In high school, I didn’t daydream about being smarter or more popular. I daydreamed about being completely asexual: physical androgyny of the tall, elegant, sculpted variety. In short, I wanted to be an elf — with none of the inconveniences and embarrassments of being merely human and female. Let’s just say that I’m still not on good terms with my uterus, an utterly pointless expenditure of resources as far as I’m concerned. But if being physically insubstantial is the greenest way to go, it’s not one that’s available to me or to anyone else I know.
I’ve noticed that a lot of women who are otherwise interested in going green draw the line at reusable menstrual products, which seem to provoke a knee-jerk ‘eeew’ reaction. I get it. It’s one thing to roll up a used pad and throw it away, and quite another to rinse it out and reuse it. Cloth pads require a certain lack of squeamishness. (It’s one of my theories that our alienation from our own bodies and resulting squeamishness are bad for the environment.) But speaking as someone who is still recovering from a serious case of squeam, I can also say that they’re better in a lot of ways than disposable pads. I wanted to address some of the common questions that come up about cloth pads in case you’ve been hesitating about trying them. These are my personal opinions; there are no affiliate links of any kind below.
Why quit disposable pads and tampons?
Take your pick: there are environmental, health, and financial reasons to choose reusable pads or menstrual cups. One source estimates that the average woman throws away 250-300 pounds of used menstrual products in her lifetime. Unless you buy organic cotton pads and tampons, they can contain pesticides, petrochemical products, and/or irritating synthetic chemicals. Tampons can cause toxic shock syndrome, which I was surprised to learn can be deadly even if you use tampons according to the instructions. (Learn more about TSS at you-are-loved.org.) And finally, there’s the cost factor. Even if you only spend $5 a month on pads or tampons, that’s $60 a year for approximately 35 years — $2,100 is a low estimate.
Which works better, cups or cloth pads?
I don’t know, since I haven’t tried the most popular cup, the Diva Cup. I find tampons uncomfortable, and disposable Instead cups give me mild cramps and a feeling of continuous pressure, so I opted for cloth pads. Cups are probably a better choice for athletes and anyone unwilling to rinse out cloth pads.
How many do I need?
It depends on how often you’re willing to do laundry. I’d say the minimum is probably three — one to wear, one in the wash, and one clean one to change into. Since cloth pads can take a while to dry, especially in a bathroom, having a few more is convenient. You can fold up one for your purse; no one will recognize that those small rectangles of fabric are pads.
Don’t cloth pads leak?
They can, but it takes some doing. Some companies offer cloth pads lined with waterproof fabric, but mine are just backed with water resistant polar fleece. I haven’t had significant leakage issues, and I rarely use anything heavier than the pantiliner.
Aren’t they bulkier than my ultra thins?
Yep. A little. Most cloth pads have terry cloth or flannel cores for absorbency, and they can be a little thicker than ultra thin disposables. I think mine are between 1/8 and 1/4 of an inch thick. But they don’t crinkle when you move and they don’t feel as hot or sticky as disposables. It’s a tradeoff.
How do I clean cloth pads?
I give mine a quick rinse in the sink and then stick them into a small container of cool water (changed daily, sometimes with soap or some hydrogen peroxide) until laundry day. Surprisingly, they don’t seem to stain much, if at all. If you’re especially non-squeamish, the soaking water — as long as there isn’t too much soap in it — can be used to fertilize your plants.
How high is the ick factor?
It’s really not that bad. I hate the iron-y smell of blood, so rinsing out cloth pads is a little unpleasant. But in the end, blood is just blood. We’re filled with the stuff. Deal with it.
How do I store used pads until I can soak them?
Most cloth pads have snaps, so you can fold them up into tidy little rectangles (back side facing out!) and stick them in your purse until you get home. They might stain a little if you can’t get them in water for hours, but soap and hydrogen peroxide really do work wonders.
How long do cloth pads last?
Years? I’ve had mine for about a year, and they’ve held up beautifully through multiple washings, wringings, and even a dryer cycle or two when I needed them right away. I expect them to last several years more.
Where can I get them?
Some Whole Foods now carry GladRags (expensive by my standards), but the internet is still probably the best way to get cloth pads. Some other companies include Luna Pads and Party in my Pants. I haven’t tried too many brands because I got lucky with the ones I bought from Mimi’s Dreams on Etsy — they’re affordable, well made, and totally comfortable. Also, you can choose from lots of cute prints, and the shop owner Hope is a wonderful person to deal with. I totally recommend one of her $25 starter packs.
Can I make my own cloth pads instead?
Absolutely. If you’re handy with a sewing machine, they’re not difficult to make using cloth and old towels you have lying around. You can make a pattern using a disposable pad, or check out some of these patterns and ideas. I was going to offer you a tutorial, but my project got derailed by having a foster cat in the room with the sewing machine.
And that’s about it for the whole cloth pad experience. Not that scary, right? Have you tried cloth pads or menstrual cups? What do you think? If you haven’t, what’s holding you back?