I have been using resusable washable cloth sanitary pads for a year and a half now. The reaction I usually get when I tell people I do this is one of disgust and horror. Most people seem to think it’s gross and unsanitary. I totally get that, but look, I’ve gone through cloth nappies with both my kids and I can tell you that after washing so many truly disgusting poopy nappies (and bums under the tap), washing your own sanitary pads is like pffffttt this is nothing. I probably wouldn’t have felt the same if I didn’t have kids though. Thanks, kids, for being so disgusting, and making me appreciate that there is nothing gross about my period at all.
In the post below, I talk about the benefits of using cloth sanitary pads, how I’ve found the Hannahpad cloth pads, and how to wash them. Read on if you want that information! (If you’re squeamish, this is your chance to avert your eyes now) Note: I bought these pads out of my own choice with my own money so there is definitely no bias. This is a genuine review from a real customer. I just love sharing environmentally-friendly products that have worked for me.
Why use reusable washable cloth sanitary pads?
For me, it was about reducing my waste and helping the environment. The average woman uses over 10,000 pads or tampons in her lifetime…that’s a lot of waste that can be saved. Having gone through cloth nappies and washable cloth nursing pads, this just felt like a natural progression for me.
After buying and using my Hannahpad washable sanitary cloth pads, I did discover there were some other nice benefits to using cloth pads:
- High absorbency: I personally find cloth pads to be more absorbent than disposable pads. I can go longer between changes, and they also wick away any moisture quickly (for some reason people always ask “does it feel wet?” when I tell them I use cloth pads. But the answer is no, I don’t find it different to disposable pads in that aspect).
- Allows skin to breathe: The cloth pads are just so much gentler on the skin. I sometimes experienced skin irritation with disposable pads which are made from pesticide-grown, bleached cotton and also clearly doesn’t allow for natural air flow. I haven’t had any issues since using cloth pads.
- Leakproof: I haven’t experienced any leaking at all with it even at nights. It fastens to your undies with the snaps on its wings and although that sounds less secure than the sticky strip on disposable pads, I have found it to be the opposite. I personally have had less issues with it moving around than disposable pads. No moving + high absorbency = no leaks. Because it fastens by the wings, you can’t wear boyleg undies with it though.
Okay, I’ll admit it. What sold me on this brand was the super cute backing designs (note: the side against your skin is a beigy cotton). It’s definitely not the cheapest brand out there, but you’re paying for the happy feels you get when you hang them up to dry or fold them up after drying and admire the aesthetically-pleasing colours and patterns. Clearly my research didn’t go that deep. They also say their pads are 100% certified organic cotton yadayadayada…but let’s be honest, I probably would have bought it anyway even if they didn’t mention all that because…floral patterns. I live in Australia so I bought it from the Australian store. I got the 1 week set which consists of 3 small pads, 5 medium pads, and 3 overnight pads. As of the time of writing this post (Jan 2019), it costs A$199. I bought my set in 2017 and I honestly don’t remember it being that cheap. Pretty sure it was over $200 then.
I’ve read on forums how some people have an issue with the fact that the leak-proof backing in their pads are made from TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) which is, well, ultimately still plastic. I personally don’t as, um, I definitely wouldn’t want a non-waterproof pad! TPU still apparently allows for air flow and I have found my skin definitely does better with cloth pads than disposable pads. Cloth nappies have the same kind of waterproof backing, either from TPU or PUL (polyurethane laminate). At the end of the day, you still need that layer so you can use these products over and over again, saving on the need for disposable products. The side against your skin is organic cotton, so it doesn’t come in contact with you. According to some facts I found on Hannahpad’s USA website, TPU is degradable after 3-5 years in the soil. At the end of its lifespan (2-5 years), the pad (besides the snaps which go into recycling) can be composted.
Cloth sanitary pads vs menstrual cups
If this is about saving the environment, how about a menstrual cup, you might ask? I have friends who swear by menstrual cups. This is really down to personal preference. I don’t want to generalise but I guess if you usually use tampons, then you might be fine with the cup. I usually use pads because I get so crampy during my period so I’m not comfortable with the idea of using a cup. I did consider it because it sounded easy to use, far simpler to clean, and is definitely much cheaper than buying washable pads. However, at the end of the day I had to think of what I was most likely going to be able to stick to using in the long term…and I had to go with the pads.
How do you wash cloth sanitary pads?
I’ll be real: using washable pads does take time and effort. If you’re not willing to put it in or get squeamish with bloody water, then it’s not for you.
