At What Age Should a Toddler Be out of Diapers?

Your friends say your 3-year-old is too old for diapers. Your mom made that comment to you a year ago. Your grandmother wondered why she was in diapers at 18 months. Who's right? When should your toddler be -- or should have been -- out of diapers? The answer may surprise you. When your toddler should be out of diapers depends greatly on your culture and the decade in which you are raising your child.

Your Grandmother’s Time

Up until the invention of the washing machine, many parents were sitting their child on the toilet long before their first birthday. With the ease of washing cloth diapers in a washing machine instead of by hand, by the 1950s, most kids were potty trained a bit later. However, most were still completely potty trained and out of diapers by the age of 18 months, reports pediatrician Jill M. Lekovic in “Diaper-Free Before 3." In the early part of the 20th century, it was believed that a 1-year-old should be out of diapers 2.

Your Mother’s Time

In the 1960s, Pampers hired pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton to promote the idea of waiting for a set of readiness signs before starting potty training. By the 1970s, this diaper marketing campaign had parents waiting to get their child out of diapers until about 18 to 24 months of age. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was believed that a 2-year-old should be out of diapers.


Today the start of potty training has become even later 1. This is a direct result of medical doctors and parenting experts adopting the potty training readiness signs as necessary to initiating potty training. Most children are now not out of diapers until about age 3. However, according to Linda Sonna, author of “Early-Start Potty Training,” a 1994 study in the “Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics” found no data to support any specific signs of social or emotional readiness for potty training 1. Yet today in the U.S., it’s toddlers aren't expected to be out of diapers until after the age of 3.

Other Cultures

Tribal cultures, such as the African Digo culture, never use diapers and have all their infants potty training by the age of 6 months. Such early toilet training occurs more frequently in countries outside of the United States. According to the 2005 "New York Times" article, “A Fast Track to Toilet Training for Those at the Crawling Stage,” “Parents in at least 75 countries, including India, Kenya and Greenland, embrace the practice, with Chinese babies often wearing pants with split bottoms for easy squatting.” Therefore, it depends greatly on where you are raising your child as to when it's believed they should be out of diapers 3.