Hello my lovelies.
Your resident Period Warrior is back with a bit more of an explanatory post on the ins-and-outs-and-upside-downs of reusable cloth pads. I’ve set this up as a phantom Q&A, these are just a set of questions that I personally asked myself when I was on the fence about converting to RUMPs. Hopefully this will give you a bit more of an idea of what you’re letting yourself in for, and answers to any scenarios or mentalities that might be putting you off making the change, or even trying them out. I will follow this up with a similar Q&A on menstrual cups, as I use a combination of the two per cycle. Here we go!
Q: What are cloth pads made of?
A: All sorts of materials, and they are usually composed of a top layer, an absorbent core, and a backing. The ones I own are mostly cotton-topped or bamboo-fleece topped, with a hemp or cotton flannel inner core, and a micro-fleece backing. Of course there is a vast pad-verse of combinations to choose from, but I generally opt for a cotton-top as the main factor of choice as I find them the most breathable, the thinnest materials, and most like my underwear, so practically unnoticeable when I’m wearing them. They come in all sorts of lengths and sizes, and I would recommend trying a mixture to see what suits best. The cotton ones also feature most of the adorable prints & designs you’ll see. I’ve seen a lot of BEAUTIES, including many-a-Disney print, Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, vampires, llamas, doughnuts…whatever you can think of, it’s probably out there.
Q: How are they different to reusable pads?
A: Obviously the main difference is that you look after them, clean them, and wear them again. You wear them pretty much like a disposable, only there is no adhesive to stick them to your underwear; instead, you fold them around your underwear as normal, and popper them around the back to keep them in place. The fleece backing stops them from sliding around, so they do stay put. One huge reason that I decided to convert was COMFORT – for me, disposable pads felt horrendous, so itchy and warm and plasticky. I found it pretty unbearable and swore an allegiance (now happily defunct) to tampons. The reusables in comparison, are incredible. They feel so soft. It’s such a treat for the most sensitive part of your body.
Q: How do you clean them?
A: I have tried a few different cleaning methods, but the one that I have taken a liken to recently is this: You take your pad off, fold it in half, or popper it up into a little discreet square if you like, and put it in a wet bag. You don’t soak it, or put anything on it, you just leave it in the wet bag until the end of your period. Then the night before I go to clean everything, I fill an ice bucket with cold water, add half a scoop of Vanish Oxy-Clean, and put all the pads face-down in the water. Leave to soak for a few hours, or overnight. When you’re ready to clean them properly, I put them in the washing machine – with my other clothes – add my usual detergent, and then in the drawer I add another half a scoop of the Vanish. This gets rid of any staining – even the white ones are kept pristine this way. The one thing I must stress is DO NOT USE FABRIC CONDITIONER – it affects the absorbency of the pads. Then you just pop them in the tumble dryer on a low heat, or if you’re lucky and have access to a sunny back garden, hang them on the washing line. If you want to avoid soaking the pads beforehand, that’s easy – just put the dry used pads in the washing machine (emptied out of your wet bag) and put them on a cold rinse before you go into the full cycle, preferably a long one, and just use a full scoop of Vanish. That’s worked for me before, so it can certainly work for you.
To break this down into a very basic formula:
KEEP DRY IN A WET BAG + SOAK IN COLD WATER + STAIN TREAT + WASH AS NORMAL.
Q: Isn’t it weird to leave them lying around the house?
A: I am in a very lucky situation in which I live with my partner, who is incredibly open-minded and understanding about the whole procedure. I talk very openly about menstrual cups with him, and I leave my wet bag hanging on the bathroom door, or my Mooncup to dry on the windowsill, or next to the sink. I even asked him if he wouldn’t mind popping my pads in the dryer the other day, as I’d not left myself enough time to, and he was perfectly fine with this. They were clean, after all! I encourage this level of openness but I also understand that a lot of people will want to be discreet about their period. What I would say is this: Take responsibility for washing and drying them yourself, and keep your clean laundry in a drawer, as you would with your disposables. It is very possible to keep these products private, you just have to figure a way that works best for you. And if anybody finds a wet bag on the back of a bathroom door and starts digging around in it, then woe betide them if they operate on this level of snoopery in other areas of life.
