Updated July 2013

What the best adult diaper does

  • Absorbs and retains liquid. Absorbency and leakage protection are the most important things to consider when buying a new brand of adult diaper; XPMedical.com tests some of the most popular products extensively for capacity, press-out (leakage when subjected to force) and wicking capabilities.
  • Proves easy to use and comfortable to wear. If the underwear or disposable brief doesn't fit snugly, it could lead to leaks or discomfort.
  • Neutralizes odor. Most styles and models of adult diapers contain an absorbent core that has been designed to suppress odors, although the effectiveness of this feature varies widely.

Know before you go

  • Consider your personal needs. A light pad may provide enough protection for mild stress incontinence, and a standard diaper may work well enough if it's changed after each use. For those with severe incontinence or those who want to use a single diaper for multiple wettings, a premium diaper is the most reliable choice.
  • Choose a diaper that's compatible with your clothing. Although premium diapers are the most effective, they can also be bulkier. While the increased bulk shouldn't be an issue for those who wear fairly loose clothing, a less absorbent style or a highly absorbent pad worn inside close-fitting underwear will be more discreet under tighter clothing.
  • Pull-on underwear allows for easy removal. Users say pull-on underwear or pads are far easier to pull up and down than adult briefs, which need to be refastened on each side after a trip to the bathroom. Another option is to place a booster inside a brief and change the booster as needed while leaving the brief in place.
  • Start with a sample pack. Because of the variation in people's body shapes and lifestyles, experts say there's no incontinence product that works for everyone. A reputable retailer should be willing to send a small sample pack -- usually two or three diapers -- at a reduced price, before you commit to a larger order.
  • Buy the smallest size that fits well, unless you need extra protection. Adult diapers and disposable pull-on underwear come in a range of sizes from extra small to extra large and beyond. For those whose body measurements fall between sizes, the smaller size is usually the less expensive option, while the larger size may have a higher containment capacity.
  • Try new products out at home first. An incontinence product that works well for one person's body shape may be uncomfortable or leaky for someone else. Experts caution that even a top-rated brief, pull-up or pad should be tested in a private setting before being worn out in public.

Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it

The cost of adult diapers varies widely based on retailer, quantity and size, so it's difficult to pin down exact numbers; however, the comparison charts on NationalIncontinence.com helpfully rank a number of brands by cost per diaper. In general, you can expect to spend between 60 cents and $2 per diaper, but buying in bulk can sometimes reduce the price. Another great way to save is to buy booster pads, which are much more affordable, to extend the absorbency of your primary diapers.

What's to come

On the whole, adult diapers are trending toward a slimmer, more discreet fit. According to an article by the online retailer DiaperBuys.com, "More diapers are beginning to look like underwear and lack the significant padding of previous products. These diapers and briefs still provide the same absorbency and protection but allow for a more discreet appearance." As brands develop increasingly effective chemicals and crystals for liquid absorption, the need for bulky diapers is gradually declining.

Knixwear, a start-up fashion company that sells high-end, absorbent lingerie for women who experience stress incontinence, could be a sign of things to come. Its products feature a high-tech, slim, super-absorbent gusset designed to wick away and absorb moisture without detracting from the overall appearance of the underwear. Although each pair of Knix underwear can only absorb three teaspoons of liquid at one time, perhaps we'll see similar types of elegant, boutique-style diapers emerge as absorbency technology continues to advance.

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Adult Diapers: After analyzing professional tests, several expert reviews and hundreds of owner opinions, we identify the best disposable adult diapers for different levels of incontinence and in various price ranges.

Best Disposable Briefs: What brand of disposable brief offers superior absorbency and performance? Editors survey expert and user reviews to find the best product for adult incontinence.

Best Pull-On Underwear: What's the best pull-on disposable diaper? Editors analyze expert and user reviews to find out. Abena and Tranquility come out on top.

Incontinence Pads and Boosters: What's the best incontinence pad or booster? Editors scour expert advice and user reviews to determine the superior make and model.

Our Sources: Links to the expert and user reviews we used to select the top adult diapers, along with our assessment of each reviewer's expertise, credibility and helpfulness.

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