To start with, this is the instructions from the official Hannahpad store:
1. Rinse using cold water as soon as possible to remove any discharge.
2. Lather using our Probiotic (EM) soap or any natural laundry detergent.
3. Soak in a bucket/container for a minimum of 6 hours to overnight in cold water with a natural detergent or laundry soaker. Soak up to 48 hours if required.
4. Wash by hand* or machine wash in cold water.
*If you hand wash you can use a spin cycle on your machine to remove excess water to quicken drying time.
5. Dry in the sun where possible, as it is a natural antibacterial.
I followed these instructions exactly the first month I tried it, but what I found is that it really didn’t get all the stains out for me and an OCD part of me I did not know existed kicked in. So, it took some trial and error but I soon figured out what works best for me. Now, how you go about washing your pads ultimately depends on how you feel about stains and your level of OCD. Personally, I don’t like stains from an aesthetic point of view, even if it’s just me looking at it and I know it has been washed multiple times and is clean. In all the other reviews I’ve read online, everyone seems to be very happily just washing as per the instructions and it seems to turn out fine for them…so maybe it’s just me and my staining-kind-of-blood, who knows, but I’ll post what I do anyway.
The first thing I found was that the first step of rinsing the pad under running water immediately after was just a waste of time and water. Pardon the graphicness, but it takes a long time for all the blood to loosen out of the fabric so what you’re getting by rinsing it straightaway is just a steady, endless stream of bloody water. I was just scrubbing away waiting for the bloody water to get less bloody and thinking “um…when do I stop this rinsing?” I guess the point is to “remove as much discharge as possible”, but it doesn’t make sense to me to do that when I’ve found that just chucking it straight into a little bucket of cold water mixed with a little laundry detergent (I use a gentle, sensitive, baby-friendly brand) to soak in does a much better job and uses far less water and time.
After a few hours of soaking, most of the blood will have seeped out into the water and then I just tip everything down the sink, give the pad a real quick hand scrub under running water, and chuck it into another bigger bucket with cold water and laundry detergent again (I don’t cover my buckets). All my scrubbed pads will go into that bigger bucket together until I have collected enough to do a machine wash. If you’re soaking over a couple days, generally the water/detergent mix should be changed every 12 hours for hygiene reasons. It’s also important to use only cold water when washing blood, as hot water will “cook” it and set the stain into the fabric.
After I have enough pads in the big bucket for a machine wash, I add some 100% pure sodium percarbonate into it. That is basically the active ingredient in laundry stain removers like Napisan, but in the pure form which doesn’t mess with the absorbency of the fabric (laundry soakers are a combination of stuff). I got a little packet with my Hannahpad order, and then I ordered 1kg off eBay. Sodium percarbonate is the magic ingredient, people. If you don’t want stains, this is what’s going to remove it for you. After my pads have been soaking in the sodium percarbonate mixture for a few hours, they come out stain free. It’s magic, seriously.
(How to use sodium percarbonate for soaking your cloth sanitary pads: Dissolve 10-20g sodium percarbonate in a cup of water water, pour in 5-10 liters of cold water, stir to mix and soak pads in them for at least 6 hours to overnight).
Finally, I pop the pads into the washing machine with a very small amount of laundry detergent for one final wash, then hang them up to line dry. How fast they dry really depends on the weather and where you hang them. I live in an apartment with strict body corporate rules which means I can’t hang laundry on the balcony so it goes in my spare room by the window. This means it can take a couple days to dry. With the 1 week set, I generally don’t need to reuse any pads over the duration of my period though so I usually leave them hanging for a few days before I fold them and put them away.
If you’re out of the house all day e.g. for work, invest in a little waterproof cloth bag/wet bag so you can pop your used pads into it. They sell them online. I got one when my kids were using cloth nappies. Don’t worry about not being able to wash the pads straightaway or anything. Just soak them at the end of the day when you get home as soon as you can.
So look, it obviously requires a little effort to wash reusable sanitary cloth pads, but I find all the benefits (environment, health, comfort, no leaks, costs saved in long run etc) outweigh the hassle. You do get faster with washing the pads as you go along and now I find it just takes a few minutes each day for me to do so. It’s been more than a year of using these cloth sanitary products and I can safely say I genuinely love them (honestly didn’t expect to) and will continue using them. At this point, my pads are still in great quality so I expect to use the same ones for a few years. If you’re a mum or going to be one, note Hannahpad also sell maternity pads. I wish I knew about them earlier when I needed them!