Cloth Menstrual Pads – The reaction you get when mentioning this name varies from intrigue and enthusiasm to skepticism and disgust. But let’s face it, the demand for safer, eco friendly menstrual products is on the rise and the humble cloth rag is making a modern comeback in the form of cloth menstrual pads as we know them today. They come in all shapes and sizes, beautiful colours and prints. As a fashion designer, cloth enthusiast and perfectionist, I have spent many long hours watching and reading reviews, sewing up different patterns, subjected female friends and family members to testing, and researching fabrics in my search for the perfect pad. It turns out these products can be surprisingly technical for just a little piece of cloth that hangs around in your undies all day. Here is a list of the most important factors I have found when choosing the right cloth pad.
- Fit and Style
As I mentioned before, modern cloth pads come in all shapes and sizes. Choosing the right shape and size will ensure your success in using them.
- Wider pads will not necessarily offer more protection. In fact, they are often the ones that end up leaking and can be pretty uncomfortable. A cloth pad should fit snug around your underwear. If it is wider than your underwear, it will bunch in the center, which can be uncomfortable and leak down the sides. Adjustable snaps is a bonus so that you can adjust it to the size of your underwear.
- Pads do not have to be bulky to be absorbent. I often see that people judge a pad’s absorbency by its thickness, but super absorbent pads can be really trim and comfortable. It’s all in the art of sewing and the correct fabric selection, which brings me to my next point.
This was a hard one for me, I spent hours obsessing over which fabrics would make the perfect cloth pad. Here is a variety of different ones that work well, and the ‘perfect’ combination for you is very dependent on individual preferences. Let’s break it down:
- Topper fabrics – This refers to the fabric that goes against your skin. The two main choices are synthetics (man-made) vs natural fabrics. Natural fabrics are absorbent, cool and breathable, and generally considered the the better option for people with sensitive or allergy prone skin. Natural fabrics also tend to feel wet against your skin and are more prone to staining. Synthetic fabrics (most often polyester) can be thick, feel hot and cause bad reactions to people with sensitive ‘lady bits’. The upside to using synthetic fabrics is that they are naturally moisture wicking, so you will feel dry. They are also less prone to staining.
- Absorbent core fabrics – There is quite a long list of fabrics that can be used for core absorbency. Most fabrics used are natural, but some are synthetic. The main factor to take into consideration is bulkiness. Examples of bulkier fabrics include Zorb, microfiber and cotton toweling. Trimmer options are hemp, cotton in the form of fleece or flannel, and bamboo fabrics. These trimmer options are highly absorbent without adding bulk to your pad.
- Backing fabrics – This refers to the last layer that lies against your undies. There are quite a few different choices. Some are waterproof and some are water resistant. Both work really well, but fabrics with a smooth texture like woven cotton or PUL tend to slide out of position easier, whereas a textured backing grips better onto underwear and therefore stays in place for longer.
This is not an important factor for some, but pretty prints and colours can cheer up any dreary period day. There are so many beautiful designs to choose from on the market, we really are spoilt for choice!
Not convinced that cloth pads are for you? Here are a few frequently asked questions.
How do I use cloth pads when out and about?
It is easy to use cloth when out and about. Simply carry a small wet bag (waterproof bag) in your handbag (even a ziplock bag will work). You can store your used pads in there and wash them once you get home. Most cloth pads fold into a nifty little square which you can snap closed, so everything is contained inside your wet bag.
How do I clean and wash my pads?
There are a few different ways you can wash your pads. Some people like to soak them before washing them. The best way I have found is to rinse your used pad under cold water, rub on a stain treater soap, and store in a wet bag in your bathroom until you are ready to wash all your pads together. They can be washed in any normal washing load provided you rinse them out beforehand. Be sure to avoid fabric softeners as this can compromise the absorbency of your pads over time.
Aren’t cloth pads dirty and unsafe?
No, in fact using cloth pads is far better for you than the disposables that contain all sorts of nasty chemicals, which can be absorbed by your body. Menstrual blood is not dirty like many people believe. If you wash your pads thoroughly and keep good hygiene habits they are perfectly safe. You can also add a bit of tea tree or lavender essential oils to your laundry as these are naturally anti-bacterial.
On a final note: Not only are cloth pads a great money saver, eco friendly and beneficial to our health, they also provide a good solution to women and girls that cannot afford disposable products. There are many wonderful organizations hard at work to get these products out to needy communities. This ensures that girls stay in school to get a better education and dignity for all. Perhaps consider finding similar projects in your area to see how you can contribute to spreading the cloth love.