How to buy the best continence products
Pads and underwear – so many options, so much confusion.
Making sense of continence products
Continence products help people manage urinary incontinence. According to a report from Deloitte, in 2010 there were 4.2 million Australians aged 15 and over living with this condition.
One of the most difficult things you'll encounter when buying continence products is trying to compare the offering between brands, which is why we decided to test all the continence pads and underwear products we could find on the market. (See how we test continence products for more details.)
In this guide we look at:
- What is incontinence?
- Types of continence products
- What to look for
- Which continence product do I need?
- How much do continence products cost?
- How do I dispose of continence products?
Incontinence is where, for any number of reasons, the muscles of the bladder or bowel have poor control, resulting in loss of urine from the bladder (urinary incontinence) or bowel motion, faeces or wind from the bowel (bowel incontinence).
Types of continence products
Sometimes incontinence products are used for a short term during medical procedures, or a longer period if the symptom is longer lasting.
There are three main types of products to manage incontinence:
- liners (light leakage)
- pads (moderate leakage)
- underwear (heavy leakage).
What to look for
There's so much variation in the language that brands use to describe their products, it can be very difficult to compare. Here are some of the basic features you'll come across.
Within each of these categories, there are levels of leakage they're designed to suit. Manufacturers tend to use images of 'droplets' on their packaging to describe their absorbency rate, but they all use different ratings so it's tricky to compare between brands.
Some products are better than others at protecting you from feeling wet.
Thickness of product
Some pads, liners and underwear are thicker than others, which can affect how discreet you think the product looks and feels.
Manufacturers use various phrases to describe the size of the product – such as long, extra, regular, medium, super ... and then there's the actual size each product is available in, which include long, regular, light, S/M/L/XL, and 'one size fits all'. Sometimes these relate to length, sometimes flow of leakage – again, all relative within brands and with zero relation between brands.
Some products define the gender they are recommended for – this seems to be marketing in many cases, apart from the pouch characteristic which has a design to accommodate the male appendage.
Other claims products may make include:
- dermatologically tested
- suitable for sensitive skin
- odour control
- latex free
- PEFC FSC or Sustainable Forest Initiative Certified
Which continence product do I need?
Your doctor, continence nurse or GP can advise you on the type of product to look for, and many manufacturers offer free samples so you can try before you buy. This is a great option that we recommend you take up, and we've indicated in the comparison table in our product review which brands can send you a free sample.
First though, you'll need to know just how much leakage you're prone to – this is the best indicator for what product you'll need.
There are some simple tests your GP can guide you in to assess this.
How much do continence products cost?
They range from $3.25 for a pack of 14 pads up to $34.99 for a pack of 14 underwear. The per product cost can range from $0.23 to $2.60.
Depending on how often you need to wear them, this can add up, so look to buy in bulk or on sale where possible.
There are also financial subsidies for continence products available in certain circumstances.
For those that don't qualify for subsidies, some ingenious consumers have identified that nappies are actually much less expensive in many cases when it comes to underwear type incontinence products, so they buy these and adhesive strips - after some DIY work on the nappies (cutting though the waist restraint), they have a budget option.
All of the continence products we reviewed are disposable in a bin. None of them are made of biodegradable materials and none can be flushed down a toilet.
- See our Living with incontinence article for more useful information.