WARNING: If you don’t really want to think about my menstrual cycle, you probably should’ve stopped reading by now.
This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while but wasn’t sure how it would be received. Coz, you know, it’s all about fannies and periods and stuff. Not your average chit chat is it.
But then I tweeted this photo:
This is my stash of cloth sanitary pads (CSPs).
I fully expected to lose loads of followers and get a few “eeew, gross!” replies. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Understandably I didn’t get any replies from my male followers. But the response from the ladies really surprised me. Some people were already cloth users and asked where I’d bought certain ones. But lots and lots of women had never even heard of them and were fascinated and intrigued.
I’d never heard of them until last year. Thirty-two years old and I never knew that an alternative to disposable pads existed! One of my babies wore cloth nappies but it never occurred to me that a similar product might be available for me.
I’d heard of menstrual cups. The Mooncup brand is fairly well-known these days isn’t it? I know many users who adore theirs. But I’d never been able to get on with tampons and I really didn’t want to be faffing about swilling and rinsing.
But I hate hate hate disposable pads. Plasticky, rustly, itchy, nastiness. And (this is probably the TMI bit I’m dreading but here it is) every month I finish my period with a bit of a nappy rash from wearing them. Yes. I know. Now you’re thinking about it aren’t you. Sorry.
So, after being bombarded with tweets and messages from curious people, I thought I’d answer their questions here and use this space to spread the word – there IS an alternative to disposables!
What are they made from?
The inner cores vary depending on absorbency. There is usually some combination of fleece, zorb and flannel. Some also have a layer of waterproof PUL fabric inside for extra security.
The backing fabric is usually some form of water-resistant fleece, although some makers offer a visible PUL layer as the backing fabric.
There is a range of fabrics you can choose from to top your pads, all have their pros and cons. I’m going to run through the three most commonly used by UK makers here, although cotton flannel, cotton jersey, sherpa, raw silk, procool, and suedecloth are popular options too.
Minky is very soft, doesn’t stain easily and is really good at sucking the liquid into the core. But it is quite bulky and can get a bit warm! It’s still a synthetic material so not all women can get on with it.
Really it’s just personal preference. All of them come in all manner of prints and colours. So many gorgeous fabrics to choose from. It’s very easy to become a bit obsessed!
How do you use them?
You wear them just like a disposable pad. They sit in the gusset of your knickers. I prefer pads with wings and they have a popper to fasten them, in place of the adhesive strips you find on disposables.
You can buy wingless pads. They tend to have a more grippy fabric on the outer bottom layer to stop them sliding about in your pants!
They come in a range of lengths, widths and absorbencies, depending on your needs, from panty liners right through to post-partum and night pads. You can wear them for the same amount of time as disposable pads but without throwing them away after one use!
How do you wash them?
Anyone who has used cloth nappies for their babies is probably already well-versed on this.
Some people like to soak their used pads in cold water until wash day. This can help reduce staining.
I dry pail mine. I already have a nappy bucket and a mesh laundry bag from before my youngest was potty trained. The bag sits inside to line the bucket. I put my used pads in here until I’m ready to do a wash. Or you can just use a waterproof wet bag hanging on the back of the loo door. Just pick up the whole bag, unzip it, and pop it in the machine. No mess. No fuss.
I wash at 40 degrees with normal laundry detergent (I use non-bio but I don’t think it matters) but NO fabric conditioner or softener because it can reduce the pads’ absorbency. I usually add a scoop of oxy stain remover or soda crystals too. As long as there is no PUL fabric in your pads, it is fine to tumble dry them on a low heat.
I wrote a whole separate post about washing your pads here.
What about when you’re out?
I have some little waterproof bags. You can get all sorts of different sizes and styles. Single pockets (one bag for clean pads, one for used). Or double-pocketed (separate sections for clean and used in one bag). All perfectly washable. I keep a small one in the bottom of my handbag. Easy peasy.
And because the pads have poppers, you can fold the used ones in on themselves so there’s no mess at all.
How much do they cost?
Compared to the price of a pack of disposables, the cost probably seems quite a lot but remember that each pad will last you at least five years.
Panty liners are usually just a few quid. Single pads range in price from about a fiver for a light or regular pad, up to around £14-ish for a super heavy night time or postpartum pad. Most makers offer starter bundles or multi-buy packages, as well as regular sales or discounts for free postage.
There are also online Facebook groups where you can buy and sell second hand, which is massively cheaper. Some people don’t like the idea of using pads that are pre-loved but you really can get some bargains and some of the American, Canadian or Australian brands are much more affordable this way.
Where do you buy them from?
There are lots and lots of UK makers. Usually work-at-home mums and, in my experience, always really helpful and friendly. I’ve written a post listing the brands I’ve used with links to their sites. You can read that here.
If you’re tempted to give them a go, I’d recommend buying a few liners in different fabrics to see which you prefer. Check the length and absorbency of your disposable pads and use that as a starting point to build up your own stash of cloth pads. The great thing is that you can buy pads that are tailored to suit you, depending on whether you need more coverage at the front or back or both!
So what do you think? Any questions? Anyone tempted? Or just totally weirded out? I love them. Really I do. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say they have changed my life. A large part of it is all the pretty patterns and colours. Another part is because I’m doing a tiny little bit to save the planet. But mostly they make me feel a bit better about myself when I’m full of raging, seething hormones. And that’s got to be a good thing, right?