Reusable cloth pads can be a game changer when it comes to handling your period. They are more breathable than disposable pads, more cost effective, and they’re better for the environment. What’s not to love?
But choosing which reusable pad is perfect for you can be confusing. What size is right for your period type? What brand? And, most importantly, what materials meet your specific menstrual needs?
What to Consider When Choosing the Right Cloth Pad
There are quite a few factors to think about when deciding which reusable pad is right for you. The first is what size and absorbency you should look for in your cloth pads. Do your periods tend to be light, moderate, or heavy? And how many days do you usually experience each of these types of flow? It’s important to know your body so that you can choose the core fabrics that fit your needs.
Comfort is also a big consideration. Afterall, periods can be unpleasant enough without throwing in materials that stifle or chafe. Luckily, you have an array of options for topper fabrics. You can choose fabrics for their breathability, their ability to wick away moisture, or simply because they are soft and feel good against your skin. They also sometimes come in fun colors and prints.
Finally, there are the backings of your reusable cloths. These are literally the bottom side of your pad. They can add an extra layer of protection to prevent accidental leaks. They also allow you to personalize your products with colorful and pleasing patterns.
Core Fabrics Commonly Used in Reusable Pads
The core fabric is what is at the center of your cloth pad. Its main job is to absorb the blood from your period. Some fabrics are much more absorbent than others, but this means they may also be thicker or less breathable. So it’s important to choose a material that is right for the type of flow you will experience during your period.
Not to be confused with those giant transparent orbs people love to roll around in in New Zealand, Zorb is a hypo-allergenic manmade material that is thin and highly absorbent. It’s used in many reusable products, such as pet beds, yoga towels, and nursing bras. It’s also the most absorbent core fabric used in cloth pads.
It’s perfect for those days where your flow is heavy, but it’s also susceptible to compression leaks – when liquid (in this case, your period blood) escapes when you put pressure on a fabric that is oversaturated.
2) Bamboo and Hemp Fleece
If you’d like to avoid fibers that are completely synthetic in your pad but still benefit from a highly absorbent material, bamboo fleece is an excellent option. It’s also thin and one of the most absorbent fabrics out there for cloth pad cores.
Hemp fleece is also highly absorbent, but it has a reputation for getting stiff and uncomfortable when worn for a while. It also tends to gain an unpleasant odor after being washed a few times.
3) Cotton Jersey
If this fabric sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s the same material used in your comfiest t-shirts. It makes for a great top, but it’s not the most absorbent material for reusable pads. Cotton Jersey would be best used in pads for days when your flow is lighter. We also recommend using a PUL fabric – a material we will talk about a bit later – if you choose a pad with a cotton jersey core.
Tip for Choosing the Right Pad Core
When searching for the right reusable pad, you may come across a fabric’s GSM. This stands for grams per square meter, and it will let you know how dense a material is. The higher the number, the denser – and more absorbent – the material is. So if you’re trying to gauge which pad to go with, keep an eye out for the GSM of its components. This will give you a good idea of how much liquid it can hold.
These are the fabrics that will be in contact with your skin for hours at a time, so it’s important to choose what topper fabric is most comfortable for you. This might take a bit of a trial and error on your part. But it’s a bit like love; once you’ve found the perfect one, you’ll know it.
1) Cotton and Cotton Flannel
Cotton is familiar to us all. Many of us have worn cotton underwear at some point in our lives. It’s breathable and comfortable, and thus a popular choice for a topper fabric with reusable pads.
Unfortunately, cotton does stain very easily. So if you choose a cotton topper, consider darker colors so that the stains won’t be as apparent after regular use.
Cotton can also be tightly woven, which can slow your flow from reaching the core of your pad. So it’s best to avoid a cotton topper on heavier days.
One way to avoid this issue is to use cotton flannel instead. Its weaving is much looser, so it tends to be more breathable and allow more of your flow to reach your pad’s core. It’s a little less hardy than regular cotton, though, so you might have to take special care to ensure it lasts as long as pads topped with other fabrics.
Minky is a popular man-made fabric used as a topper in reusable pads. It’s soft and highly absorbent, which makes it perfect for those days when your flow is heavy. It also usually comes in a lot of fun patterns and prints. The only downside is that it is a very warm fabric that can make some women feel sweaty and uncomfortable.
3) Sports Jersey/Polyester
Sports jersey fabric is made almost entirely of polyester. But if you don’t mind that it’s a synthetic material, it can be an excellent option for your heavier days. Polyester is specifically made to wick away moisture, so it’s great at allowing your flow to pass quickly to your pad’s core. It also keeps your lady parts feeling dry and less sweaty.
