What is the crystaline substance found in disposable diapers?

The crystals are probably coming from the "super absorbent layer" found in most disposable diapers. This layer consists of paper fluff and a chemical absorbent called sodium polyacrylate. Sodium polyacrylate is an amazing water absorber -- it can absorb 200 to 300 times its weight in tap water (even more if the water is distilled) and hold it in a gooey gel.

Sodium polyacrylate is a polymer, meaning that it consists of chains of identical units (monomers). The monomer for sodium polyacrylate is:


It is a pretty cool polymer -- shake the crystals out of a new diaper (or buy the crystals at a garden center) and add water to them. Pretty amazing!

There is concern in certain circles about the use of sodium polyacrylate next to a child's skin. The concern is often used as an argument against disposable diapers. talks about the issue briefly and will give you a sense of what people are concerned about.

These links will help you learn more:

    - polymer experiments - The other common use for sodium polyacrylate is as a water-retaining gel in houseplants. - The diaper page mentioned above talks about TSS and hints at a relation between TSS and sodium polyacrylate. This page offers a much clearer explanation of TSS.


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