Reusable Cloth Pads – FAQ’s

Why choose reusable menstrual pads? Is it hard to take care of them? How much money will you really save? We invite you to find out the answers to frequently asked questions about reusable cloth menstrual pads.


General Questions about Reusable Pads

What’s the difference between reusable pads and disposables?

Aside from the obvious fact that you don’t throw away reusable pads, there are several differences. Some of the main ones are that:

  • Cloth pads have wings that snap into place; there’s no adhesive like with disposable pads.
  • Cloth pads tend to “breathe” better than disposables because they aren’t made of plastic (although some cloth pads have a waterproof breathable lining). This makes them more comfortable than disposables.
  • Cloth pads are more fun than disposables because you can get them in a variety of colors and prints to match your personal style.

Why would I want to use cloth pads instead of disposables?

While it’s a personal choice, there are several good reasons for switching to reusable pads. You can:

  • Keep thousands of disposable feminine hygiene products out of landfills.
  • Save money by not having to buy pads each and every month.
  • Experience the comfort of wearing soft, non-synthetic fabrics next to your body.
  • Have less exposure to potentially unhealthy chemicals.
  • Never again deal with an adhesive wing getting stuck in the wrong place.

Do pads shorten your period?

While there are no reliable scientific studies on the subject, many women and doctors believe using pads over tampons can shorten your period. The idea is that products like tampons absorb menstrual blood, but they also cause a sort of backup within your vagina. Pads, on the other hand, allow blood to leave your body naturally and at a more normal rate. In theory, this could lead to shorter periods.

Are reusable pads safe?

They are indeed! As mentioned above, reusable pads tend to be more breathable and are less likely to expose your most sensitive bits to harsh and harmful chemicals than traditional disposable pads. Of course, it’s important to make sure that you change your pads regularly. If they become saturated and wet, they can irritate your skin, just like any other menstrual product.

How long can I expect a reusable cloth pad to last?

Most cloth pads are estimated to last up to five years if they’re properly cared for. Some people say theirs last even longer than that. That estimated five years is based on the assumption that you have a rotation of about 10 pads.

What’s the difference between regular and organic cotton pads?

Organic cloth pads are made of fabric that was grown without pesticides or herbicides. Less of these chemicals means less pollution and less damage to the environment. Also, it means less exposure to toxins for the people who work on the farm where the cotton grows. While it’s true that you can buy organic cotton disposable products, they still create the same amount of landfill waste as non-organic cotton.

What does it mean when they say a reusable pad is made from bamboo?

Many people think of wood when they think of bamboo and wonder how it can make for a comfortable menstrual pad. Fortunately, bamboo is able to be made into a very soft, silky cloth fabric. A great thing about bamboo is that it’s very fast growing, and thus, highly renewable. And it isn’t a target of pests, so it doesn’t have to be treated with chemicals like regular cotton crops.

Sorry to be gross, but do reusable pads smell?

The good new is cloth pads tend to stay fresher than disposable pads. That’s because their fabric breathes which allows moisture to evaporate. Less moisture means fewer bacteria to produce unwanted smells. If you do notice an odd smell, common bacterial imbalances could be to blame. That’s something to check out with a doctor. You can also use special techniques like adding OxiClean, vinegar, or essential oils when soaking pads to help eliminate lingering smells.

How much money can I expect to save by switching to reusable pads?

Most women can expect to deal with 35 years of menstruation during their lifetime. That can cost you thousands of dollars in products over time. When you switch to cloth pads, you’ll spend a lot less on feminine hygiene. Everyone’s cycle is different, and so is the age when they start to use cloth pads. One cloth pad maker, Party in My Pants, has made this handy calculator to give you a personalized estimate of how much you can save by switching to reusable pads. But some people estimate that you can save up to $350 over five years when using reusable pads!

Can I use cloth pads for incontinence?

Cloth pads absolutely can be used for light incontinence. People with this issue usually need to wear some kind of protection every day. When they wear disposable, plastic-based products, they run an increased risk of getting yeast and bacterial infections, in addition to ordinary irritation and chafing. Cloth pads can be heaven-sent for people who need to wear a pad every day due to their comfort and breathability.

Can I use cloth pads immediately after giving birth?

Cloth pads are an excellent choice for postpartum wear, especially the longer and thicker overnight pads. Many women soak their pads in soothing ingredients before freezing them. They then wear them to promote comfort and healing after giving birth. Cloth postpartum pads seem to be a natural choice for women who choose cloth diapers for their babies.

Aren’t reusable pads bulkier than disposables?

It all depends on the pads. Some pads are made leak-resistant by the thickness of their fabrics. Other cloth pads have a waterproof lining, so they require less cotton fabric than pads with no waterproof backing. The thickness of the pad also varies based on the flow level the pads are designed for, and whether they’re an all-in-one system or have adjustable inserts.

Can teenagers use cloth pads?

They sure can. Some retailers, like Party in My Pants, even sell special kits to give to a girl for her first period. They may want to start with pantyliner or small size pads to see how they like them. Starting early with cloth pads can help young people feel in control of their cycles, and teenagers love the many colors and prints of cloth pads.


