Adult Pull-Ups vs. Diapers Explained in a Paragraph.

While choosing between adult pull-ups vs. diapers can be confusing, they protect from incontinence. Pull-ups are generally less bulky and feel like regular underwear. Diapers, however, are better at absorption and are easier to change, thanks to the removable side panels.

Adult pull-ups vs. adult diapers… which one to opt for?

The choice becomes much easier when you know the main pros and cons of each type of incontinence protection, so let’s waste no time.

Update: See our Best Adult Diapers (Detailed Review)

What’s the Difference Between Adult Pull-Ups vs. Adult Diapers?

First, a quick heads-up!

The main styles of incontinence products don’t have just one name, so let’s make sure we’re on the same page…

Adult pull-ups are also referred to as “incontinence underwear” and “incontinence pants.” 

Adult diapers, meanwhile, can often be called either “incontinence briefs” and “briefs with tabs.”

Confused? Don’t worry! 

The product terms should become clearer as you continue reading. But if you’re ever unsure, scroll back to this section for a quick review…

Sound like a plan? 

Okay, so what are the main differences between adult pull-ups and diapers? 

The easiest way to tell one from the other is by looking at their side panels. 

Diapers include panels that wrap around the hips for a stretchy, comfortable fit. Here’s what an adult diaper looks like:

Adult diapers feature side panels that wrap around the hips.

Most adult diapers also have refastenable tabs, which allow the user or their caregiver to make adjustments as needed. 

You’ll be able to see these tabs in the image below:

Adult diapers with refastenable tabs.

Now, what about adult pull-ups? 

This style of incontinence product will typically look a lot more like “normal” underwear. 

Whenever you need to change pull-ups, you can tear the material at the sides.

However, do bear in mind that — unlike diapers — pull-ups can’t be closed again once opened.

An example of adult pull-up underwear.

Side panels aren’t the only way in which adult pull-ups and diapers differ, though…

Let’s delve into the key advantages of each.

Choosing Between Adult Diapers vs. Pull-Ups

*Ding ding* 

In the red corner we have pull-ups (incontinence underwear), and in the blue corner we have diapers (incontinence briefs)… 

Which one’s your winner? 

The right choice will depend on your preferences and health needs.

If you’re looking for a discreet option, adult pull-ups are likely to be your best bet. They’re lighter and quieter than diapers. 

You may notice that the product descriptions for many pull-ups on the market include being “silent” as a key benefit. This makes sense, as most users don’t want to rustle when moving around — which can happen with diapers.

“Soft, silent, and skin-healthy” — Protective Pull-Up Underwear from Covidien

And as for adult diapers, they have two chief advantages over the pull-up underwear…

Firstly, diapers can offer protection from both bladder and bowel incontinence. 

While pull-ups soak up light to moderate urine voids, most aren’t designed to deal with heavier incontinence. 

Diapers can provide you with more peace of mind because they absorb a greater amount of urine (and stool).

The second advantage of adult diapers is how easy to use and safe they are for those with mobility restrictions. 

Unlike pull-ups, diapers don’t require you to bend down to bring the underwear over your feet and up your legs. 

Instead, the diapers can be secured using their side tabs. This makes it less of a nuisance to change when you’re away from home, as the tabs can be released in a matter of seconds. They’re also a practical option if you require the support of a caregiver when changing.

Are They Available for Men and Women?

Are They Available for Men and Women?Yes! You’ll find that most adult pull-ups and diapers on the market are available for both men and women.

If you’re searching for a unisex option, make sure to check the product description, like the one below:

Not all pull-ups are unisex, though. Some will be designed specifically for either men or women. 

Here are two examples:

What Activities Can You Do With Adult Pull-Ups and Diapers? 

Generally, adult pull-ups will be the better choice if you lead a busy, active lifestyle.

Pull-ups can be worn discreetly and securely under your clothing. Take it from one of Carewell's very own customers.

Hear it from a caregiver

"Pull-ups have given me more confidence in going out and attending activities and events. I wish I had started wearing them sooner!"

-Donna W.

Diapers are great for those with limited mobility, but the side tabs may be at risk of becoming loose during intense activities like jogging or cycling. 

And what if you’re a swimmer?

Fortunately, there’s a product that can help…

SwimMates Disposable Adult Pull-Up Underwear is ideal for those who love to get in the water! 

SwimMates Disposable Adult Pull-Up Underwear
SwimMates Disposable Adult Pull-Up Underwear

Price: $15.99 - $78.95

As of December 2020, the underwear has a 5/5 rating from over 80 reviews.

Shop Pull-ups for incontinence protection while swimming.

Frequently Asked Questions About Adult Pull-Ups

(a.k.a. Incontinence Underwear/Pants)

How Do Incontinence Pants Work

Incontinence pants (pull-up underwear) typically have an absorbent core and waterproof backing. Such features enable the pants to soak up light to moderate urine leaks and voids.

Different brands use different materials, but many boast the ability to pull moisture away from the skin. 

