A Brief History Of Diapers: From Animal Skins To Modern Disposables

  • By: Sandra
  • Date: June 19, 2022
  • Time to read: 10 min.

It’s hard to imagine a world without diapers, but believe it or not, they are a relatively new invention. Diapers have come a long way since their humble beginnings as animal skins tied around the waist.

In this guide, we will take a look at the history of diapers and how they have evolved over time. We’ll also discuss some of the key milestones in diaper technology!

Pre-diaper Era

In ancient times, there were many different methods for diapering babies. Some cultures used cloth diapers, while others used felts and skins from animals or even plant leaves. The type of material that was available to a culture often dictated what was used as a diaper.

Rabbit Skin

Rabbit skin has been used as a diaper material since ancient times. In fact, it is thought that the use of rabbit skins as diapers may have originated in North America. The native people of the continent would use soft, furry pelts to line cradleboards and other baby-carrying devices.

Rabbit skins were also commonly used as a diaper material in Europe during the Middle Ages.

So why were rabbit skins such a popular diaper material? For one, it is incredibly absorbent. Rabbit fur can hold up to 30% of its own weight in moisture, making it an ideal material for keeping babies dry. Additionally, rabbit skins were soft and gentle on delicate baby skin.


Bracken was the most common leaf to be used as a diaper in ancient times. Bracken is a large, coarse fern that grows in open woodlands and grasslands all over the world.

It has been used for centuries as bedding and insulation, as well as for diapers. In fact, bracken has even been found in the diapers of ancient Egyptian mummies!

So why was bracken used as a diaper? Well, it is very absorbent and has a high content of sodium, which makes it antibacterial. It is also soft and flexible, so it would have been comfortable for babies to wear. And last but not least, it is easy to find and usually free!

Bare Bottoms

There are many theories as to why some cultures in ancient times went bare bottoms and did not wear diapers. This practice was prevalent in cultures in warm climates.

One theory is that it was simply more convenient. Not having to worry about changing diapers or washing soiled clothes saved time and effort.

Another theory is that going without diapers was seen as a way of toughening up babies. It was thought that exposure to the elements would make them stronger and more resilient.

Whatever the reason, it’s clear that not using diapers was once the norm in many cultures around the world.



Swaddling was the closest thing to medieval diapers. You could even argue that swaddling was the first cloth diaper!

During medieval times, there were many different ways to swaddle a baby. Some mothers would use strips of cloth, while others would use a piece of fur.

Some mothers even used strips of leather to swaddle their babies. Whichever method was used, the goal was always the same: to keep the baby safe and healthy.

Swaddling a baby was such an important part of medieval life that there were even laws put in place to make sure that all babies were properly swaddled. If a baby was found to be un-swaddled, the parents could be fined or even jailed.

The First Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers began making their first appearances in the early Elizabethan Era. But they were not the same as the cloth diapers we know today.

Cloth diapers back then were rarely changed. A child could be wearing a soiled diaper for days before they got changed. This was the case until the child was potty trained and no longer had to use diapers.

Fortunately, as medicine evolved and it was known that filth and human waste were a source of sickness, this practice began to fade.

The dirty cloth that was used as a diaper was almost never washed. The waste was shaken out of the diaper and hung to dry. The diaper would be reused once it was dry.

This was one of the main reasons why toilet training came early during this time. Again, as science advanced and people became more aware of how diseases spread, they started washing diapers.

During the industrial revolution, the modern diaper in the form of cloth diapers first appeared. Many people had spare wealth at the period, and they wanted to protect their newborns and their property, thus mothers began covering their babies in old cloth.

Surprisingly, the term “diaper” entered common parlance during this period. However, the term “diaper” did not always mean what it does now. It was the name given to a fabric with little geometric designs. This type of material was used to make the earliest newborn diapers, which were referred to as diapers.

Safety pins were invented in the late 1800s, and the first cloth diapers that resembled what we know today appeared. However, safety pins were considered unsafe because they might puncture babies which could lead to infections. 

Maria Allen invented the first mass-produced cloth diaper in 1887. The word diaper relates to the original fabric design used to make them, which was white cotton fabric in a rectangular shape with a small, repetitive pattern of geometric shapes.

People began to comprehend germs and how dirty diapers might be a source of diseases and illnesses by the early 1900s. Soiled diapers were washed on a regular basis.

When World War II broke out, and there was a growing need for clean diapers, many women began using a cloth diaper service. The diaper service delivered fresh diapers to houses on a daily basis. Diaper services still exist today.

Rubber Pants

Around 1910, rubber pants were first introduced. Before then, baby pants were made from flour sacks. They were worn over a cloth diaper to prevent leakage. And in the 1930s, linen fabric and wool pants doubled up as baby diapers to prevent leaks from the cloth diaper. 

Rubber pants were replaced by plastic pants in the 1950s because the plastic was less expensive and easier to produce. Rubber was causing skin irritation such as diaper rash on the baby’s skin and plastic was used to replace rubber to solve this issue.

Interestingly, plastic pants were still referred to as rubber pants despite the change in materials.

Early Disposable Diapers

So, when were disposable diapers invented? Marion Donovan is often credited for inventing the first disposable diaper. In the late 1940s, she was a young mother struggling with a leaky cloth diaper. She came up with the idea of using a shower curtain as a reusable diaper cover for cloth diapers.

She took down her shower curtain, ripped it up, and stitched it into a waterproof diaper cover using a sewing machine. She called her invention ‘Boater’. These diaper covers utilized snaps instead of pins, which resulted in a better fit and, as a result, better retention of baby waste. She later replaced shower curtains with a nylon parachute material.

