What's the Best Adult Diaper?
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Depend Super Plus Absorbency Adjustable Underwear Perhaps the best-known brand of adult diaper, thanks to the long-running commercials featuring Little Women star June Allyson. Many of the adult diapers I came across boasted soothing and gentle names like Depend or Affirm. This makes sense—people want to trust their adult diapers. A product with a name like Mystique probably wouldn't sell very well.
I tested the Super Plus Absorbency Adjustable Underwear variety (now with worry-free odor control!), which looked and felt like a cut-rate codpiece. While it was comfortable and largely itch-free, the main problem was that the garment didn't fit. It is undoubtedly difficult to make a one-size-fits-all adult diaper, but I fell squarely inside the L/XL size according to the chart on the box, and I could have fit another person in these briefs. (This is speculation: I did not attempt this.)
As absorbency goes, Depend is adequate at best. While much better than the Kroger diaper, Depend still had trouble comfortably holding more than a pint's worth of liquid. When I wore it wet, the poor fit really became a problem—it felt like a damp, loose towel was wrapped around my waist. When it comes to "rewet absorbency" (how much liquid an already wet diaper will absorb), Depend does not perform well; it's necessary to change diapers if you're planning to double dip.
One final note: Depend claims that you can change these diapers without having to remove your clothes. I tried this several times, and am pretty sure that this is false. Maybe it's a practice-makes-perfect thing, but it was essentially impossible to change these diapers while still wearing my pants. Impossible and disgusting—it always felt like the urine was going to brush up against the inside of my jeans, leaving me with stink-thigh. And besides, you'll have to remove your clothes to don a new diaper, so it's not really a significant time savings.
Attends Underwear Super Plus Absorbency With Leak Barriers The word Attends sounds a lot like the word Depend, and, indeed, the two brands are similar—similar in their mediocrity, that is. Like Depend, Attends was functional, but its performance certainly wasn't great. None of the American diapers was that great, actually. There is an economic reason for this. The vast majority of American-made adult diapers are purchased by hospitals, Medicare, and Medicaid. These institutional purchasers are mostly interested in saving money, so diaper manufacturers tailor their products to their buyers' demands, producing diapers that are, essentially, cheap and cheaply made.
Attends fit a little bit better than Depend, although I would not recommend wearing either of them underneath tight pants. ("Relaxed fit" is the phrase to remember when it comes to buying diaper-friendly trousers.) It was the most comfortable domestic diaper when it came to long-term wear, but that's sort of like saying that first-degree burns are the best kind of burn. While, like a Depend, it held about 16 ounces of liquid before structural integrity was breached, it certainly did not live up to its expected absorbency.
A basic Attends brief promises to hold about 15 ounces of liquid; you would expect that the Super Plus Absorbency variety would exceed that capacity. It did not, which is no big surprise, according to diaper guru Gary Evans, who explained how manufacturers test their product absorbency: "They dunk the entire product, leave it there for a certain amount of time, allow the surface liquid to drain off, and weigh the product to see how much liquid it absorbs. I find that, realistically, you'd be lucky to get half of [the advertised absorbency]." I found that, realistically, American adult-diaper manufacturers are sort of bastards.
Of course, for many people, incontinence is manifested not in sudden, game-changing urinary explosions but in the small and steady drips characteristic of stress incontinence. I therefore subjected all of the diapers to the "drip test," dousing myself periodically with small amounts of liquid over the span of a few hours. (It is extremely hard for a strong-bladdered man to simulate stress incontinence, so I did this by pouring water into my crotch.) I can say that Attends is perfectly fine when it comes to catching drips. Just don't ask it to soak up a gusher.
Molicare Super Plus Adult Diapers
Like chocolate, beer, and jewel thieves, the best adult diapers come from Europe. This is not coincidental. European manufacturers don't have to cater to institutional purchasers' demands, so they're more likely to sell on quality rather than cost.
The top-of-the-line European diapers are made by a company called Abena; their diapers boast a ridiculous 4,100-milliliter absorbency (more than a gallon). Sadly, I had trouble tracking these down stateside. European diapers typically aren't sold in drugstores and have to be purchased from specialty retailers or online merchants. I did, however, get to test-drive the awesome Molicare Super Plus. If Abena is the Mercedes of adult diapers, then Molicare is at least comparable to a Volvo. Bulkier than its domestic counterparts, the Molicare is nonetheless a more wearable product, thanks to its superior fit, which envelops your netherlands snugly and completely. It felt like I was wearing one of those portable seat cushions that people bring to high-school football games. Frankly, I felt voluptuous.
The European advantage was most evident when the Molicare got wet. Orders of magnitude more absorbent than Depends, Attends, or Kroger, the Super Plus never leaked, not even after two rewettings. My legs were never clammy while wearing it wet; indeed, I felt as comfortable as one can probably feel after having urinated in one's pants. When my bladder finally starts down the road to unreliability, I'm going European.
Justin Peters is Slate’s crime correspondent.