Tampons & Pads vs. Menstrual Cups & Cloth Pads – What’s Right for You?

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Living in the 21st century, we have more periods than any women of previous generations ever did. This is because we live longer, have a better diet, and – in many developed countries – are pregnant and breastfeeding less often.

The average woman will have 40 years’ worth of monthly periods. That’s 480 periods over a lifetime. Now take into account a worldwide female population that is nearing 4 billion, and we start to understand how important the topics of menstruation and period products really are.

Let’s look at some of the things you might want to think about when choosing the perfect period product for you.

What Should I Consider Before Choosing a Period Product?

There are numerous factors we should take into account before settling on a period product. Some of them include:

  • Health and Safety – If we are going to be using a product on and off over the course of roughly 40 years, it’s important we find something that’s not going to harm our bodies – both short-term and in the long run. Some products can lead to life-threatening infections or include dangerous and potentially carcinogenic toxins.
  • Effectiveness – We have all heard of – or had – period products that fail a gal at the worst of times. Whether while out hiking, on a date, or sitting in a class or meeting, none of us want a product that doesn’t do its job.
  • Environmental Impact – On average, each of us throws away over 300 pounds of menstrual products throughout our life. Much of that waste includes plastic. When you do the math, the numbers are astounding; for 4 billion women, that comes out to be 1.2 trillion pounds of trash over a lifetime. If you’re worried about how your periods are affecting the environment, you’ll be happy to know that some options are better than others.
  • Cost – The price tag on your period isn’t just a personal hassle; it’s a socioeconomic one as well. “Period poverty” is the lack of access to safe sanitary products. We spend about $7,000 on menstrual products over our lifetime. So if you’re the type to scrounge for change or moan over a the hefty bill your period brings each month, remember there are other options that can save you money over time.
  • Comfort – You might find a product that ticks every box above, but if it’s uncomfortable you’re probably not going to use it. This is perhaps the most personal factor to consider when purchasing a product. Only you can decide what product is best for your body, lifestyle, and peace of mind.

Now that we know what to consider when looking for the perfect period product, we’ll take a look at a few of the most common products you might find on the shelves of your local pharmacy or grocery store.

Menstrual Cups

Menstrual cups are the new kids on the block when it comes to period products. But you might be surprised to learn that they have been around a bit longer than you’ve been led to believe.

While you may be less familiar with them than more traditional products, there’s a reason their popularity is growing in leaps and bounds. Most users describe them as comfortable, reliable, and cost-effective. And perhaps best of all, they’re easier on both the environment and your wallet than disposable tampons or pads!

There are a lot of options out there with all sorts of colors, shapes, and sizes depending on your age, the shape and size of your vagina, and your preference. They most frequently come in silicone or latex, and they can be reused innumerable times as long as you care for them properly.

The only real drawback of a cup is the learning curve. First-time users may struggle to insert or remove their cups. Like most good things, it takes a bit of practice to get used to. Luckily, we have a useful guide on how to use your cup!

Breakdown of Menstrual Cups

Health and Safety – 9.5/10

Cups are made of materials that are safer than those found in many other period products. As long as you keep your menstrual cup clean, you can wear it for longer than other period products without worrying about negative effects to your health.

Effectiveness – 9.5/10

Menstrual cups won’t let you down – as long as you know how to use them properly. It takes a bit of practice getting to know how much your cup holds, how heavy your periods are, and how to remove your cup without making a mess. But once you do, menstrual cups are one of the most trustworthy products for handling your period!

Environmental Impact – 10/10

Some women safely reuse their cups for years. This drastically cuts back on the waste going into landfills, waterways, and oceans.

Cost – 10/10

Menstrual cups are an amazing investment! You may pay a bit more upfront, but you will quickly earn it back with the money you save from avoiding years of disposable period products.

Comfort – ?/10

What makes you comfortable is all up to you. Many cup users rave about how comfortable their menstrual cups are, but they can be a bit difficult to use when starting out.


Tampons have been used in one form or another for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. They had a resurgence in popularity in the late 1980s as women were encouraged to become physically active and participate more in sports.

Tampon are the perfect product for athletes because users can sprint, swim, or dart back and forth without worrying as much about leaks. But, as many of us know, they are not perfect. Many women choose to wear pantyliners or a pad during the heavier parts of their periods or while they sleep to avoid accidents.

It’s also important to note the dangers of tampons. You should never wear a tampon for more than 8 hours. If you do, you increase your chances of developing a rare but life-threatening condition called toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

It’s also a good idea to go with organic tampons if you choose to use this product. You do, after all, put a tampon into your body for hours at a time. It’s best to avoid any harsh or toxic chemicals that might be lurking in nonorganic options.

Breakdown of Tampons

Health and Safety – 7/10

While tampons are much safer than they were 30-40 years ago, they can still cause problems. They make great Petri dishes for bacteria, and if you leave them in for too long you can get infections or even suffer from toxic shock syndrome (TSS) – a rare but sometimes deadly condition. If you choose to use tampons, make sure you remove them at least every 8 hours. It’s also a good idea to use organic brands to avoid harsh or toxic chemicals.

Effectiveness – 7/10

Many women choose to pair their tampons with pads or pantyliners when they are having a heavy flow or looking for protection while they sleep. This is because tampons are notorious for leaking if they become oversaturated or aren’t resting correctly in the vagina.

Environmental Impact – 5/10

To be fair, it’s not so much that tampons themselves are extremely harmful to the environment as it is the plastic applicators and packaging that often comes with them. You can reduce your environmental footprint by opting to purchase tampons with cardboard applicators and biodegradable packaging.

