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TYPES OF ABSORBENT INCONTINENCE PRODUCTS

There are many different types of absorbent products used to manage the loss of bowel and bladder control.  On this page, we will provide pictures and definitions of the different products, as terminology used by people can be confusing.  Sometimes they will use a brand name as a “generic” term for a product.  For example, I have heard staff in nursing homes refer to an adult diaper as a “Depends” or “Attends”, when in fact, the diapers they are using may very well be Covidian Wings Adult Briefs or some other brand.  I have heard of adult diapers referred to as “shields”, “pampers”, “pads”, etc...  I hope that this page will help you to correctly identify the product that is the most helpful for your incontinence needs!


picture of an all in one cloth adult diaper
All In One Cloth Adult Diaper  The all in one cloth diaper is exactly as it sounds.  On the outside there is a waterproof outer covering usually made of nylon or another waterproof material and on the inside there are usually layers of absorbent materials such as cotton gauze, flannel, etc...  Usually they will have an inner lining of polyester or other material meant to keep wetness away from the skin.  For fasteners at the sides, they will usually have hook and loop or snap closures.  They do not require plastic pants and come in different thicknesses/absorbencies depending on buyer preference.  They will usually have elastic at the legs and may also have elastic waist bands.  All in one cloth diapers also come in pull on versions that do not open at the sides.


picture of a contour adult cloth diaper that requires pins and plastic pants
Contour Cloth Adult Diaper  The contour cloth diaper is a cloth diaper that is cut narrower between the legs and wider at the rear and in the front.  This allows for a more “custom” fit that is less bulky and requires less material.  Like the all in one diaper above, the absorbent material is usually layered in the center of the diaper and can consist of different materials, thicknesses and layers, depending on buyer preference.  Usually, the layers are thinner out toward the sides in the front and back to allow ease of fit and ease of pinning.  Unlike the all in one above, these diapers must be fastened at the sides with pins usually.  Contour diapers usually do NOT have any kind of waterproof outer covering and must be worn with plastic, vinyl, rubber or other type of waterproof pant.  They also usually do not have any kind of elastic at the waist or legs.


picture of flat fold or prefold adult cloth diapers
Flat Fold/Prefold Cloth Adult Diapers  As you can see from the picture, these are the “old fashioned” square diapers that have thicker padding made of different thickness and number of layers of absorbent material in the center third of the diaper and then one or two layers of diaper material on each side third of the width of the diaper.  These diapers DO NOT have any kind of elastic  at the waist or legs and must be folded for fit between the legs (hence the name “prefold”.  THey usually do not have any kind of waterproof covering so must be worn with waterproof pants of some kind and they must be fastened with pins at the sides.  These diapers work well as a diaper, a changing pad, and additional liner inside another disposabile or cloth diaper for absorbency or a number of other purposes.  While not as commonly used anymore, there are many people who still swear by the product.


picture of adult waterproof pants
Waterproof Pants  While often referred to as “plastic pants” or “rubber pants” waterproof pants for use over diapers can be made of almost any waterproof or water resistent material, such as plastic, PVC, nylon, rubber, etc....  They are usually worn over cloth diapers such as the contour or flat or prefold examples above.  There are many people who also wear them over disposable diapers for added leak protection.  These pants can some in many varieties, including pull on, snap on, with velcro closures, etc...  The most common version is just a waterproof overpant design that prevents leakage.  Some companies also make “lined” versions that may be lined with flannel or cotton material to absorb any moisture that may leak from the main garment before it has a chance to leak out of the main garment.  These pants also come in many prints and fit styles for a variety of tastes and needs.

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picture of a reusable adult swim diaper
Adult Swim Diapers  As the name sounds, these are usually reusable adult diapers that are used in public and private swimming pools either by themselves or over a cloth or disposable adult diaper, pad or other product.  Swim diapers are similar to the waterproof pants above, including pull on, snap on or hook and loop closures, a waterproof outer covering, and some even include absorbent inner linings.  These overpants are usually REQUIRED by public pools to protect the pool from BOWEL accidents.  Contrary to popular mis-understanding, swim diapers are NOT absorbent for urine.  They usually have leg and waist elastic to hold in solid or liquid feces so that it does not contaminate the pool water.  The chemicals in pool water can easily handle urine contamination, but bowel accidents contain bacteria that is not always handled by pool chemicals.  Like the waterproof pants above, they come in a variety of styles, prints and colors that can be worn under a bathing suit or by themselves AS a bathing suit.


picture of a disposable adult diaper
Disposable Adult Diapers  As shown in the picture, the definition of a disposable adult diaper and what one is is pretty well self explanatory.  As noted on our Adult Disposable Diapers Page, they are the most common solution for people who live with total bladder and/or bowel control loss.  It is a product with a “cloth like” or plastic waterproof outer barrier, absorbent inner material usually made of cellulose “fluff” and super absorbent polymers, leg elastics and tape or hook and loop closures on the outside.  In the adult market, the disposable diaper is referred to with many names.  Different names are:  Adult Diapers, Adult Briefs, Shields, Attends, Depends, Pads, Guards, Protective Undergarment, Protective Underwear...  The reference to the product can be totally confusing, as some are brand names and some are product types that are not even adult diapers!  For the purpose of this site, we will refer to products like the one pictured here as “adult diapers”, “diapers”, or sometimes, as “adult briefs”.  What they are though, by definition, are diapers.  This product works well for pretty much anyone.  The tapes can be fastened and it can be pulled on and off like underwear or it can be opened flat and pulled up between the legs and fastened with the tape or hook and loop tabs.  Removal of the pants and shoes is not necessary to change this product. For more information on adult diapers, check out our Disposable Adult Diapers Reviews Page.


