Cloth (re-usable) pads are probably one of the most controversial feminine hygiene products out there. Many people are immediately repulsed by the idea of washing and reusing a menstrual pad. That's an understandable reaction- menstrual blood is a bodily fluid, after all. But society also amplifies that mindset by encouraging us to use products that allow us to deal with our own menstrual blood as little as possible. That's okay, but it's important to know that getting more up close and personal with your period is not inherently bad. It can take a little getting used to, but it's perfectly safe, as long as you use basic hygiene.
There are basically two kinds of cloth pads: All-cotton cloth pads, and cloth pads that have a waterproof leak shield on the bottom. I first tried cloth pads years ago because I wanted a more environmentally sustainable feminine hygiene product. I chose all-cotton pads, and it didn't really work for me. But recently I decided to give them another go. I chose pads with leak shields this time, and I'm hooked. I still use other products as well, but I love having cloth pads as an option.
All-Cotton Cloth Pads
All-cotton pads are extra breathable, because they don't have anything leak-proof anywhere in the pad. It's nice that they're so breathable, but the lack of a leak guard presents an obvious problem. Most brands that carry these types of pads argue that the pads are so absorbent, the lack of a leak guard doesn't matter. And they do seem to work for some women, apparently even some who have heavy flows.
But for me, the lack of a leak-proof shield made these pads almost useless. Even though the pads were indeed pretty absorbent, there was nothing to force my flow to spread out horizontally through the pad. Instead, gravity pulled the liquid down through one spot in the pad and then down through my underwear... and clothing... and bedding. I can only imagine these pads working for me if my flow was super duper light. I have some all-cotton liners which are great for spotting and daily discharge, but when my actual period hits, I need leak protection. Plus, all-cotton pads tend to be really bulky, since they rely completely on absorbent padding to keep you dry.
Leak-Proof Cloth Pads
Cloth pads that have a leak-proof backing or shield work more like regular disposable pads do, with absorbent material on top and a liner underneath that prevents liquid from leaking through onto your clothes. The shield can be made from a variety of waterproof materials, such as PUL or nylon. These pads tend to be thinner than disposable pads, because the reusable material is extra absorbent. They're also thinner than all-cotton pads, because the leak guard means they don't need to bulk up with extra material in order to prevent leaks.
These are definitely more user-friendly than all-cotton pads, since they provide actual leak protection. But the leak guards on some pads can be damaged by certain detergents and chemicals, so you may need to be extra careful while washing them. But eco-friendly detergents and chlorine-free bleach are better for you anyway, and better for the environment, so this is barely a drawback.
Cloth Pads: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
Pro: They're comfier. Fabric feels softer against your skin than scratchy plastic and paper. There are no sticky adhesives to pull at your skin or hairs (cloth pads usually close with snaps). Cloth pads can help reduce irritation for skin that is sensitive to disposable products.
Con: They have to be washed. Once you develop a routine and figure out what works for your situation, it's really not that bad. But it's still an extra chore to deal with.
Pro: They reduce waste. Not throwing away tons of disposable feminine hygiene products means you're doing your part to help protect the environment. You'll be using a little more water for laundry, but you can always stick with eco-friendly detergents.
Con: You have to carry used pads with you. When you change your pad away from home, you'll have to carry your used pads home with you. But they can fold up into packets that keep the soiled portion entirely hidden, or you can carry them in a discrete pouch.
Pro: They save money over time. Because cloth pads can last for years, you'll spend less money on menstrual products over time. Especially if you usually by organic disposables, which can cost a small fortune.
Con: They can be expensive up front. Depending on the size and brand that you purchase, cloth pads can cost around $10 each. But you can always buy just a few pads at a time, and gradually grow your collection.
Pro: Variety. Cloth pads come in lots of amazing prints- stripes, polka dots, floral, paisley, rainbows, unicorns, you name it- and many different types of fabrics. They also come in tons of different sizes, from tiny thong liners to massive overnight and postpartum pads.
Thanks for reading!