Warning: This is will be frank on the topic of feminine hygiene products used for menstruation.
Disclaimer: I have not tried every brand of every type of zero waste, resusable, menstrual/period product. I am sharing information based on my research and experiences. I prefer to make suggestions based on personal experience but this is one area I do not have a large breadth of experience in. Hopefully this post will get you started thinking about reusables (or greener/cleaner choices) and what your next steps may be.
The #1 great thing about reusable menstrual products is that they can save years worth of money and landfill space. The cost up front may be more, but the savings long term should be to your benefit. For example for the price of one box of disposable pads you can purchase one cloth pad that will last you 10+ years. Considering “over the course of a lifetime, a single menstruator will use somewhere between 5 and 15 thousand [disposable] pads and tampons” (How tampons and pads became so unsustainable, National Geographic, 06-16-19) there’s tremendous cost savings to be had.
Where menstrual equity does not exist, where it may be difficult or impossible to buy disposable menstrual products: homeless, low income, living in poverty, developing countries, reusables may be an option if a woman has access to water.
Social taboos and lack of sexual health education in some developing countries means that this is something millions of young girls are experiencing right now.https://rubycup.com/pages/how-we-give
There are countless girls and women who still don’t have access to safe, effective menstrual products. Instead, they resort to using rags, paper and other unsafe materials.
But you can help change that.
The #2 great thing about reusable menstrual products is that you are not putting plastic inside your body or near your most sensitive parts.
The #3 great thing about reusable menstrual products is there is usually a discount code for major companies when you sign up in exchange for permission for them to email you. So take advantage of the purchase discount code and refund policy (if they have one) to try these out. There are also companies out there that will “buy one, give one” on their reusable products like Ruby Cup. Please share other companies who “buy one, give one” and I’ll get them listed here!
Three main products you may hear about are:
1) cloth menstrual pads
2) menstrual cups
3) period panties
Most of the reusable pads I have are over 10 years old. They’re in good condition, and might be in even better condition if I laid them flat to dry, pulled out immediately from the dryer, and soaked them, but I usually throw them in and wash them with everything else so they’re less than glamorous and have shrunk a small bit (they’re organic cotton). I bought a few more pads from the same company last fall so I can compare the size and confirm it’s just the smallest bit of shrinkage for all those years. I bought more because after having my son I more and more prefer using pads, whereas before having a baby I did prefer tampons. Yes, disposable tampons. We are all in process and striving for improvement.
Left: older pad that is 10+ years.
Right: newer pad September 2019.
Organic cotton washed on delicate cycle, delicate or air dry.
Apologies for the non-glamorous pictures, hard-worn organic cotton doesn’t photographic pretty.
My current pads, Glad Rags, have inserts that go into the slit you see pictured. You can stack the inserts for heavier flow. They don’t fall out, even while sleeping and I’m a wiggly sleeper! The Glad Rag night pad has a band you slip the inserts through. Other types of cloths pad can are layers of fabric sew together as one piece. Your choice. I will say that while writing this I saw Glad Rags has a lot of discount options right now, and a free pantyliner for the cost of shipping if you want to try cloth out.
I ordered my pads through a coop my mother-in-law runs. I needed a few more recently so I’ve just ordered some from Sacred Spiral Creation on Etsy. They were one of the few handmade/small business organic options I was able to find with a minimal amount of plastic (the backing is Eco pul, I’ll give it a try). Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find a 100% plastic-free small-business option (my Glad Rags are plastic-free-they’re only 100% cotton). I already have some hormone disruption I am working on and we try to reduce plastic where we can, so I try to avoid as much plastic as I can in general and then especially at one of the most sensitive areas of a woman’s body. You can find conventional and organic cloth menstrual pads at more stores now and there are tons of Etsy shops that will make menstrual pads for you in all types of shapes, lengths, thicknesses, fabrics, etc. Just read the materials carefully if you have preferences. Target online even sells Charlie Banana reusable pads and liners! Reusable menstrual products go mainstream!
At end of life clean menstrual pads may be recycled with other textiles such as at the City of Austin Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center Textile station or Goodwill.
The big news summer 2019 was that “a comprehensive new analysis published in The Lancet Public Health” “ found menstrual cups safe to use.” Treehugger jumped right on this as they have always supported menstrual cups. Treehugger shared the same information and The Lancet plus listed several of the more common brands of menstrual cups.
Treehugger has a great introduction to this product called 7 reasons to love a menstrual cup.
