What’s in your nappy?

As part of real nappy week I’ve taken a closer look at what our lovely bum covers are made of. This includes disposable nappies as well. To be honest do we really know what they’re made of?

Today when I took a visit to the local supermarket and curiosity got the better of me. I picked up a packet of branded disposable nappies and was half expecting to see an ingredients list like what you would expect in baby food; but not one single packet of disposable nappies disclosed what they were made of!!

So what are they made of?

Well, I can’t confirm the exact percentage of the following materials that are in any specific brand, and you may well understand I’m certainly not picking on a particular manufacturer either. But the ‘typical’ contents of a disposable nappy is as follows….

I have simplified the explanations wherever I can to avoid too much scientific lingo!


Superabsorbent polymer (aka SAP)
Is a water absorbing polymers, classified as hydrogels, absorb aqueous solutions through hydrogen bonding with the water molecule. SAP may absorb 500 times its weight.

SAP is also found in sanitary products, however SAP was discontinued from use in tampons due to 1980s concern over a link with toxic shock syndrome.

Breathable polyethylene film
Polyethylene is one of the most widely used plastics. It’s the same stuff they make carrier bags from. It can be recycled but due to the nature of disposable nappies the polyethylene layer cannot be recycled.

Polyethylene is not considered biodegradable, as it takes several centuries until it is efficiently degraded.

Other materials include touch tape or velcro fasteners, essential oils to control odour, and air-laid paper to form a barrier between the SAP and the baby.


Natural Fibres
Cotton, Hemp and Bamboo typically make up the absorbent core of the nappy, They are naturally grown, Bamboo is the most sustainable fabric of the three as it’s fast growing a requires no chemical spraying.

Manmade Fibres
Microfibre is made from polyesters, polyamides (nylon), and or a conjugation of polyester and polyamide. The shape, size and combinations of synthetic fibers are selected for specific characteristics, including: softness, durability, absorption, wicking abilities, water repellency, electrodynamics, and filtering capabilities.

Polyurethane laminate (aka PUL)
is generally a polyester interlock knit fabric that has been laminated to a thin film of polyurethane. This laminated fabric is useful as a wind and/or water barrier in the construction of fluid-splash protecting garments,

is also a polyester based fabric the synthetic fibres also can create materials with superior water, wind and environmental resistance compared to plant-derived fibres like cotton etc, and are often used as an optional stay dry liner in nappies.

These are all pretty much man-made such as aplix, poppers or nippas most of which are plastic based and derived from oils.

Am I getting to the point yet?

In retrospect I think it’s important to know exactly what we’re exposing our children too. I take pride in the fact that I know there are no ‘active’ chemicals in the nappies we use, granted some chemicals have been used in producing the nappies and some man made fabrics may not sound all that appealing. But at least I know that there is nothing harmful in the nappies.
There have been studies in the past that claim that the chemicals in disposable nappies can cause fertility issues in boys in later life caused by the heat of the chemical reaction in the nappies. There are also studies which support reusable nappies as a ‘viable’ environmental option, and others that state the benefits and costs are equal.

The decision is ultimately yours!

If you want to do further reading or research on Cloth nappies do check out the other articles I’ve written in the Cloth Nappies section. They also include more detailed information on the various materials, types and faq’s of nappies.

Thanks to Wikipedia that provided me with an insight to the various materials used in nappies.


I am Mummy to a little boy called Quentin, currently on maternity leave until July 2010 and Nuts about Cloth Nappies.

You may also like...

5 Responses

  1. Jo says:

    Hi Nicola, Thank you for yet another fantastic cloth nappy article! Jo 🙂

  2. Luschka says:

    I wrote a post recently about why I’ve gone to reusables. (Click my name, it’ll take you there) There are some great stats, I thought, about disposables and the environmental impact. And a GREAT picture. Seems like something you’d enjoy reading anyway 🙂

  3. Jo says:

    Thanks for the link Lischka! I loved the picture too 🙂

  4. Vici says:

    Fabulous read, and some very helpful info x

  5. Carrie-Anne Alexander says:

    I think it says it all that something that has been taken out of tampons is still in disposable nappies. Why put something against a baby’s skin that isn’t suitable to be in us!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *