It’s been nearly a decade since I first had that experience: waking up one glorious morning from an intensely satisfying sleep, stretching as I rose to greet the day…and then freezing at the all-too-familiar yet uncontrollable sensation of my innards spilling out of me.
Rushing to the bathroom to take a shower and stick an adhesive disposable pad to my underwear has become a tired ritual that I can now do half-asleep, and with it comes an assortment of nasty extras: the artificial scent of flowers and soap, the peeling plastic tabs, the fluttering wrapper, the sticky wings that do their best to take off from your sanitary pad as as opposed to holding it down, the feel of the stark-white cotton slowly becoming warm and wet…I’ll stop.
After getting into minimalism and educating myself on the longevity of single-use plastic on our planet, I was horrified to realize that the sanitary napkins I used at age eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, etc. will all survive on this earth long after I myself have disappeared. Perhaps they were incinerated, but that isn’t much of a consolation either, to think of all those toxic chemicals and synthetic components from millions of sanitary napkins floating around in the air we breathe. Furthermore, as someone with erratic periods (and all the accompanying stress), I learned that synthetic, disposable pads are supposedly designed to look as if wearers are uncontrollably bleeding (to make them buy more), contain harmful pesticides that could cause disease, and might even contribute to increasing cramps, hormonal disorders, or even lead to cancer through long-term absorption.
Enter the reusable pad.
After checking numerous reviews and posts by experts and users who assured me of the safety and convenience aspects, I bought a set of favorably reviewed cloth pads in my preferred size from Amazon, intending to wear them on a trial-basis at home before making a full switch. Some sellers also offer a waterproof bag to store the used pads in but I decided to buy those later. Once they arrived, I studied the pads from every angle. They felt well-made: soft and heavy with snap-on button wings and cute, artsy prints on the back. To my surprise, however, the cushioned lining on my particular product was black rather than the standard white. I guessed that this was to avoid staining. I set the pads away and waited for the red-letter day to roll around (I’m terrible, I know).
When it was finally time, I opened the first reusable sanitary pad and attached it to my underwear. It was a comfortable fit: a little bulkier, thicker, and softer than the disposable pad but felt similar for the most part and I went outside to run a few errands before coming home. Checking my pad a few hours later, I was shocked. For a few seconds, I wasn’t even certain that I was on my period. Though my flow is on the moderate-heavy side, the absorbency of the thick material on the reusable pad really made it seem as if I was on my fourth or fifth day rather than my first. There was very little staining and the black lining made the entire affair less visually…graphic. The only issue was that since the reusable pad used buttons instead of a sticky adhesive on the wings, the pad had the tendency to slide around a bit. I took a nap in a pretty awkward position afterwards, so there was some dotting on my underwear when I checked for the last time. To cut to the chase, I wore the pad for almost twelve hours. Even then, there were no odors, the stains on the pad were minimal, and the moisture had been wicked away by the absorbent lining. I wondered if I was having an unusually light period.
Washing the pad proved me wrong. Following the manufacturer’s instructions as well as advice from many other commenters, I rinsed the cloth pad under cold running water to prevent staining and wrung it out a few times. I won’t go into details, but I can say with some confidence that if someone had walked into the room at that time, I would have instantly been arrested for murder. Sanitizing the pad is an extremely important process to prevent infection in the future and it required multiple rounds of cleaning, soaping, and rinsing before putting it in the washing machine in a separated bag for a final round. Another interesting feature: the lining of the pad was almost fully dry after squeezing it out by hand, which I thought could be tremendously useful for travel or quick washes when outside the house.
Reusable Cloth Pads: A Summary
- Easy application and adjustment
- Less synthetic components and lowered risk of toxicity
- High absorbency and less moisture
- Snap button wings
- More money saved over time
- Come in cute and quirky designs
- Quick drying
- Washing out the pad isn’t for the squeamish
- The up-front cost is high
- Carrying a stained pad after changing in public is inconvenient
- The heavier pads have a tendency to slide
- Slightly weighted and bulky
To conclude, the reusable cloth pad does take some getting used to and for now, I utilize them in combination with the disposable ones until I’m ready to make the full switch. However, for those who want to go zero waste, using menstrual cups in combination with cloth/reusable pads is a recommendation from many environmental bloggers. While this post in no way dictates how an individual should take charge of their intimate bodily process, it’s an attempt to show that disposable products come with considerable risks to our health and earth, and that in the 21st century well-tested alternatives making menstruation a more bearable experience exist and continue to grow.