Introduction: 11 Unusual Uses for Diapers

Disposable diapers are a hotly-debated product among infants and toddlers alike. Some object to them on ecological grounds; throwing away all of those poop burritos wrapped in ultra-absorbent tortillas can't be good for The Earth. Others laud them for their easy, no-mess design. Most just appreciate anything that doesn't leave a trail of feces down their legs.

Diapers (unused) are incredibly useful in non-baby applications. We're talking uses like:
  • fire and flood prevention
  • body odor mitigation
  • increasing crop yields
  • early fall skiing
  • ...and so much more.
Really, most of the uses are applications of the absorbent material in the diapers. But sodium polyacrylate isn't something you can just pick up down at the Piggly Wiggly. So we're talking about diapers. Disposable ones.

Read on for a hot, steaming load of knowledge.

Step 1: Mess-free Flowers

Do you need to carry fresh flowers? Do they need to stay watered? Are you concerned about spillage during transport?

Pretty much every day.*

Sprinkle some sodium polyacrylate into the water holding your flowers to make a gel. Your flowers will still receive all that sweet, succulent moisture. Just without the mess. Or you could carry a bouquet in a diaper, but that kind of undermines whatever point you were trying to make by giving a special somebody those flowers.

*Or just at prom, weddings, funerals, and the occasional day after a forgotten anniversary.

Step 2: Flame-retardant Gel

During a wildfire, some houses are covered in a flame-retardant gel made from the same stuff as disposable diapers. Flame retardant gels are made from sodium polyacrylate that absorbs many hundreds of times its own weight in water. The gel is composed of a bunch of little bubbles that are filled with water and wrapped in a polymer shell. That shell forms a thermal barrier that requires more heat energy to destroy than normal foams that are composed of air bubbles.

You can make your own gel by removing the sodium polyacrylate from a disposable diaper. Fireproof small items in your home by dipping a diaper in some water then wrapping it around the object that needs protection.

Going on Pampers raids to find enough diapers to protect your entire house is impractical. You're better off following the local fire department's advice on clearing brush from the immediate vicinity of your home, but it's good to know that you can keep your mint-condition action figures safe with a diaper if it comes down to it.

(Big thanks to Goodhart for providing the inspiration for this one in a comment thread on the "How to make a $20 ice pack for $2" Instructable.)

Step 3: Antiperspirant and Deodorant Wipes

You're a big kid now. Look what you can do. You even wear big kid pants.

The problems of youth are no more. You have new, big-kid problems. Like death, taxes, and extreme underarm* dampness. Whether at a job interview, on a first date, or reaching up for the handles on a bus, staying fresh is important. But it can be difficult. Once you've applied the antiperspirant/deodorant of your choice in the morning, that's it. Your armpit's destiny has been irrevocably established for the day. Or has it?

If you've got a diaper with you, you've got a chance to ameliorate any unanticipated perspiration. The absorbency of the sodium polyacrylate will slurp up whatever your sweat glands have decided to secrete. Some diapers are scented, so they'll even leave your pits smelling fresh as a baby's bottom.

So imagine this: you're riding the bus to a job interview with your first date. Your armpits are gushing like the opening sequence of the Beverly Hillbillies. You can feel the beads of sweat form on your skin and soak into your shirt. You discreetly remove a scented diaper from your bag, wipe down those pits with the chemical magic of the Dow corporation, and you're back in the game. Date went great, nailed the interview, and you didn't have to be the stinky person on the bus. All thanks to diapers.

*And other places.

Step 4: Ultimate Paper Towels

Bottom line, diapers are good at absorbing disconcerting volumes of filth. Next time you spill an entire bowl of cereal, milk and all, onto your travertine, try using a diaper to clean up the mess. You'll need to unfold it in such a way as to present the absorbent, sphincter-facing side of the diaper to the spill. Just perform a wipe/scoop with the diaper, then toss the whole mess into the garbage.

If you're on the go, use the hook and loop tabs on the side of the diaper to keep it sealed. Then you can carry your mess with you until you find an appropriate trash receptacle.

The sodium polyacrylate in the diaper is built to absorb liquids. In the diaper versus paper towels celebrity death match*, diapers are a clear favorite. They'll beat the pants clean off the competition. Just don't switch to diapers entirely, that might be rather cost-inefficient.

*Pampers baby vs. Brawny man.

Step 5: Soil Conditioner

The one problem with the soil in your garden: it's not laced with super absorbent polymers that deliver more water to a plant's roots than normal soil.

Remedy that with a sprinkling of sodium polyacrylate. It's been scientifically proven (is there any other way?) to increase the biomass and yield of wheat plants*. Just keep everything from completely drying out or the soil conditioner could end up sucking water away from your plants.

Check out the volume 20 of the 2004 issue of Soil Use and Management for more info. Or this link.

To bring the power of your diapers to bear in the garden, cut open the diaper to get the sodium polyacrylate out. You can apply it directly to the soil, or if you'd like to be more conservative, you can wrap the polymer in some cheese cloth to get the absorption effect without getting sodium polyacrylate all up in your dirt. Or just bury a wet diaper.

*Presumably this should work with other plants as well. I see an elementary school science fair project in the making...

Step 6: Fake Snow

If you have a child who wears/wore disposable diapers, you probably dreaded accidentally allowing one of them into the laundry.* Washing a diaper produces some interesting results. Namely, a white slush of sodium polyacrylate spattered all over your freshly-laundered scivvies.

You can make productive use of the immersed sodium polyacrylate by making your own fake snow. Just add some water to the sodium polyacrylate. You probably won't get enough of a yield to practice taking on moguls (snow bumps, not Rupert Murdoch), but it makes a fun lab experiment when teaching/learning about polymers.

