Cloth vs. Disposable Menstrual Pads
Cloth or disposable menstrual pads? Trying to decide if cloth pads are worth it can make you feel like throwing in the rag.
Like most personal choices, the right one is what feels best for you and your lifestyle. You can pick one option and stick to it entirely or alternate — for example, wear reusable cloth pads when you’re at home and disposables when you’re out and about. What kind of menstrual pad is best for you? Here’s the lowdown on both types.
1. REUSABLE CLOTH PADS
Savings – Buying enough cloth pads to cover an entire menstrual cycle will set you back more than what a pack of disposables costs. But once you have that set of reusable pads, you’ll never have to buy another pad or tampon again – for as long as five years. Over time, owning reusable cloth pads can save you loads of money. According to one personal finance blogger, reusable menstrual products can save you over $100 a year.
Better for the Environment – Reusable pads keep a lot of disposable products out of landfills. It’s estimated that the typical woman uses more than 11,000 feminine hygiene products in her lifetime. And that’s just one woman. Needless to say, that’s a lot of trash and money. Reusable products last much longer and stand up to multiple uses. They also don’t contain the toxic chemicals that disposables seem to have that can’t be good for your body or the environment.
Less irritating – Cloth pads are made from soft, breathable fabrics that allow for air flow. This means there’s less sweating, irritation and chafing when you wear reusable cloth pads. Some women are sensitive to the bleaching agents used to get disposable pads’ pristine white color; switching to cloth pads is an immense relief to many women because of that. Some even say that once they switched, their menstrual cramps and P.M.S. decreased dramatically. And thanks to increased air flow, there’s less chance of getting a yeast infection when you’re wearing cloth pads.
Highly customizable – If you browse through our listings of the best reusable menstrual pads, you’ll see the choices of styles, sizes and fabrics are massive. There are more options for cloth pad customization than you’ll ever find among the disposables at your local drugstore. Not only can you choose the best size and absorbency for your needs, but you get to choose the colors and patterns that most reflect your personal style.
The Yuck Factor—“But isn’t it gross?” is a common question I hear when talking about reusable menstrual pads. Clearly, tolerance for menstrual blood is an individual thing, but dealing with cloth pads really isn’t much yuckier than dealing with disposables. You put them in your underwear the same way as disposables and wear them for the same length of time. But when you’re done, instead of chucking them into the garbage, you hang on to them to wash. This can involve putting them into a waterproof carry bag until later or soaking them in a container until wash time. Which brings us to another potential con of cloth pads:
They require care— You don’t just fling cloth pads into the trash when you’re done; you’ve got to wash them. Most people soak them in some water until it’s time to wash to avoid setting in stains. Then just toss them in the washing machine the same way you would toss in your socks. You typically don’t want to use fabric softener with them because that can affect their absorbency. Whether or not you can machine-dry the pads depends on the brand and the materials they’re made from. Many women just set them out to dry.
May Take Trial and Error to find the Right One— Unlike a pair of jeans, you can’t try on a cloth menstrual pad in a fitting room before you buy it (though if you know of such a store, please let me know). With such a large variety of cloth pads to choose from, how can you guess which one will be right?
One piece of advice is to measure the disposable pads you have at home that are a good size for you. Most sellers of cloth pads list their pads’ measurements. If you buy one that matches the size of the disposables that you like, you increase your chances of success. And if you’ve always wished your disposable pads were longer or narrower, now’s your time to get the pad of your dreams.
2. DISPOSABLE PADS
Convenience— Let’s face it, being able to throw something away when you’re done, never having to deal with it again, is convenient. That’s probably the major selling point of disposable menstrual pads. What’s more, you can buy disposables anywhere, not just in health food stores or online. The flip side to that is if you use cloth pads, you never run out. You always have a stack of pads at home, and there’s no need to ask your significant other to dash to the drugstore for you in a period emergency.
Lower upfront cost—It costs less to buy disposable pads to cover one cycle than it does to buy the same amount of cloth pads to cover that same length of time. Of course, next month you won’t have to buy any more pads if you have a stash of cloth pads at home. Some women on tight budgets buy their cloth pads one pad at a time until they have enough for a whole cycle. Then they can skip disposables altogether.
Potentially Harmful Chemicals – Disposable pads are whitened with chlorine bleach, which produces a toxic byproduct called dioxin. Disposables also contain plastic chemicals and pesticide residue. These are potentially harmful because the skin is highly permeable, especially the skin in and around the vagina, and these chemicals can easily enter the bloodstream.
Higher cost over time – Not to keep harping on cost, but it simply makes sense that buying cloth pads will save you money over time. Just like buying paper plates and plastic flatware will cost you more in the long run than owning a nice set of washable table settings, avoiding the monthly cost of buying disposables will save you money in the end.
Environmental Impact – It’s believed that about 20 billion pads, tampons and applicators fill up North American landfills each year. These synthetic products take centuries to biodegrade, especially when they’re wrapped in the plastic bags that are typically provided for disposal.
As a matter of fact, each item of plastic ever made still exists today. The chemicals that are used during the manufacturing of disposable pads also find their way into the environment where they can wreak havoc. Using cloth menstrual pads, particularly ones made of organic cotton, can help make a difference in the health of the environment.
In much of the world these days, convenience is queen. Love of convenience paired with massive marketing campaigns for disposable menstrual products means it’s no surprise that disposables rule the period roost for many women. That said, ditching disposables is easier than you might think. But whether you decide to use cloth pads, disposables, or a combination of both, is a personal choice.
Women who take the time to think about what they’re spending their money on and what they’re putting close to their bodies on a monthly basis recognize the real value of reusable pads. And besides, who doesn’t want to wear a galaxy-print panty liner?
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