Monday, June 20, 2011

Cloth Menstrual Pads

 This is part of my series on reusable cloth stuff we use! 

I'm finally writing this post!  FINALLY.  And I'm going to refuse to call it "mama cloth."  Okay?  Okay.

Also, if you are uncomfortable with anything alluded to by the word "menstrual," maybe don't read this post?  I'm thinking this isn't one my favorite dads will be interested in.

There are two aspects I think I should address: 1) Why cloth?  2) Ew.  The ick factor. (Laundry.)

Then I'll write up reviews of the brands I tried - please add your own reviews in the comments!

Why cloth?
1.  Money.  Much the same as cloth diapers, I started looking into reusable menstrual products to save money.  As with diapers, the initial investment can be daunting (again, depending on the type and material you choose, there is a wide range of cost).  But, over time, they are less expensive than the disposables.  (There are also patterns available online to make your own if you sew!)

2.  Clutter.  I may well be the only person for whom this was a factor!  I had a ridiculous stash of disposable pads.  At one point, they filled an under-the-bed sweater box (I think in the neighborhood of 30 quarts).  I am not even sure how I ended up with such a collection.  Traveling?  Moving several times?  I don't know, but I figured an investment in cloth would mean always having a "package" of pads around and ending my hoarding of them!

3.  Comfort.  There is less chafing with a cloth pad than a disposable.  They are also softer.  And, without the adhesive plastic backing, they allow air to circulate better.

4.  Health.  Disposable feminine products are bleached and they contain chemicals to make them so absorbent.  I have also heard that flow can be lighter, cramps lessened, and duration of periods shortened with cloth pads vs. disposables.  I can't personally report this, and I haven't been able to find anything that explains why this would be the case (though it makes sense versus tampons).

5.  Pampering.  I'm not sure "pampering" is exactly the right word here, but I know that many women have felt pampered by their cloth pads.  They come in fun patterns, too!  You can give them a personal touch (and I'm not trying for a double entendre here...).

6.  Earth-friendliness.  Both in the manufacturing process (use of natural resources, chemical pollution) and in the disposal of pads that are not biodegradable, reusable cloth pads are better for the planet.

7.   Cleanliness, a moot point at worst*.  After reading up a bit on forums and blogs, and having cloth diapered for a couple of years at that point, I decided that reusable pads seemed at least as clean as disposables.  The big eye-opener was that disposable menstrual products are not sterile.  I guess I hadn't thought of it that way before.  And I spend the other 23 (or so) out of every 28 simply wearing underwear washed in my usual what exactly was different about those 5-7 days that suddenly my detergent wasn't clean enough?  And the blood...meh.  I guess, after birth and motherhood (read the 3 P's:  poop, pee, puke) and...*ahem*...breastfeeding babies through colds (is it weird that this is one of the more gag-inducing things about motherhood for me?  Snot-encrusted boobs?), my own blood - even, or maybe even especially, menstrual blood that isn't from a wound - doesn't really seem like a big deal. 

*Except in the case of a yeast infection.  Then I would switch to disposables through a cycle, nuke your pads much the way you would diapers, and be thankful for the availability of disposables!

Making the transition
I transitioned to cloth while I was pregnant with Squeak.  When I decided to switch over, I decided I would go through that tremendous stash of disposables and have cloth at the ready for each type of pad (so essentially pantyliners, regular, and heavy/overnight).  First up was going to be pantyliners, since I used them while pregnant.  And then I knew I would use my overnight pads after I had the baby (both for witch hazel pads and for lochia)

So I just got an assortment of pantyliners and overnight/super-absorbent-and-long pads to try, not wanting to invest in one package or brand without trying them out.  This was especially true because I realized pretty quickly I would probably not be purchasing from the better-known and frequently-reviewed brands - they were simply much more expensive.  (They're probably worth it, but you make do with what you've got to spend at the moment, right?)

I was also pretty clear from the beginning that I wanted all-in-one pads.  Maybe I'll try a pocket or the holder-and-soaker variety if ever I need to add a pad or two to my stash, but for now I am happy with all-in-ones.

In any case, I tried out a few brands in pantyliners and overnights and then completed my stash (by purchasing "regular" pads) with my favorites.


I scoured blogs and forums for information and reviews, and checked out the shops that kept coming up:  Lunapads, Glad Rags, Punky's Pads, Hag Rags, and GEM Cloth are the ones I remember.  Then I looked around on Etsy for some highly-rated sellers of pads (which, incidentally, led to finding humorous stores like this one).

