Training Pants vs. Underwear: What’s the Difference?

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  • Training pants are absorbent pants designed to be worn when potty training.
  • Training pants will contain most accidents, leaving you with less laundry to do.
  • Wearing underwear instead of training pants may lead to faster potty training.

So you’ve decided on your potty training method and headed to the store to buy your toddler’s first potty. However, next to them on the shelf, you spot training pants. Disposable ones, waterproof ones, and even cloth ones! What are they and do you even need them? You need help. Training pants vs. underwear—what’s the difference and which is best?

What Are Training Pants?

Training pants are absorbent pants designed for wearing during potty training. You can find them in a wide range of styles and materials and the waistbands are elasticated. They’ll stop accidents from reaching your couch and carpets while still allowing your child to feel wet. 

What’s the Difference Between Training Pants and Diapers?

You might be thinking, That’s what a diaper does! However, training pants are less absorbent than diapers. If your toddler has an accident in their training pants, they’ll likely feel uncomfortable and will want to avoid it happening again.

The problem with diapers is that they’re so good at keeping your child dry they make potty training difficult. It’s hard for your little one to notice that they’ve had an accident since the pee is wicked away so quickly. They’ll also be so used to wearing diapers that they may forget that they’re even supposed to be potty training.

What Are the Different Types of Training Pants?

There are 3 different types of training pants: cloth, disposable, and waterproof. They differ in design, absorbency, intended age, and cost. 

Cloth Training Pants (1-6 years old)Fabric pants with multiple layers allow your child to feel wet and uncomfortable after an accident while offering some protection from messesMedium Absorbency will vary depending on the number of layers of fabric they use. Often, they’ll absorb only small accidentsMedium They cost about $4 a pair, but are reusable and can be passed down to siblings
Disposable Training Pants (2-4 years old)Pull-ups made from the same materials as diapers with elasticated waists that toddlers can pull up themselvesHigh They contain an absorbent gel to trap any accidents and are often leakproofHigh They may only cost $0.40 a pair, but they’re an expensive choice because they can’t be reused
Waterproof Training Pants (0-3 years old)A thin layer of waterproof nylon, designed to be worn over regular underwearHigh Waterproofing means that all accidents will be trapped, but your child can become sweaty and uncomfortableLow You can buy them for around $2 a pair and they are reusable

Which Type of Training Pants are Best?

The best type of training pants for you and your child depends on your priorities. Do you need to save time or money, or are you just looking for the fastest route to potty training success?

  • Easiest: Disposable training pants are the easiest to remove and require no extra laundry.
  • Most affordable: Waterproof training pants are low cost, reusable, and therefore the cheapest per use.
  • Fastest potty training: Cloth training pants allow your child to feel the discomfort of being wet, which helps motivate them to become potty trained faster.

What’s the Difference Between Training Pants and Underwear?

Some parents choose to skip training pants and jump straight to underwear. The difference between the two is that training pants offer some absorbency and underwear offers none. Toddler underwear is no different from big kid or adult pants. They’re usually cotton and have just one layer of fabric to catch any accidents.

Training Pants vs. Underwear: The Pros and Cons

Training pants and underwear each have their own pros and cons when potty training. Which you choose to use will depend on your priorities, your child’s personality, and maybe even their daycare.

ConsiderationTraining PantsUnderwear
Potty Training DurationPotty training can take longer when using training pants. Your child won’t feel the discomfort of having an accident, giving them less motivation to learn to use the potty. You’ll also get used to the safety net of the training pants and may not make as much effort to complete potty training.Potty training is likely to be faster when using underwear. Your child will feel that they’ve had an accident right away and will be more motivated to avoid them. However, few studies have been completed, and those available show only a slight difference in speed and success
Accidents No messy accidents to clean up. This will save your couch and loads of laundry, and you can feel confident leaving the house.Lots of accidents to clean up and laundry to do. It can be risky to leave the house in underwear during potty training.
DaycareSome daycares prefer disposable training pants as there’ll be fewer messes to clean up.Some daycares won’t allow your child to potty train while wearing underwear.
CostTraining pants are more expensive than underwear.Going straight to underwear is the cheapest option.
KidsTraining pants may make your toddler feel like a big kid, since they pull up just like real undies. However, some disposable training pants feel too much like a diaper and won’t have the “grown-up pants” effect. They also add a step to potty training, and you’ll have to transition to underwear later. Your toddler will love choosing their first pair of big kid underwear, and the choice of styles feels infinite. Underwear is the last step in their potty training journey, and they’ll love graduating into pants and earning potty training rewards.

Are Training Pants Better Than Underwear When Potty Training?

For the fastest potty training, your child should wear underwear. This is because they allow your toddler to feel when they’ve had an accident, motivating them to avoid it. However, speed isn’t the only consideration when potty training your child. There’s no scientific consensus on the best method, and there are personal factors to consider. For example, training pants may be right for you if:

  • You need to avoid accidents. You may have a disability, a security deposit to protect, or are just too exhausted to deal with the extra laundry. That’s OK!
  • Your daycare doesn’t allow underwear. They may not have the staff to deal with the accidents or be worried about finding them before another child does. 
  • Your child is sensitive to being wet. Some children can’t cope with the sensation of having an accident and find it distressing.

In cases like these, it’s fantastic that training pants are available as an option. Potty training can be one of the most difficult stages of parenting, and sometimes we need all the help we can get!


What’s the Difference Between Diapers and Pull-Ups?

Pull-ups are mostly made of the same materials as diapers, with one difference: They have an elasticated waistband, which means toddlers can pull them up and down by themselves. This encourages independence and can be used in pull-ups potty training.

What’s the Difference Between Training Pants and Pull-Ups?

Training pants also have an elasticated waistband, but they’re less absorbent than pull-ups. This means they’ll be less comfortable when wet, encouraging your child to avoid accidents and use the potty instead.

Can Training Pants be Used at Night?

Yes, training pants can be used for naps and overnight. Night-time potty training normally happens at least 6 months after daytime training. Your child might not like being put back into diapers to sleep since they’re a big kid now! Training pants will protect the mattress and let them feel grown-up. They’re not as absorbent as diapers though, so there may be some leaks to deal with.

Does My Child Need to Wear Anything When Potty Training?

No. During potty training, there will always be accidents. If you’re trying to minimize laundry or save money, why not give naked potty training a try? Your toddler will definitely notice when they’ve gone pee, and they won’t go through 10 pairs of pants in a day.

Training Pants vs. Underwear: What’s the Difference?

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