What Are Reusable Period Pads?

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There are more sanitary products available for women than ever.

The most common options are disposable pads and tampons which come in virtually any size and are suitable for any type of flow. Many women and girls are introduced to these when they start their first period and will use them thereafter.

There are some newer kids on the block though, and as we become increasingly eco-conscious, reusable pads are one such sanitary product which are becoming more popular.

The principle behind reusable pads is simple.

Instead of using disposable products each time you have your period, you have one set of high-quality reusable pads that can be washed each time.

Yes, they may not last forever and ever, but they can last a very long time and they’re perfectly hygienic, very comfortable and yield many other important benefits for women, girls and the environment.

The Anatomy of Reusable Pads

Reusable pads are designed in the same way as disposable sanitary pads/napkins/towels.

They normally use soft cotton and fleece and are attached to underwear via wings with small plastic clips. Different sizes and thicknesses are available for different flow levels, e.g. light flow, medium flow and heavy flow.

Because they’re made from super-soft fleece and cotton and have no chemical additives, reusable period pads are hypoallergenic (not likely to cause allergies) and rarely cause skin irritation, even during prolonged usage.

There’s nothing strange or unusual about reusable pads. They have the same tried-and-tested design as standard disposable sanitary pads but are cheaper, more comfortable and better for the environment.

How Do You Use Reusable Pads?

Reusable pads aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel by any means. Their purpose is to take the tried-and-tested familiar designs of disposable period pads and make them way more eco-friendly, cheaper and better for women and girls.

  1. Once you receive your reusable pads, it’s a good idea to give them a quick wash before first use.
  2. They fit your underwear in the same way as disposable pads, simply wrap the wings around and clip them into place.
  3. Reusable pads come in different thicknesses for different flow. The padding has broadly the same absorptive capacity as disposable pads.
  4. Pads can be easily removed and folded up before washing.
  5. Washing reusable pads properly is very important to keep them hygienic but also easy. The most comprehensive way to wash them is to let them soak in cold water overnight with some tea tree oil or hydrogen peroxide and then throw them in the washing machine for a standard 40-degree wash with no softener and only light detergent. Letting them soak for 30-minutes or so will also do the trick.
  6. Drying reusable pads properly is important. It’s best to air dry in the warm sun and fresh air, but drying next to a radiator is also fine, so long as the drying process is relatively quick.
  7. Bloodstains should be minimal but even so, they won’t pose any health or hygiene problems and once dry, the pads should be fresh and ready to use!

What is the Point in Reusable Pads?

There are many!

Reusable pads are beneficial for both their users and the environment. They’re cheaper and are made from recycled or eco-friendly, sustainable materials. They also lead to improved menstrual education and ultimately, the liberation of women from poor-quality synthetic and over-priced main brand sanitary products!

Cost

Over a lifetime, a woman can spend £13 a month on sanitary products and other costs relating to menstruation. That works out to over £4,500+ in 30 years of menstruation. Even in 10 years, it works out to over £1,500.

It’s a lot of money for anyone, even in the UK, but in other countries, sanitary products are simply unsustainable to purchase every month.

Where women and girls can’t afford sanitary products or don’t have sufficient access to sanitary products and other facilities required for safe menstruation, e.g. lockable toilets and fresh running water, this is called period poverty.

Period poverty is a global problem. It is estimated that some half a billion women and girls around the world live month to month in period poverty.

In many countries across Asia, Africa and Central and South America, women and girls simply can’t keep up with the costs of disposable pads each month. In Kenya and many other African countries, girls are found to use rags or in severe cases even mud and soil to prevent menstrual bleeding.

Period poverty is not confined to poorer countries, though it is most prevalent across Asia and Africa. In the UK, a study by Plan International found as many as 1 in 10 girls have been unable to afford sanitary products. This has worsened rapidly with the continued coronavirus pandemic and charities and food banks are reporting that they’re providing 6 times more sanitary products compared to before the crisis.

Eco-Conscious

Reusable pads are undoubtedly better for the environment compared to disposable pads. A woman can go through as many as 22 pads in one period, working out to over 10,000 in a lifetime. In the UK alone, some 43 billion sanitary products are used each year – you can only imagine how many are used worldwide!

Most of these will end up in landfill or in the oceans, and it’s not just the pads, tampons and products themselves but the plastic packaging they use.

Tampon Applicators on Beach
Tampon Applicators on Beach

If everyone uses reusable pads, these pretty awful statistics would be cut by some 99%.

Not only are reusable pads made from fleece and cotton, which are sustainable materials when farmed properly, but the small amounts of plastic the use for the clips are often recycled.

For example, Trade to Aid’s reusable pads are nearly wholly made from cotton fleece and the plastic clips are made from recycled plastic only. Factor in the reusability of reusable pads and you can quickly see why they’re much better for the environment both at the point they’re manufactured and the point they’re disposed of.