Questions about Wearing Reusable Pads

How do I find the right pad for my needs?

Typically, the most important factor is the absorbency level of the pad. You can go with a thinner pad with lighter coverage if you have very light flow or just need a backup for a menstrual cup or tampons, or you can go for thicker pads if you have a heavier flow. One way to get started is to measure the disposable pads that you like and order similar sized cloth pads.

How many cloth pads will I need?

Most of us want to have an assortment of pads in our stash to cover the entire menstrual cycle. While the number you’ll need will vary based on how long your period lasts and the heaviness of your flow, most reusable pad makers recommend about a dozen pads, give or take. For example:

  • Three to six pantyliners.
  • Six to twelve daypads.
  • One to three overnight pads

Will cloth pads leak?

Cloth pads are made to be very absorbent. They’re typically made with wings that snap around the underwear to keep the sides of the panties dry. Some pad companies include a waterproof backing with their pads. But, believe it or not, it’s not always necessary and depends on your flow level. Of course, just like disposable pads, you need to change them out before they become totally saturated. After wearing reusable pads for just a short while, you’ll have a good idea of how often you’ll need to change them.

Are cloth pads comfortable?

Most users of reusable cloth pads go on and on about how comfortable they are compared to disposables, which can chafe or feel bulky and clammy. Reusable pads are very soft and breathable. This exchange of air can leave you feeling dry and with less chafing and irritation. Some users say the breathability makes them much cooler to wear than disposable pads, which have plastic parts that trap heat.

How often should I change my cloth pad?

You will probably need to change your reusable pad one to six times a day. You’ll know it’s time to switch out the pad if it starts to feel wet next to your skin. Naturally, the heavier your flow, the more often you’ll have to change pads. The lighter your flow, the longer you can get away with infrequent changing.

Can I wear a cloth pad with thong underwear?

You sure can. Lots of pad makers sell thong liners to give you protection when you’re wearing a thong. Just like with disposable thong liners, they’re designed to be worn on light days or as a backup to a menstrual cup or tampon. Wearing cloth pads won’t cramp your style.

How do I deal with pad changes when I’m away from home?

Thanks to the wings with snaps on most pads, they fold up into perfect little squares that you can pack away in your purse. You probably will want to carry a plastic baggie with you when it’s your time of the month. You can use an ordinary Ziploc or plastic grocery bag. A super cute option is to use waterproof carrying pouches called “wet bags” that you can buy together with your pads from most cloth pad retailers. Tree Hugger Cloth Pads even have an assortment of wet bags that come in an array of models – like bathroom bags, purses, and even clutches – and adorable prints.

I have a very heavy flow. Can I use cloth pads?

Yes, in fact, cloth pads can be extremely absorbent. If you have a favorite overnight disposable pad, take a measurement of it and then look for a cloth pad that’s the same length or longer. Many cloth pad brands come with inserts that you can stack for extra super absorbency.

Can I wear reusable pads when swimming?

Unfortunately, no. Just like disposable pads, cloth pads will absorb the water, making them soggy and ineffective for period protection. However, a menstrual cup or period-proof swimwear are great alternatives when you want to go swimming during your time of the month.


Questions about Caring for Reusable Pads

Should I wash new pads before wearing?

Yes, it’s recommended you wash your pads before wearing them for the first time. This will remove any fabric sizing and enhance the fabric’s absorbency. You only need to wash them one time before wearing.

Isn’t washing cloth pads an awful lot of work?

Washing reusable pads is as simple as cleaning any other items of clothing. Washing pads might seem weird at first, but after doing it a few times, it’ll become status quo. You can clean your pads in your washing machine, or you can do so by hand.

How do I wash cloth pads?

The easiest way to clean your pads is to just toss them into the washing machine. You can wash them on cold or warm settings; just avoid using hot water if you want to avoid setting stains. If you’re less concerned with stains and more concerned with sanitizing your pads, feel free to use hot water. Some people even boil their cloth pads!

Then you can either air dry the pads or tumble dry on the low setting. Many women find they get the best results if they soak the pads before washing in cold water, particularly if there’s any dried blood on the pads. An alternative to soaking the pads is to use the prewash setting if your washing machine has that option.

Handwashing the pads is also an option. In this case, you’ll probably want to pre-soak the pads to make washing easier. If you choose to soak the pads, be sure to change out the soak water on a daily basis. When the time comes to wash them, rinse the pads in cold water until the water runs clear and then gently scrub them to get them clean.

Any detergent is fine to use when washing your cloth pads. You may want to avoid fabric softeners because they can make fabrics less absorbent. It’s not recommended to bleach pads either because it can break down the material and interfere with absorbency.

When should I wash the pads?

You can wash the pads during your cycle as you go through your stash or launder them all once your period ends. Basically, just wash them whenever is the most convenient for you.

Can you put cloth pads in the dryer?

This will vary based on the particular fabrics that make up your pads; however, the majority of pads can be machine dried on a low or medium setting. Just make sure you don’t use high heat or dryer sheets.

What are other ways I can dry my cloth pads?

