Back in April, I decided to do something brave: I stopped using disposable sanitary pads. No, I didn’t replace them with tampons. In fact, I replaced them with something your grandmother probably used: reusable cloth pads.
Why, you ask? Well, disposable pads are bad for you, the environment and your wallet. Did you know the average woman will use up to 16,800 disposable tampons during her lifetime?
That’s a lot of pads — and a lot of waste. And not just trash, I’m also talking wasted money. Here’s something to think about: Let’s assume a woman menstruates for 40 years and buys a $8 pack of disposable pads every month. That adds up to $3,840 over a lifetime.
All that money could have gone to personal savings, college loans or a nice vacation! That’s why I decided it was time to look into cloth pads, and I’m so glad I did. Not only am I saving some cash, but I’m also doing my body — and the environment — a favor.
Since I know the mere idea of switching to reusable pads can be intimidating, I’m going to break it down for you. I’ll show you how much money reusable pads saved me, why they’re better for your health and environment and explain my own personal experience with cloth pads.
Reusable Cloth Pads Save Money
Switching to reusable pads is also great for your wallet. I should know: Using them has already saved me over $40 worth of pads in the five months I have been using them. The disposable pads I usually buy cost around $8, excluding tax.
That amount certainly adds up: At the end of the year, I was dishing out at least $96 on disposable pads.
I bought a full cloth pad set for $80 from The Little Flower, complete with three light day pads, six regular day pads and two overnight pads. This pad set will last me anywhere from two to five years, depending on how well I take care of it.
If I only keep them for two years, I save approximately $192 on disposables. If I keep them for five years, I save a whopping $480. Sweet, right?
Reusable Cloth Pads are Better for Your Health
Did you know that disposable pads are made out of plastics, cotton, wood pulp and synthetic fibers?
And if you’re thinking “Oh, but cotton is a safe material to use,” know this: Conventionally grown cotton is one of the most toxic crops around. According to the Rodale Institute, cotton growers use 16 percent of the world’s pesticides. To make matters worse, the materials in pads are bleached with chlorine dioxide, which creates polluting and harmful bio-accumulative by products, like dioxin. These chemicals enter the environment and body and remain there for decades.
But it gets worse: The disposable pads also include artificial fragrances and synthetic chemicalsto the mix. Is this really a product you want near such a private, sensitive area?
I certainly don’t. All those chemicals can cause a number of health problems, like allergic reactions, hormone disruption and reproductive issues. Count me out.
Reusable Cloth Pads Help the Environment
Disposable pads are ridiculously wasteful. Since every woman is different, the amount of pads you save from heading to a landfill each month will vary.
Before switching to cloth pads, I would typically go through one-and-a-half packs of pads in a month. Each pack had about 24 pads in them.
So, in other words, I was sending about 36 pads to the landfill in just one period cycle (that’s in addition to the non-recyclable, plastic packaging). Worse yet, it takes hundreds of years for the plastic in disposable pads to decompose. Not too disposable if you ask me.
Sadly, just by being a woman with a period, I was pretty much contributing 432 pads per year to the landfill. Since I was 11 years old when I first got my period and I’m now 22 years old, I guess you could say I’ve contributed 4,752 pads to a landfill, give or take. That’s a harsh reality to live with.
By switching to cloth pads in the last five months, I’ve saved 180 pads from heading to the landfill. It’s something to be proud of: Any step towards reducing your waste is a good step, considering the average American produces 4.4 pounds of garbage a day.
My Experience with Reusable Cloth Pads
You’re probably wondering by now how you’d even go about using cloth pads, right? It’s not as much of a mystery as it sounds: They operate exactly like disposable pads, only you need to wash them and dry them. It takes a lot of work, and it’s certainly not for everybody, but it’s well worth it.
First, I’d recommend buying a pad set from a seller you trust. Some sellers, like mine, let you choose the fabric and patterns of your pads. I got a mix of different fabrics (cotton, minky, windpro fleece and pul) and chose to mainly go with floral designs.
The pads also came with KAM snaps, which made the pads super easy to secure in place. Unlike disposable pads, I didn’t have to stick them onto my underwear or rip them off when I was done. Just snap and unsnap.
They’re both machine and hand washable, but since I don’t have a washing machine in my apartment, I just used the sink. After I prewashed them, I let them dry before using them.
I don’t have access to a dryer either, so I made an impromptu clothes line by using a clothes hanger and safety pins.
I change my cloth pad every 2 to 3 hours. While wearing disposables, I would change my pad every two hours, or even in one hour if my flow was heavy. It’s safe to say the cloth pads are way more absorbent!
My cloth pad set came with a wetbag and a pad wrapper. A wetbag is a safe place to store dirty pads in, and a pad wrapper (made out of pul) protects my cloth pads when not in use (like how disposable pads have a plastic wrapper to keep them sanitary in your purse).
The only time I need to use the wetbag is when I’m out and not able to wash my pads right away. I would stash both my wetbag and my pad wrapper in a big purse while out and made sure to take it with me whenever I went to the bathroom. I know it sounds gross, but the inside of a wetbag is lined with waterproof material, so it won’t leak.
At home, I rinse the used pad under cold water in the sink until the water runs clear (this helps to prevent stains). Then I prepare it for washing by placing it in a bin filled with cold water. At night, I wash the pads in the sink using an all-natural detergent and let them hang to dry.
I repeat this process over the course of my period without issue. Sure, the cloth pads took a little getting used to, but since I had a great pad set, I really had no complaints —they were super comfortable to wear.
It was also a huge stress buster to be able to get these delivered straight to my house. I’m sure most women can relate when I say buying pads at the store is not fun. I’ve been given dirty looks and even been snickered at simply for purchasing conventional pads. It felt like there was a huge sign over me that read “Period, she has her period!”
But now with these reusable pads. My period remained just that: mine. No one else’s, and that’s empowering.
By using reusable pads, you’ll be saving a buck, and doing your body and the environment a favor. Sure, it takes a little extra elbow grease, but it’s all doable and worth it.
Because the truth is, nobody should have to pay extra in their lifetime just because they have a period.
Ariana Palmieri is a green beauty and green living blogger whose work has appeared on MindBodyGreen, Motivation Grid, Jeannine Morris, Basmati, and National Viral. She mostly blogs about zero waste living, which is all about finding creative ways to reuse and upcycle materials to help the environment.