Cost – 5/10

Any of us who have browsed the feminine hygiene aisle at our local market know that tampons aren’t cheap. And because they’re disposable, we have to keep coming back and spending more each month when we run out. Also, buying organic tampons is much safer for our bodies, but can put a bigger dent in our wallets.

Comfort – ?/10

Again, comfort is all up to you. Many people prefer tampons over pads or cups because they claim they don’t feel them at all. Tampons also allow women to take part in physical activity while on their periods. But some women are wary of using tampons.

Sanitary Pads

Young menstruaters sometimes fear using tampons or cups because they worry it may affect their virginity. Others like to be able to visually gauge when they need to change their period product so that they can avoid embarrassing leaks or stains.

Whatever your reason for choosing to use pads, it might be comforting to know that sanitary pads are arguably the most popular option for period products worldwide. There’s less of a risk of contracting infections with pads, and many women find them the most comfortable option.

But like all period products, pads have a few downsides. Some users feel that pads are bulky, awkward, or carry an unpleasant odor. You also can’t participate in water activities while wearing a pad. Furthermore, pads are especially bad for the environment.

Breakdown of Sanitary Pads

Health and Safety – 8/10

You’re less likely to contract serious infections like toxic shock syndrome (TSS) when using pads than tampons, but it’s not impossible. If you don’t change your pads regularly, you may also have a higher chance of developing urinary tract infections or other ailments. Like tampons, it’s also a good idea to invest in organic pads to decrease the amount of toxic chemicals you expose yourself to.

Effectiveness – 8.5/10

Perhaps one of the biggest selling points of pads is that they allow you to gauge how heavy your flow is and when you need to change out your period product. But they can become dislodged during any vigorous activity, which can result in leaks or stains.

Environmental Impact – 3/10

It may come as a surprise to you, but pads are usually cited as being much worst for the environment than tampons. Used pads often end up in landfills, buried, or both. The hazardous chemicals in pads can leach into the ground, resulting in tainted groundwater and unfertile soil.

Cost – 5/10

Like tampons, pads are a disposable product that require us to keep coming back for more. We spend large chunks of money every month on something we must throw out with every use.

Comfort – ?/10

As mentioned above, some women prefer the comfort and peace of mind they get from using pads, while others avoid them at all costs. They aren’t the best when used while being physically active, but they’re excellent options when you’re sleeping at night or need some backup for your tampon.

Reusable Pads

If you’re one of the many women who feel more confident while wearing a pad but you also hate the idea of filling landfills with your period products, reusable pads are an excellent alternative!

There are so many options for fabrics, patterns, and types when choosing a reusable pad. And with proper care, a single cloth pad can last you years. They have all the benefits of traditional pads, but you can wash and reuse them. They also give you more power over your period by  allowing you to choose which fabric combinations feel and work best for you. Many of them fasten around the outside of your underwear, which keeps them from coming loose or sliding around the way disposable pads are prone to do.

The only real downside to cloth pads is that they can sometimes pick up unpleasant smells. Lucky for you, there are tons of YouTube videos and blogs out there that give you tips on how to properly clean and rid them of any icky odors. There are even how-tos on how to make your own. But why bother when there are so many amazing companies out there that will do it for you?

Breakdown of Reusable Pads

Health and Safety – 9.5/10

Reusable pads are a great option for your health because they are often made from organic materials. You also know exactly when they were cleaned and what with. This gives you the power to choose what chemicals you expose yourself to. But like disposable pads, reusable pads can cause infections if you don’t clean them properly.

Effectiveness – 9/10

Reusable pads usually clip around your underwear, which means they are less likely to come loose or move around than disposable pads with sticky backings. Less movement means less potential leakage. Unfortunately, you still can’t use them while taking part in watersports. But amazing period and leakproof swimwear does exist!

Environmental Impact – 10/10

Reusable pads are made from many of the same fabrics you can find in your everyday wardrobe. So rather than dumping hundreds of pounds of toxic material into a dump over the course of your lifetime, you can wash and reuse your pads.

Cost – 9.5/10

By investing in a few reusable pads to cycle through during your period, you can avoid purchasing disposable period products for years. Some fabrics last longer than others, so do your research and try some out before settling on the reusable pad that is right for you.

Comfort – ?/10

One of the hidden perks of reusable pads is that you get to choose the fabric you want it made from. Some offer thicker, more absorbent materials while others give thinner, more breathable options. Whatever you choose, you’re sure to find an option that works and feels best for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best menstrual product?

This all depends on your priorities and preferences. Each period product has its own pros and cons. Menstrual cups and reusable pads are excellent options for women who want to save both money and the environment. Disposable tampons and pads may work best for those of you who find traditional options more reliable than less familiar ones.

What is the safest period product?

Research seems to suggest that menstrual cups are some of the safest period products out there. If cleaned properly, they’re less likely to harbor bacteria that can cause infections. They can’t get “stuck” inside of you, and they are made from non-toxic materials. Other good options for period products include organic pads, organic tampons, and reusable pads.

Do doctors say menstrual cups are safe?

They do! Recent studies show that cups are just as safe, if not safer, than traditional period products. The jury is still out on whether they are less likely than tampons to cause toxic shock syndrome (TSS). But many experts believe that the nonporous materials cups are made from don’t allow as much bacteria to accumulate on them, which reduces the chance for infections.

Can you wear a pad for more than 8 hours?

Doctors recommend that you only wear a pad or tampon for 6-8 hours before removing it. While toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is mostly associated with wearing tampons for more than 8 hours, it can also occur when women wear pads for too long. Not changing out or cleaning your period products regularly can also lead to other ailments like urinary tract infections.

Can you wear a pad overnight?

Yes, you can! In fact, many women will wear pads overnight to avoid accidents, even if they’re already wearing a tampon. Just make sure that you change your pad first thing in the morning to avoid any negative effects.

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