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Diaper gel (sodium polyacrylate) for water retention?

Craig Dobbelyu

Joined: Dec 22, 2011
Posts: 1188
Location: Maine (zone 5)
This is something I've been thinking about for a while. My family of four produces little waste with the exception of diapers and some plastic packaging. I used to use cloth diapers until we moved here, but the water here has so much mineral content that the kids started getting rashes from the diapers. Plus it began to get very time consuming.

SO... The disposable diapers have a sodium polyacrylate fill that soak up 200 times it's weight in liquid. If it were feasible to remove that sodium polyacrylate + Urine from the diaper shell would it be at all useful to amend soils for water retention? I know the urine would be helpful but sodium polyacrylate is a salt so I don't know if it would mess with the salinity of the soil in such a way that would cause problems growing plants. I'm not sure it would OK for food production but maybe in beneficial insect gardens.

Does anyone have any input on this?

A LOT of waste in landfills is disposable diapers and it would be nice to find a use for them.

I know there are compostable diapers out there and there are a lot of opinions about diapers but this question is more about the sodium polyacrylate and Permaculture uses for it.

"You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result”


- Compost in training
Tyler Ludens

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5728
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
Personally I wouldn't use it. There are varying reports of its toxicity.

"Emergency Overview
Sodium polyacrylate is a white, granular, odorless polymer that yields a gel-like material with the addition of
water. It is insoluble in water and causes extremely slippery conditions when wet. Although not regulated
as a hazardous material, the respirable dust is potential respiratory tract irritant. The manufacturer
recommends an eight-hour exposure limit of 0.05 mg/m³.
Potential Health Effects: Eyes
Dust may cause burning, drying, itching, and other discomfort, resulting in reddening of the eyes.
Potential Health Effects: Skin
Exposure to the dust, such as in manufacturing, may aggravate existing skin conditions due to drying
Potential Health Effects: Ingestion
Although not a likely route of entry, tests have shown that polyacrylate absorbents are non-toxic if ingested.
However, as in any instance of non-food consumption, seek medical attention in the event of any adverse
Potential Health Effects: Inhalation
Exposure to respirable dust may cause respiratory tract and lung irritation and may aggravate existing
respiratory conditions."


Idle dreamer

Craig Dobbelyu

Joined: Dec 22, 2011
Posts: 1188
Location: Maine (zone 5)
It seems that the major problems with it have to do with the sodium polyacrylate in dry powder form. once wet it seems relatively inert.

I don't really have any intention of trying it as I live in a pretty wet area and water isn't an issue for me ( yet).

I guess I was thinking that it might be useful is situations where soils were so dry that life couldn't get a foothold. Desert remediation In such a case a waste product like sodium polyacrylate from used diapers might hold enough water and mineral content to get something established. I wonder if anything (fungus?) eats the stuff. There isn't info on biodegradability but that's not to say that there isn't something that will break it down.

I guess there are a lot of "IF's" here but it was just something on my mind I thought I'd share. Maybe somebody out there has a solution for this stuff.

I originally got to thinking about this because of thinking about how much pee i was throwing in the trash everyday. I wanted to see if there was a way to keep that nutrient here on site. There's no way to separate it from the gel so I looked into sodium polyacrylate and tried to think how it could be used.

Tyler Ludens

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5728
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
I think some of these gel products are already used in agriculture. I'm not convinced they have a place in permaculture. I'm not sure they ought to have a place on baby backsides either.....
Yone' Ward

Joined: Feb 14, 2012
Posts: 135
Location: Springdale, WA USA - Cold Mediterranean Climate
Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Sodium, Inert, only hazards seem involve inhalation and getting it in your eye. I'm not seeing much in the way of toxic materials. If you mix it in your soil and then stop tilling, I don't see it as a hazard.

Just call me Uncle Rice.
17 years in a straw bale house.
lee davis

Joined: May 29, 2012
Posts: 1
I was googling for info on something called "squishy baff" that my kids want.
I found your query that way, and also found this (sorry about the ugly link)

It's a journal article "Polyacrylamide Polymer and Salinity Effects on Water Requirement of Conocarpus lancifolius and Selected Properties of Sandy Loam Soil" that gives a lot of breakdown about the chemical properties of polyacrylamide gels in soil and how they affect plant growth.

I would not use it near structures due to it's expansion potential. Clay is bad enough, this stuff sounds like it could screw up a slab foundation pretty thoroughly ;->
From what I'm reading here, I don't think I'd personally worry about using it on food crops. There's weirder/worse stuff already in the soil.

The urine is a factor only in that it can attract/nurture bacteria that you might not want around your food plants, and I know that some infant/toddler immunzations carry a warning about safe handling of wastes for a period of time following the immunizations, so if that's a factor, you'd want to read up on it more.

But I don't think I'd have a problem using it for ornamentals and bug-gardens (although in theory the bacteria could harm the bugs, but they seem to do ok around my cat's "Facilities", so I probably wouldn't worry about it in practice.
(And I might let my kids play with it, once saturated, but probably not bathe in it ;-> )
R Scott

Joined: Apr 13, 2012
Posts: 3047
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
It is an ingredient in many indoor potting soils--it helps potted plants maintain water. I would use it for that purpose without reservations.
"You must be the change you want to see in the world." "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." --Mahatma Gandhi
"Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words." --Francis of Assisi. "Family farms work when the whole family works the farm." -- Adam Klaus
subject: Diaper gel (sodium polyacrylate) for water retention?