Most people who try these out love them. You can wear them all day, or at least longer than a tampon depending on your flow. They can last for quite a few years (some styles and brands even claim up to 10 years!), are easy to clean and store, and can be easy to use once you are familiar with them.
My personal experience with silicone menstrual cups is that my flow became more watery (therefore causing leakage) and my vaginal area would itch. This is not the typical or even a mentioned experience based on my research. As I’ve gotten older I’ve become more and more sensitive to silicone (mostly itching) so I attribute these symptoms to my body’s way of dealing with silicone (bracelets, earring backs, etc.). I still recommend you try menstrual cups if you are interested, but pay attention to the material type and please be aware the silicone may not work for you if you are silicone sensitive. I’m linking an overall positive PubMed result: Menstrual cup use, leakage, acceptability, safety, and availability: a systematic review and meta-analysis., where some example issues are listed so please review the possible concerns before trying a menstrual cup. Most people love their cup. Please note that the PubMed results do not seem to address silicone versus natural rubber/latex. Most menstrual cups tend to be silicone, so it may be assumed that most studies and reports only report results on that material.
A Keeper Cup is made of natural gum rubber (latex) and I’ve given this a try to compare to my silicone cup experience. The rubber cup still caused a watery leaking period for me which is not workable for me and my current lifestyle. So my body appears to not be cup-tolerant. Many people’s are tolerant and respond well. I don’t want to discourage you, I just want you to have an experience to take into consideration. I seem to be in the minority experience with menstrual cups.
The newest kid on the block, period panties, reduce or eliminate the need for pads or cups depending on the type you purchase and your flow volume. Doing a quick Google search there are tons of compilation lists to check out.
Read product descriptions carefully as some of these lists say the product is a period panty, which to me means replacement of a cup or heavier flow tampons and pads, but some of these “period panties” are designed more as panty liners to catch leaks or for light days.
At end of life period panties may be recycled with other textiles at the City of Austin Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center Textile station or Goodwill if you feel recycling is safe and appropriate, see the Warning below.
Warning: In January 2020, The Sierra Club published an article claiming some brands of period underwear have toxic chemicals in them. There was also a follow up article March 2020. As a result of these articles, and the high cut on the butt of Thinx (I don’t like my butt hanging out of my underwear) I do not use period panties. I’ll keep looking and researching so we’ll see what the future holds for me. Do your own research if material content is an area of concern for you. Read the materials and contents explanations closely. A period panty will save you thousands of disposable products so this could be a convenient and cost-saving option for you.
Others and final remarks
There are some other options out there. I’ve seen handmade reusable tampons on Etsy and sometimes you’ll see sea sponges that can be used like a tampon. Sea sponges make me a bit nervous because of how delicate natural sea sponges can be, and there needs to be a string in there somehow to retrieve it. Tampon alternatives may be one topic where you will need and want to do a bit more research yourself to find out what you are comfortable with and what will work for you and your family.
Many of the brands listed above and in the articles are the more commonly listed brands. Don’t forget to check out new kids on the block, and to check out and support these black owned reusable menstrual care brands: The Honey Pot Company (available locally-see store locator), Ruby Love, Femly, and Twistie On The Go. Many of these are natural and organic, some also sell single-use items, so check the single-use products post coming soon for more! Thanks for Period Equity and Chelsea VonChaz for sharing.
If plastic inside your body in a conventional tampon, or next to your body in a conventional pad, are of concern consider at least switching to organic cotton single-use products. I’ll be writing a separate post on this topic so stay tuned!
- “Tampon Tax”: Are you in one of the 20 states out of 50 that taxes menstrual hygiene products?
- Watch the CBSN Originals documentary, “Period. Half the population has one. But no one talks about it.”
- https://www.taxfreeperiod.com/#pledge. This site breaks it down by state so you can see if menstrual products are taxed in your state.
- If you are in Texas, consider signing a petition to end the “tampon tax” in Texas. Menstrual products are taxed, deemed nonessential for half the population and therefore taxable, but cowboy boots and dandruff shampoo are not taxed.
End Tampon Tax in Texas at Change.org
- Menstrual Equity: “Menstrual equity, at its simplest, is equal access to menstrual hygiene products.”
- Consider trying one of these products for yourself. Do your research, ask your friends (remove the stigma of periods!), and try something new. Remember little daily changes add up to big long-term wins!
- If this topic is near and dear to your heart, considering joining a group working to end period poverty and promote menstrual equity like Period Austin, your local PeriodsUnited chapter, Period, Happy Period, etc.
Be safe, be healthy, be green. <3