Presented in partnership with Lunapads.
My first encounter with the weird side of periods was in college.
I learned my friend used a menstrual cup.
Never having seen one before, I imagined a paper cup tied around her waist so it dangled right below her vagina – a horrifying image. I couldn’t imagine it being very clean or practical. Flash forward to a few years later, and I couldn’t have been more wrong- I’m now a total convert.
So, now you have me using a menstrual cup. Natural next step?
I decided to make the switch to reusable cloth pads. It was definitely a learning curve of figuring how exactly how to position the pads and when to change them, but I love how comfortable they feel, how they leave room for my downstairs to breathe, how much money I save, and how I’m also preventing waste.
Myth #1: Reusable pads and underwear are more likely to leak and won’t last very long.
This is a complete myth.
Because I hated the way disposable pads felt, I decided to try a reusable cloth pad. I wasn’t sure how many I would need, so, at first, I just bought two. One was an everyday pad in my favorite teal color which came with a liner you could add in as needed and the other was an overnight pad with colorful smiling llamas on the back.
The first time I wore one was strange but wonderful.
At first, I couldn’t stop thinking about this piece of cloth in my underwear but after I got over that, I just forgot about it. The organic cotton felt soft against my skin.
Plus, I didn’t feel like I was wearing a diaper. Win? Most definitely.
Though I had incidents early on in my period evolution where I positioned the cloth pad too far forward or back – leading to a partial leak! – once I got that down, I stopped having issues. I’ve worn my pads on their own for about five hours – and as the second-in-command to my DivaCup for up to eight hours.
Since I recently switched to an implant for birth control, it has made my period lighter. Because of this, I’ve mostly just been using reusable pads and they work great.
Reusable cloth pads come in a range of sizes for all types of flows and body types. There are also pads specifically for overnight use, which as we know can often be the time when leaks strike. Accidents can happen, but as long as you make sure to change it, you can spend your day worry-free.
Myth #2: They’re awful for the environment.
I’m currently on birth control so my period is sometimes lighter than it would normally be. But, there are still days where it can be very heavy.
So if I’m using tampons, that means I’m using anywhere from 11-30 tampons every cycle (over 300 tampons every year).
I didn’t realize just how many tampons that was until I did the math. That adds up to between 5,000 and 14,000 tampons in your lifetime. So the switch to cloth pads? That was easier to make than I thought.
Besides, who doesn’t like a chill period experience?
Myth #3: They won’t work for people with an extra heavy flow.
If you feel like you bleed through pads so quickly it’s as if you forgot to put them on, good news! You’re in luck – because there are styles specifically designed for you.
When I first started getting my period, my mother taught me that if I ever spilled blood on my underwear, I could soak it with baking soda and it would help get the stain out. Every time I had a leak, I would rinse off my underwear, sprinkle a little baking soda, leave it to soak in the bathtub and forget about it for a few hours.
This worked for years.
After college, when I moved in with my long-distance boyfriend, I was so anxious at the thought of him seeing my dirty underwear in the bathroom. Eventually I, of course, did have a spill, but he never acted like it’s a big deal – as any respectful partner should.
On heavier days, I often add an extra insert which I change mid-day or simply use the pad on its own. What I like about inserts is that, even though they add extra protection, they never really make the pad feel bulky or stuffed. At night, I usually switch to an overnight pad. There are also maxi pad styles you can invest in.
Extra protection always helps, no matter how heavy your flow.
Myth #4: They are unsanitary.
Though my mother had bought me my first pads and taught me how to use a tampon, she had also reminded me never to tell my father that I was on my period or let him see what was in the trash.
In her time, you didn’t discuss “female issues” out in the open, whereas people from my generation are tired of hiding and will discuss it with friends (regardless of gender). When I decided to make the switch to cloth pads, I was in college and, feeling rebellious, rather than discuss it with my mother, I did my own research. I read reviews online and watched videos of people using them.
Once I was convinced, I was all in.
I was happy to hear that most pads are made of organic cotton, making them free of toxic dyes, bleaches, and other chemicals, whereas many big name tampon and pad companies refuse to release their entire list of chemicals. Seriously? A consumer group that tests disposable pads found some could contain styrene, chloroethane, and chloroform.
For that reason alone, I don’t think of reusable pads as gross.
First off, I’m not exposing my vagina to any chemicals. On top of that, if just popping my cloth pads in the laundry doesn’t feel like enough, I can handwash or presoak them, making them extra clean.
