Are you expecting a new addition to your family and have some diapers left over from a previous child? Did you happen upon an unbelievable sale that made building a diaper stockpile too good of an opportunity to pass up? Regardless of your particular situation, the question remains: Do diapers expire?
While it’s obvious that some baby items like formula, baby food and certain toiletries have a definite expiration date, diapers are one product that often leaves parents scratching their heads.
To help you find some answers, we’ll take a look at the parts of a typical diaper, learn a little bit more about how the passage of time may affect each one and find out whether you should use old diapers or throw them out. We’ll also cover how proper storage can help you keep those excess diapers in the best shape possible.
Parts of a Diaper
Disposable diapers contain a variety of individual parts, and each one can be susceptible to a unique kind of damage over time.
Soft Outer Layer
The outer layer usually consists of a mix of paper and plastic fibers that feel soft against your baby’s skin while also allowing for both airflow and leak resistance. There can also be colorful animal or character prints over the entire outer surface or just at the waistband.
Absorbent Inner Layer
A disposable diaper’s core usually contains a super-absorbent polymer known as sodium polyacrylate. This polymer can hold many times its weight in water and forms a kind of gel when mixed with liquid.
Some brands also put mild fragrances in the inner liner to mask any unpleasant smells.
While older disposable diapers used rubber, most diapers today use spandex material at the waistband and leg holes to give your baby a reliable and comfortable fit.
Disposable diapers had adhesive closures in years past, but most current brands rely on a hook-and-eye closure at the waistband. The closure tabs attach to the stretchy waistband edges with a hot-melt adhesive process.
How Age Can Affect Diapers
Unfortunately, most objects tend to degrade or lose their optimal efficiency the older they get. Here are the ways that most diapers can react as they age.
When you go to use a diaper that you’ve stored for a while, one of the first things you may notice is a discolored appearance to the outer layer.
Diapers are a paper product, and they have the same tendency as any other paper item to take on a yellowish tone when exposed to oxygen for a long period of time. Additionally, the ink dyes in colors or patterns may also fade as the diaper ages.
While an off-color diaper may look a bit unappealing, the good news is that it’s only cosmetic damage, and you shouldn’t have any problems with the outer layer losing its softness or leak resistance.
Since sodium polyacrylate is so efficient at absorbing water, it can also draw in moisture from the ambient environment. While these materials won’t expire or go bad, their tendency to take in moisture from the air could leave you with less capacity to absorb urine when you place the diaper on your child. Furthermore, the longer you leave an open pack of diapers exposed to the air, the more absorbency you risk losing.
Fragrance molecules can break down over time, so you may notice that older diapers have a different smell than new ones.
If your diapers had a mild fragrance designed to neutralize offensive odors, you may have to deal with some extra smells when using older diapers. If the diapers originally had a stronger, more noticeable scent, the fragrance may grow much weaker with time or even take on an unpleasant smell.
Increased Chance for Leaks
As a synthetic material, spandex is much more resistant to breaking down from heat, moisture or oxidation than a natural material like rubber. However, you may have some leakage issues at the leg holes and waistband if your diapers are several years old and have any rubber or latex areas that have grown brittle from exposure to air, heat or humidity.
The Velcro side closures could lose some of their gripping power with age, and there is also the risk that the tabs themselves may rip off if the hot-melt adhesive weakens. Regardless of which piece malfunctions, you might have a leaky mess to deal with if your baby’s diaper comes open while they’re wearing it.
Should You Use Old Diapers?
While the possible old-diaper issues we mentioned above may sound a little off-putting, the truth is that most of the changes to the various diaper components should be mild and probably won’t cause any serious problems. Additionally, the chemicals and materials in each part of the diaper don’t have an actual expiration date, so you don’t need to worry about any components going bad or becoming dangerous.
In the cases of two popular brands, Pampers and Huggies, the manufacturers typically test their products for an extended time to determine long-term functionality. While neither Pampers nor Huggies have an actual expiration date, try to use the diapers within about two or three years of purchase for maximum performance.
Just to be on the safe side when you’re using older diapers, check your baby more frequently for leaks and be prepared to change their diaper a bit more often. You may also want to reserve the older diapers for daytime use so you’ll be able to monitor them more closely.
What About Cloth Diapers?
If the idea of storing extra diapers for future children appeals to you, you may want to strongly consider going the cloth diaper route. While you’ll probably want to purchase pieces like removable inserts new for each child, you can easily launder many diaper covers and the diapers themselves to use for multiple children.
However, keep in mind that some cloth diapers use natural rubber for waistbands or leg holes, and these natural materials are susceptible to growing brittle as they age. If you want to use your cloth diapers for years, look for a brand that has replaceable rubber pieces or uses different elastic material.
How Should I Store Them?
Thoughtful storage can go a long way towards preserving a diaper’s optimal performance.
Away from heat, humidity and sunlight
Since the greatest enemies of a diaper’s long-term effectiveness are heat, moisture and harsh light, storing your overstock diapers in a cool, dry and dark place is your best bet.
Well-ventilated storage closets or basement shelves are a couple of good options.
In unopened packages
If your diapers are still in their original packaging, do not attempt to save space by opening packages. The combination of sealed plastic and a cardboard box presents the most effective barrier to moisture and air, so try to keep your packages intact as much as possible.
Vacuum sealed or securely taped
If your diapers are already opened, do your best to re-create a tight seal.
A vacuum storage machine can be a great option for making a water-and airtight seal, and a vacuum-sealed package can also help you store more diapers in a smaller space.
If you don’t have access to a vacuum sealer, wrap your diapers securely in a layer of thin plastic, squeeze out as much as air as possible and seal securely with strong tape.
While diapers never truly expire, they can lose some of their effectiveness over time. However, that doesn’t mean you have to throw them all out and start fresh.
Several of the changes that a diaper may undergo are purely cosmetic, and smart storage can make a big difference in how well a diaper will function once you’re ready to use it. As long as you use your older diapers thoughtfully and stay on the lookout for leaks, you should have no problems using up your extra stock.
What are your thoughts on using older diapers? How long have you stored diapers in the past, and what was your experience in using them? Do you have any other tips to share? Tell us in the comments!