how to have a zero waste period – cloth pads

This post is not sponsored in any way. All opinions are my own.

When I was in high school, I used to carry tampons to the bathroom hidden in my sleeve. Those days are long gone – advocating for my own reproductive health put an end to speaking about menstruation in hushed tones. It’s something billions of people do and a completely natural part of life. So, let’s talk about periods!

The Problem With Conventional Menstrual Products

On average, a person who menstruates will spend 6 years of their life with their period. That handful of days every month really adds up! This works out to approximately 10,000 tampons, pads, and/or panty liners ending up in landfills per menstruating person. In Canada, menstrual products can cost an estimated $6000 over the course of your life, with rural areas being more expensive. These costs can be prohibitive for a number of reasons, with 1 in 4 Canadians reporting that they have struggled to afford supplies. Inadequate access to these basic supplies can mean missed educational and work opportunities. Some great places to donate supplies to include Birth Mark, The Period Purse, and your local shelters and food pantries.

In addition to being costly, conventional menstrual products are single-use and made of plastic, cotton (a water and pesticide intensive crop with many ethical sourcing issues), and wood pulp, and are treated with chemicals for colour, absorption, scent, and waterproofing. A tremendous amount of resources go into producing and shipping these single-use products, only to end up in landfills and waterways. The need for affordable and reusable menstrual products could not be more clear.

Why Switch to Reusable Menstrual Products?

There is so much more to switching than just reducing waste! One of the most valuable things for me was learning to become more in tune with my body, especially as I enter perimenopause. While the initial cost of the swap is more expensive than a monthly supply of disposables, you will save time and money by not purchasing any more menstrual hygiene products for several years. Since switching, I am seeing more and more options pop up everywhere at more accessible prices. Some brands also donate to folks in need of menstrual products, so please consider this when making your selection.

So what are your options? In this series I will explore the 3 most popular options for zero waste – menstrual cups, cloth pads, and period underwear. I’ll discuss my experience with them, average cost, frequently asked questions, and more. Keep in mind that there is no perfect solution – your body and circumstances will change over time, so go with the flow…literally.

Cloth Menstrual Pads

What Are Cloth Pads?

Just like they sound, cloth pads are reusable versions of the disposable ones. They usually have an absorbent fabric (like unbleached cotton, flannel, or bamboo) on the side that sits close to your body, and a waterproof fabric of some kind on the underside. Some folks report irritation from the tops of disposable pads, so natural fabrics should improve the situation. Rather than an adhesive, cloth pads have wings with snaps on them to fit around your underwear. Some brands have little “no slide” bumps on the underside to hold them in place as well. Just like disposables, cloth pads come in different lengths and styles to match your underwear type. Some options even have removable insert pockets for extra protection. 

In my opinion, cloth pads are much more comfortable, fold up much smaller and are more discreet than disposables, and they don’t make awkward crinkly sounds. Cloth pads are great to use in combination with the cup for heavy days or extra protection. A friend of mine also mentioned that they are great for postpartum, especially if you are dealing with stitches. The best thing about cloth pads? All the beautiful, funky, weird, and hilarious patterns they come in!

How to Choose Cloth Pads

Choosing a type of pad depends on your needs, body type, and your underwear. How often you need to change your pad depends on your flow and your comfort, but in general you will need 8-12 pads for daytime and 3-5 for overnight. This can get expensive to purchase all at once, so consider adding in a few each cycle as you use up your disposables. 

Cloth pads are widely available these days and with so many options, you are bound to find something that works for your body and your budget. Prioritize purchasing from for a local maker on Etsy (who may be able to customize for you) or purchase from a local small business. If you decide on a larger brand, be sure to order directly from them rather than Amazon.

Another option is to make them yourself! These are a great DIY for reducing waste, saving money, and using up scrap fabric. Check out Pinterest for patterns and tutorials on how to make them. You’ll need access to a sewing machine and basic sewing skills for this project.

A “wet bag” is an accessory that I definitely recommend for storing the used pads before laundry day. You can also get mini ones to toss in a backpack or purse for on the go. Any small waterproof bag works though, so see what you have on hand before purchasing new. You can also look for one secondhand where they are usually listed with cloth diapering supplies. I definitely regretted giving our diaper wet bag away!

COST: $0-$25 USD each depending on the brand and type of pad.

Overhead view of a wet bag, containing several cloth pads in various floral prints.
My little wet bag, which works for home or travel. Holds up to 8 used pads and can be tossed in the washing machine. My wet bag and pads are all from The Brand Hannah.

How to Clean Cloth Pads

One of my hesitations with cloth pads was the ick factor, but then I remember that I cloth diapered two babies (at the same time!) and quickly got over it. I also assumed that it would be inconvenient, but it’s pretty much the same as bringing disposables with you and you don’t need to do a separate load of laundry.

When it is time to change your pad, rinse and wring them out thoroughly with cold water and keep it in a wet bag until your period is over. You can also rub them with some soap or a stain bar at this time. I recommend folding it up and closing the snaps to keep the soiled part covered until laundry day. If you have a longer period, you can hang them to dry before wash day to avoid them getting funky. Always wash in cold water as hot water causes protein-based stains (like blood) to set in rather than wash away. Make sure you unsnap them and toss them and the wet bag in your machine with other household linens and your usual detergent.

Hang to dry to extend the life of your pads and save energy. If you have stubborn stains that bug you, dry your pads face up in direct sunlight for some magic “bleaching” action. This worked wonders on our cloth diapers too!

When I first swapped out disposables, I thought the cup would be it. As my body and cycle changes though, I am grateful for cloth pads for light days and spotting. They are are more affordable and accessible option than period underwear and a great way to try out reusables for your period.

Are you ready to make the switch to reusables for your period?

6 thoughts on “how to have a zero waste period – cloth pads

  1. Really good and informative article! I made the switch to cloth pads a couple of years ago and it is definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made. I save so much money and feel a lot better about not creating so much waste.

    Liked by 2 people

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