Sometimes I look at my baby in her high chair and the surrounding area and think, I can’t do it. I cannot clean up one more time today. There are tons of bibs out there that promise to make feeding tidier—do any of them work? I’ve been rating kitchen gear for a decade, so as a new mother I turned my testing eye and deep passion for avoiding cleaning toward bibs.
I eliminated plain fabric bibs from the jump. They’re great for catching liquids such as breast milk, formula, spit-up, and drool, but they’re not as good for catching solid foods. Modern bibs have improved on the classic design for feeding. To find the best bib for meals, I zeroed in on nine made from plastic, vinyl, silicone, neoprene, and/or waterproof fabric. I used them while feeding my little one over a period of several months and also sent copies home with 12 different testers to use with their kiddos for a month.
Get this—the right bib CAN reduce the amount of cleaning you have to do. But choose wisely! Don’t bother with the neoprene or coated fabric bibs that fasten around the neck and have flat pockets on the front. While they provide some protection for the child’s chest, that’s all they do. Plus, the flat pockets were not all that effective at catching falling food. Because we couldn't see inside the pockets at a glance, it was easy to forget about the food that did get caught in there and get a gross surprise the next time we used the bib.
We liked bibs with three-dimensional catching trays best. Because the trays stuck out, they caught more falling food than flat pockets did, keeping the surrounding area clean(er). What they caught was visible and didn’t get squished, so we could scoop out the food and serve it again—no more wasting as much of those pricey fresh raspberries or little sweet potato cakes that you finally got up the energy to make from scratch.
Two bibs we tested covered more than the chest. Both had full sleeves, and one also had a skirt that covered the gap between the baby and the high chair tray. The skirted model was too large for our tiniest tester, who was 4 months old, and it didn’t fit on every high chair, but when it worked, it kept our floors cleaner than any other bib. If something ended up on the floor when my baby was wearing this bib, it was because she chucked it there—and short of spoon-feeding her in a straitjacket like Hannibal Lecter, I haven't found a way to prevent that. These two full-coverage bibs required more cooperation from our little charges, as we had to thread their arms through the sleeves like a backward cardigan. One toddler saw his mother approaching with one of these bibs and flatly refused to cooperate.
The full-coverage bibs are bigger than regular bibs, so we needed to find a spacious place to drape them while they were drying, and they didn’t dry as quickly. Most folks probably won’t be using this style for every meal. I tended to reach for these when my baby was fully dressed and I didn’t want to have to change her again or if I had just mopped the floor and was feeling precious about it.
The rest of the bibs were smaller and could be hung less obtrusively to dry after cleaning, but their drying speeds were factors here, too. With the silicone and plastic versions, we could just wash, blot, and reuse them immediately. Bibs made from coated fabric or neoprene took longer to dry, and sometimes the time between meals (3 to 4 hours) wasn’t long enough for them to get completely dry. Even if we washed them in a timely fashion, we were still using a wet bib. We particularly liked one bib that was made from a combination of materials—a soft fabric top for comfort and a silicone tray for catching falling food; the top took longer to dry when it got completely wet (versus just spot-cleaned), but we appreciated the thoughtful design that balanced both comfort and cleanliness. One all-plastic bib was a bit uncomfortable for some kiddos.
Lastly, we preferred bibs that adjusted to a range of sizes. This is helpful because the bib grows with the baby, so it will stay useful for longer. Also, ones with only one sizing option sometimes hung lower than the baby’s shirt, so the top of the shirt got dirty. We preferred options that we could tighten up for maximum coverage and loosen as the baby grows.
Overall, choosing a bib with a quick-drying, three-dimensional catching tray is the most important factor. We particularly liked one bib. The OXO Tot Roll-Up Bib has a few special features that make it especially comfortable and usable. It has a fabric top and a silicone bottom. The top was nice and soft around the baby’s neck and could be adjusted to a wide range of sizes. The silicone catching tray was broad and effective. Overall, the bib dried reasonably fast; often only the catching tray was dirty, so we could just wipe that clean and use the bib again immediately if we needed to. This bib also rolls up tidily for storage or travel. It won’t eliminate the need for cleaning up after feeding your kiddo, but it does help keep things tidier.