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No, we’re not asking about grocery bags here. We’re asking about adult diapers, liners, undergarments and pads!  “Paper or plastic?” refers to the outer covering on an incontinence product.

Back in the “olden days”, which is basically before 1994 or 1995, pretty much every incontinence product had a plastic outer barrier.  Why?  Well, plastic kept wetness, odor, etc.. inside the diaper.  Plastic was also the “technology of the day”, as the technology had not been developed yet to make the now ubiquitous cloth like outer backing, which seems to cover almost every product anymore.

OK, here’s the deal with the cloth like  A company will advertise their product as “breathable for drier skin”, “more dignified for the wearer”, “more comfortable”,  “more environmentally friendly”, “healthier skin”, etc.... for the most part these claims are patently false, with the exception (maybe) of “more dignified for the wearer”.  Why?

A diaper, to protect your furniture, clothing, etc...from leakage, MUST have a plastic backing.  If it did not and it was just cloth on the outside, wetness would just leak right through it.  For those old enough to remember the only means of diapering a baby was cloth, you remember that in order to contain wetness, etc.. was a PLASTIC pant, right?  There you go.  If wetness could be contained by cloth, no plastic pants would be needed.    So, underneath that “cloth” outer backing is a plastic back sheet.  The “cloth” is layered over the plastic.  Now, the only truly breathable part of a cloth like covered diaper is at the sides, where the tape (or now more common “hook and loop”) fasteners are.  Usually, there is no plastic in this area.  The area is usually a cloth product that is indeed breathable.  This may lead to a cooler feeling for the wearer, but still sweat can collect under that cloth too, irritating the skin.  Now, the problem with the cloth sides is they do NOT contain urine if urine pours around the side (say while sleeping on your side or sitting).  So, what happens?  You suddenly have wet spots on the sides of your pants!  Yuck!

Let’s talk about the “healthy skin” marketing.  Manufacturers claim that with the use of the “breathable” cloth, a person is much less likely to encounter a diaper rash.  This is FALSE.  Diaper rashes depend on a number of things:  1) Ammonia formation.  Ammonia formation occurs the longer a person wears a wet diaper.  If you have ever emptied a trash can of wet diapers, undoubtedly the smell of ammonia may have just about overpowered you.  2)  Bacteria formation.  While urine while in the bladder is sterile, there is always bacteria present on the skin.  This bacteria THRIVES in a damp warm environment such as in a wet diaper.  3)  Wet skin.  Wet skin is the perfect place for bacteria to breed and ammonia to form.  Since there is a plastic barrier on the diaper under the “cloth” (in the industry known as non-woven), moisture can not escape and the environment stays warm.  Perfect bad environment for the skin.

More dignified for the wearer?  There may be some truth to this.  If you’re an adult and do not want people to know you’re wearing a diaper, the “cloth” backing can be a good solution.  Cloth is quieter under everyday clothing, unless it is a cheaper brand where the plastic is incredibly loud and crinkly even with the non-woven over it.  Usually, a cloth like diaper is unnoticeable under everyday clothing in regards to sound.  A cloth like diaper may feel more like underwear to the wearer as well.  The “more dignified” is a personal preference issue really, as most of us if asked, prefer the plastic backing.

More comfortable?  Again, this goes back to a personal preference issue.  Some insist that the cloth like outer cover chafes and irritates the skin of their inner thighs where it touches.  Others claim they sweat more in a plastic backed diaper.

More environmentally friendly?  NO!  As noted above, there is still a plastic backing underneath the non-woven material, so the same problem with the time it takes the plastic to break down exists.  In fact, a friend of mine who is a scientist raised concern that the non-woven covering may actually SLOW the degredation of the plastic in the diaper.  While he does not have any scientific evidence to back this up, his theory makes sense.

So, which is better?  Again, this is a personal preference thing.  If you’re a heavy wetter who tends to flood a diaper multiple times, my opinion says a plastic backing is better.  You are more likely to have urine run around the sides of your hips when you are sitting or lying on your side (as I have experienced).  The plastic backing gives a barrier to keep urine from soaking through your clothes, whereas the cloth like non-woven backing does not.  On the other side, when you walk or move around, plastic is going to make noise by crinkling.  Usually a heavy pair of pants like jeans will muffle this.  A cloth like backing usually also has “hook and loop” tabs too, which can be fastened anywhere on the diaper for a totally custom fit and also can be unfastened and refastened over and over and over again without damaging the diaper.  If you use intermittent catheterization and only wear a diaper in case of bowel accident or slight urine leakage, a cloth backed diaper with “hook and loop” tabs instead of tape would be ideal, as you can unfasten the diaper to cath and then refasten it without damaging it.

As you can see, there are benefits and drawbacks to each type of product.  If you prefer a cloth like backing, great!  If you prefer a plastic backing, great!  Just don’t fall for the marketing hype.  As for me, I will stick with a plastic backing and feel more confident in my protection.

What do you think?  Drop us an email and give us your opinion!

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