The average woman menstruates around over 2,500 or more days of her life! This can create close to 11,000 tampons or disposable pads! That is an incredible amount of waste. Perhaps you’ve already switched to cloth diapers and now you’re thinking of your own well being and your contribution to the landfills. “Mama cloth” or reusable pads might not be as “out there” as you first thought!
The Anatomy of Cloth Pads:
Reusable menstrual pads come in all shapes, materials, and sizes. Luckily, it’s still easy to find what will work best for you- most brands use familiar terminology such as “liners” or “light days” for panty liners, “regular,” “Heavy,” and “Post-Partum.” The absorbency in reusable pads is often cotton though some may use bamboo or other fibers. The lining next to your skin is usually also cotton, minky, flannel, or a velour from bamboo or cotton fibers. These are much softer on your skin and more like underwear, unlike disposable products.
Disposable pads have a plastic backing- plastic is not breathable and your lady parts need to breathe! Since you still need protection for your panties reusable menstrual pads are often backed with either fleece or waterproof PUL. For lighter pads fleece is a great option but for heavier flows or post-partum pads you’ll want PUL. Fleece is more breathable than PUL, so for lighter days you may want pads that use fleece. Shown below is an example of a fleece backed liner from Pink Lemonade Shop and PUL backed pad from Bummis.
To keep your pads in place they will have wings (just like many varieties of disposable pads and liners) that snap together rather than having an adhesive layer. The nice thing about snaps is that, unlike a light coating of glue, they will stay put as long as you need them to! One of the many bonus features of cloth!
Menstruation is a natural part of a woman’s life- though disposable products make it easy to disconnect ourselves from the physical side of menstruation- reusable options bring us face to face with our bodies. I’m not here to tell you that washing reusable cloth pads is a joy and that we as women should celebrate in the chores of womanhood- nope. I will say that once you come to terms with the reality that your menstrual blood is no more disgusting than blood from your knee, or the other body excretions we come into contact with, it makes washing more palatable and less of a disgusting idea not to be considered.
You’ll want to wash your pads every 2 days so take time to count how many pads you typically use per day and add 2-5 on top that you can have while they wash. In between washes the best way to store the used pads is in a zippered wetbag that can be hung on the bathroom door or tucked away in a bathroom cabinet. Many women rinse the pads in cold water before storing in a wetbag between washes but that isn’t a requirement. Rinsing can prevent stains however. You can throw your lightly used liners/pads in with regular laundry. Heavily used pads would need to be washed in a stand-alone small load or you can throw them in with your diaper laundry! (If you’ve soaked or rinsed your pads and don’t use fabric softener you might consider washing with regular clothing as well but that is personal preference).
Others prefer using a soak routine- and store dirty pads in a bucket to soak, often with an additive like Bac-Out in the water, in between washes. A small soaking bowl or bucket with a lid in a safe place like this one from GladRags is an option too.
For your wash cycle if you haven’t pre-rinsed them individually, run a cold rinse cycle before running a hot or warm wash. For detergents you’ll want something gentle without a lot of chemicals (these are your most precious parts after all) and without fabric softeners. There are even some specific detergents for washing mama cloth like Femme Rock.
If you do wind up with stains you can try the Buncha Farmer’s stick– it’s amazing at removal. And, much like cloth diapering, you can sun your pads too. Keeping in mind that your pads might stain, your color choices might want to lean towards darker shades if you’re like me and hate treating stains!
For leaving the house while using cloth you will want to invest in a good travel wet bag. Bummis Fabulous Flo Bag and the travel PlanetWise travel bag are both excellent for your purse. A good menstrual cloth travel bag will have space for your clean pads and a zippered, waterproof section for used ones. The PlanetWise travel bag is pictured above. Using them out of the house is no more complicated than using at home- as long as you have the pads with you where you go and a bag to place your dirty items in you’re good to go. The bonus of cloth is that there’s no crinkly paper wrappers and no waste left behind! I used to hate having to make a change at a friend’s home and then finding out that they either didn’t have a waste bucket in the bathroom (why?!?!) or being nervous about leaving evidence behind for them to see when emptying their trash. Maybe I’m the odd man out but I’d rather not leave a trail behind.
Is Cloth For Me?
If you already use disposable pads then yes- you can use cloth. If you want to avoid chemicals and dryness left behind by pads- cloth is for you. If you wanted to use a menstrual cup because of the benefits of reusable menstrual care but it can’t (or didn’t) work for you- cloth is a great, safe, and waste-free alternative. If you are a young teen who isn’t quite ready to try a cup, cloth is for you. If you just want a waste-free option for those spotty days before or after your period and use something else during your heavy days- cloth is for you. Because reusable cloth pads come in every variety ANY woman can use them- even those with extremely heavy flow or with post partum bleeding. You may even want to look into the PUL lined panties from Lunapads that are designed to be used with cloth for overnight.