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The decision of whether to choose nappies, pants or pads with either a plastic outer covering or one with a woven fabric-like paper surface is one that many people may not have considered when shopping for incontinence products.
While this decision may not seem very important to some, we understand that it’s very important for others. We have written this post because we have heard that some customers are unhappy having found that TENA® has changed the design of their products from a plastic backing to textile-like.
All of the customers we talked to about this were very concerned, so we would like to take the time in this post to compare the differences and suggest alternatives for those that want them. Our customers were mostly concerned about the TENA® Slip (adult nappies) so allow us to tell you about this type of product.
It might be helpful to first talk about what an adult nappy is made from. Starting from the inside out, the first layer is a thin tissue paper like material. This is what separates our skin from the absorbent materials inside. This layer is the one that the leak guards inside are stuck to, and that the leg cuffs are formed from. Its job is to prevent all the wadding and powder on the inside from coming out.
The internal leak guards we mentioned are strips of elastic that run from front to back. When the nappy is worn, these stand up and channel urine and faeces into the centre. Underneath the tissue paper top layer there will be a super absorbent core. This goes in the centre of the pad and is designed to very quickly absorb urine inside. It’s usually made from Super Absorbent Powder, a powder that turns into a gel when wet.
Underneath that layer is the wadding that makes up the bulk of the pad. What these are made from can vary, but they are usually some mixture of long cotton fibres and paper, and can sometimes have super absorbent powder as well.
Finally, we come to the back sheet. In plastic backed nappies this is one single piece of hourglass shaped plastic that covers the entire back of the nappy. The elastic on the leg cuffs will be glued into this layer, as well as the waistband elastics if that product has them.
On a textile-like product the back of the pad will be covered with a thin plastic layer, with the outer part being made from a woven and brushed paper. The textile-like product might use a single piece to cover the whole pad (with the hourglass shape) or they might be composed of three separate pieces, having an H shape when stretched out. This saves on the plastic they use as only the absorbent area in the centre of the pad has the plastic layer.
The waistband parts at the front and rear are then glued on separately. This has the advantage that the side panels can be breathable, but sometimes people report that they can easily be pulled off. Wheelchair users in particular have this problem as sitting and bending forwards can rip the side panels.
The sticky tapes that fasten the nappy at the front also vary between plastic and cloth-like nappies. Plastic backed nappies will often have single reusable tapes; a tape that can be repositioned one time after fixing. The textile-like ones have hook and loop strips that can be refastened and adjusted more times.
While people who prefer the traditional plastic backed designs have learned to work around their drawbacks, it may be worth outlining them for the benefit of others. The main problem users report stems from the noise produced by the plastic when moving around, which naturally affects the level of discretion one can expect while using the product. In the past, our regular correspondent Alice has written about how this “crinkling” noise can be reduced for people who wish to avoid it.
An aspect of the plastic covered range of products that is often brought up is the usually thicker material that comprises the outer layer. This heavier plastic layer is sometimes described as feeling hotter to wear, causing more sweating. There isn’t currently a fully breathable plastic backed nappy on the UK market. The advantage you can get from this heavier material is that it can often feel smoother or softer to the touch, so many people find them more comfortable to wear.
A lot of people find the plastic more secure and less likely to leak. Lots of our customers mention this specifically when we talk to them on the phone.
Three of the calls we had were from wheelchair users. They often have different needs to other people and have identified some drawbacks with textile-like products. They report that the wings (the waistbands) can easily be ripped off and they find that textile like products are more prone to leaking around the legs. The back sheet on plastic-backed products tend to be made from one piece, so are less likely to rip off than the textile-like backed products where the waistband is often separate. We talked about this difference above.
The hourglass shape of plastic backed products also provides a better fit around the legs for some users, the textile-like backed products that have an H shape don't fit well enough around the legs which can cause leaks.
Many of our customers are concerned that a textile or breathable backing will not be as good at containing odours but it is worth remembering that the textile-backed products will have been designed with discretion in mind. We do understand though that some users prefer the security that plastic backed offer, but textile-backed products do have an internal plastic membrane, which should be effective at containing the odours.
The first thing that it is important to remember when talking about the newer variety of wearable incontinence products - products with a cloth-like outer layer - is that these will still have a plastic membrane inside to prevent leaks. Though this layer may be thinner, it is still present and so they should in theory be as effective as the older variety.
Of course, the benefit of having a thinner plastic layer as well as a textile covering is a reduction of the noise mentioned earlier from the crinkling plastic. This may be worth considering if the user’s day to day life is very active.
If someone is used to the smooth texture associated with plastic backed products, a woven textile could potentially feel less comfortable due to the rougher surface of the covering. This does have the advantage, however, of allowing more readjustment of the fastening strips as they can be stuck down more times than on plastic covered products. Fabric like backed nappies use Hook and Loop on the tapes which can be refastened more times.
Almost all major manufacturers have switched to textile-like backing. What this shows is that they believe most users prefer textile like backing, and they are just as effective as plastic backed products. They forget that this might not be true for everyone though. The big companies are ignoring those who prefer a plastic-backed nappy.
The recent trend towards fabric-only product ranges by companies such as TENA® is worrying for users that prefer a plastic backed product.
We are confident that some plastic backed products will remain on the market for a good few years to come, but they are becoming harder to find.
Alice is a long time customer of ours, and sent us her thoughts:
“As a young person with a disability who uses nappies 24/7, I have become very aware of the recent push in companies to switch from plastic backed to textile backed nappies.
I can understand the rationale behind this, as it seems textile backing would be more 'breathable' for skin.
I have personally tried both types and continue to stick to the plastic backs. Here are the reasons:
One thing about the textile-backed nappies is that the tapes can be readjusted more. I find with the plastic backed ones, tapes can only be readjusted a maximum of twice, after that they lose their sticky-ness. Perhaps this is something that could be worked on.
Most of the products we sell have a textile-like backing material and we don’t get a lot complaints about that. Since the TENA® Slip changed to textile-like backing though, we have had complaints.
We need to service everyone and provide suitable products for different use cases. If you prefer a plastic backed nappy to a textile one, we have products you can use.
We are aware of two products. The first is a best seller for us, the MoliCare® Super Plus. We continue to see strong sales with this and the number of sales is increasing, perhaps as other manufacturers axe their plastic backed ranges.
We have spoken to Hartmann about their plans for the MoliCare® Super Plus and we can state that at this time they are not considering changing the design.
The problem with the Super Plus is that it’s designed for users with the very highest level of need. This means the pad is quite thick, so could make it difficult to conceal under clothing or uncomfortable as the bulky pad could make the user feel hot.
There is now another option. After passing on the concerns of our customers to all of the big manufacturers we are pleased to say we have found another plastic backed product.
As far as we know, we are the ONLY UK company to offer this product, and we have to order it in especially.
This is the MoliCare® Comfort Range. This is a hybrid product. The waistbands are made of a breathable textile-like material but the back sheet of the pad is plastic. These are almost identical to the MoliCare® Soft range but have plastic backing instead of textile-like. This is maybe the best of both worlds as the breathable side panels will better regulate heat, but the plastic backing on the absorbent area offers the advantages of better leg shape and smooth feel that some users prefer.
We are sure that this product will be a great replacement for users that don’t like the new TENA® Slip design. We hope you like it.
Plastic Backed Replacements for TENA® Slip: