(Rather read the information? Here you go.)

If you have an incontinent person in your home, you will soon be doing battle against two relentless foes: odor and stains. Don’t despair. There are steps you can take and products you can use to incontinence-proof your environment.


Underpads can be used to protect the surface of anything your family member sits or lies down on. They are sometimes called “chair pads” or “bed pads” - but you get the idea. It’s always best to be proactive and prevent damage before it occurs, of course. Underpads come in both disposable and washable varieties. Disposable pads can be great time-savers; and they are also handy if you are out and about, offering protection for your car seat and also your sister-in-law’s couch.

Washable pads are more expensive upfront but are very economical in the long run. They have the advantage of being quilted, so the absorbent fill does not bunch up. They also tend to stay in place better, especially on a bed - and they do not make any annoying crinkly sounds. Both disposable and washable underpads come in different sizes, so you can select the one that is best for your family member. Disposable underpads also come in different absorbencies, so you can really fine-tune to exactly what works in your home.

Mattress Protectors

If you don’t have a mattress protector for your incontinent family member, you need one. You will thank yourself, believe me. There are a couple of different kinds. The most common is a vinyl cover that encases the mattress. They can be zippered or have elastic corners. The main advantage of vinyl covers is that they are very inexpensive. The disadvantage of a vinyl cover, in my experience, is that they are prone to rip! If your family member does not move around when he/she sleeps, a vinyl cover might work well. However, if they are like most people, you would be wise to invest in a waterproof mattress cover with a quilted fabric top. They are more expensive but are much more durable.


Use both? What would be the point of that? Well, I recommend using both if we are talking about a mattress. For one thing, a waterproof mattress protector can be a bear to wash. You don’t want to be doing that every day, trust me. However, you know you will sleep a lot better at night knowing the entire mattress is protected. So what’s a caregiver to do? 

For the ultimate in protection (and a minimum in your wash load), use a waterproof mattress protector and a bed pad. Place the bed pad across the bed - in the spot that is likely to get wet - right over the bottom sheet. Then if a nighttime accident occurs, simply remove the wet bed pad and replace it with a clean one. If it was a really big accident, and the sheet got wet beyond the bed pad...well, at least your mattress will have been protected.

At any given time over the last twenty-five years, I have had up to three incontinent people in my home; and this two-step method has worked for me. If I can save you the grief and sheer ickiness of a urine-soaked mattress, I will be very gratified. 

Joan Van Veen, Mom of two guys with autism and VP of Marketing at PMF