Reusable Pads Are Easier to Access

Disposable pads are the temporary fix. Charities and NGOs can provide free disposable pads – obviously, this is always better than nothing – but these need to be constantly supplied.

This is why many girls and women in poorer or developing countries have to improvise with rags, etc, not just because they can’t afford disposable pads but simply because there aren’t any sanitary products to access at all.

Even charities and NGOs struggle to keep up with demand and the supply of disposable pads has to be constant and consistent. It’s very hard to build and maintain supply lines of disposable pads in more remote areas that are harder to access. It’s generally unsustainable in the long term.

Reusable pads solve these practical issues. Since they can be reused and will last a long time with proper cleaning, reusable pads really reduce the need to constantly resupply disposable pads in developing countries.

Improve Menstrual Education

Disposable pads are a multi-billion pound/dollar industry. All the different brands, varieties, styles – the truth is many are owned by the same parent companies that have huge overall monopolies.

Disposable pads

The sanitary product market has always been under fire for its tendency to stereotype women and girls as needing to keep their periods secret, discreet and under-wraps. They urge women to mensurate in private away from prying critical eyes. On one hand, this seems natural, but on the other hand, it can worsen issues with menstrual education and reinforce it as a taboo rather than an essential component of our biology.

In the 21st century, menstrual education is still poor in many places around the world and menstruation is a serious taboo. For example, in India, some 71% of girls have no idea about menstruation and mental health until they have their first period. Girls and women are often actively marginalised when menstruating and may be disallowed to socialise with their families and friends.

There is much work to be done here but reusable pads are a vital component in our journey towards creating positive conversations surrounding menstruation.

Why should women have to burden the cost of buying disposable pads? Why should they have to be secretive in menstruation and shunned by society when they’re on their periods?

And why can’t reusable pads be treated as any other laundry? When we cut our leg and bleed on our trousers, we wash those, right?

Comfort

Many women and girls switch to reusable pads for ethical and environmental reasons but stay because they’re genuinely super-comfortable!

Reusable pads are made from soft, natural cotton and fleece. Cotton is hypoallergenic, meaning it’s unlikely to cause allergies or irritation.

Disposable pads, contrastingly, nearly always contain synthetic fibres and plastics and many of these can cause irritation or other issues. One such chemical is dioxin, a known carcinogen that is found regularly in disposable sanitary products.

Pads from leading brand Always came under fire in 2015 when they were analysed for chemical addictives, revealing a whole host of known carcinogenic and other harmful chemicals such as acetone, heptane, styrene and toluene. For comparison, many of these chemicals are the same as cancer-causing chemicals in cigarette smoke.

Chemicals in disposable pads
Chemicals Found in Disposable Pads

Not only are reusable pads more comfortable, but they don’t contain harmful chemicals in commercial disposable pads.

FAQs for Reusable Pads

Are Reusable Pads Hygienic?

Yes, they are absolutely hygienic.

To make sure reusable pads stay hygienic, cleaning them properly is very important. Provided they are correctly cleaned and dried properly, reusable pads will not need to be replaced for some 5 years or longer.

It’s best practice to soak reusable pads overnight in cold water with a small amount of hydrogen peroxide or tea tree oil mixed in. This will greatly decrease bloodstains.

What Temperature Should you Wash Reusable Pads?

40 degrees is best. Any lower is not hot enough but higher temperatures can ‘set in’ bloodstains. Even then, bloodstains should fade vastly to a very pale browny red colour (which is mainly residual iron from our blood).

Can you Tumble Dry Reusable Pads?

It depends on the pad, but when a pad IS tumble-dryer safe, you will have to use the lowest heat. Trade to Aid found that tumble drying would affect the structural integrity of the pad so we do not recommend it. It’s always best to air dry reusable pads in sunlight where possible, but the most important thing is drying them thoroughly and relatively quickly. Make sure they are bone dry before you put them away and use an airing cupboard if possible

How Long Can You Use Reusable Pads?

It depends on how well you look after them! Anywhere between 3 – 6 years or more is easily possible. Many women report holding onto reusable pads for longer, though.

How Many Reusable Pads do I Need?

Reusable pads have broadly the same absorption capability as disposable pads. So, if you go through 3 – 4 pads a day then you’ll need a minimum of 12 assuming that you’re washing pads every other day.

For example, on day 1, you’ll use 3 – 4 pads. On day 2, you’ll wash those first 3 – 4 pads whilst wearing pads 5 – 8. On day 3, you’ll throw pads 5 – 8 in the wash and wear pads 9 – 12. After day 3, you’ll then have 8 pads dry and ready to go and can wash pads 9 – 12.

It’s always best to have too many pads rather than too few!

Period.