Incontinence bed pads protect both the bedding and the person’s skin when an incident occurs. They keep the bedding, linens, mattress, mattress pad – and the person – dry by quickly absorbing liquids and moving them away from the skin.
Disposable bed pads are one-time use items that are made of plastic topped with a polymer absorbent fluff layer while washable bed pads are made of cloth and fabric blends and can be washed for multiple uses.
Which bed pad is best for you? Let’s take a closer look.
Disposable vs. Washable Bed Pads: Which Is Best For You?
If you are new to using underpads for bed and mattress protection, the first decision to make is whether you want to use washable incontinence pads or disposable ones. Here is a quick comparison of the two:
Most people think that washable bed pads look better because they come in a wide range of colors and designs. The top layer is almost always off-white but they do have a quilted design in them. Disposables are generally blue, green, or pink plastic backed and have a more “medical” appearance.
Generally, a reusable pad is more absorbent and will hold more liquid than a disposable pad. Most washable pads use cotton/poly blends as the absorbent layer compared to disposables which use chemical polymers.
Because reusable underpads stay in place better, they are also more comfortable because they don’t wrinkle and bunch up under a senior’s sensitive skin. Disposable pads can be noisy and make a crinkling noise when the user moves in bed.
Disposable underpads are simply thrown away once soiled. Reusable options however are machine washable and can be cleaned – simply shake off any “physical matter” on the pad into the toilet and wash the pad. Some caregivers, however, aren’t going to want to deal with this.
Disposable pads are more expensive on a per use basis because they are single use. Washable pads can be used multiple times before needing to be thrown away and are cheaper per use.
Disposable pads are easier to travel with because they don’t require access to a washing machine. But you will have to carry a larger quantity of them than reusable pads.
Disposable vs. Washable Bed Pads: The Bottom Line
Washable pads are generally more absorbent, have a nicer appearance, cost less per use, and better for the environment. Disposable incontinence bed pads are more convenient and easier to use but can be noisy and have to be thrown away after each use.
Best Washable Bed Pads for Incontinence
If you prefer a reusable and washable bed pad because of their cost effectiveness, absorbency, and better visual appeal, here are my recommended products:
Peapod mats are different from most other bed pads you’ll see on the market. They are super soft, highly absorbent, breathable and absolutely silent too!
The top layer is a soft and breathable terry cotton and covers a highly absorbent polyester layer (up to 1 liter) that also disperses liquid so that it is moved quickly away from the skin. The bottom layer is waterproof and has a brushed texture to it so that it grips the bed sheets and stays in place. Because all these materials are soft and flexible, there is no noise or crinkling either.
These mats are 100% waterproof and can be washed 300 to 500 times before needing to be replaced. They come in a chair size of 3’ X 3’ and a bed size of 3’ X 5’ and come in several colors including mauve and violet.
Vive Health also makes a high quality washable underpad for incontinent older adults that is also quite affordable.
Their pads are made of a soft cotton poly blend and users rave about their absorbency. They are also noted to be quiet when used and stay in place thanks to the non-slip waterproof backing. You get a 60 day warranty with this one too. It does only come in the green color however.
The sheet shield is a unique combination product that uses a reusable, waterproof half-sized bed sheet designed specifically for full and queen beds.
The generous 36” wide by 80” or 100” long provides a large protective area and is long enough to be tucked between the mattress and the box spring to keep it in place. The outer layers are made of terry blend fabric and are soft and absorbent and there is a waterproof layer in between. This means, these protectors are reversible and you don’t have to worry about which side goes up.
Of course, they are machine washable and remain soft even after hundreds of washes. Some other vinyl or rubber backed products get stiff over time after multiple washes.
- Absorbs up to 11 cups
- 6 Sizes: from 21” X 21” to 74” X 34”
- 4 layer cotton/poly construction
- Grippy non-slip waterproof backing
- 3 color choices: white, pink, blue
- Comes in a pack of 4
You might be familiar with the Gorilla Grip brand of adhesive products which are known to provide strong bonds that last. These underpads share the Gorilla Grip brand name and are specifically designed to stay in place and not move while they are being used – without using their glue of course!
