A disposable diaper consists of an absorbent pad sandwiched between two sheets of nonwoven fabric. The pad is specially designed to absorb and retain body fluids, and the nonwoven fabric gives the diaper a comfortable shape and helps prevent leakage. These diapers are made by a multi-step process in which the absorbent pad is first vacuum-formed, then attached to a permeable top sheet and impermeable bottom sheet. The components are sealed together by application of heat or ultrasonic vibrations. Elastic fibers are attached to the sheets to gather the edges of the diaper into the proper shape so it fits snugly around a baby’s legs and crotch. When properly fitted, the disposable diaper will retain body fluids which pass through the permeable top sheet and are absorbed into the pad.
Disposable diapers are a relatively recent invention. In fact, until the early 1970s mothers had no real alternative to classic cloth diapers. Cotton diapers have the advantage of being soft, comfortable, and made of natural materials. Their disadvantages include their relatively poor absorbency and the fact that they have to be laundered. Disposable diapers were developed to overcome these problems. The earliest disposables used wood pulp fluff, cellulose wadding, fluff cellulose, or cotton fibers as the absorbent material. These materials did not absorb very much moisture for their weight, however. Consequently, diapers made from these materials were extremely bulky. More efficient absorbent polymers were developed to address this issue.
Since the 1970s, disposable diaper technology has continued to evolve. In fact, nearly 1,000 patents related to diaper design and construction have been issued in the last 25 years. Today’s diapers are not only highly functional, they include advanced features such as special sizing and coloring for specific gender and age, color change indicators to show when the child is wet, and reattachable VelcroTM-type closures.