How Do Swim Diapers Work, and Are They Necessary?

Whether it’s a day at the local splash pad, swimming lessons, or a family holiday at the beach, swim diapers get lots of use yearround for most little ones.

But what if you don’t have one, what are you to do? In this article, we’ll cover what you can and can’t use on baby at the pool (or lake or ocean) and splash pad and why. I’ll also touch swim diaper vs regular diaper differences, so let’s get right into it!

How Do Swim Diapers Work?

First things first, we need to understand how swim diapers work, and how they are different than regular cloth diapers; and they are different.

So, how do swim diapers work? While regular diapers are designed to bloat when they fill up with liquid; swim diapers are not.  Swim diapers are made to let the water out both for safety and because that’s actually the best way to hold the solids when it’s submerged in the water.

Safety: Swim Diapers vs Regular Diapers

If your baby’s diaper were to swell with water while they are playing at the beach or swimming in the pool, they would be weighed down. And we’re not talking a little bit, but a lot.

Diapers can hold a lot of liquid. Some fitted diapers were able to hold 30 oz of water. That’s nearly 2 lbs! Don’t forget the average weight of a 6-month-old is just 16.1 pounds for girls and 17.5 pounds for boys.

Two pounds is a lot for such a little one and is of course dangerous and could be even fatal in a swimming pool.

Function: How Do Swim Nappies Work?

Swim diapers also let the water out so that when you take baby out of the water the poop stays in the diaper. To really understand how this works, let’s talk about what happens when you try to use a cloth diaper cover in the pool.

Wait! Do Swim Diapers Hold Urine? Won’t the Pee Escape?

Naturally, when you hear that swim diapers are made to let the water out you may be wondering if swim diapers hold urine? The truth is that because swim diapers are designed not to hold water, but to let it out easily, they will let urine out too. So if you’ve ever questioned whether or not public pools really do get peed in, now you know for sure (thank goodness for chlorine)!

Swim diapers will also let out urine when a little one pees in them out of water, so make sure you change them back into a regular diaper as soon as they are done playing in the water.

I always think of my friend who suddenly asked, “Why is my lap warm?” while holding her little one as he was enjoying a snack after some fun at the splash park.

A note about EBF poop: If you’re exclusively breastfeeding (EBF), you’ll know that EBF poops can sometimes get runny. If your little’s poops are way more liquid than they are anything else, take that into consideration when heading out for some water play. A very watery poop may leak through swim diaper fabric, so be carefully watching for activity down there if you think this could happen.

Cloth Swim Diapers vs Disposable Swim Diapers

It’s worth mentioning the fact that the only difference between reusable swim diapers and disposable swim diapers, like Huggies’ Little Swimmers, or Pampers’ Splashers Swim Pants, is that you wash the reusable cloth swim diapers and toss the disposable ones.

Disposable swim diapers also do not absorb water (or urine), again for safety reasons.

Are Swim Diapers Necessary? Can Regular Diapers Go in The Pool?

But what do you do if you don’t have a swim diaper? Can you just use a cloth diaper cover as a makeshift swim diaper? Not really; but maybe.

When it comes to swimming in a pool (any size), lake, ocean, or other body of water, you’re going to need a proper swim diaper, for reasons I’ll explain below.  But for an impromptu trip to the local splash pad or run through a sprinkler, where baby is staying on land, a diaper cover can do the trick in a pinch if you make some special adjustments.

Why Cloth Diaper Covers Can’t Do the Same Thing in The Pool

Cloth diaper covers are great at keeping messes in on dry land, but diaper covers have a waterproof coating on them to ensure that your floor, clothes, couch, and lap stay dry. In the pool, a cloth diaper cover will slowly fill up with water around the waist and legs, and hold it there.  When you take your little one out of the pool, all that water can’t escape anywhere but through the leg openings, taking the poop right along with it.

Not only does no one want to swim with a Baby Ruth in the water, but many public swimming pools have specific requirements for swimming diapers that state the diaper can not be absorbent and must be able to contain solid waste.

It should be pretty obvious why, poop in the pool means E. coli, C. difficile, Giardia and other bacteria that can make and other bacteria that can make others sick. Often when a poop incident happens in a swimming pool the pool must be closed and treated, which means lost revenue and unhappy people.

What the Pool Does to Regular Cloth Diapers (Damage!)

It’s also important to note that swimming pools have a lot of chlorine in them (remember all that pee).  This chlorine will ruin the waterproofing on your diaper cover if exposed repeatedly. Since many diaper covers cost more than a good swim diaper, wearing a cloth diaper cover in the pool may not even make sense financially.

When Is Using a Cloth Diaper Cover as A Swim Diaper Ok?  

While diapers made for swimming are necessary for the pool, in my opinion (and I’m probably going to catch some flack for this), yes, you can use a cloth diaper cover as a swim diaper in a pinch at the splash pad or when playing with a sprinkler. What you can not use is an absorbent cloth diaper or cloth diaper inserts.

Put another way, you can ONLY use a cloth diaper cover, with no absorbent layers attached. This means no all-in-one diapers, all-in-two inserts, pocket diaper inserts, fitted diapers, prefold diapers, or flat diapers in the water, for reasons we’ll get into below.

