So you want to switch to cloth pads but don't know where to start?
Cloth menstrual pads have a number of benefits: environmental, health, and economic, but you can do your own research into that! What I'd like to convey here is how to make the switch and how to care for your pads.
Choosing Your Pads
There are a multitude of cloth menstrual pads on the market from work-at-home made to those manufactured by large companies. In my opinion, those of all-natural fibers are best. Not only are they healthier for your body (okay, so I'm not scientist, but common sense tells me that synthetic materials in your most "delicate" of regions isn't optimal- why else would by ob/gyn always stress that women should wear cotton undies?), they will one day break down completely and not add to the landfill (with the exception of the little snaps on some). I know, I know, our landfills aren't overflowing with disposable menstrual pads, but for me every little bit helps.
Decide on a few styles that you think you would like best. Purchase one of each and test them out. Here are some of the most common styles:
- All one piece with wings or contoured tabs. The benefit of these is convenience. The drawback is that they might take longer to dry on wash day.
- A base with an opening for the absorbent layer. The benefit of these is that they will dry quicker. The drawback is that you will need to change the entire pad when they are soiled.
- A base with snaps or some sort of holding system and "toppers". The benefit being that you can keep the base on throughout the day and simply change the toppers as needed. The drawback is that you have to "assemble" them and keep track of the little toppers.
All of these styles are available in various lengths as well.
Personally, I like them all! I have some of each that I use during different times of my cycle. You may find that one style works best on your heavier days while another style is better for light days. Since the birth of my 4th child, I continue to use the postpartum pads I bought back then for nighttime. Experiment and test!
Shopping for Pads
There are a multitude of shops online and in "real life" that carry cloth pads. Natural Food grocery stores and some local herb shops usually have at least one brand on hand. If you cloth diaper, chances are that your favorite diaper manufacturer may also make products for women. Many cloth diaper review websites also review cloth for mothers, so check around and read customer reviews if possible.
Even better than buying your pads is making your own! Do an online search for "cloth menstrual pad patterns" or "sewing cloth menstrual pads", and you will see that there are many patterns available to choose from. Sewing cloth pads from recycled materials is even better! Old flannel shirts make great cloth pads and really bring home the "reduce, reuse, recycle" concept. One women's flannel shirt could easily make 4 or 5 cloth pads, depending on the style and length you choose to sew.
The number of pads you will need will vary according to how often you launder, your cycle length, and flow. I would recommend a set of at least 12 pads. I would also recommend a variety of thickness/lengths allowing you to use the most appropriate pad for individual days.
Storage and Washing
The main reason I hear women claim they do not like the idea of cloth pads is "that's gross". In particular, storing the used pads is the biggest turn-off for most. Storing your pads after usage does not have to be gross! You can use 2 methods to store your pads, just as you might with cloth diapers- dry or wet.
The "dry" method is simple- keep a lidded pail in your bathroom and store your pads in it. Line your pail with a cloth liner, and you will not need to touch the pads again until they come out of the washer clean! On wash day, take your pads (in the liner bag) to the machine and just dump them into the washer, toss in the bag and wash it all. Some women prefer to rinse the pads out before storing in dry pails so that stains do not set. If you do not rinse your pads at all, expect stains. Maybe you can find a method of washing that keeps your pads stain-free with a dry pail, but I have not (without bleach).
The "wet" method involves a container with water for soaking until wash day. This method is generally not recommended for household with small children unless there is a high shelf where the container can be stored. The best containers I have found have been small pails. You can purchase small, bathroom-sized garbage pails at most any large store. You will need to look for one with a removable inside pail. There are many brands out there that offer a small pail with a flip-top lid (the ones with the little foot petal) and removable inner plastic pail. If you can find one in which the pail also has a handle, that's even better! Fill your inner pail about 1/2 full with cool water and change the water every day or 2. This is a *very* important step! I can personally vouch for the necessity of changing the water regularly- I went for 3 or 4 days without changing the water, and my pads developed a nasty light gray color all over them that would not wash out. While the wet pail method has the biggest benefit of keeping your pads from staining, if you do not change the water that benefit not only diminishes, it turns to a negative! While I can soak my pads with a little bleach to remedy the pail disaster, some women are very sensitive to bleach and would not be able to get their pads pretty and fresh-looking again. The best way to change the water is to *slowly* pour it into your toilet. I have to admit, this is pretty gross, but if you prefer a wet pail and stain-free pads, it's just part of the deal. On wash day, slowly pour the water into the toilet and then dump your pads in the washer.
Pads can be soaked in cold water to get the stains out (or somewhat out) and then washed in warm or hot water. Adding a few drops of Tea Tree Essential Oil can help eliminate bacteria and fungi, but be sure to not use Tea Tree with any carrier oils added. Test this by placing a drop on fabric and allowing it to dry. Pure essential oil will not leave a greasy stain. Oils can leave a film on your pads and reduce absorbency. Dry in the machine or allow to air dry. When air drying you may want to toss them in the dryer for a few minutes to soften them up at the end.