Before sustainability hit me, I was always a tampon person. I’m not ashamed to admit I wondered (on multiple occasions) what exactly people did on their periods 100+ years ago before the invention of tampons.
As is most often the case with sustainable solutions, we only need to look to a time before the invention of plastic to find a healthier alternative (~100 years ago).
Turns out, in the time before plastic, they were using a variation of the reusable pad. It’s been updated and modernized to fit the 21st century, but the concept that’s gaining in popularity today is the same.
So, what is the deal with reusable menstrual pads?
We’re so glad you asked! Come on into the shop (this blog) and let’s ~flow~ into it.
First Of All, What The Heck Are Reusable Menstrual Pads?
Photo by Sarah Chai:
It’s truly as simple as it sounds!
A reusable pad is a piece of cloth that comes in a variety of different shapes and sizes. It secures into your undies to catch your period flow so you may continue doing all the amazing things you do, while bleeding.
The best ones are made from natural fabrics (like the ones sold by my friends at The Unwaste Shop which are made from terrycloth & cotton).
Natural fabrics provide more absorbency, more comfort, and less chemicals than synthetic-based pads.
While they do contain natural fibers, most disposable menstrual products are made from synthetic materials which can increase the risk of unwanted microbial growth and lead to infections.
Reusable menstrual pads provide a healthier way to live with your period, both for your body and the planet.
Reusable Menstrual Pads Are Better For The Environment. Period.
Photo by Cliff Booth:
Let’s be totally honest. Disposable pads and tampons are super convenient. There’s no doubt about it.
But they’re also incredibly wasteful, harmful to the planet, and expensive. Especially when you think about how many people are having a period at any given time (about 800 million per day) and how many period products you need to use per period (12-30 pads per period!).
The downsides of disposable menstrual products can be broken down into three categories: Materials, Waste, & Money.
Wasted Materials From Disposable Pads
Photo by Karolina Grabowska:
Menstrual pads are made from a blend of synthetic and natural fibers. This makes them non-compostable/biodegradable. In addition to containing synthetics, scientists have found harmful chemicals lurking in menstrual products.
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) & phthalates have been found in pads at varying concentrations. Scientists are especially concerned seeing as these products sit for hours in a sensitive, highly absorbent area.
- Chemicals from the plastic in applicators, packaging, or inner layers also have the potential to contain and leak endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
Many, if not most, disposable period products contain additives such as fragrance, cramp relief, odorizers, bleaching agents, and more. These can contain parabens and other toxic chemicals.
Unnecessary Waste From Disposable Pads
While they may look like cotton (they’re bleached to do so), pads can be up to 90% plastic. Not only is that not great to sit on your sensitive bits for hours, but it’s also not great for the planet.
- The average period-having person will create 400 pounds of period waste per lifetime (per person).
- Plastics, synthetic materials, and packaging come from fossil fuels and all the harm associated with drilling, refining, and production.
- When disposed of in the trash, the pads, tampons, applicators, wings, and packaging end up in landfills or incinerators.
- When flushed, menstrual products can cause plumbing issues, sanitation issues, and even sewage backflow in your house, building, or city’s sewer system.
- In a landfill, it’s estimated these products will take 500-800 years to break down (into smaller microplastics because plastic doesn’t decompose).
- Even tampons that are labeled ‘recyclable’ are landfilled because they contain blood/bodily fluids that the facility cannot process.
Any disposable product, especially plastic, is terrible for marine life and eventually finds its way into the ocean. Single-use menstrual products are the most commonly found item in ocean waste and washed up on beaches.
Wasted Money From Disposable Pads
Photo by Karolina Grabowska:
If you’ve ever found yourself using a pad or tampon a little extra longer than you should because period products are expensive, you’re not alone. Worldwide, 500 million people lack access to safe period products and menstrual hygiene while ~11 million Americans could not afford period products within the last 2 years.
- In the U.S., you can expect to be taxed between 4.5%-10% on every essential period product purchase.
- The cost (and tax) of these items keeps many people and children from accessing the products they need or creates health problems from prolonged use.
- Buying reusable period products means you pay your tax one time, and avoid for years to come!
- Buying reusable also supports small local businesses like The Unwaste Shop & the
- makers, GladRags, who give back to the community.
Are you ready to kick these single-use plastics behind and have a more sustainable period? Let’s do it!
How To Choose A Reusable Pad
There are a variety of reusable pads to fit your preferences and needs!
The three main types are:
- Pantyliners (Found here at The Unwaste Shop)
- Great for light flows/backup protection.
- Day Pads (Found here at The Unwaste Shop)
- Equivalent to a standard-size maxi pad.
- Great for moderate flows and/or light incontinence.
- Night Pads
- Good for heavy flows and/or postpartum protection.
- Custom absorbency with addable and removable inserts.