I feel cloth diaper covers without absorbency are ok to use in these situations for two reasons:

  1. Your little one is not going to be submerged so their diaper won’t fill with water that will need to flow out of the legs. Poop should be contained inside the cover well; and
  2. Splash pads and sprinklers use potable (drinkable) water in most cases, which is not heavily chlorinated and so it shouldn’t do any damage to the cover chemically.

How to Use a Cloth Diaper Cover as A Swim Diaper on The Fly

If you decide to use a cloth diaper cover as a swim diaper on land, the first thing you’ll need to do is remove all of the absorbent inserts, prefolds, etc.

Next, you’ll want to readjust the cover’s rise and waist adjustments as once you take out the absorbent layers the fit will have changed. You want to make sure that the diaper is good and snug around the legs and waist so that no solids can get out of it. A swim diaper is designed to fit firmly to the body so that even when water is involved, there’s no chance of less-than-solid fecal matter from escaping.

Why Can’t I Use Absorbent Diapers at The Splash Pad?

As explained above, absorbent diapers will not only absorb urine but water as well. Wearing an absorbent diaper in the water will weigh your baby down significantly, which is always a safety risk even on land where throwing your little one’s balance off can mean lots of falls, scrapes, and bruises.

What’s My Washable Swim Diaper Recommendation?

Many retailers have come out with PUL-wrapped swim diapers lately. I don’t recommend them for all the reasons outlined above.

Two swim diapers stand out as being a cut above the rest, offering a non-waterproof solution that can still hold in a runny poop. They are:

1. AMP Swim Diapers

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AMP swim diapers are made of two layers of very soft micro-mesh. This fabric allows the diaper to retain solids while not catching or holding onto water from the pool. These swim diapers are not absorbent or waterproof, which again, makes them perfect for the pool.

These swim diapers come in two sizes:

  • Small fits 6-20lbs
  • Large fits 15-38lbs

An AMP Swim diaper was actually the first swim diaper I used for my daughter and I continued to use them until she was potty trained because it fit great, worked well, looked nice, and also came in a nice carrying bag.

2. AppleCheeks Swim Diapers

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My absolute favorite swim diaper is by AppleCheeks. Though they have three sizes available, I bought a size two, and it fit my daughter from about 4 or 5 months old until potty training because the fabric was so movable and it adjusted so well. I could actually still put it on her well after potty training if I had wanted to (and she did potty train late).

I also found the fabric to be the softest and most breathable compared to other swim diapers I tested. It’s actually made of a mesh material, which lets the water in and out, but it’s so trim and snug (which it can be because it’s so soft) that nothing is getting out of there.

Unfortunately, AppleCheeks was recently sold by its original Canadian owners to new owners in France; but they are still currently available at many local cloth diaper retailers in North America.

AppleCheeks Swim diapers are available at one of my recommended local cloth diaper retailers Cloth Diaper Kids, here, or also directly through their website.

Swim Diaper FAQ

How Many Swim Diapers Will You Need?

How many swim diapers you’ll need is going to depend on how often you’re going to take your little one swimming, but I recommend having at least two swim diapers on hand. You don’t want to have to leave the pool five minutes in because a poop happened and you don’t have a clean diaper. You also won’t want to put that swim diaper that smells like pee back on your baby after your lunch break, and you won’t want to be stuck if you get behind on laundry. Two swim diapers is a reasonable minimum, with three giving you a nice buffer to play with during those busy summer months.

Again, adjust that if you go to the pool a lot, are planning a beach vacation away from a washing machine, or if it’s rare for you to do water activities.

Do Swim Diapers Go Over Regular Diapers?

No. As explained above, your baby shouldn’t wear a regular diaper in the pool, lake, or ocean for safety reasons, and because it may actually lead to poop getting in the water.

Do Babies Wear Swim Diapers Under Swimsuit?

Babies do wear swim diapers under their swimsuits, they also often wear their swim diapers as their swimsuits. In fact, a good swim diaper with a coordinating rash guard makes a great swimsuit! It’s all personal preference.

Can You Use Swim Diapers as Regular Diapers?

While you now know that swim diapers can’t be used as regular diapers, what about the other way around; can swim diapers be used as regular diapers?

Maybe. If you have one of the swim diapers I don’t recommend, meaning one that’s made from PUL, you can absolutely use that as a cloth diaper cover by using it with cloth diaper inserts, prefolds, or flat diapers.

If, however, you have one of the swim diapers I do recommend above, which is made from non-waterproof mesh, these aren’t going to work as a diaper cover for you at all since they will just let the urine escape freely.

Can Chlorine Cause Diaper Rash?

Not really. Generally speaking, chlorinated water is safe for babies and young children, though some do claim it can cause diaper rash (while others claim it helps). However, a rash after the pool may be due to moisture against the skin. When we interviewed Dr. Garbi, the Chief Pediatrician of Blueberry Pediatrics, for our guide to cloth diapers and diaper rash, she explained that moisture against the skin is the number one cause of diaper rash.

With that said, if your child has highly sensitive skin or a severe diaper rash already, you may want to avoid chlorinated water.

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