Although innovative, the plastic baby diapers of Marion Donovan were quite rare at the time, and shops were slow to embrace her product. Furthermore, diapers much less a diaper cover were a luxury that only the wealthy could buy, which is incredible given how widely available they are now!

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a Swedish paper company Pauliström created the first disposable pad used as a diaper. It was made from unbleached creped cellulose tissue. 

So, who invented diapers? Many people and companies contributed to the invention of diapers.

The Emergence of Disposable Diapers

The Emergence of Disposable Diapers

In 1948, Johnson & Johnson was the first manufacturer to mass-produce disposable diapers.

They had a monopoly on the disposable diaper market until Pamper made history with the production of their first diaper in 1961.

Vic Mills, a researcher at Procter & Gamble (P&G), was dissatisfied with disposables at the time. As a result, he and his colleagues began designing an improved disposable diaper, which hit the market in 1961.

Pampers was the brand name for these disposable baby diapers, and it would go on to dominate the baby diaper market in the years that followed. Pampers has remained at the forefront of disposables, with their Pampers Swaddlers being the best-selling diaper brand on Amazon.

What made Pampers diapers an instant hit among parents was that they used cellulose fibers instead of paper fibers to make their diapers more absorbent than their competitors. 

However, the first disposable diapers were not convenient and had bulk sizes. Fortunately, disposable diapers have seen major improvements in the years that followed. With the growing demand for better a disposable diaper, change had to come quickly.

Diaper sales have gone up since then and over the next few decades, many companies such as P&G, Kimberly-Clark (makers of Huggies) began to innovate their disposable diaper design and manufacturing process to meet the needs of modern parents and keep the average price of diapers down.

Their diapers fit babies better than ever before, thanks to elastic waistbands and fastening tapes. Larger sizes have been made available. Disposable diapers have become more absorbent thanks to the addition of super absorbent polymers (SAPs) while becoming thinner in shape and design.

Modern Disposable Diapers

Modern Disposable Diapers

There are many features of modern diapers that make them a convenient and popular choice for parents and thanks to continued research on diaper development.

Disposable diapers are usually made of a soft, absorbent material that helps keep the baby dry and comfortable.

They also have an adhesive strip that secures the diaper in place and wetness indicators to make sure that wet nappies are changed right away.

Disposable diapers typically come in a variety of sizes to fit infants of all ages. They also come in a variety of colors and designs, so you can choose the ones that best suit your baby’s personality.

If you’re looking for a convenient, comfortable, and affordable diaper option for your baby, disposable diapers are a great choice. With so many different styles and sizes to choose from, you’re sure to find the perfect fit for your little one.

The Resurgence of Cloth Diapers

Although demand for cloth diapers waned in favor of disposables in the 1970s and 1980s, they have been making a comeback since the early 1990s due to environmental concerns.

People have been aware the majority of disposable diapers ended up in landfills, many parents have been making the switch from disposables to cloth diapers.

To keep up with the growing demand from eco-consious parents, many diaper makers have begun introducing more eco-friendly disposable diapers.

Modern Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers have come a long way in recent years, and there are now many different options to choose from. Cloth diapers can be very absorbent, and some even have waterproof outer layers to prevent leaks. They also come in a variety of sizes and styles to fit any baby’s needs.

Here are some of the most popular features:

  • Absorbency – Cloth diapers can be very absorbent, and some even have waterproof outer layers to prevent leaks.
  • Size – Cloth diapers come in a variety of sizes to fit any baby’s needs.
  • Style – There are many different styles of cloth diapers available, so you can choose the one that best fits your baby’s needs.
  • Washability – Most cloth diapers are washable, so you can use them over and over again. Diaper Diamond invented a cloth diaper sprayer shield in 2014 to make rinsing and cleaning cloth diapers easier. They can either be tumble-dried or use line drying.

Reusable nappies are made out of a variety of materials, including cloth, fleece, and microfiber. Cloth diapers are the most common type of reusable diapers; they’re typically made out of cotton or hemp.

Fleece diapers are less common, but they’re gaining popularity because they’re more absorbent than cloth diapers. Microfiber diapers are the least common type of reusable diapers; they’re made out of a synthetic fiber that’s not as absorbent as cloth or fleece.

Reusable diapers come in a variety of styles, including all-in-one (AIO) diapers, pocket diapers, and pre-fold diapers. AIO diapers have a water-resistant outer layer and an inner layer that’s made out of cloth, fleece, or microfiber.

Pocket diapers have a water-resistant outer layer and an inner layer that’s made out of cloth or microfiber; the pocket can be stuffed with either cloth or microfiber inserts.

Prefolds are rectangular pieces of cloth that can be folded and fastened around the baby; they typically have a water-resistant outer layer and an inner layer that’s made out of cloth, fleece, or microfiber.

Reusable diapers are a more sustainable option than disposable diapers because they can be reused multiple times. They’re also generally more comfortable for infants because they’re made out of natural fibers and materials.

However, reusable diapers can be more expensive than disposable diapers, and they require more laundry.

Take Away on the History of Diapering

The history of diapers is a long and varied one, from early animal skins to modern disposables. Disposable diapers are a convenient, comfortable, and affordable option for many parents, but cloth diapers are making a comeback due to environmental concerns.

The first diapers were not the same as we know diapers today. Modern cloth diapers are very absorbent, come in a variety of sizes and styles, and are washable, making them a more sustainable option than disposable diapers.

Whatever type of diaper you choose, you’re sure to find the perfect fit for your little one. And as long as we have babies, diaper changes will continue to happen and, hopefully for the better of our children and our planet.