Here's what I tried out:

-Cre8tiveMama:  (Thumbs down, sadly!)  I wanted badly to love these.  I kept hearing how posh organic bamboo velour was, and that it has magical qualities much like wool in diapers - absorbent, breathable, and anti-microbial, plus softness to die for and an eco-friendly material for the most die-hard environmentalist (and vegan!).  Organic any-material pads were out of my price range elsewhere.  So I tried these.  They were just not the right shape for me.  Also, the ones I have are backed with flannel - I will, in the future, make sure all my pads are backed with fleece for a little extra friction keeping them in place.  I know, fleece is synthetic so not the best eco choice.  I never did claim to give up all convenience and technology, right?  (As I sit here on the wonderful internet!)  In fact, I currently have a post in my draft folder called "is natural really better?"  In any case.  Sad face on these, though I'm betting the owner would do fleece backing upon request.

-Punky's Pads - (Two thumbs waaaaaay up!)  I love these.  They are so well-made!  I got one that was a second, but all the others were absolutely perfect.  The shape worked.  They are cute (I have to admit I even enjoyed the cuteness, and I was just buying whatever she had made and on sale!).  They are fleece-backed.  They're great!  "Punky" was also very helpful via Etsy conversation.

-Randumosity - (two thumbs up on form, two thumbs down on function)  It is rare for me to make a purchase like this more because I just like something than because the reviews or some other more practical aspect point to it.  But there were dinosaurs, and frogs, and I just liked the look of them!  But they were not fleece-backed.  They slid all over.  And they just weren't as comfortable as any of the other pads, even when they weren't in completely the wrong place; they were less cushy.  Also, I don't know if she's on vacation or if her shop is closing, but it's empty at the moment.

-GEM Cloth - LOVE!  This is what I ended up finishing my cloth stash with.  GEM stands for Green, Ecomical by Michelle.  She has two kinds of pads, and I tried each.  The "diamond" pads were not nearly as comfortable as the "ruby" pads, so I spent the extra $1 per pad when finishing my stash.  Michelle is so nice.  She was wonderful in working with me and changing up her packages a little to accommodate me.  She also was the fastest of any of the shops to ship.  Her pads are not quite as "perfect-looking" as Punky's Pads.  They're not poorly-made - they're not in danger of falling apart - they're just not as meticulous-looking.   But they're less expensive.  So they won my return business.

What about tampons?
Ask me in a year.   I'm betting, once my regular cycles return for real, that I will start using a Diva Cup/Keeper/Moon Cup/etc for running and swimming.  I hear fantastic things about them, and I've had an aversion to tampons for several years now - so I look forward to trying out the alternative.

Ick Factor:  Laundry
I have not worried about my pads staining, so laundry has been mostly a non-issue for me.  I purposely got dark-colored pads, I figure no one is going to see them but me, and a stain here and there from my own blood wouldn't bother me in this context.  Obviously, if stains would keep you from using your pads, you'll want to be a little more intentional about your wash routine.  As for washing with other laundry, obviously I want to keep the pads out of a load of whites or delicates, but other than that I haven't been very worried.  Darks and diapers are the two most common loads of laundry, and I think both are fine with a pre-rinsed pad in with the washed.

I simply use my diaper sprayer to rinse the pads (you could rinse them in the sink, or you could have a lidded bucket to soak them in - some soak them in salt water, saying that helps get stains out) and then I put them straight into the washing machine or into a wet bag on top of the washing machine.

If you're worried about staining, you should avoid washing them on hot (that will set your blood) - but hot water also kills more germs than cold or warm, so I kind of figure a hot wash here and there is a good thing for cleanliness (hence washing them with diapers).

-Going out/bringing them home dirty:  There are some great mini-wetbags out there that have two sides - a dry/clean side, and a wet/dirty side.  You can also fold up pads (see photo below) if you need to be discreet or store them in a small space (say, keeping one stashed in your purse just in case).  Put used pads in a wet bag.  When you get home, either dump into your soaking jar/bucket or rinse them off and carry on with your wash routine the way you normally do. 

-Random:  I keep seeing it recommended to water plants with any soak water you are otherwise discarding.  It is apparently nitrogen-rich.  I'd avoid watering plants intended for eating, though.  Um.  I'd like to continue to have dinner guests, that's why.  (Dear Blog Readers Who Have Come for Dinner, I do not even have soak water.  I never have.  Ever.  Really.  I swear.  The very little home-grown stuff you may have been served is not at all questionable!)

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