Products and Equipment

National Continence Helpline

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Types of disposable pads and pants

Disposable continence products:

  • help manage the symptoms of bladder and bowel control problems
  • may be needed for a short time during treatment
  • can be used long-term for people with bladder and bowel problems that can't be cured.

Some people with incontinence may find that it gets worse if they rely on pads rather than getting treatment. Incontinence should never be thought of as normal and needs to be investigated. It can often be cured or better managed with the right assessment and treatment from a continence nurse advisor, general practitioner (GP) or disability-specific nurse who knows how to manage incontinence.

Continence products can help people who have incontinence to stay dry, comfortable and lead a normal life. Pads and pants come in many shapes, sizes and absorbency. They can be disposable or reusable (washable). Disposable products are designed to be used once and then thrown away. A large variety of continence products can be bought at pharmacies and supermarkets, or from companies that supply medical equipment. Choosing the right product to meet the needs of the person you support is very important. They should have a continence assessment to find the best products for them.

Some people may be able to get some help to pay for these products through a subsidy scheme.


  • are bowl-shaped to stop leaks
  • are designed for urine
  • have a sticky back to stick to form-fitting underwear
  • come in men's and women's styles
  • are good for light to moderate bladder leakage but not for faecal incontinence.

Pull-up pants:

  • look like normal underwear
  • are very secure and stay in place
  • are good for urinary incontinence and faecal incontinence.

Pad & pants system:

  • these pads don't have a sticky back and are worn with washable mesh pants that hold the pad in place
  • have a stay dry cover and a plastic back so urine doesn't leak through to clothing
  • can be used with booster pads to increase absorbency
  • must fit closely to the body to stop leaks and prevent skin rashes and tears
  • are good for urinary incontinence and faecal incontinence.

All-in-one pads:

  • are containment pants for heavy urine loss and faecal incontinence
  • need to be sized properly by a continence nurse advisor to make sure they fit properly
  • are suitable for people who can't walk or stand and can be changed when the wearer is lying down.
  • some are designed for faecal incontinence with built-in odour control.

What is the difference between continence and sanitary pads?

Many people think that continence and sanitary pads are the same and use sanitary pads for incontinence as they are cheaper, easier to find and less embarrassing to purchase. However, sanitary pads are designed to absorb blood not urine and can't absorb urine quickly enough causing them to leak. Watch this video for a demonstration on the difference in absorbency between sanitary and continence pads.

What are continence products made of?

Continence products are made of absorbent materials that channel the liquid from the middle to the ends of the pad. Most products have a stay-dry cover to protect the skin from urine and faeces. Watch this video for a demonstration of SAPS powder which is found in many continence products.

Continence products absorbency

Continence products come in a wide variety of absorbencies. A continence assessment can be helpful to work out the best products for the person you support. Everyone has their own preferences. Some people want a product with less absorbency during the day when they can get to a toilet more quickly and a higher absorbency at night.

Different product companies have different ways to show how much a product can absorb. It is important to read the packet carefully to find out the product's capacity and whether it has indicators which show when the product needs changing.

Watch this video for a demonstration of the capacity of a larger absorbency pad.

Who can help you choose?

A continence nurse advisor can:

  • discuss which continence products best suit the person's needs
  • help choose the right continence products
  • teach you, the person you support and their family how to use and care for the continence products recommended.

Other health care professionals, such as an occupational therapist, physiotherapist or GP, may be able to help or refer you to someone else.

Need more help? Call the National Continence Helpline on 18OO 33 OO 66 and talk to a continence nurse advisor.

Extra Resources

Take the Quiz

Question 1

Incontinence can be managed with continence products, however:

incontinence is normal in older people

incontinence can never be cured

incontinence is never normal and should be investigated.

continence pads are only useful for long term incontinence problems.

Question 2

Pads and pants come in many shapes, sizes and absorbencies, therefore:

continence pads and pants are only available in pharmacies and supermarkets

any pads will fix the person's incontinence problem

the person needs should be considered when choosing products

the cheapest product will be the best.

Question 3

Disposable pads and pants:

are not very absorbent, so a big one is always better

should always be used for older people 'just in case'

are a better option than reusable products which are too expensive

are made to be used once and then thrown away.

Question 4

Pad and pant system pads:

should always be the first choice for people who can't move quickly

have a adjustable tabs to stop people moving their pads

can be used several times

can leak if they don't fit closely.

This information is not a substitute for independent professional advice.