Do diapers expire? Maybe you’re dealing with that question right now. Maybe its been in the back of your mind for years. Maybe you’d never thought about it until now. For most people, diaper expiration dates is a topic that never really comes up.
Diapers are used regularly, and stocks often seem to be used up as quickly as they’re replenished, so in most cases, they’re never more than a few months old at most. Thought of their expiration probably never even crosses your mind.
However, some situations can occur where you might hold on to diapers for several years (or longer). Consider the following examples.
- You could have stocked up on baby diapers and purchased more than needed, intending to save them for a future child.
- You could have stocked up on adult diapers by buying in bulk to save on costs without giving thought to potential expiration dates.
- You could have been gifted diapers from a friend or family member but have no idea how old the diapers are or if they’re still good.
Diaper expiration is a topic that’s a little more complex to discuss than you might at first imagine. It’s not rocket science, but there are several considerations that need to be taken into account, such as
- what kind of diapers you’re talking about,
- whether they’re disposable or reusable,
- whether they’re adult diapers or child diapers,
- whether they’re scented or unscented, and
- whether they’re elasticized.
With all that to consider, let’s get started.
Let’s talk about reusable diapers first, as they are the simplest ones to explain. Reusable diapers can be treated as any normal piece of clothing in terms of an expiration date: you can use them until they’re worn out.
If you’re just storing them without using them, they should, in theory, last forever. If we’re talking decades of storage, then some components might fail (e.g., elastic), just as they might with regular clothes. If they’re stored improperly (high heat, humidity, etc), you can more likely expect issues to rear their heads over time. But given the proper storage conditions, they should be good for many years.
In the vast majority of cases, reusable diapers will often become too soiled for further use and will be thrown out before their component parts start to degrade anyway, so 9 times out of 10 it’s a non-issue.
There, that was easy. Now let’s move on to disposable diapers.
Unlike food products, diapers don’t have an expiration date, so don’t bother looking around the box to try to find one. But just because they don’t have an official expiration date doesn’t mean that they don’t go bad – or, at the very least, become less effective – over time.
Let’s look into this a little more closely.
Do Baby Diapers Expire?
Manufacturers will hold non-elasticized baby diapers for about two years (at most) in a warehouse before recycling them (or throwing them in the garbage). However, elasticized diapers will only be held by a manufacturer for around one year before they are considered unfit for sale. But there’s more to this story, so don’t go throwing out your diaper stash just yet.
The reason manufacturers throw out elasticized diapers sooner than non-elasticized diapers simply comes down to the discoloration of the elastic. Over time, the material oxidizes (i.e., reacts with the oxygen in the air) and it starts to discolor, usually turning the elasticized parts an unpleasant shade of yellow. This is a problem for the manufacturers, as nobody wants to buy their baby a diaper that looks anything other than brand new and clean.
However, if you’ve been storing diapers for a while (or they’ve been given to you by a friend) and you don’t mind the discoloration, then this isn’t a problem. It won’t harm your child or make the diaper any less effective; it just looks a little odd.
The first part of baby diapers to “expire”, so to speak – that is, to actually become unusable – is the adhesive material that is used to secure the diaper in place. It’s hard to say how long the adhesive will last while it’s in storage, as a lot of it depends on the storage conditions. Cooler, climate-controlled conditions can protect the adhesive for several years without it degrading and becoming less effective. However, warmer conditions, which expose the adhesive to thermal stress while in storage, will damage the material over time and cause it to lose some of its sticking power.
The speed at which this happens and the extent of the “damage” are hard to predict. But, as a general rule of thumb, if you’ve stored diapers indoors since you purchased them (and your home doesn’t get too hot), the adhesive will last for several years, and they should be as good as new – or nearly so – for quite some time.
If, however, you’ve purchased or been given older diapers and you don’t know how they have been stored, then you might run into problems. The worst-case scenario is that the adhesive is a little less sticky than usual. If you’ve ever used a diaper before, it should be pretty obvious why this is going to be a problem. No, degraded, less sticky adhesive won’t harm your child, but it will likely make the diaper less effective in terms of sealing, which means less protection against leaks. Leaks might happen a little more often, and they might be a little more severe.
Effectively it all comes down to storage: when stored properly, diapers will last for many years without issues that affect the efficacy of the diaper. The one exception to this rule is scented diapers.
The scent in scented diapers is constantly being released into the air, albeit only in minuscule amounts at a time. Even while they are packed up and sealed in a box, they are still losing some of their scents at a reasonably steady rate.
This means that older scented diapers (older than about three years) have likely lost their power to cover odors and can no longer help to make a smelly diaper smell a little fresher. Again, this isn’t going to harm your baby, but it might give your nostrils a little bit of trouble from time to time. But apart from this scent issue, and maybe a somewhat degraded adhesive or discolored elastic, there are no other problems that you’ll encounter with old diapers.
Dr. Jamie Freishtat from parents.com was asked about diaper expiration dates by a visitor to the website. He reached out to two of the biggest names in the business (Pampers and Huggies) to get information straight from the horse’s mouth. They both responded that their products do not have an expiration date. Perhaps most important to note, both manufacturers mentioned that the level of absorbency that their products provide does not diminish over time.
Do Adult Diapers Expire?
Just like child diapers, adult diapers are hardy and long-lasting. They can suffer from the same kind of issues that we just discussed in the child diaper section. If stored improperly, the elastic will discolor (and possibly become a little less effective, but not by much). Similarly, the adhesive that is used to seal sections of the diaper will degrade if exposed to too much heat over time. But, most importantly, like child diapers, the absorbency of the padding and cotton will not be affected by time; they will be able to handle just as much waste as brand new products straight off of the shelves, regardless of how old they are.
The main issue with old adult diapers, as with child diapers, is the scent. The vast majority of adult diapers are scented, and just like with child diapers, the scent will fade away with time (over a similar time frame: roughly three years). This can pose a much more serious problem than when a child’s diaper loses its scent.
Adult diapers are primarily used to deal with health issues while keeping the wearer functional and as independent as possible – and in a discreet way. Having people around you aware that you are wearing a diaper (especially a soiled one) can be embarrassing, to say the least. Discretion is the name of the game when it comes to adult diapers, and the stealthier the diaper (i.e., the better it covers up unpleasant odors), the better it is.
Manufacturers go to considerable extremes of effort and ingenuity to try to make their diapers as inconspicuous as possible (to the eyes and the nostrils). By using diapers with a less-than-optimal scent in them, you’re opening yourself up to potential embarrassment. What good is a diaper if you can’t rely on it to be discreet?
For this reason, we’d recommend that any scented adult diapers be disposed of after three years. Alternatively, you could save them for days you know you’re not going to be in public, meaning the discretion factor won’t be as important as it otherwise would be.
So there you have it. That’s about all there is to know about the expiration dates (or, more accurately, lack thereof) of diapers. There’s not much to it really. They don’t expire – not really.
Even years later, diapers remain as absorbent as the day you purchased them. The elastic and adhesive might become a little less effective if you keep them in less-than-ideal conditions, but as long as you’ve been keeping them in your home (and your home is at a reasonably moderate temperature), diapers are suitable to use for several years after you brought them.
However, as with everything, this information is general, and there are exceptions to every rule. We don’t want to be responsible for the stinky mess that might occur if you’ve got diapers that are very old and obviously damaged. So make sure that you
- check that the elastic is still functional,
- check that the adhesive is still sticky, and
- check that the scent is still strong (if that’s a critical feature for you).
If you do, then, in our opinion, you’ll be good to go.