There are lots of reasons to push a diaper’s capacity to the limit, ranging from economy (go through less per day) to necessity (no more changes available) to plain old personable preference (some people just like that warm squishy feeling).

Past that limit, however, lies trouble, or at the very least embarrassing wet spots on the back of the pants/skirt!

So how do you know when you’re pushing your luck?

First things first, forget about those little wetness indicators.

Those are great for caretakers who want to keep the people they’re responsible for dry as much as possible. If you’re actually wearing the diaper, they’re generally redundant, except for people who don’t have sensation in their diaper area. Even then all the colored strip tells you is that there’s some wetness present — they’ll blur or fade long before the diaper is nearing its actual capacity.

Your best indicator is a feeling of wetness along your thighs or waist. In a disposable diaper, that’s where the absorbent padding stops and the plain, slick plastic begins. If you’re feeling wetness there, it’s very close to escaping.

The “migration” of wetness is also a good indicator of how much of the absorbent padding you’ve used up.

The first areas to get wet will be the ones directly adjacent to your urethral opening. For men that can vary widely, depending on where the penis is pointing; for women it’s usually a little past midway down the front of the diaper.

Diaper stuffing works by distributing the wetness through thousands of tiny, absorbent granules. In theory, that means that even once you’ve thoroughly saturated the padding directly over your urethra, the wetness will be spread throughout the padding of the diaper.

In practice, it usually won’t make it all the way up the back panel. Once the wetness has spread all the way up to the waistband in the front, you’re probably nearing the saturation point.

Once the entire front of the diaper, from the waistband on down to between your legs, has become saturated enough that it’s visibly swollen, you don’t have much absorbency left. Any further wetting is likely to be forced out at the leg gathers before it manages to soak all the way around to the padding behind your butt.

A last good warning sign to look for is the plastic casing of the diaper stretching taut. If you can rub the front and feel big, squishy grains of padding under a tight skin of plastic, your diaper’s getting full.

As you near the limit, you pretty much have two options: change the diaper, or put a pair of plastic or rubber underpants over it. With tight leg gathers, those can keep quite a bit of overflow in, at the cost of some minor discomfort and added bulk.

Every brand has its own limits, and its own patterns of “fail points” — once you’ve worn a brand for a while, you get a good sense of where it’s likely to start spotting your pants first, and how far you can push it before that happens. But when in doubt, look for the warning signs: tautness in the plastic covering, bulging or wetness all the way up to the waistband and down between the legs, and a sensation of wetness at the outer edges of the diaper along the thighs.