You can also air dry pads but, just like with any item that’s air dried, the pads might feel slightly stiff initially. Sunlight can kill any lingering bacteria and help stains fade, but try to avoid leaving your pads in direct sunlight for extended lengths of time. The sun can bleach out the colors of your pads or damage waterproof backing materials.

Won’t cloth pads get stained?

If you have pure white cloth pads, you may see some staining. However, stains don’t mean that the fabric isn’t clean. Pads that have patterns or darker colors tend to naturally hide stains. If you’re concerned about staining, you can use a stain treatment on your pads before washing them.


Click Here to Check Our Top 10 Reusable Cloth Pad List

  1. I’m living in a house share with a lot of people now so I’m just wondering, once I’ve washed my pads in the washing machine, is it okay for another person’s load to go straight in afterward? Like will the washing machine itself be clean?

    • Hi Phoebe!
      Washing cloth pads is like washing any other article of clothing except for if it has PUL (waterproof liner) in it. It’s just like overflowing blood onto your undies, just now you have a something between yourself and your undies to collect it.
      You can rinse your cloth pads before throwing it in the wash if it’s heavily soiled but I also know of people who just throw them in un-rinsed with dark colors.

      If you have a PUL liner in a pad, it would be better to air dry it. PUL fabric can/will shrink or warp in high temperatures.

      Red Herring
      RedHerringTV on YouTube

  2. This is a great website. I am just about to go into my first cycle with cloth pads and I am looking at cleaning methods. This was all a great help. I feel prepared now.

  3. Thanks so much for this! Super comprehensive and simple. I’ve already gotten a few cloth pads, but as any transition goes, it hasn’t been easy. The washing part is what I was most confused about but now I feel much more confident in my choice! I love the feel of cloth pads compared to regular ones, not to mention the comfort I get from knowing I’m not wasting a ton of inorganic material for my natural period. Blessings!

  4. So this might be a weird question, but what do you do with the pads until you are ready to wash? Do you have a separate trash can in the bathroom? I’m assuming you want to wash a load together? Do you wash them with other dedicates? I bought 10 pads…but haven’t used them because I don’t know how to do that part?

    • I store mine in a large wet bag then throw them all in the machine (the bag too) at the end of my cycle. I put them through a cold rinse, then a normal 40 degree wash cycle with pre-wash and extra rinse selected. I use detergent and a scoop of oxi action stain remover (no softener). Always come out completely clean and no stains. Hope that helps! This is my 4th month using them and so glad I made the switch! I have a heavy flow and they’ve been so much better than disposables and much less need to change during the day.

  5. Pre soak with hydrogen peroxide. It gets the blood stains out!

  6. Trying to solve the slippage problem:
    I’ve been using washable cloth pads with snaps for a couple years due to occasional stress incontinence when I have a bad cough. I’ll use these instead of liners when I’m just about done with the stress incontinence, just to “be safe.” I have tried and use a number of brands. The cloth feels a whole lot nicer on my skin than paper. But I always have problems with the cloth not staying in place–eventually riding back too far on my underwear. I’ve searched forums, trying to see what others have done. The consensus seems to be using a safety pin to keep the cloth pad in place. Now several pairs of my underwear have developed holes in them. No bueno! I’ve been mulling this problem over, and I think I’ve come up with a workable solution. Pinterest led me to the idea when I saw that someone used puffy fabric paint on the bottom of kids’ socks to keep them from slipping on wood floors. I ordered some puffy paint in six lovely colors and went to work applying circles and squiggles to the underwear side of the pads, following the paint directions. Eureka! It really works for me. Maybe an enterprising pad maker will adopt the idea for her production process.

    • i think most of the time when pads are slipping, it’s because the gusset length doesn’t match the person’s underwear. before getting cloth pads, I measured the gusset width of my underwear, which turned out to be 2.5″, so I made sure the cloth pads I bought were 2.5″ wide and I’m not experiencing any slipping problems.

    • What a great idea! I purchased some from Amazon and they were kind enough to include “fashion” tape to help with slippage. Your idea is much better and more convenient! Thanks for sharing 🙂

      • Is it okay to put the pads in with other laundry or is it best to wash them on their own? Seems like an awful lot of water for just 10 pads or so.

        • @TALYN
          Everyone has a different cleaning preference or uses a cleaning method based on the materials that the pad/s is made of.  I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way, just what suits your life the best.

          Some only hand wash and air dry.  Many feel that it will preserve the life of a pad because it minimizes wear from friction with other clothing.  Air drying will eliminate shrinkage and might be the better option if the pad has any type of waterproof lining that such as PUL.

          Others wash them mixed in with their regular laundry.  Some rinse their pads prior to washing, and others don’t.  I find it best that if I’m worried about stains, I’ll rinse the pad and use a stain stick on it before setting it aside to wait for the wash.  And as much as I want to hang them to dry, I live in a state that doesn’t get much sun so I have to use a dryer most of the year.  

          Depending on the materials used, I can say that I’ve had some shrinkage, but most weren’t too bad.  I’ve machined washed and dried a lot of my pads for over five years and they’re still going strong.
          Good Luck 🙂

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