- This paper is concerned with the modeling of slow diffusion of a fluid into a swelling solid undergoing large deformation. Both the stress in the solid as well as the diffusion rates are predicted. The approach presented here, based on the balance laws of a single continuum with mass diffusion, overcomes the difficulties inherent in the theory of mixtures in specifying boundary conditions. A "natural" boundary condition based upon the continuity of the chemical potential is derived by the use of a variational approach, based on maximizing the rate of dissipation. It is shown that, in the absence of inertial effects, the differential equations resulting from the use of mixture theory can be recast into a form that is identical to the equations obtained in our approach. The boundary value problem of the steady flow of a solvent through a gum rubber membrane is solved and the results show excellent agreement with the experimental data of Paul and Ebra-Lima (J. Appl. Polym. Sci. 14 (1970) 2201) for a variety of solvents. 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.