Getting Started with Reusable Menstrual Products

Garbage from tampons wastes money

If you use cloth diapers for your babies and if you are looking for waste-free, reusable products in the rest of your life, it’s a natural next step to keep the change coming and use cloth menstrual pads or a diva cup. Getting started is easy.

The quickest way to start: borrow your baby’s diaper doublers and see how easy it is. Toss them in with the diapers, and wash.


What You Need to Start

If you don’t mind sharing diaper doublers with your baby, it really is easy to start.

Just be sure that you have

  1. something absorbent,
  2. somewhere to put them until you wash, and
  3. something to carry them in while you travel.

The simple solution includes items that can be borrowed from cloth diaper accessories or improvised from supplies you already have.

  1. wash cloths
  2. diaper pail
  3. small wet bag

The more advanced solution includes buying or making new supplies.

  1. specially made menstrual pads
  2. a bucket or soaking pot that can hold water
  3. a bag for your purse

Menstrual Pads. A lot of people want a leak-proof layer, but I just don’t find this necessary. It’s one more place for laminated (plastic-coated) fabric or micro-fiber that just isn’t necessary. All you need is absorbency. Natural materials work best, and anything absorbent will do. Our wool diaper doublers are just the right size for cloth pads. If you sew, you may find that some of your scraps are just the right size for cloth pads, which is a great way to divert more materials from waste.

Menstrual Cup. Rather than using an absorbent layer, you can use a cup instead of tampons. This is such an easy solution. The Diva Cup, for example, is medical-grade silicone—latex-free means no allergic reactions. It can be worn for up to 12 hours. I think it still helps to wear a light pad.

Natural Sponges. If you are used to tampons, you might find natural sponges a good alternative. You can even sew a string into them to help pull them out. You just rinse well, following instructions to be sure that they are clean, let them dry, and reuse.

Panty Liner. My favorite light pad or panty liner is a silk diaper liner. The liner is very thin, soft next to the skin, and just enough of a barrier.

Bucket or Pot. An ice bucket works really well. I have a pedal garbage can (with a removable liner) because I have a dog who is a thief. My favorite solution is one I don’t currently have: a ceramic pot that is actually made for cloth pads. I’ve seen some gorgeous ceramic pots, and I hope I own one before I don’t need it any longer.

Planet Wise Mini Wet Bag

Wet Bag. Any small wet bag will do. Many wet bags are made of nylon. I have used a wool bag as well, which is very absorbent and doesn’t leak through. My new favorite bag, though, is the Planet Wise mini wet/dry bag because it has two zippered pockets, one for dry and waterproof one for wet. This is a perfect size to fit in a purse.

Reusable menstrual products are an economical and environmentally-friendly choice. With cloth menstrual pads and menstrual cups you also enjoy safe, chemical-free protection. Once you give these a try, you’ll never go back to paper, plastic, and gel pads or bleached tampons again.

Pregnancy by Nature carries a full line of reusable menstrual products.


More Resources for Reusable Menstrual Products

Helping Your Teenage Daughter Choose Reusable Menstrual Products

Teen Girl with family

You cloth diaper your baby, use reusable products throughout your house, and you’ve tried to create a more sustainable lifestyle for your children. They will begin to make their own choices at some point. When you’ve directly modeled an action and they understand how easy it is (like washing kitchen towels), or when it just doesn’t occur to them that there is another way to live (like cooking meals from scratch), they will probably follow your choices to a great extent.

What will happen when they don’t have a direct model, though? What will happen when they don’t want to talk about their choices? What will happen when reusable products make your child stand out among peers?

What will happen when your daughter reaches menarche (her first period)?

For those who think this is far, far in the future, if your little girl is six years old and you find yourself surprised by that, just know that twelve will sneak up just as fast. It helps to think through now what you will do to help your daughter become familiar with her body and her options for menstrual products.


Create Familiarity

Creating familiarity was my strategy. My daughter (and everyone else in my house) knows that I use cloth pads. It’s just part of our life and not hidden or whispered about. Some of us grew up in households where the natural functioning of our bodies was not a welcome topic. If that was the case with the family you grew up in, you have the power to change that with your growing family. If your daughter is comfortable asking you questions about your period, she will be more comfortable asking you about her own period.

