how to have a zero waste period – period underwear

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.

Period Underwear

What Are Period Underwear?

A little different from that old “first day” pair of underwear in your drawer, period underwear look and fit just like regular underwear but have a built in menstrual pad. There is typically a triple layer of fabrics that wick moisture away from your body, trap fluid inside, and prevent it from leaking. Some brands offer different absorbency options, additional inserts for heavy days or postpartum, as well as options for bladder issues. 

Like cloth pads, these are great to wear if the cup isn’t for you, in combination with your cup for extra protection, if you are expecting your period or have unpredictable spotting. I think they are also great for teens who are just getting comfortable with menstruating. Depending on your flow and the brand and style you choose, you can wear them for 8-12 hours.

How to Choose Period Underwear

Period underwear are designed to look, feel, and fit  just like regular underwear. They come in different fabrics, colours, patterns and styles from thongs to shorts. Sizing should be the same as your regular underwear, with absorbency level being the key factor. In my opinion, it’s better to go up a level and not need it than not have enough protection. 

How many pairs you need depends on your flow, your cycle, and how often you do laundry. Because they are the most expensive option for a zero waste period option, try slowly adding them in over time. Starting out on light days is a great way to get a feel for them. Be sure to support local brands with inclusive styles and models wherever possible.

COST: $25-$50 USD per pair depending on the brand and style.

How to Clean Period Underwear

Just like with cloth pads, period underwear need to be rinsed and wrung out in cold water after wearing them. A wet bag is helpful for holding on to pairs until laundry day or for travelling. Any waterproof bag works for this purpose, or you can look for one secondhand in zero waste period or cloth diapering groups. After that, they can all be tossed into the washing machine with your regular laundry. Be sure to wash on cold and hang to dry. 

Full disclosure, I have not yet tried period underwear. I preferred tampons in The Before Times, so I naturally gravitated to the menstrual cup. I added in cloth pads for spotting and that combo suits my needs just fine. That said, the folks I know that use period underwear absolutely swear by them! If menstrual cups or cloth pads aren’t for you, period underwear may be just the ticket.

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

A pair of pink boxer shorts with red heart and a pair of pink thong style underwear hang on a clothesline with wooden pegs against a bright blue background.

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