As is well known, during World War II many consumer goods became difficult to find and with regard to the situation in the United States, after some searches, I observed that, among others:

  • U.S. officials imposed a short-lived ban on sliced bread as a wartime conservation measure ();

  • production of whiskey was banned again during World War II, from 1942 to 1946 ();

  • ice cream was unavailable during World War Two due to rationing ().

However, despite further research I did, I could not find information on diapers, and I began wondering whether they were unavailable at that time. Were they?

Or, rather than not available, were they just hard to find and, if anything, only available through the black market?

2 Answers 2


Diapers back then were not made of synthetic materials, and thus were not really a "consumer good". The first consumer disposable diaper did not come along until 1948 (right after the war).

Instead, they were made of cloth, and were washed between uses. People of middle-class or better means typically had a service for this purpose. Much like a milk service, the diaper service would daily bring you clean (cloth) diapers and take away the dirty ones to be washed. Perhaps this was a bit more like the milk delivery service in reverse.

Some environmentally-concerned parents have been going back to cloth recently (although in my experience, parents typically don't do this for second or subsequent children)

I would posit that the combination of the preponderance of new post-war babies, and factories with no more wartime call on their synthetic materials products, made conditions "ripe" for the invention of disposable diapers in the wake of WWII. I have no evidence to back this supposition up though

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    Modern disposable diapers are an environmental disaster - they consume a lot of resources to make, they don't biodegrade well, etc. - and there's been a bit of a trend to go back to cloth; our kids did so for their first daughter. However, they quickly discovered the other advantage of Pampers et al., besides the convenience of not having to wash them: the kid couldn't sleep through the night in a cloth diaper. Pampers soak up pee much more effectively... so they regretfully gave up cloth and concentrated on accelerated potty training. =D
    – MT_Head
    Commented Aug 7, 2013 at 21:56
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    +1 just for this comment: "in my experience, parents typically don't do this for second or subsequent children". How true! Commented Aug 7, 2013 at 22:03
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    @MT_Head Ah, so that's been your experience as well. :-)
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 7, 2013 at 22:05
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    @PieterGeerkens - Dang. I figured if I was gonna get cheap upvotes, it would be for that "ripe" pun. :-)
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 7, 2013 at 22:36
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    @AstorFlorida - Particularly when you consider that what's being taken away in fact started out as milk.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 23 at 13:50

In my family we used cloth diapers up through first three children and then gradually converted to disposable, which were, at the time, considered a luxury. The routine was a "rinse" bucket, in which the pooped in diaper was briskly dipped and swished in bleach water [The regular diapers were a piece of soft white cloth, rectangular in shape about 18" long x 4-6" wide and cut in variable sizes, small, medium, large and extra-large]. After rinsing, the "dirties" were put wet from rinsing in a "holding" bucket (or pail), to remain there until laundered DAILY! They were then hung out to dry, with other laundry (except if rainy, no other laundry might be done, except diapers, which then would be hung up to dry, in doors. Rinse buckets were disposed of their contents after every rinsing, washed out and replentished, for sanitary reasons, unless perhaps traveling or lacking adequate water. Holfing buckets were washed out when daiper laundering was done. Until we had washing machines, diapers were always done by hand to insure total cleanliness, to msintain sanitation. Before washing machines, we used "wash boards",in wash tubes and hard bristle laundry brushes. People like me in their 80's did this.

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    Can you add a year to the first paragraph? Hard to know which decade you are talking about. Commented Jan 23 at 2:22
  • very useful to young people of the "What did you do all day with no cellphones?" variety. In Brazil in the 70's (even up to the 80's), disposable diapers were a middle class luxury for travelling, or for extra busy / sick days to give Mom a break. Otherwise, the daily routine with cloth diapers were pretty much the same... still remember the buckets...
    – Luiz
    Commented Jan 23 at 16:00

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