My daughter is generally quite private. Despite my efforts to be the radically open parent (or maybe even because of them), my daughter hated talking about puberty. I persisted, but I wasn’t annoying. I tried to keep the door open and knock on that door occasionally as I could see that puberty was coming. She did ask questions, though, and I answered her questions as she asked them, so I knew it was working just to be available.

I told my daughter how we handled potty training. When she was a toddler, I showed her where there were underwear in her drawer in addition to diapers and explained how underwear work. One day, she told me she planned to wear the underwear all day, and she did. That was it. Potty trained.

When she was about twelve years old, we did the same with cloth pads.

I have a lot of cloth scraps in a rainbow of colors. My daughter chose a time when we were alone, and together we drew the shape of a basic cloth pad that snaps around the underwear with an extra layer in the center. We cut out half a dozen and sewed them. Then, she stuffed them into the back of a drawer so her brother would never see them.

For a long time, that was it. I occasionally knocked on the door and talked to her about changes, but I didn’t push too much. When the time came, she just used the pads on her own. By making sure that she had access to what she needed, I tried to be sure that she could be as private as she wanted to be.

That was not it with cloth pads, though.


Be Open to Options

My daughter is a dancer. She spends a lot of time in leotards and tights. The cloth pads were uncomfortable for her, but also she hated how bulky they were. “Please just let me use tampons,” she said. I asked her to trust me that we could find a way to use reusables, and she did.

We kept looking for better options. We did the research together. She was completely unwilling to use a menstrual cup, but she decided to try natural sponges. These actually worked really well, but she still needed some kind of pad, so she finally tried Lunapanties. These start with the same long oval as the Lunapads that snap around your underwear. Rather than being held in place on a pad with rickrack, though, they are held in place on underwear by tucking the pad under elastic. No extra bulk snapped around the underwear.

Basic Lunapads set

I tell you what my daughter chose not because it is the solution for every girl but because it was the solution that finally helped my daughter embrace reusable menstrual products. I adore Lunapads because they helped my daughter relax and stop worrying about accidents. My daughter washes her own sponges and puts her pads in the same bucket with mine for wash. She’s less sensitive about her brother knowing now. She’s comfortable talking with friends about what she uses. And, she’s committed to reusables.

In the end, what menstrual products my daughter would use was not my choice. I certainly tried to influence her choice, but I recognized that she would do whatever she wanted to do, so I tried to keep the pressure off and the conversation open. My low-level persistence in talking about it and my openness to hearing and trying to understand what wasn’t working for her paid off.

My advice to you cloth diapering mothers who think this choice is far in your future is to start now with the openness. You don’t need to talk about periods or cloth pads necessarily. Just learn how to hear what your daughter needs and answer her questions. Create a pattern of discussion as a foundation for later. If you can see that puberty is coming, inform yourself about the full range of options for reusable menstrual products and talk to your daughter about those options. I’ve known girls who loved choosing their own fabrics for pretty pads, but my daughter is far less interested in pretty. Figure out what is important not to teen girls in general but to your daughter specifically. Tell her why it is important to you that she choose a sustainable option, and she’ll probably be willing to follow your lead.

Image Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Caring for Cloth Pads and Menstrual Cups

Lunpads Maxi cloth menstrual pads

Another easy product to replace with reusables is menstrual pads or tampons. Instead, you can use cloth menstrual pads or menstrual cups.

I keep saying that using cloth diapers, cloth baby wipes, cloth kitchen towels and other reusable products is easy, but that’s only after you cross over that lack of familiarity to the other side. If you haven’t washed your own menstrual pads before and you haven’t known anyone who has, making that leap to reusable can be intimidating.

If you find the idea of washing cloth pads or inserting a Diva cup intimidating, I suggest that you search YouTube for videos. A lot of women have shared their experiences, and seeing these friendly faces talk you through the process can help you understand the basics of use and care.


Care During Your Period

Planet Wise mini wet-dry bag

First of all, be prepared. If you are away from home a lot, be sure that you have a pad or cup in every purse or bag. My Planet Wise mini wet/dry bag is perfect. I love this bag. There are two zippered compartments. I keep clean pads in one side and used pads in the other. Though the bag lays flat with unfolded pads inside, it can also fit folded pads, natural sponges, or menstrual cups.