This solves the only medical issue cloth pads can cause: if a pad is wet and resting against your vulva, it can irritate your skin. Sports jersey fabric prevents this from happening
4) Cotton/Bamboo Velour
Cotton and bamboo velour are velvety-looking fabrics that are great at catching moisture and keeping it from going anywhere you don’t want it to on your heavier days. It often comes in many beautiful colors. It’s stretchy and soft, though it can make you feel a bit stuffy in your live in warmer climates.
Suedecloth is another synthetic fabric that is partly composed of polyester. As the name suggests, its soft texture and unique appearance mimic suede. But, unlike suede, it quickly wicks away any moisture so that your flow reaches your pad’s core quickly and your topper feels dry.
Synthetic vs. Natural Topper Fabric
The decision to go with either synthetic or natural materials for your pad’s topper fabric is purely up to you. Some of the pros and cons of using synthetic toppers are:
- Pro: They don’t stain as easily as natural fabrics.
- Pro: They can usually wick your flow away and move it to the pad’s core faster than natural products.
- Con: They wick away moisture better for heavy and moderate flows; if you have a light flow, the blood may sit at the top of the fabric and not absorb into the pad’s core.
- Con: They can make you feel sweaty if you live in hot and humid climates
After discussing all the options available to you for topper and core fabrics, choosing a backing may seem less important. But this is not necessarily true. The backing, or the part that rests against your underwear, is the last defense against pad leakage. It can also affect the overall comfort of your cloth pad.
1) PUL: Polyurethane Laminate
Polyurethane laminate (PUL) fabric is a sort of love-it or hate-it backing in cloth pads. At it’s most basic, PUL is laminated cloth. Some pads will place it between pieces of other fabric so that it is not visible. Others leave it on the very bottom of the pad as its visible backing. When PUL fabric is used in this way, it can sometimes be slippery, causing it to slide or shift within your underwear.
PUL fabric also tends to make cloth pads bulkier and less breathable. So, while they may help prevent your flow from escaping your pad, they can be uncomfortable for some.
2) Cotton and Flannel
If you’re really into unique prints and patterns on your pads, cotton and flannel are excellent choices! Unfortunately, they’re not very water resistant or capable of keeping your flow from escaping. They’re best used with pads that are only being used as pantyliners, or when PUL fabric is included in the backing.
There are several kinds of fleece, all synthetic and comprised of polyester blends. Some types are thicker than others, but they all have waterproof qualities that make them a good choice for pad backings. Though more breathable than many other backing options, some women find them uncomfortably warm.
Wool has been used to help women handle their periods for centuries. While it may not be quite as waterproof as fleece, it is a strong backing option for those who want a more natural fabric. Its only downsides are that it sometimes shrinks in the wash and some women may find they are sensitive or allergic to the material.
Making Your Choice
You may find the process of deciding on the right reusable pad overwhelming, but don’t let this get in your way. Choosing cloth pads has so many benefits, not only for your wallet, but for the health of both you and the Earth as well. There are a multitude of reusable pad companies and brands out there, so with a bit of research, you’re sure to find the pad that’s perfect for you!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What are reusable pads made of?
Different reusable pads are made from different fabrics. Some of these materials are meant to absorb the blood from your period. Others may be water-resistant and are used to keep your pad from leaking and causing accidents.
How many reusable menstrual pads do I need?
A lot of this depends on you and your menstrual needs. You may need anywhere from six to twelve pads for daily wear, up to three to wear at night when your flow is at its heaviest, and at least three to use as pantyliners. But every woman’s period is different, and you may find that you need either fewer or more reusable pads than other women.
Do reusable pads smell?
Cloth pads usually have less odor than their disposable counterparts! But it is important to learn how to properly clean and care for your pads so that they don’t start to smell after multiple uses and washes. Some materials have more of a reputation for developing an unpleasant smell than others.
What is the most absorbent material?
Zorb is actually the most absorbent material on the market at the moment! Its full composition is a trade secret, but it’s gotten top marks for absorbency and stopping leakage when compressed.
How long do cloth pads last?
On average, a cloth pad will last about five years. This, again, is dependent on the fabric it is composed of and the care you take when washing it. Some women even say that their cloth pads have lasted much longer than this.
How do reusable sanitary pads stay in place?
Reusable cloth pads actually have wings that fold over the crotch of your underwear and snap in place. When using pads with a PUL fabric backing, the cloth pad may move around a bit, even with the wings. This usually depends on the material of underwear you’re wearing.