Just don't dump this slush down the drain unless you want to explain how you gutted a diaper to make fake snow to a bemused plumber who will need to unclog your pipes. You won't be the person with the weirdest thing in their pipes, but you'll get mentioned to the plumber's loved ones over a meal at some point. There is no plumber-client privilege. To dispose of your fake snow, use the trash can. (Although I suspect with the proper chemical knowledge, you could fully disrupt the ionic bonds and chemically change the sodium polyacrylate into something that won't gum up the waterworks.)

*To eliminate this problem, run that load once more with salt instead of detergent. It'll disrupt the ionic balance and help you clean up without needing to pluck off each maggoty speck of damp diaper fluff.

Step 7: Self-inflating Flood Control Bags

When a flood is imminent, people start shoveling sand into bags to build makeshift levees in order to keep the rising water at bay. Shoveling sand into a sack is hard work. And sand doesn't expand much as it absorbs water.

But toss some sodium polyacrylate into a sack and you've got a flat-packable, self-inflating flood control bag that requires only the flood water itself to expand to full, water-blocking size.

It'll take you a fair number of diapers to make even one sack (and anybody who has watched news footage of people frantically filling bags knows that it takes a LOT of bags to divert an ornery torrent), so diapers might not be the best option when the Mighty Mississippi or Naughty Nile start overflowing their banks. But they might give you a bit of a head start if you are caught by surprise by the Perfect Storm and a nearby drainage ditch. Or a particularly splashy bath. Or an obnoxious neighbor who aims his downspouts at your basement.

(You can see an example of the retail version here. You can DIY more by purchasing bags and sodium polyacrylate in bulk.)

Step 8: Rescue Waterlogged Books

Oh no! You borrowed Pride and Prejudice from a friend, lit some candles, drew yourself a bath, and promptly dropped the novel into your lavender-scented bathwater.

Book: ruined. Friendship: strained. Relaxing soak: suddenly stressful.

Unless you've got a diaper on hand. In which case, you can save two out of three. Just open the diaper up, insert it in between the dampened pages, and let the sodium polyacrylate slurp up your delicious autumn treat. Close the book around the diaper, prop the book up out of the sun, run a fan, and wait.

Some notes: If your book has glossy pages, you'll need to isolate each individual page in order to prevent making a brick of stuck-together pages. The National Archives and Records Administration Preservation Program says you've got 48 hours to act in order to prevent mold and mildew. They also do not mention this trick. Which leads me to believe that it doesn't scale well, but it'll work for smaller spills.

Step 9: Ice Pack

A freezer bag. Some alcohol. Some water. And a diaper. Apart, they are merely a normal shopping trip. When combined, however, they form a Megazord of ice-packy goodness.

royalestel shared the instructions for making your very own DIY ice pack. Check it out at How to make a $20 ice pack for $2.

If you are not inclined to click through to his awesome 'ible, here's the basic premise:

Dribble a cup of alcohol into the diaper.
Then soak it in water.
Bag it.
Freeze it.
Slap it onto an aching body part or into your lunch box.

The alcohol keeps the water from completely freezing. The sodium polyacrylate keeps the liquids suspended in a gel. And you're only out a diaper and a a freezer bag. But you gain temporary relief from pain or warm beverages.

Step 10: Treat Equine Lameness

With horses, it's all fun and games until someone loses a hoof. If any of the horses in your life are suffering from a hoof abscess or other infection, you can use disposable diapers as part of a poultice to localize abscesses or draw out inflammation. Just use an over-the-counter hoof poultice or a DIY mix of wheat bran and Epsom salts, then wrap the hoof in diapers for a warm, moist environment without the deleterious effects of completely soaking the foot over time. Because constant immersion weakens the hoof walls, a disposable diaper makes an inexpensive and breathable bandage.

But don't take it from me. Here's what Stephen E. O'Grady, DVM, MRCVS, has to say about it:

An ideal foot bandage is a medium-sized disposable diaper covering the enclosed medication. For more padding, use multiple diapers. For a sweating effect, use plastic-covered diapers and duct tape. For more breathing, use non-plastic covered diapers and gauze bandage. The bandaged foot is protected as well as medicated.

Your mileage (and horsepower) may vary.

Step 11: Pranks

Another great project from Instructables...

The Crazy Diaper Prank from Kipkay is less useful but more amusing. Check it out. If you watch the video, you'll get two pranks for the price of one.

One prank involves microwaving a candy bar inside of a diaper then eating the gooey mess publicly.

The other uses the sodium polyacrylate crystals (or pee pee crystals as Kipkay calls them) to solidify someone's water when they are not looking. It takes about 20 seconds to completely gel up. If you do this in a restaurant, let the waitstaff know that they shouldn't toss the mess into a sink.

Step 12: Disposable Diaper in the Washing Machine?

Oops! If you inadvertently washed a disposable diaper in the washing machine, there's an easy fix:

First, here's what a major diaper manufacturer recommends:

    1.) Put load of laundry into the dryer as is (with the jelly beads).
    2.) Drying laundry will cause gel to bead up and fall off clothing; most beads will collect in lint filter.
    3.) You may need to dry laundry longer than usual to collect beads
    4.) When laundry is dry shake it outside
    5.) To clean the washing machine, simply use rinse cycle and wipe inside of washing machine

Second, the power of chemistry (quite possibly apocryphal, unless any chemistry experts want to weigh in):
  1.     Leave the load in the washer
  2.     Run the load again with salt instead of detergent
  3.     The salt should destroy the –CH2CH(CO2Na)– monomers, thus eliminating the obnoxious gel beads
  4.     Dry normally