If you need to carry used pads home, any moisture-resistant, washable bag will do.

Cloth pads. At home, where will you store your pads until you wash? I used to just set them on the floor next to the toilet, which works fine if you have no pets. If you have pets, you need a barrier, like a cabinet door. A lot of women put pads dry into a small, open top bucket or pot then soak them all together at the end of their cycles. If you have pets, you can put this bucket under the sink. I have a small pedal bin with a removable liner. My clever dogs have learned to operate the pedal, so I just turn the pedal toward the wall.

During your period, you just need a place to carry and store your pads safely.

Menstrual Cups. When you use a menstrual cup, just empty the cup, wash it with hot, soapy water, then reuse. If your soap might leave a scent or an oily residue, you can buy liquid soap formulated specifically for menstrual cups. Be sure to wash your hands in hot water before handling your cup.


Care After Your Period

Organic cotton menstrual pads

After each cycle, clean your reusable menstrual products thoroughly before you store them.

Cloth pads. Before washing cloth pads, I find it helpful to soak the pads to help release the stains. You can use oxygen bleach, peroxide bleach, or an enzyme soak (which digests organic materials like blood). Do not use hot water, since hot water can set the stains. Keep in mind that dirt and organic material are easier to remove at the same temperature they were when the stain was made. That means, soaking at body temperature is ideal. Leave to soak for several hours at least.

Then, wash on cool or warm (not hot). You can wash with dark clothes or towels, or just wash a small load of pads and underwear.

Dry in the sun to bleach stains naturally or dry with clothes or towels in a dryer.

Menstrual Cups. If you have washed your cup after every use, it should be quite clean, but you may still want to boil it for 5-10 minutes IF this is recommended by the manufacturer. (We sell the DivaCup, which can be boiled carefully.)


Storage

Menstrual cup with bag

Once they are clean, store your menstrual supplies in a clean, dry place in the bathroom. I have a drawer just for pads. Put your menstrual cup in the small bag it came with. This allows air flow.

Caring for reusable menstrual products really is easy. Are you ready to try them out? My favorites are Lunapads. I like the products; I like the company (based in Canada); and I love that this is the product that convinced my teenage daughter to use cloth pads. More on that later this week.

Cloth Diapers, Cloth Wipes, and Mama Cloth, Oh My!

Raising Arrows profile

Long before I cloth diapered, I used cloth pads. That’s kind of backwards from the norm, I know, but when I first learned of mama cloth, I didn’t have a little one to diaper. I had read so much good about cloth pads, I wanted to jump right in and try it.

The very first pads I ordered were from a WAHM (Work At Home Mom). Despite the fact that stuffing them was a bit clumsy, I fell in love! I kept an old ice bucket (purchased from a thrift store) filled with water beside the toilet. I just dumped them in there and no one was any wiser as to what my bucket was for. At the end of my cycle, the entire bucket was dumped in the washer and washed clean, ready for the next month.

When I started cloth diapering, I realized how cloth diapering and using mama cloth truly do go hand in hand. I no longer needed the ice bucket, I simply tossed the mama cloth in the diaper pail I kept in the bathroom. Mama cloth and diapers all got washed together!

Then came the addition of cloth wipes. Everyone in the family decided these were a great idea. Once again, the use of cloth wipes just made sense. The diaper pail served to house them as well. Everything went to the laundry together and the whole world was a happier place.

Occasionally, family members chide me for using cloth because back in the “olden days” people would have given their right arm to have the time-saver of disposable products. However, the benefits I’ve reaped from using cloth far outweigh any time savings. Less cramps, less poopy blowouts, less clogged toilets are just a few of the benefits I’ve received. In addition to all of that, I’m helping to lessen the load this planet has to bear. So to those who say, “Oh my!” when I tell them I’m a cloth mama, my answer is, “Oh yeah!”

Amy of Raising Arrows received the greatest number of your votes for The Most Inspiring Blogger in our Blog to Inspire contest.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and not necessarily those of Eco Baby Steps or Parenting By Nature.

Pregnancy by Nature carries a full line of cloth menstrual pads and other reusable menstrual products.