The Diaper Genie Complete Versus the Ubbi Steel Diaper Pail

We have used two trash cans for diapers, the Playtex Diaper Genie Complete and the Ubbi Steel Diaper Pail.  The former was chosen by my in-laws for when we stayed with them for three weeks after the baby’s birth, and the latter is what we chose for our home based on Wirecutter’s recommendation.  Overall, they each have strengths and weaknesses, but if we had to choose we prefer the Diaper Genie. 

The chief selling point of the Diaper Genie (DG) is its proprietary trash bag design that makes it easier to change individual “bags” and suppresses odor.  The following photograph shows what the inside of the Diaper Genie looks like with a bag tied off, and it helps understand the strengths and weaknesses of the DG.

Image 1: The Proprietary Trash Bag System of the Diaper Genie

The Diaper Genie requires a continuous trash bag: instead of distinct individual bags, there is actually a ream of plastic, and the user can easily cut the trash “bag” at the point at which it is full.  The cut occurs by pulling the now full plastic through the two plastic pieces in the top right of Image 1.  Once the plastic ream, the “bag”, is finished, one replaces it with a new one. 

I found the first installation of the first ream confusing, but subsequent installations were very easy.  The extra difficulty of installing the ream is more than offset by the ease of cutting the roll when it is time to throw out the diapers.  With other trash cans, one has to insert a new trash bag, but with the DG you tie off the bottom, as shown in the above image.  This process is much quicker than putting in a new trash bag, especially if you forgot to bring a new trash bag with you, which happens to me at least half the time. 

Many people dislike this concept because it forces one to use proprietary trash bags, much like buying new razorblades or printer ink.  It is true that these bags are more expensive than normal trash bags, but parenthood has taught me that one is very quick to spend money on childcare if it makes life easier.  For me, the Diaper Genie is one of those situations, and my wife and I are fortunate to earn enough money that the extra cost of the proprietary bag system is not an issue.  There are also generic version of the bag roll that appear to be about 40% of the price; still more expensive than normal trash bags, but much more reasonable.

To fight odor, the trash bag is scented, and there is an inner lid that closes the bag at its top when the outer lid is closed.  (Because the inner lid is covered by the plastic bag, a photograph does not do a good job conveying this design.)  The scented bags work as they should.  While I usually do not like scented products, the but the odor never escaped the trash can yet was strong enough that I could stuff in extra dirty diapers in an emergency.  The inner lid also helps prevent odor from escaping the top.  Overall, I never had any issue with unwanted odors from the DG, whether from the scented plastic or diapers.

This emphasis on odor is important both because eliminating them is the chief goal of every diaper pail product and is the selling point of the Ubbi Steel Diaper Pail (US).  We purchased the US on the advice of Wirecutter, which I was super into way before the The New York Times bought them.  Wirecutter likes the US because it is easy to use and traps odor very well due to its steel liner.  I strongly disagree with the first point and sort of disagree with the second.

Compared to the handsfree operation of the Diaper Genie, the Ubbi Steel is not easy to use.  As Image 2 shows, one opens the pail by pushing open a sliding tongue.  In fact, one first depresses the tone and pushes forward; I suppose something about that design improves the odor seal, but whatever the case it is not easy to use.  This mechanism itself is fine, but the build quality is not: our tongue does not move smoothly, it is sticky and requires forceful pushing.  This pushing initially required either a second hand or pushing the pail against the wall, marking it up.  Pushing is smoother now that the pail is broken in, but the pail still moves on the floor.  Worse, the jerkiness of the motion means the malodor is exposed to the external world for longer than with the DG, negating the anti-odor benefits of the US.  When it is time to remove the trash bag, one lifts the small tab on the front of the lid.  The lid does not raise easily, so the motion has always been jerky for me; it also often requires a second hand to hold the can down so that the lifting motion does not pick up the entire trash can.  Since opening the lid is so clunky, I again often end up scuffing the walls and floors.

Image 2: The Ubbi Steel’s Horrible Lid

Speaking of scuffing and poor design, check out Image 3.  The Diaper Genie has high friction nubs on their bottom while the Ubbi Steel has nothing equivalent.  The Diaper Genie therefore holds its place on the floor while the Ubbi Steel does not.  In other words, the Diaper Genie will not mess up a non-carpet floor while the Ubbi Steel will.  The US’ lack of high-friction nubs would not be an issue if inserting soiled diapers was not the turbulent affair I just described.

Finally, I am pretty sure the inner loop that one is supposed to put the trash bag around is counterproductive.   Image 4 shows what happens when you raise the lid.  You can see that the circular opening of the tongue sits right above a plastic loop.  According to the US’ instructions, one puts the trash bag through that hoop and wraps the bag around it so that the trash bag does not interfere with the seal between the lid and the can.  I suppose there is some logic there, but in my experience the incorrect bag placement, shown in Image 4, does not cause odor to leak.  The inner loop does, however, reduce how many diapers the pail can hold by reducing how large the trash bag can become.  Since the loop reduces the pail’s capacity and does not appear to improve its odor fighting capability, I think it is superfluous.[1]

Image 3: The Ubbi Steel Wants to Destroy Your Floors

Image 4: Ignoring the Hoop Does Not Worsen Odors

Though I prefer the Diaper Genie, the Ubbi Steel is better in two regards.  The first is build quality.  My wife and I had no issues with the DG once assembled, but it has only a 3.3/5 star rating on the Playtex website; one star is the second most common rating.  (It has a 4.6/5 on Amazon, but I do not trust Amazon reviews almost as much as I do not trust Yelp reviews.)  Most of those reviews are complaints about quality: the DG breaking quickly, needing to be reassembled frequently, or not closing properly and therefore letting odor escape.  We have not had any quality issues, though the plastic does feel lightweight and we only used it for three weeks before switching to the Ubbi Steel.  The DG is clearly less solidly constructed than the Ubbi Steel Diaper Pail.

Second is diaper capacity.  The DG is narrower than the US, and its trash bag is even narrower, noticeably narrower than a standard trash bag.  The Wirecutter estimates 15 diapers per bag for the Diaper Genie and is not specific with the Ubbi Steel.  Wirecutter says other pails held 20-30 diapers, but it also says that the US held a week’s worth of diapers.  If your baby is only producing 30 diapers per week, God bless you; ours produces about 30 every 4 days.  I felt the Diaper Genie held at least 20 diapers.  Whatever its capacity, I did not mind the smaller size: taking the dirty diapers out provides an activity to break up being inside so much.[2] 

To summarize, the Ubbi Steel does not contain odor better than the Diaper Genie, and in the process it is more difficult to use and damages the area it is in.  Wirecutter estimates that the Diaper Genie has a 3-year cost almost three times greater than the Ubbi Steel.  If $300 versus $100 over three years, $5.56 per month, is not worth it or is too expensive, then by all means get the Ubbi Steel.  It is a good product.  If you have the money, the Diaper Genie is worth it.

[1] Well, it does add engineering and therefore signal to a potential buyer thoughtful design.

[2] It appears that one way to describe parenthood is as an activity from which taking out bags of pee and poop bags is a welcome change of scenery, however short the reprieve. 

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