Disposable nappies are made up of multiple layers, each containing different materials.
There are typically three main layers – a topsheet, a backsheet and an absorbent core that’s sandwiched between them.
Find out what these layers do, as well as what claims such as chlorine-free and fragrance-free actually mean, plus whether disposable nappies can be recyclable.
Read our nappy reviews to find the best disposable nappies.
The topsheet is the soft inner layer of the nappy that sits against your baby’s skin, and it’s usually made of polypropylene.
It’s designed to draw moisture inside the nappy, helping to keep your little one’s skin dry. Some topsheets also contain lotion to help reduce irritation and nappy rash.
The core of a nappy typically contains a mix of cellulose fluff pulp and sodium polyacrylate.
Cellulose pulp quickly absorbs liquid and distributes it across the nappy. If you’re after a more eco-friendly nappy, look out for brands that use pulp harvested from sustainably managed forests.
Sodium polyacrylate is a super absorbent polymer that can absorb many times its own weight in fluid. It turns liquid to a gel, locking moisture away.
Our lab tests measure leakage from a weighed down, fully fluid-loaded nappy to see how well it holds wetness inside. Find out more about how we test nappies.
The backsheet is the outer shell of the nappy which prevents liquid from leaking out onto your baby’s clothes.
It’s usually made of polyethylene which is water-repellent. Some nappies also have a layer of breathable film to make it more comfortable.
Common nappy ingredient claims
- Latex-free – Latex can cause allergic reactions in some people. Most disposable nappies instead use materials such as elastane and polypropylene for making stretchy leg cuffs and waistbands.
- Chlorine-free – Pulp in nappies can be purified using chlorine to make it soft and absorbent. Chlorine-free pulp is purified using other substances such as oxygen. You can buy chlorine-free nappies from brands such as Kit & Kin and Rascal + Friends.
- Fragrance-free – Fragrances are often added to nappies to help mask odours. The European Union Cosmetics Regulation lists a number of fragrance ingredients which are considered more likely to cause allergic reactions. You can avoid these by opting for fragrance-free nappies.
Are disposable nappies recyclable?
While most disposable nappies are recyclable, the UK doesn’t currently have the facilities to process them in the right way. This means most disposable nappies will end up in landfill.
If you’re looking for a more environmentally friendly option, it could be worth considering reusable nappies.
Read our reusable buying guide to find out more about the different types of reusable nappy and their pros and cons.