Cloth menstrual pads are a reusable alternative to disposable sanitary napkins. While I personally would not use them exclusively for catching menstrual flow – as I prefer my menstrual cup is a much cleaner alternative – I think they are a great supplement for women who use menstrual cups, but want to protect their underwear should any leaks occur.
Although the situations when my menstrual cup leaks are rare, it does sometimes happen, if I don’t insert it properly; so if you want to keep your panties clean you may want to use a cloth pad for added protection on your heavy flow days.
Many women are devoted to using cloth diapers, recycling, and buy organic produce. Yet they still may continue to use disposable menstrual pads. Conventional menstrual pads are made out of wood fiber, which means that trees need to be cut down to make these products. They are then bleached using chlorine bleach, which adds additional chemicals to the environment. Finally, paper pads are thrown away after a single use, contributing to waste problem.
Choosing reusable cloth pads is a sensible environmental choice, and it’s not that hard!
Plus, some of them are really cute!
So, Let’s Talk About Cloth Pads
Cloth pads have the advantage for being environmentally friendly as well as cost-cutting. They may come with or without wings. Generally they are made from layers of absorbent fabrics (such as cotton or hemp) which are worn by a woman while she is menstruating, for post-birth bleeding or any other situation where it is necessary to absorb the flow of blood from the vagina. After use, they are washed, dried and then reused.
Advantages of using Cloth Menstrual Pads
Just like menstrual cups, cloth menstrual pads are environmentally friendly and do not contribute to landfill as they are reusable and do not come in or contain plastic packaging. When cloth menstrual pads wear out (after years of use), those made from natural materials can be composted whereas disposable sanitary napkins made from synthetic materials cannot be recycled or composted.
Fewer chemicals are used in the cloth compared to disposable menstrual products. They create less overall waste compared to disposable menstrual products as they can be made from reused materials, including old pillow cases and towels. Some cloth pads use hemp as the absorbent core which is more environmentally friendly to grow when compared with cotton or wood pulp. Organic options, such as pads made of organic cotton grown without pesticides and chemicals, are available.
In the long term, it is less expensive to buy and produce cloth menstrual pads compared to disposable menstrual products. They can be made by hand for little or no cost.
While less convenient than disposables, they are still convenient as they can simply be cleaned in the washing machine.
Cloth menstrual pads are less likely to cause rashes, contact dermatitis, as well as helping women afflicted with certain types of vaginitis. Women with sensitive skin and allergies may find cloth pads to be more comfortable against their skin, particularly cloth pads made of undyed organic cotton. They do not use adhesive.
Many women note that they have shorter periods, lighter flow and/or less cramping. Though no studies have, as yet, focused on this phenomenon, anecdotal evidence is widespread. However, this may be an example of the placebo effect or some other form of selection bias.
Cloth menstrual pads reduce the scent of menstrual blood on the cloth pad. As they are more breathable than the average disposable sanitary pads, they carry less odor.
Cloth menstrual pads, like all menstrual pads, remove the risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) sometimes associated with tampons.
Disadvantages of Using Cloth Menstrual Pads
Washing reusable pads requires water. The desire to reuse must be balanced against any local need to conserve water. Also, it is important that the water used to clean pads be disposed of appropriately. Even “biodegradable” soaps take a long time to break down.
Cloth menstrual pads are generally more time consuming due to the need to wash, dry, and care for the pads.
Special care may need to be taken if the user has a Candidiasis infection (i.e. yeast infection). Once the infection is treated, the cloth menstrual pads may need to be sanitized in order to prevent reinfection.
Initial cost for reusable menstrual products is typically higher per pad than for disposables, although savings over time make them more economical.
Personally, I prefer silicone period cups. But if you don’t like wearing a cup inside, a cloth pad could be a good alternative. Read more about menstrual cups and other reusable feminine hygiene products on my blog.