Myth #5: You can’t wear them during exercise
Reusable pads have snaps to hold themselves in place and as long as you make sure to wear suitable underwear, the pad shouldn’t move around at all. When I do yoga or go hiking, I make sure to wear a longer one. That way, even if it moves, there’s plenty of pad to catch all the blood. Many of my pads come with two sets of snaps so if I feel like I need to, I can also make them extra secure.
Although it’s definitely important to note that you shouldn’t wear pads if you’re swimming because – regardless of whether they’re cloth or one-time-use! – your pads will absorb whatever liquid is around them…which can get gross.
Myth #6: Changing them during the day is awkward and carrying them around is smelly.
I won’t lie to you, your period sometimes makes you smell. I have a special bag for my pads, so when it comes time to change them, I usually fold mine up and snap it shut, which keeps some of the odor in, then pop them in the bag. That bag locks away all the odor.
There are also zippered wet bags available online, which are often designed to lock in odor.
Myth #7: They are uncomfortable.
This is definitely not true!
Like I said, reusable pads are usually made of cotton or a similar material, making them softer on your skin and more breathable for your vah-jay-jay. Whenever I used to wear disposable pads, I often felt like I was wearing a diaper.
Not so with cloth pads.
Myth #8: They only come in one size.
Cloth pads have come a long way! They are now sold in a range of sizes from panty liners to maxi and thongs.
The pads also range in actual width of the pad size so if you prefer a short but wider pad or a thin but longer one, there are options for you. If you want to forgo pads entirely, there’s even underwear with built-in protection that offers a leak-proof lining and removable insert.
While I haven’t tried the underwear yet, I have several types of pads that I will swap out depending on where I am in my cycle.
Myth #9: They won’t work for pregnant, postpartum, or non-cis people.
Pads are often a better solution for those who are pregnant or postpartum because they are so comfortable and also work with mild bladder leaks, a common occurrence with pregnancy. If you don’t like using cloth pads, you can pick from types of underwear style such as briefs, hipster styles, and boxer briefs.
Myth #10: They are unsanitary to wash with your regular laundry.
It may seem gross to wash your pads with your regular laundry, but it’s just like washing your daily underwear. The first time I was ready to wash my pads, I put them right on top and was so anxious about what would happen with all of that blood.
They came out slightly stained (hey, that’s what it means to use them!) but clean, and the rest of my clothes? Blood-free.
I now wash my pads in a normal cycle and never worry. If it really skeeves you out, you can also handwash your pads.
Myth #11: They’re expensive.
Although it might seem like you’re spending a lot on reusable pads, keep in mind that once you buy a reusable pad, it will last for a long time, often from three to five years. In the long run, you are actually saving money. Many companies also sell value kits which offer enough pads to cover your entire cycle.
I used to buy a box of tampons or pads once every few weeks, which really added up.
When I switched over to reusable pads, I bought three pads. Four years later? They’re still working, even if they’re definitely battle-worn. They’re not showing signs of falling apart anytime soon.
Now that I’ve been using them regularly, I plan to buy some cloth panty-liners for lighter days, next.
Myth #12: Reusable pads and underwear will ruin your sex life.
This is an absolute no-no. Because, first, your partner should never make you feel ashamed or disgusted for having your period.
Second, regular menstrual cycles are a part of a normal, healthy life.
And third, sex during periods is actually known to prevent cramps.
If you enjoy having sex during your period, stopping to take out your tampon or cup can be a bit of a mood-killer. On the contrary, cloth pads can be folded up and snapped shut making them super discrete.
Win-win for everyone!
Myth #13: You will spend the whole day feeling like you’re sitting in a pool of blood.
Uh, not true.
Reusable pads absorb as well as regular disposable ones. I recently switched over to only using Performa pads, and had to get used to a concept called “free bleeding.”
(Quick PSA: It’s not the type of free bleeding where you’re bleeding through your clothes.)
But I’ll be honest: I was more aware of my period, which meant that I got more in sync with my flow. Early on, I would flee to the bathroom because I was sure it had leaked through, but – surprise, surprise – it never did.
Thank god, right? Right.
I never noticed this before with throw-away pads, because there’s so much material down there that you never get that feeling. After I got used to the sensation, though, it was smooth sailing. Though sometimes I can feel that there is, in fact, blood in my pad, the pad itself doesn’t ever feel like it’s soaked or wet.