Don’t let the toddler information in the description fool you. I chose these pads for my list because of their super absorbency. The standard bed size holds up to 8 cups of liquid while the largest size can hold up to 11 cups. Honestly, the human bladder doesn’t hold that much liquid, but the more absorbency there is the better it will spread through the pad. This prevents liquid and bleed through onto the bedding below.
These pads use a 4 layer design. The facing material is a soft quilted cotton blend that is soft to the touch without being thick and bulky. The absorbent layer is multiple layers of polyester. These pads last up to 300 washes with testing to back it up.
Also, these pads offer the widest range of sizes of any of my recommendations. You can get a pad as small as 21”X21” for chairs and furniture up to 76”X34” for a large bed. There are even three color choices too: white, blue, and pink.
I used to work for Medline back in my early working days and sold a ton of these to nursing homes for use with their residents. And I can tell you: if they didn’t work, my customers would not have used them!
These pads typically come in the 34” x 36” size only which is large enough for full width coverage of a home hospital bed or twin. They are large enough too for use by one person in a co-sleeping arrangement but they will not cover the full width of any bed larger than a twin.
The backing is a waterproof vinyl barrier with textured knitting that keeps it from scooting around when the user is lying on it. The facing material is a 55% cotton/45% poly blend twill with several absorbent layers between them.
When it comes to washing and durability, remember that these bed pads were designed for processing in commercial laundries of healthcare facilities. They are designed to last at least 300 washes even in that harsh environment.
They only come in pink which might be a turn off for some folks though.
Here is one more option if you want an oversized bed pad for incontinence that is well-rated and has a great reputation.
The Epica pads are 34” X 52” to cross the width of most beds and protect the mattress and linen underneath. The facing fabric is a soft 50/50 blend and will wick moisture away from the skin quickly.
These pads are only 3 layers though vs the 4 layers of many of my other recommendations. However, the reviews for this product are outstanding and many users comment on how soft the facing material is.
They are available in a single or 2 pack.
Best Disposable Bed Pads for Incontinence
Maybe you prefer the convenience and ease of use of a disposable bed pad. Here are my recommended disposable underpads for protecting your bed:
When I sold these types of products to nursing homes, it was often that they were referred to as peach pads – here you see why. Prevail is a common brand used in long term care settings across the country.
Earlier, I mentioned that disposable pads are noisy and can bunch up under the users. Prevail has a patented “Integra Mat” that keeps the top layer of the pad from separating from the bottom and shifting and wrinkling. Plus, because of the way they seal their pads, there are no plastic edges to make contact with the skin.
Medline is another brand that is well-known for providing quality products to the nursing home and long term care industry. Their Protection Plus line of incontinence products is one of their best sellers too – because they work.
I am recommending them here because they come in lots of options in both size and absorbency. If the user is a heavy wetter, go for the ultra for the best protection. If not, the standard ones are fine (and less expensive!). Plus, the range of sizes is sufficient for covering a small chair to a full sized bed.
My final recommended disposable bed pad for incontinence is the McKesson Super Underpads which are a great choice for moderate wetters.
These McKesson pads use a polymer that not only absorbs the liquid, but it also neutralizes the pH and reduces the acidity of the urine. It also helps control odors if you can’t change it right away. Also, the edges ae heat sealed and covered with soft polypropylene so that they are gentle on skin too.
Important Features to Look For In Waterproof Bed Pads for Seniors
Here are the options you should consider when shopping for a bed pad for yourself or an incontinent loved one.
The size of the bed pad is an important consideration – you want to make sure you have the area that needs protection completely covered. Sizes range as small as 18”X18″ and as large as 34”X72”. For example, if you need protection for a queen sized bed you may want the 34″X52″ size. If you just need to cover a chair cushion, the 18″x24″ size is probably sufficient.
You want your incontinence pad to absorb quickly and completely. Heavy wetters need the most absorbency you can get. The package and description of any quality bed pad will tell you in ounces or milliliters how much liquid they absorb in tests. Disposable pads have multiple layers of protection.