Odor guards are another common feature, to neutralize urine pH and provide freshness.

 How Often Should You Change Incontinence Pants?

How often you should change incontinence pants will depend on the frequency and amount of incontinence you experience day-to-day. 

The priority should be to maintain both comfort and skin hygiene. We’d recommend changing before your pants get too wet.

Studies show that wearers of adult diapers need to change diapers an average of five to eight times a day

Remember, incontinence pants tend to hold less fluid than diapers, so it’s better to change often rather than not regularly enough. 

Still, if you only tend to experience minor leaks, one to two changes per day may suffice.

Where to Buy Incontinence Underwear? 

Good news! You have plenty of options when it comes to buying incontinence underwear (adult pull-ups). 

Several respected brands have a wide range of products available…

Here are three of the most frequently bought pull-ups on the Carewell site:

TENA Extra Protective Incontinence Underwear, Extra Absorbency

TENA’s pull-up underwear has a Body-Close™ fit and full breathability. Its “W”-shaped high absorbency zone conforms to the curves of your body for a snug fit and channels liquids away from your skin.

Prevail Pull-Up Underwear, Maximum

These adult pull-ups from Prevail lock fluid in the core with its QUICK WICK MaxSoft technology.  The underwear has 100% breathability and a Skin Smart Fabric with aloe, chamomile, and vitamin E to keep your skin soft and healthy.

McKesson Ultra Pull-Up Underwear, Heavy

McKesson’s ultra pull-ups include an extra acquisition layer to protect your skin from moisture. The underwear has inner and outer leg guards to trap incontinence inside the product and odor guards to reduce the pH of urine, so you feel fresh at all times.

What’s the Best Incontinence Underwear for Overnight?

A variety of brands offer incontinence underwear for overnight use. 

The primary factor to pay attention to is the underwear’s level of absorbency, as you’ll need a product that keeps your skin dry for 7+ hours, rather than two to three hours at a time.

Who Should Use These:

  • Caring for themselves

  • Active and mobile

  • Moderately incontinent

  • Looking for overnight protection from urinary and bowel incontinence

Shop TENA Overnight Super Protective Incontinence Underwear

Who Should Use These:

  • With relative mobility and balance

  • Looking for overnight incontinence protection

  • Caring for themselves

  • Want the look and feel of regular underwear

Frequently Asked Questions About Adult Diapers

(a.k.a. Incontinence Briefs/Briefs with Tabs)

Adult diapers can make incontinence management much less of a hassle for those with limited mobility, due to the refastenable side tabs. 

But if you’re a family caregiver for a loved one with incontinence, it’s good to know how to put on an adult diaper safely and securely. 

There are five main steps. Let’s go through them one by one.

How To Put on an Adult Diaper

  • Step One:

    Wash your hands and put on disposable gloves, if possible. Fold the diaper in on itself (long-ways). Make sure to avoid touching the inside of the diaper. 

  • Step Two:

    Encourage the wearer to move onto their side and place the diaper between their legs. The backside (which is the larger side) of the diaper should face their rear. 

  • Step Three:

    Ask, or gently roll, the wearer onto their back. Keep the diaper smooth against the skin so it’s not bunched up at all. 

  • Step Four:

    Double-check that the position of the diaper is correct. Then, secure the side tabs to keep the diaper in place. The upper tabs should be at a downward angle when fastened and the lower tabs should face upwards.

  • Step Five:

    Ensure the leg seal of the diaper is tight enough against the skin to prevent leaks. Ask the wearer if they feel comfortable. If they are, then you’re all done. Nice teamwork!

How Long Can You Stay in a Wet Diaper?

How long you can stay in a wet diaper depends on the type of diaper you wear. The more wetness the diaper can absorb, the longer you’ll be able to keep it on.

We can’t give an exact figure here, as it varies a lot…

Wet cloth diapers will need to be changed sooner than diapers with super absorbent polymers (which contain crystals that draw moisture away from the skin).

Our advice is to always check the description of the product before you buy. For example, these Abena Abri-Form Premium Diapers with Tabs can hold up to 15 cups of liquid before they need to be replaced. Plus, they have a wetness indicator so you know when it’s time to change.

Shop Adult Diapers Now!

Final Thoughts

Thanks for reading today’s blog on adult pull-ups vs. diapers. Hopefully, you feel more sure of which type of incontinence protection is best for you.

See our care specialists’ top-recommended diapers for adults!

For further information on how to get support with managing incontinence, you’re welcome to give us a call.

Our lines are open 24/7! Call Now: (800) 696-CARE

Otherwise, you can email the Carewell family on:

Until next time!

Carewell Team

Recommended read: Smooth as Silk: Skincare Tips to Keep Immobile Adults Rash and Infection-Free

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Declan Davey
Declan Davey

Declan Davey is a health and wellness copywriter from London, UK. His background includes roles as a psychological therapist for Islington Memory Service, where he worked with family caregivers, and as a rehab assistant at Camden Neurology & Stroke Service.