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Reusable Menstrual Products

by Anne Tait (follow)
Parents (138)      Miscellaneous (43)      How To (22)     
WARNING…This post is about PERIODS and MENSTRUAL PRODUCTS. If you are sensitive about such topics I suggest you read no further as such some of what I discuss below may be considered “too much information” (TMI) for some.

cloth liners
Cloth panty liners

I've always been reluctant to discuss this topic with people other than close family as I know that there are many who can't handle the conversation without throwing around words such as "gross" and "ewwwww”, and shuddering as they recall the stories their mothers and grandmothers shared of menstrual products from back in their day. I’ve realised, however, that by NOT talking about my experience with these products I am contributing by omission to the lack of awareness about them.

Reusable menstrual products (RUMPs) are as varied as any disposable product in today's market - and now include cloth pads, cups, sponges, reusable tampons and more are available.

From an environmental and economic standpoint these products punch above their weight in terms of value.

Do the maths yourself. How many disposable pads or tampons are you contributing to land fill per year? How much money are you spending for the privilege of doing so? If you don’t like the answer you get for either of these questions then keep reading, do some more research, and make a change.

cloth liners
Lunette menstrual cups. Image courtesy of Lunette.com

My personal RUMPS  journey began when I realised that I was spending anywhere up to $20 a month (that's a whopping $240 a year!) on sanitary products (this includes liners for daily wear as well as pads for my period). To some people this won't seem like a lot of money but in my household it is.

I’d heard that there were alternative menstrual products available and a small amount of googling brought me to Amy Nix's YouTube videos. Amy is a strong advocate of RUMPS.  She shares much of her knowledge and know-how with her viewers. It was Amy's videos that made me realise that I could put my sewing skills to use making my OWN pads (don't fret if you can't sew, there are hundreds of cloth pad sellers on Etsy). My mind was made up...cloth pads all the way for me! If you aren't a fan of pads, menstrual cups or sponges  may be of interest to you.

I decided to start small and found a simple and free pattern for a panty liner that could be made out of flannelette. One metre of flannelette (flannel) cost me less than $4 and was enough to make eight liners. This might not seem like much but when you consider that these 8 liners would be enough to last me at least a year then the saving is clearly evident. An hour of my time saw a nice little pile of liners awaiting washing and use.

cloth liners
Sewing panty liners is easier than you may think.

These liners were the most comfortable I had ever come across,  so I went ahead and took the plunge to making menstrual pads. I purchased another couple of metres of flannelette, sacrificed a towel from my linen cupboard to make an absorbent core, purchased poly-urethane laminate (PUL) fabric to use for waterproofing and set to work making myself some pads. The total cost of materials was roughly $15. Again I was amazed at how comfortable and easy care they were.

cloth liners
Despite its bulky appearance this cloth pad is comfortable and suitable for a heavy flow.

Don't be fooled by thoughts that keeping pads clean is hard work or gross because it really isn't. Let me put your mind at ease right now. There are very few, if any, clots to be dealt with on the pads. This had been one of my concerns as it was a problem I experienced with disposable pads. The pads are literally thrown in the washing machine, with a stain remover if necessary, the same as any other clothes.

The fact that blood is present makes no difference whatsoever. As a mother I have dealt with my fair share of blood noses, skinned knees and poopy diapers, I don't see these pads as any different. In fact I would rather clean 20 pads than have to deal with a single nappy explosion.

There are two main options for dealing with used pads that are awaiting washing:
Dry storing. Used pads are kept in an otherwise empty bucket or container until you are ready to wash them. A breathable cover (a towel is perfect for this) across the top protects the sensibilities of any household members that are sensitive about blood. Despite what you may be inclined to think, there is no smell involved when dry storing. When it is time to wash you can either soak them in a bucket of cold water and stain remover for a few hours and then throw into the washing machine or they can be thrown directly into the washing machine.
Wet storing. Pads are kept in a bucket or container that is full of water until you are ready to wash them. If you choose this method you must make sure that you change the water daily to prevent the bucket from developing a smell. When it is time to wash the pads place them in the washing machine as normal.

For me personally I prefer to dry store my liners for a few days until I am ready to wash them (my liner collection has grown considerably since I made my initial 8). However, when it comes to pads I only dry store for a maximum of 24 hours (this is mostly due to the fact that I don't have enough cloth pads to last a full cycle without washing them daily). Pads can be dried in the sun, in a dryer, or on a drying rack in the house.

I can not reiterate enough that dealing with cloth pads involves no “gross” or “ewwww” factor. Would you throw away a pair of pants simply because your pad leaked and you bled on them? How about your sheets? I'm assuming your answer is no and that the thought of doing so seems silly.

Cloth pads are no different than any other clothing item that has blood on them. Soak (if you choose to), wash, and then dry them in exactly the same way you would with your clothes. Easy, better for the environment, much friendlier to your budget, and so much prettier than disposables.

selection of fabric prints
A sampling of some of the pretty flannelette prints I have in my fabric stash.

Surprising and unexpected facts I've learned about reusable menstrual products:

Unlike tampons, menstrual cups carry no risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)
A menstrual cup can be left in for up to 12 hours at a time depending on how heavy your flow is (yes, this is completely safe)
Cloth pads can be made from flannelette,  velvet, cotton, fleece, satin and any other number of new or up-cycled materials. The absorbent core can be made from towelling, flannel, zorb or any other highly absorbent material
Pads can be made with or without a waterproof layer
A large number of cloth pad retailers will send you a free sample (usually one of their liners) and all you have to pay is postage
Menstrual cups were invented before tampons
For a lucky few, using cloth pads reduces cramps and the number of days of bleeding (I feel blessed to be one of them). A lot of women also report a reduction is blood clots and severity of bleeding
Women can be classified as either a front, middle, back, or combination bleeder (it has to do with where the blood gathers on the pad). You can buy pads specifically designed to suit the type of bleeder you are. Don't use disposable pads to work out which type you are as the absorbent core in these spreads the blood across the entire pad most of the time
For the cost of two month's worth of disposable sanitary products I can buy enough supplies to make more than a year's worth of pads
There is a secret underground world of cloth and cup user pages and groups on Facebook
Etsy is a great place to buy handmade pads
You can vary the absorbency of a handmade pad by changing the thickness and/or material of the core. The greater the number of layers, the greater the absorbency
For those in need of them, cloth pads and liners can double as incontinence pads
Once you start sewing pads, you can't stop. The amazing variety of fabrics and prints makes it a highly addictive pastime.

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