If you already use disposable pads, replace what you’re using with the reusable equivalent! So if you use 4 pantyliners, 2 maxi-pads, and bleed for 2 nights, try starting with 4 reusable pantyliners, 2 reusable day pads, and 1-2 night pads.
If you’re just getting started on your journey towards a more sustainable period, start with one of each and see how you like them.
How To Use Reusable Menstrual Pads
Photo by Greta Hoffman
You probably (definitely) don’t hear this enough, but you know your body best!
Keep that in mind while scrolling through this section.How To Wear A Reusable Pad
Reusable pads are sewn into similar shapes as disposable ones so the transition is easy.
- Place the pad in your undies.
- Wrap the wings around the crotch.
- Snap it closed.
If using an insert (in day or night pads) insert however or whichever one best matches your flow.
When you’re finished, unsnap the wings and replace it with a fresh one.
How Long Should You Wear A Pad?
It’s all about personal preference. Reusable pads are totally hygienic and safe as long as you wash and care for them properly.
- Wear the pad until you’ve reached your soiled comfort level.
- For hygienic reasons, it should be less than 12 hours. Important people recommend switching them out every 4-8 hours (generally speaking) but you do you.
How To Clean A Reusable Pad?
Photo by Dziana Hasanbekava:
Reusable pads have been used for centuries to help people carry on about their lives while having their periods. As long as you are following the right instructions when washing and drying your pads, you’ll be good!
Washing Instructions for Reusable Menstrual Pads
- Separate your inserts from the pad.
- Soak in cold water to prevent staining (optional).
- Machine wash cold (hot water locks in stains).
- Tumble dry low or line dry on a flat surface.
- Fold your pads in and snap closed to safely store them for the next 21-28 days.
Tips To NOT Do When Washing Reusable Pads:
- Do not use detergents with fabric softeners.
- Do not use whiteners and/or brighteners.
- Do not use hydrogen peroxide & peroxide-based stain removers.
- Do not use Castile Soap & other soaps not intended for fabrics.
- Do not let your pads air dry in a cold, damp place.
Tips TO DO When Washing Reusable Pads:
- Spot treat with a stain remover (peroxide-free of course).
- Allow the pad to dry thoroughly (inside and out) before folding & storing.
- Use white vinegar as a softener.
- Use baking soda for old stains.
- Remember: Just because it’s stained doesn’t mean it isn’t clean.
How Many Reusable Pads Do I Need?
Photo by Karolina Grabowska:
The number of reusable pads you’ll need will vary based on how much you bleed, for how long, and how often you want to use pads.
You know your body (and your period) best but the average person uses between 12-20 pads per period.
If you’re stuck, try starting with:
- 2 pads per heavy bleeding day
- 1 per night of bleeding
- 1 pantyliner per light flow day
Adjust as needed!How Long Will Reusable Pads Last?
Reusable pads will last literally for years. That’s the beauty of them! GladRags says their pads last at least 5 years!
But again, it depends on how often you use them.
To dispose of your reusable menstrual pads at the end of their life, remove the snaps and compost the rest of the material (as long as it’s made from entirely natural fabrics)!
I’m Not Sure If Reusable Pads Are For Me, What Else Can I Do To Have A Sustainable Period?
Photo by Cliff Booth
Great question! Fortunately for you, this is the best time to be looking for sustainable menstrual products! There have never been more amazing companies committed to creating earth-friendly and body-friendly menstruation products.
Other zero waste period products include:
- Menstrual cups (Found here at The Unwaste Shop)
- Medical grade silicone cup that is inserted into the vagina to catch the blood during your period. The cup is removed and emptied on an as-needed basis. It can be worn for up to 12 hours and reused for 10 years. There is no risk of TSS.
- Menstrual discs
- The menstrual disc is also made from medical-grade silicone. It is inserted into the vagina and rests behind the pubic bone. It’s great for people with a high or low cervix and is IUD-friendly. It can be worn for up to 12 hours, reused for 10 years, and carries no risk of TSS.
- Period underwear
- Coming in a variety of sizes, styles, and absorbency options, period underwear is basically underwear with a built-in pad. They contain highly absorbent, breathable, and moisture-wicking technology in the gusset of underwear. They can be worn for as long or as little as you like and washed and reused for years.
The Unwaste Shop carries reusable pads and menstrual cups. For other period products check out saalt, a certified B corp committed to providing sustainable period products that are good for bodies and good for the planet.
Stop in The Unwaste Shop today, ask us about our reusable menstrual pads, or grab a set for yourself. We can’t wait to see you!
This post comes to you via Lauren from Copy by LP. A Chicago-based sustainability enthusiast, cat lover, and period haver. When not engaged in one of the above activities, she helps sustainable small businesses increase their reach through sustainability copywriting and SEO services.