by Jenn Marie
When it comes to understanding “that time of the month,” there’s no shortage of confusion among people of all ages and genders. One of the most common period-related myths is that there are only two types of feminine protection available: disposable pads and tampons. In reality, we have tons of other choices! Some of the most popular include menstrual cups, sea sponges, diaphragms, and my favorite: reusable cloth pads.
The idea behind cloth pads is simple: instead of the typical pad made from paper and plastic, cloth pads are made from fabric, allowing them to be washed and reused just like underwear. It may sound strange, but it’s not a new or unusual idea; women have been using cloth pads throughout most of history! It was only very recently, as our society shifted toward a preference for single-use products, that disposable pads and tampons were first marketed to women.
With the popularity and convenience of disposables, why would anyone want to use cloth? Here are just a few of the many reasons…
• They’re environmentally friendly. The average woman uses about 12,000 disposable menstrual products in her lifetime! After they’re thrown away, those products (and all their plastic packaging) don’t just magically disappear. They’re dumped in a landfill somewhere, left to sit for hundreds of years. Imagine a pile of garbage containing every pad and tampon you’ve ever used – gross! Reusable products eliminate the need for all that waste.
• They’re comfortable. Would you believe that a feminine hygiene product could ever be called luxurious? Because they’re made of cloth, reusable pads feel super soft and comfy against your skin – and what better time to pamper your body than during your period? Cloth pads are also breathable, which means they won’t trap the heat and sweat that promote odor-causing bacteria. Remarkably, some women even find that ending their use of disposable products (and their exposure to the chemicals found in them) lessens the pain of their menstrual cramps!
• They save money. A package of pads or tampons might not break the bank, but those costs add up month after month – especially if you buy premium or organic cotton brands. Cloth pads cost more at first (unless you sew your own!), but since one set will last for years, they pay for themselves over time. Instead of spending your hard-earned cash on something you’ll just throw away a couple hours later, you can spend more money on things you actually enjoy, like chocolate or a night out with friends!
• They’re period positive. Cloth pads come in an infinite variety of super cute designs. Love polka dots? Obsessed with anything purple? Whatever your personal style, you can find a pad to match. Maybe you’ll never love Aunt Flo, but since she’s such a frequent visitor, why not make her stay a little more fun?
So, how do they work? In many ways, cloth pads are just like disposable pads – but nicer! Cloth pads contain layers of absorbent fabric, like cotton flannel, that draw in moisture to keep you feeling dry. Most also have a breathable waterproof layer on the back to prevent leaks. Cloth pads don’t have a peel and stick strip like disposables; instead, most have wings that snap together around the gusset of your underwear. When it’s time to change your pad after a few hours, just unsnap the used pad and put on a fresh one! If you’re away from home during the day, you can buy waterproof bags made specifically for cloth pads (called “wet bags”) so you can store your used pads safely and discreetly inside your purse or backpack. If you normally use a pantyliner for discharge or as backup for your menstrual cup/sponge/tampon, there are even cloth pantyliners (essentially extra-thin cloth pads) that can be used to protect your underwear all month long.
Lots of people don’t like the idea of washing their pads, worried it’ll be gross or a hassle. The truth is, it’s really no big deal! After using a pad, most women either rinse them out for a few seconds under running water or drop them in a container to soak. The pads are already mostly clean at that point, so once your period is over, all you have to do then is toss them in the washing machine with your other laundry! Just make sure you don’t bleach them or use fabric softener liquid/sheets – the chemicals in fabric softener clog up the fabric and reduce pads’ absorbing power (the same is true for bath towels and other absorbent items). A cup of plain vinegar in the rinse cycle makes a great natural fabric softener, and baking soda is an excellent leave-on stain remover. Once you pull the pads out of the dryer, they’re clean and ready to be used again!
As girls and women, it’s important for us to be fully informed so that we can each make the choices that are best for our own bodies and lives. Consider giving cloth pads a try and see if they’re the right choice for you!
For more info on cloth pads and other reusable alternatives for your period, check out: clothpads.org