The interior of a disposable diaper contains a super absorbent polymer (SAP) that is derived from petroleum. It’s not clear on whether there’s been sufficient testing done on it so I wouldn’t carry out this experiment too often.
A while back I had the strap of a disposable diaper break while trying to put it one of my kids. Instead of tossing it out I decided to set it aside for a fun sensory activity. A couple times I saw it and wondered why there was a diaper set aside before I remembered what it was laid out for before I finally got around to using it.
As the inside of all disposable diapers contains Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP) which hasn’t been proven to not be toxic I decided to have Ada pour the water onto the diaper and watch the water be absorbed before finally cutting into the diaper. I figured that way was better than directly opening it while it was still dry and potentially breathing it in. The diaper absorbs a lot of water! While your child is pouring the water you can compare it to pee (for fun you could add food dye though I haven’t tried it yet) and ask them what’s happening? Where did the water go? When you’re in your bed (our disposables are used at night) what happens when you pee?
After it looked like the diaper absorbed as much water as it could we cut it open and Ada pulled out some of the contents. At this point have your child describe what they see and feel. Ada told me it was “weird and mucky! It’s fluffy. It’s messy”. I then shook out the outer wrapper of the diaper over the sensory bin to get all of the contents out before throwing the outer casing into the garbage. You can then play with the resulting ‘snow’ and try to make a ball or a snowman. You could always add more water at any point and watch it get sucked back up again.
I then pulled out our arctic animals for Ada to play with in her ‘snow’ sensory bin. I found the water kept getting sucked up so we added more several times. If you add too much water the bits float around and look like melted ice crystals. And then, because she could, Ada requested flour and cupcake liners to make cupcakes out of the ‘snow’… though I decided I didn’t want to clean up that mess and instead redirected her towards giving the animals a bath and gave her a container of water for the ‘bathtub’. She then exchanged the animals for baking supplies… and didn’t get her flour.
Once she was done plating I had her fill the mixing bowl with the ‘snow’ and wrapped it to play with the next day. I left it out at room temperature and played with it again two days later. As I’m not sure how long it would remain good for I extended the play again by having Ada fill up a freezer bag with the arctic animals and as much ‘snow’ would fit in it and froze it. I was going to pull it out after a couple hours but instead ended up leaving it there for longer. When we pulled it out it was rock hard (ice cube) and Ada wasn’t patient working the pieces out so we ended up speeding up the process with boiling water from the kettle. I made sure to stir up the water and ice and checking the resulting water’s temperature to make sure it wasn’t too hot to play with after each hot water addition before letting her back at it. The first time I poured the boiling water over the center so there was a little dip there. The second time I had her pick a side and an animal I should focus on and I split the pouring between the animal (her choice) and the center (mine) so over time there was a hole in the center of the ice in addition to her preferred animals coming out. Afterwards pouring the water several times I noticed it remained warm after a stir or two so I pointed out to Ada that the water was warmer than the ice and had her play with it as it slowly melted.
When it finally all melted, after repeatedly asking for it to melt the entire times, Ada asked me where the ice was and told me she wanted it back… so I gave her some ice cubes I had in the freezer for ice bergs floating in her snowy ocean.
While cleaning up the excess snow was either thrown out in the garbage (if still solid-ish) or tossed down the toilet (if really watered down). If you include toys you also run the risk of it going down the kitchen sink when cleaning the toys off. Overall I wasn’t sure what the best way to get rid of the ‘snow’ was. I’m also not sure if it loses the water over time (like water beads) or not. When we’re done playing with growing water balls I normally throw them in the garden to help retain water and release it over time but with the SAP this stuff I figured I didn’t want it in the garden. I ended up not being patient enough to wait to see if it would dry out and instead used a damp paper towel to wipe up the last of the ‘snow’ from the floor and table.
Since we played with it, I saw on a Facebook post where someone had a diaper explode over her floor. She said sweeping made it worse and ended up adding baking soda to the spilled diaper insert, waited ten minutes, and then easily swept up. Not sure what brand of diaper they had and if the brand would change anything, but had to mention since I could see trying this method the next time I had to clean this up.
Overall I wouldn’t carry this experiment out too often or with children that would taste it as they played. I’m really glad we tried though and could see playing with it again especially once Zoey understands to not suck her thumb during sensory play. It was a fun experiment that stuck with Ada for awhile as she repeatedly told Matt (daddy) about it many times over the following week. I’d love to hear how your child enjoyed the activity and how you made it your own. Feel free to comment below, post on my Facebook page, or connect with me on Instagram.