Q: Do they smell?
A: No, they do not smell. I feel like this is a perfectly valid question because as I recall, disposable pads would tend to develop an odour after a little while. The reason for this is the chemicals that are used in the core for absorbency: they react with the blood and cause them to smell. Blood itself, does not smell. If anything, I think if mine smells of a slight something, it’s almost mildly sweet? Is that just me? If you left the pads for weeks on end in a zipped-up wet bag then yes, they would become mildewed and a bit gross as they’ve been starved of oxygen, but this is why it’s so important to look after them. I have tested the concept of them having an odour when they are looked after properly, and I can conclusively say that the wet bag with all its glorious folded-up contents, smells of nothing at all. If you are immensely paranoid about this, you could always pop a few drops of essential oil in the bag, or store it next to some Lush products?
Q: Aren’t they unhygienic?
A: Again, no. I feel as though a lifetime of disposables have trained us all to think of period blood as a disgusting, infectious substance. It is not. It is perfectly fine to touch it, to let a pad absorb it or a cup collect it, and then clean those items for another use. The process of menstruating may feel a bit gross, but it is essentially your body doing a spring clean of your womb – nothing scary, nothing that’s bad for you, nothing that’s going to cause an infection if you make contact with it. As long as you clean your reusables thoroughly, I don’t see what the difference is between cloth pads and underwear, or even sex toys. They’re all making contact with your genitals, they’re all being cleaned and used again. Think about somebody’s else’s genitals, hands, mouth? Do you viciously sanitise those before they take the plunge and then throw those away after use? [Insert various lifestyle choices here.]
Q: What about if I’m not at home?
I use a little blue pouch from EcoFemme to carry a couple of spare pads, and another to keep used pads in. Thereon I store the bags in the little zippered compartment in my bag, where I used to keep my tampons and such. Again, just keep something lightly perfumed in there if you’re still in the mindset that they have an odour – again, they don’t!
Q: Do they leak?
A: Based on their main usage (for me) as cup back-up, in case my menstrual cup overfills or leaks for some reason, I have never had a problem with leaking. On the odd occasion that I decide I don’t want to use my Mooncup and just rely on pads, I tend to turn to the ones with a little extra protection, just in case. Some of my regular and heavy ones have a layer of PUL (Polyurethane Laminate), which is waterproof, and very reassuring if you’re a tad wary of how heavy your flow is going to be. And no, they don’t feel like a raincoat.
Q: How many do I need?
A: This is a difficult one to answer, but I will say based on my own experience – that I can manage each period comfortably based on a combination of 10 pads and a menstrual cup. That’s a ‘stash’ that I have built up over time, as I was transitioning slowly and using a mixture of reusables and disposables until I felt I had enough to fly solo. Four of the pads are small thin pantyliners, about 6-7 inches in length; three of them are regular-flow pads which are slightly longer, and three of them are heavy-flow/overnight pads. If you are starting off on a few pads to see if you get along with them, I would recommend buying a pantyliner, a regular pad, a heavy pad, and an overnight pad. Mix them up with your usual period routine and see how they feel for you.
Q: Are they expensive?
A: Compared to disposable pads, yes. I think of them as an investment, as they are feasibly going to last for 5-10 years, and in that period I will not have to even consider buying tampons or pads, or those little plastic purple discretion bags I used to put them in post-usage. Try Precious Stars for a range of budget pads, and Etsy has a gigantic range of UK sellers providing cloth pads. (Extra points for supporting a local business!)
Q: Where can I find more information?
A: YouTube! This has been my main source of information. My top four channels are:
(They are all amazing ladies, but I have to say that Bryony of Precious Stars has been incredibly informative and candid about cloth pads, and started her own business when she was 15!)
All in all, menstruating people, I really hope that this has helped you to consider a trial of cloth pads. Whether like me, you use them in conjunction with internal protection like a menstrual cup or a tampon, or you just want to mix them up with your disposables to see how you get on with them, I wish you the best of luck. Give yourself a huge eco-friendly pat on the back for looking after the environment and your body with such aplomb!
Until next time,
(Image from Lady Days Cloth Pads)