A Beginners Guide: Zero-Waste Menstruation Using Cloth Pads

Zero-Waste PeriodApproximately half of the earth's population (give or take a few percent) will experience menstruation throughout their lifetime. While this, in itself, is a very natural process, the materials most commonly used during this time are anything but natural. There are, of course, menstrual cups available, but not everyone enjoys using them as they can be a bit hard to position properly. That's why the use of reusable period pads is an excellent alternative to disposable pads and tampons, as well as menstrual cups!

What are reusable menstrual pads?
Most people know what a menstrual pad is. Bluntly said, it's a big cotton-like pad, sometimes with wings, that can be put in your underwear to collect menstruation blood. A variation of the menstrual pad is a panty liner. Menstrual pads can be used only once and are often lined with some form of plastic as well; we will get into that later.

A reusable menstrual pad is often made using fabric with strong fibres like hemp or cotton. The middle is usually lined with a few extra layers of cloth to endure a heavier blood flow, and in some cases, the "wings" are attached using click-on buttons. Reusable menstrual pads can be homemade as well, using leftover fabrics or old t-shirts, provided that they've been cleaned properly beforehand. A big perk of reusable menstrual pads is, like their name states, that they can be reused. This prevents waste and saves money over time, as well!

Cloth menstrual pads have around for a long time. Before the current disposable pads were invented, most women wore cloth to prevent leakage. Women in poorer countries usually use cloth as well, since it's a cheaper alternative to disposable pads. Sometimes there aren't even shops nearby that provide disposable pads.

The downsides of disposable pads
In addition to environmental reasons, there are other reasons as to why reusable pads are better for you to use.
First of all, a lot of tampons, sanitary pads and even diapers are produced and shipped in lots of plastic. And unlike most plastics, the packaging of sanitary pads are often disposed of in a specific sanitary bin. It is unlikely that the plastics in this bin get recycled; therefore they will ultimately end up in a landfill.

Secondly, while many ingredients in such a sanitary pad need to be listed on the package, you probably won't know exactly what's in your pads. Your vagina has thin skin, is sensitive to other substances and has its own so-called ecosystem. When you use a pad with scent, for example, it may interfere with the natural environment, heightening the chances of getting a UTI or other infections. This is also true if you have a sensitivity to a chemical found in the pad.

A study has shown that most sanitary pads and tampons contain phthalates, pesticides, dyes and harmful chemicals. No wonder women all over the whole world are warned about tampons causing toxic shock syndrome. Phthalates may be new to you, but these are types of acids added to plastic to increase their flexibility. Not something you should put in or against your sensitive vagina.

It's also expensive; let's take a look at the following calculation. If a person gets their period around 12 years old until the menopause at around 55 years old, this means they will get their period for 43 years. Not taking into account that this person can delay their menstruation with either birth control or pregnancy, this would mean 12x43= 516 periods during their life!

A person with an average period may bleed for about 5 days during their monthly menstruation, needing 4 pads throughout the day. This equals 20 pads per month. Or 10,320 pads for a whole lifetime. A maxi pack of 32 normal sanitary pads costs about $5. This person would need to buy 322.5 maxi-packs throughout their lifetime, coming to a total amount of $1612.50!

Wanting to be able to wash reusable pads, it's handy if a person owns about 20 of them. 20 high-quality pads will cost you about $70 if you chose to buy these ones. Reusable pads can last years with the right care, so long that you will probably only have to replace them 3 times. This will equal $280 in total. That's 6% of the price of disposable pads!

How to care for cloth pads
Now that you've made the right decision to stop using regular sanitary pads and switch to cloth pads, it's helpful to know how to care for them to make them last the longest.

First of all, how grossed out by blood are you? Some people don't like the thought of blood-stained clothes mixing in with their other clothes in the laundry. If you are one of them, you can choose to wash your menstrual pads separately.

Machine-wash: since many cloth menstrual pads are smaller and maybe even more delicate than the rest of your clothes, you can wash them up to 40 degrees to prevent them from shrinking. Just add a little bit of vinegar instead of softener. It's best to rinse the pads before washing. You can use laundry detergent but try to use an ecological or natural brand to prevent any other toxins from coming into contact with your delicate area. It's also better for the rest of your clothes.

Hand-wash: if you prefer to wash your cloth pads by hand, this is also fine. Just fill a bucket with water up to 40 degrees and add in a bit of white vinegar and soda. These are natural antibacterial substances that will get your sanitary pads clean and odourless. Once they've been washed, you can hang them to dry.
Do NOT put your pads in the dryer. They may shrink or break!

So all in all, period pads are best to be used when made from cloth which is better for your health, the environment and your wallet. As a bonus, they come in tons of great colours and patterns.


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