picture of a pair of disposable adult protective underwear
Disposable Protective Underwear  This is a product that pulls on and off just like regular underwear and is meant for anywhere from light urinary incontinence all the way to heavy bowel and/or bladder control loss, depending on the brand or style you purchase.  They come in different sizes and colors.  Some have standing inner leakage barriers in addition to elastic at the legs and waist and some do not.  ALL disposable protective underwear on the market have elastic at both the waist AND legs to ensure a snug fit.  Protective underwear have padding in the center between the legs and most versions have a “figure 8” padding design but padding usually does NOT extend into the sides.  The sides of the product are made of non absorbent, stretchy breathable material for air circulation and a more “underwear-like fit and feel”.  This product requires the removal of pants and shoes usually to change, so may be too difficult for some users to use.


picture of an incontinence pad and pant system
Pad and Pant System  The Pad and Pant System is kind of a hybrid product between protective underwear and a beltless undergarment (which we will discuss below).  They consist of a pair of mesh or knit stretach pants that are pulled on over a large pad that is the same size and shape as the padded are inside a diaper.  The difference is, there are no side wings or tapes/hook and loop tabs.  Generally there is no padding that wraps around the sides either.  They usually DO have elastic at the legs and some even have standing inner leakage barriers.  The pads come in varying sizes and absorbencies from very light (appropriate for stress or overflow incontinence and light bowel incontinence, all the way up to pads that re appropriate for urge and reflex incontinence and total bowel incontinence.  The weakest links in this system are that they are generally not good for highly mobile/active people as the pad tends to shift around and bunch up, as there is usually no adhesive strip to hold it in place.  Also, the pants tend to stretch over time not holding the pad as tight to the body as may be effective.

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picture of a disposable belted undergarment
Belted Undergarments  The belted undergarment is basically a large pad that runs from front waist to back waist and in between the legs and is held in place by elastic belts on each side.  These elastic belts fasten to the pad by either buttons or hook and loop fasteners.  Most belted undergarments have cloth like outer covers but there are still some on the market with plastic backings.  They usually have elastic at the legs but usually do not have standing inner leak barriers.  They can be put on by adjusting the belts and stepping into them and pulling them up like underwear or by fastening the belt onto one end of the undergarment and then bringing it up between the legs and fastening the belt to the other end of the undergarment.  They are generally effective to light to moderate urinary incontinence and light bowel incontinence.


picture of a disposable belles undergarment
Beltless Undergarments  The beltless undergarment is very similar to the belted undergarment with one of the differences being that they do not have belts that wrap around the sides to hold them in place.  Instead, this product usually has an adhesive strip down the middle of the plastic or cloth like outer backing to hold them securely in your own underwear or in a knit or mesh pant.  This product usually has elastic at the legs but no standing inner leakage barriers.  They are good generally for heavier stress or overflow incontinence and for lighter bowel incontinence, as the padding covers from front to back.


picture of a disposable male guard for urinary incontinence
Male Guards  The male guard is basically a pad that is made to fit the male anatomy.  It is an elongated pad that has a “cup like” shape at the bottom surrounded by elastic to cradle the testicles and penis.  It usually has elastic at the sides and does not extend past the testicles.  This product is made to handle urinary incontinence only and does not extend to protect from bowel leakage.  Some brands have a plastic backing and some have a cloth like backing.  the product is best suited for males who live with moderate to heavy stress or overflow incontinence such as happens after prostate surgery and is usually worn in the man’s own underwear.


picture of a disposable female incontinence pad
Female Incontinence Pads  These pads are similar in size and shape as female menstrual pads, but NOT for the same purpose.  Menstrual pads are made generally for a slower flow of a thicker liquid so may not absorb as fast as needed with urinary incontinence.  Incontinence pads are more appropriate for urine

.  they are meant to be worn in a woman’s own underwear and usually have adhesive at the sides so they hug the body closely for leakage protection and a plastic or cloth like outer covering.  Usually they will have an adhesive strip along the center of the backing to hold them securely in place in the underwear.  They usually are not long enough to handle bowel incontinence.  These pads come in absorbencies ranging from very light stress or overflow incontinence to absorbencies high enough to handle overflow or stress incontinence episodes all night long.

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picture of adult diaper absorbency booster pads
Absorbency Booster Pads  This product is for exactly what it sounds like.  This type of pad is worn inside of a diaper, protective underwear or undergarment for additional absorbency.  They do not have elastic at the legs or a moisture proof backing.  Some booster pads have an adhesive strip on the back to hold them in place in the “host garment”.  The lack of a moisture proof backing means wetness passes through them to the main garment (diaper, undergarment, protective underwear) and then the pad absorbs what the main garment is unable to.  They come in various lengths and widths and can can absorb just a few ounces to as much as 30 or 40 ounces.


picture of a male urinary drip collector for incontinence
Male Drip Collector  This product is designed specifically for males with light dribbling incontinence such as stress or overflow incontinence.  It is a “pocket” that the penis fits into and the product has an adhesive patch on the back that adheres to a man’s underwear.  The product is meant for very light incontinence and has a maximum absorbency of 6 to 8 ounces.