Plastic Backed Nappies Explained | Paper or Plastic?

Posted by Will 01/07/2016 11 Comment(s) Adults,

Paper or Plastic? Plastic Backed Adult Nappies Explained


Are you looking for a plastic backed replacement for the new TENA® Slip?









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.


The Construction of Adult Nappies


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.


Plastic Backed Nappies


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.


Odour Control


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.


New-Style Fabric Like Backing


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.


The Future


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.


What Do Our Customers Think?


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:


  • Plastic backed nappies last so much longer between changes (despite what companies continue to tell me)
  • Security; I feel 100% more secure in plastic backs as I have experienced continuous leaks with textile backs
  • Comfort; plastic backs are so much more comfortable for me. I use a wheelchair and find the textile back nappies to be a little bit harder and less comfortable than the plastic backed ones.


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.

- Alice”

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.


Where Can I Buy Plastic Backed Adult Nappies in the UK?


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.

Quick Guide


Plastic Backed Replacements for TENA® Slip:


  • In theory textile-like backed products should perform the same as plastic backed
  • Sometimes the leg shape will not be as well fitting
  • People perceive that the textile-backing might leak
  • Some users find the plastic backing less irritating on the skin
  • Some people prefer the quieter noise of textile like products

11 Comment(s)

16/09/2018, 06:47:01 PM

i used to wear tena flex a long time ago it has been years since using them but due to a bowel and urinary condition i have just been issued tena flex plus again. what took me is just how slim the pad is and also how soft. the thinness is such if you hold it to the light you can all most see straight through which gets my alarm bells ringing thinking it may not do it job also the softness got my alarm bells ringing as to if it would hold form.there are definitely problems with the pad, the softness of the pad is resulting in it not keeping its form when wearing resulting in the pad crumpling when siting down and the stretchy is resulting in the flex garment drooping when moving around which is a major problem when outside (sorry it is totally no good outside tena company)after less than a hour of use the inner frontal core is breaking up leaving only the thin part of the frontal tissue even when not wet!, i took a pad apart to prove that there was something wrong and the fluff was in bits so it would have problems holding any the flex design and make up is so poor i am waiting to be changed to the tena slips hopefully they will not be the same if they are then i will look else where to get supplies.the tena flex i used years ago was never like this so what has changed tena company? also are you going to remedy

30/11/-0001, 12:00:00 AM

I have been incontinent since 1987 and I have to say that over those years there are alot of suffers going back to using terry/cloth diapers/nappies ! as they last longer and in the long run cheaper to use. yes there are advantages/disadvantages on both sides as in the terry/cloth nappies they are very bulky but there are there to keep you dry and clean, and if they work and you have to wear nappies 24/7 then why should you worry about people seeing them as they are for a medical reason !! live life enjoy and don't let your incontinence control you !!!!

Will :
30/11/-0001, 12:00:00 AM

Hi Nigel We agree with you, enjoy life and don't let incontinence control you! Very sound advice for anyone reading. Will

Junior Walker:
30/11/-0001, 12:00:00 AM

It is such a shame to hear products turning to cloth type backing and all because its good for the environment but personally speaking I think its a load of BS!! I like to point out that if anyone orders adult nappies with cloth all over then make sure to wear plastic pants with them to stop the pee smell when wetting

Will :
30/11/-0001, 12:00:00 AM

Hi Junior Thank you for your comment. It's interesting. As they can use less plastic in the manufacturing process it is less carbon intensive. But buyers should know that these products do still contain a plastic membrane underneath the textile-like cover, so the reduction in environmental impact will be small. But with millions of people all over Europe relying on these products, these small changes probably add up. As mentioned in the article, a good crossover product that has a plastic outer cover but textile-like waist bands (so less plastic is used overall) is the MoliCare Comfort. Hopefully you find this product has better odour control. Thanks Will

30/11/-0001, 12:00:00 AM

I think these manufacturers have been very short-sighted here. Now I completely understand the need for discretion and I agree 'discretion is good', but substituting 'comfort, performance and usability' for it is plain mad. I use, or used Tena Slip Maxi, which was, with the plastic backing the best product on the market by a country mile. An incontinence product which was more comfortable than regular underwear, replaced by something that feels like a pillow in your trousers. Ok, so some people prefer the new textile version? Fine, but what about those who don't? If I were the CEO at Tena I would cater for both parties; manufacture both products! I mean it's almost common sense. But the fact is they'll lose many loyal customers if they don't keep their flagship model plastic.

Will :
30/11/-0001, 12:00:00 AM

Hi Alex Thank you for your comment. Abena faced the same problem when they switched to the textile like designs. I believe that they kept the plastic backed level 4 Abri Form in production after they made the switch. This is not available in the UK though any more so maybe they did the sums and realised that the demand wasn't there. I think it's a tricky situation for TENA. I don't believe they would release an updated product that was inferior because of the huge amount of damage it would do to their business. I'm sure that for the majority of users this version is better. It would be hugely expensive to run another set of plant to satisfy what is probably quite a small demand, so the CEO of TENA has probably made a good business decision, that unfortunately effects a small number of customers negatively. There are alternative manufacturers still producing plastic backed products, for the moment. I am almost certain that TENA won't go back to producing plastic backed products unfortunately.

30/11/-0001, 12:00:00 AM

It is well known that 'Ford' announced that they don't make 'cars' they make 'money'. Obviously, I mean why else would you go through all the trouble? However, Ford listened to it's customers and gave them exactly what they wanted. Tena like Ford or any other company, has the same primal The revenue for Tena will undoubtedly be less over the coming years due to not giving customers what they want!! Let's use Volkswagon as example of this. They made a very popular car called the 'GOLF'. It came as a 'GL' model, 'CL' model, 'GTi' model and 'G60' model. Why? To cover all aspects of the market, you could go sporty or economical. The point is you had a choice. Exactly what Tena should do with the Tena Slip range. And the 'SLIP' is not a very appropriate description for the new product.. 'SLIP OFF' would be better...

Will :
30/11/-0001, 12:00:00 AM

Hi Jenna Thank you for writing us a comment! We have spoken to SCA about their decision, they told us that it was driven by customer demand. They are the last major manufacturer to switch their primary lines to textile like backing material. It seems that people were asking them why they don't have textile like products. We have heard from many customers that these new products keep falling down, but as time has gone on most people now seem happier with these new designs. The machines that make these products cost many hundreds of thousands of pounds, perhaps even millions. They won't be able to sustain the cost of running two sets of machines to produce different designs unfortunately as the demand for the plastic backed alternative is not great enough to justify the huge expense. As discussed in the article though, for people that prefer the plastic backed designs we still have the MoliCare Comfort and MoliCare Super Plus products to cover their needs.

30/11/-0001, 12:00:00 AM

Hi Jenna, I too have experienced a problem with the new Tena Slip slipping off. The new material stretches far too easily. I have found this leads to leaks and a need to keep adjusting the slip. This combined with the smaller waterproof area means I have to wear plastic pants over them, defeating the point of the new textile cover. The saying "Not fit for purpose" springs to mind! Regards David

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