By Sonja Plüss
Photos by Vulvani – www.vulvani.com
Somewhere along the quest of living a sustainable and healthy life, everyone with periods should consider their sanitary products. Conventional sanitary products contain a lot of synthetic material, glues and toxins. Furthermore they are use-and-throw products creating large amounts of waste. While in Switzerland this waste is burnt and creates CO2, in many places of the world the non-biodegradable sanitary products end up in landfills and water bodies. Therefore they are unhealthy both for your own body and also for the planet.
The alternative of the menstrual cup has become rather famous by now. Rightly so. However, today I will not give a review of the cup (there’s already a lot of them out there), but focus on what has been a bit in the shadow of the cup-glam: Reusable cotton pads. If cups are the holy grail of periodlandia, cotton pads are the satin cushion that the grail sits on. And I’ll tell you up front that I’m a huge fan.
At this point, I want to acknowledge that everyone’s period, should there be one, is different. So of course, the best thing is to try out yourself what is good for you. My experience should function to encourage you to re-evaluate your practices. Also I initially dared the switch thanks to hearing someone’s personal account of cotton pads in a trustworthy environment.
It was one of the first hot days at the end of spring when friends and I cycled to the temporary tiny house village at the border of the city. The village had created an open event around waste, or rather no-waste, and invited people to various workshops and tours of their tiny houses. On that afternoon I found myself in a cozy corner of a miniscule living room with three other women, talking and learning about blood, menstrual health and waste-free menstrual products.
Though I had used the cup already for several years, that’s the day that convinced me to also swap the synthetic, one-use pads to washable cotton ones. Without a single moment of regret. If you are like me and have periods on the bloodier side, then having a cup alone is not always enough. So I like to always combine the cup with pads or use only the pads in the later stages of my period.
Benefits of reusable cotton pads
- significantly less smell
- less sweaty, which is a huge plus in summer
- cheaper, it’s an investment at the beginning that will serve you for years
- you can support small, environmentally friendly enterprises instead of the big supermarket shelved brands of the conventional pads
- they come in happy colours and patterns
- never again glue on your vagina from a folded over pad
- no toxins (which are taken up by the genital mucous very efficiently)
- no smelly waste bins in bathrooms anymore because of…
- no waste.
Despite this list of amazing benefits, you may still have questions and hesitations. What about washing, what about travelling with the pads, how do you deal with used pads when you can’t just throw them away?
These questions make sense and switching from conventional pads to cloth pads requires the building of a new routine. However, I did not find it a big hurdle and it just needs a few small changes in your habit that soon feel completely natural. Here I address some considerations about practicalities.
- I give the pads a quick hand wash with cold water after I’ve used them. I then put them to dry and wash them again in the machine with the next cycle of clothing
- Long days out of the house and travel
- The good thing about the pad and cup combination is that you do not need to change the products that often during the day, even when your period is strong. Usually, being out for a whole day without having to change the pad was no problem for me.
- But what if you do need to change them? There are special reusable bags where you can put the used pad until you’re home. Also normal plastic bags work.
- When travelling for several days and you know you will be on your period, of course you should pack the pads which can take up some space. Same applies, the used pads can be collected in a separate bag until you have access to washing. The pads become a bit stiff when they dry but that’s it.
- Shapes, sizes and amounts
- There are bigger, thicker pads and smaller, thinner ones – for the different stages of the period or for the various degrees of bloodiness of your period, comparable to the conventional pads.
- How many of each size you need very much depends on your period and what other products you combine the pads with. I have one full cycle kit of 8 pads in different sizes. This is usually enough for me, but I also have 2-3 spare pads that have come in handy.
- Wear and tear
- Over time, the pads may get some change of colour on certain spots. However, I’ve used mine for nearly three years and the tear does only show minimally. They are still fully functional.
- From frequent washing, the fabric seems a bit more rough. However, whenever I wear them I still feel completely comfortable.
How using the cotton pads affected my attitude towards menstruation
Washing the pads means that, like with the cup, you confront yourself more with your ‘bodily fluids’. You touch your blood. You don’t just treat menstrual products as gross things that should “disappear” (eg go into the trash) as quickly as possible. Suddenly my period started to feel more clean to me. Really, the pads have supported me in a mindshift where I became more and more at peace with my period (well, ask me again when I’m experiencing cramps ^^).
Moreover, by switching towards a reusable product, I became increasingly aware of the amount of waste that is behind seemingly normal practices in all spheres of the household and personal care.
When I’m on my period, one will see the used and hand washed pads hanging over the radiator or any kind of bar in my room. At the beginning I was quite shy about it, trying to hide them. But I’ve decided to be fine with people potentially seeing the pads, also as a further step in the quest to normalise menstruation. So far, the reactions were always positive and there was friendly curiosity. Everyone would need to decide themselves how to do this, but as mentioned before, pads are a good opportunity for yourself to acknowledge your period in a different way and maybe some passive display can encourage others in that shift.
I’m convinced!! Where can I buy them?
I have not seen pads in stores much, but the internet gives ample choice. There are many brands that pay a lot of attention to the material used and the working conditions in the production of the pads. Here’s a rating of different bands on those parameters. The brand EcoFemme even distributes pads and menstrual health education to girls across India for each purchase. If you feel rather certain, I suggest buying a bigger set in one go to save (economical and ecological) shipping costs.
Pads or period underwear?
Something else popping up on my internet a lot lately is ads for period underwear. They are panties that have extra linings that function like a pad. I have personally never tried it and I’d rather have the pads which I can use with the same panties that I wear outside my period than having extra underwear (multifunctionality – a main principle for minimalists and making life more sustainable). But maybe the period underwear is something that works for you? Definitely worth observing the trend.
The mantra is: Dare to try something new and find out what suits you best. Wishing you a carefree, healthy and eco-friendly period!