing or standing water. Diapers are simply tossed in the pail and stay there until wash day. Many parents shake cloth diapers over the toilet to get rid of any loose waste before putting them in the pail. A sprinkle of baking soda or a small towel sprinkled with lavender or tea tree oil is sometimes used in a dry pail to control odors. Many families use a waterproof cloth diaper bag as a dry pail. The bag can sit or hang in the nursery or laundry room and then the whole thing goes in the washer when full.

    A medium-sized trash can with a flip-top lid also works as a dry pail, as will any other larger plastic container with a lid. Commercially available diaper pails often can be used as dry diaper pails, too, and some are even designed specifically to work with cloth diapers. One example is the Ubbi diaper pail, which can be purchased with a washable drawstring diaper bag.

    Dirty diapers are added through a sliding lid at the top of the steel can, and then the whole diaper bag is removed to go in the wash.

      The Combination Method - Wet/Dry Pails

      Some parents like to rinse cloth diapers in a toilet or utility sink before putting them in a diaper pail. This creates a combination wet/dry pail, where diapers are rinsed and soggy in the pail, but there is no standing water. As with other diaper pails, baking soda and essential oils can be used in a wet/dry pail for odor control.

        Wet Pail Pros and Cons

        The wet pail method tends to be best for controlling stains, since the diaper pail acts like a pre-soak, and some parents feel that the wet pail contains smells better than other methods. However, wet pails are heavy since you must lug the water around to fill or change, and the standing water creates a drowning hazard if a baby should get into the diaper pail. If you choose a wet pail for cloth diapers, you should be sure children can't reach it, or choose a locking top.

          Dry Pail Pros and Cons

          Diapers in a dry pail may stain more versus other methods, because they can dry out before washing. Some parents feel that diaper smells are increased with a dry pail, though this is not always the case.

          If you choose a dry pail method, you may want to shake diapers over a toilet before putting them in the pail to reduce the amount of waste that can dry on the diapers. The less waste in your washer, the easier wash day will be. You'll either need to line your diaper pail with a plastic bag or washable waterproof bag, or you'll need to clean the inside of the dry pail frequently to control odors. Using a waterproof bag on its own reduces the amount of cleanup.

            Wet/Dry Pail Pros and Cons

            By rinsing diapers before putting them in a pail, you'll remove much of the waste and lessen the chance of stains. This method also reduces diaper pail odor because diapers are a bit cleaner when they enter the pail. Though the diapers are wet, there is no standing water, so you eliminate the drowning risk of the wet pail method.

            A wet/dry pail is heavier than a dry pail, but not unmanageably so. In very warm, humid areas, the wet/dry pail may develop a mildew problem if you don't wash diapers quickly enough.

              Wash Frequency

              Regardless of your diaper pail method, you will likely need to wash your cloth diapers every other day to every three days in order to avoid mildew, bacteria overgrowth, stains and the dreaded diaper pail stench. A wet pail will need to have the water changed out every other day if you'll go longer between washes.

                Handling Stains and Odors

                Never add bleach or laundry detergents to your cloth diaper pail. These chemicals are too harsh for your diapers to soak in, and can break down the diaper fibers and destroy any waterproof properties. Lavender or tea tree oil does wonders for odor control, and tea tree oil in a wet pail also works as an antibacterial agent. Dryer sheets are not recommended for use when drying diapers, but scented dryer sheets work well for odor control in a dry or wet/dry pail. Just be sure to remove them before the diapers go in the wash or you may need to strip the diapers to remove the coating. Baking soda is generally considered safe to use in any pail.