Choose a pad with a soft facing material because, in most cases, the pad will be next to the user’s skin. Look for cotton or cotton blend in washable pads and non-woven polypropylene materials in disposable pads. This layer is designed to wick away moisture from the surface quickly and move it down to the absorbent layer keeping the patient dry.
The main function of the backing is to serve as a waterproof barrier and prevent fluids from penetrating the pad. Choose a pad that has a backing material that holds it in place. You don’t want the pad shift, wrinkling, or bunching up while it is being used. Often, these are textured vinyl or have stitching on them that helps. A reusable underpad tend to stay in place better than a disposable underpad.
The best bed pads for incontinence also address the odor by using odor controlling polymers and other treatments. This prevents embarrassment for the user and caregiver both.
Most bed pads are sold in multipacks, so make sure you know how many are in a pack when comparing prices. In general, reusable bed pads that are washable are more cost effective (per use) than disposable options over the long term.
Frequently Asked Questions About Waterproof Bed Pads
How do bed pads work?
Bed pads work by using multiple layers of materials to move and absorb liquid. The outer facing layer is a quilted material that is designed to wick moisture away from the skin quickly and move it deeper into the pad where it can be absorbed by the absorbent layers. The bottom layer is waterproof and stops the fluid from penetrating through the pad onto the bed mattress or bedding.
Where should you put a bed pad on a bed?
Pads can be placed in several areas and still remain effective. For people who are self-conscious or want to be more discreet, put the pad between the fitted sheet and the mattress pad. The drawback here is that the fitted sheet will get wet which could make the person uncomfortable.
Another most common place to put bed pads is to put it on top of the fitted sheet so that the bed linens stay (mostly) dry and there is no moisture against the person’s skin or bed clothes.
Of course, make sure they are right side up and the absorbent layer is towards the user and the waterproof backing is against the bed. The longer side of the bed pad should go across the bed, not head to toe.
What size incontinence pad do you need for your bed?
For a home hospital bed, you are going to want a bed pad that is at least 24” X 30” with 30” x 36” being optimal. For regular or adjustable beds, you could get away with a 36” wide pad if you are only placing it under one person but I recommend the 52” wide pads for regular beds to prevent runoff or leak around.
How is a bed pad supposed to feel?
The top of the bed pad should be soft and dry next to the skin. Between the top and bottom layers you should feel some puffy absorbent layers of material.
How long do washable bed pads last?
Many washable bed pads last 300 to 500 uses unless they get stained or damaged.
How do you clean reusable incontinence pads?
First, shake off any solid matter into a toilet. Then carefully fold the pad and place it in a sealed compartment until you are able to clean it fully.
When you are ready to launder it, place it in the washing machine and use cold water with standard laundry detergent. Do not use fabric softener because it will make the pad repel liquid instead of absorbing it. Do not use bleach because it can damage the absorbent fibers in the pad.
Dry the pad in your dryer on low. Note that you will probably have an extended dry time because the spin cycle won’t be able to get all the water out of the absorbent fabric.
You should always wash reusable underpads before using them the first time.
How often should I change washable incontinence pads?
Usually, you only need to change a washable incontinence pad when it has been used or soiled. If used overnight, you should always change it first thing in the morning.
How do you protect furniture from incontinence?
To protect furniture many of the recommended bed pads above can be used on furniture and chairs including recliners, lift chairs, dining chairs, etc. You’ll probably want a smaller size like 18” X 24” or 24” x 24” for most chairs. I have a guide to the best waterproof chair pads for elderly people if you’d like more info.
Which incontinence pads are the best for fecal incontinence?
NO bed pads by themselves are a great option for fecal incontinence. But if you must use them, change them as soon as they are soiled. Disposable pads tend to be a better choice because they can be balled up and thrown away. Washable pads may need extra cleaning care (scrubbing, stain treatment) if used with fecal incontinence. The best choice for fecal incontinence is briefs or pads that are made to insert into underwear.