Why bother? The biggest reason I wash and reuse my cloth menstrual pads is because I cannot stand to throw disposable pads into our growing landfills. The average woman in North America throws away 16,800 pads and tampons in her lifetime! Then there are the added bonuses of saving money, feeling the soft cotton flannel on my skin and sparing myself of the dioxins and other harmful chemicals present in disposable menstrual products.
But isn’t it gross? It’s not so bad. I promise. I’ve been using washable cloth pads for 5 years and I’m going to give you some practical tips.
Washable cloth pads work almost the same as disposable pads. You put the pad on your underwear, it absorbs your menstrual flow for about 8 hours (for me it’s about the same amount of time as a disposable pad), and when it’s saturated you just put it in a bowl or bucket of water and let it soak for at least 20 minutes.
That’s right, soak it first. If you try to wash it right away, you’ll just use a lot of water and wonder why you were born a woman… 90% of the blood will just come out into the soak water and the rest will loosen up so it’s easy to wash. It’s true magic, the soaking process.
This was my routine when I was a working woman, designing solar electric systems in an office near San Francisco. If I started my period in the morning, I would snap on a day pad and go off to work, taking an extra day pad with me in case I stayed out late. If I came home after work, I changed into another day pad and dropped the used day pad into a bucket with plain old room-temperature water. If I went somewhere right after work, I would change pads in the stall of the bathroom at my office, and run the used pad under the tap for just a second to moisten it before folding it up, snapping it shut and throwing it directly into my bag. Moistening the pad makes it a whole lot easier to wash later. I really didn’t care if someone saw me standing at the sink with a blood-soaked pad in hand. In fact, I hoped that someone would ask me what I was doing, but no one ever did. Remember that the back side of most cloth pads is waterproof, so it will not get dirty or wet which is sooo convenient when you fold it inward and snap it shut. When I finally got home, I would just open that folded pad and drop it into the bucket. Before going to sleep, I changed into a night pad, dropping the day pad I was just wearing into the same bucket.
Instead of making a cup of coffee, washing my menstrual pads is my morning routine and pleasure! It is special. I consider it an honor to care for my body in this ritual-like way. I like to wash my pads in a bucket, squatting in or kneeling over the bathtub. Many women wash them in the sink, which works just as well. Before pouring off the soak water, I look around at my houseplants to see if any of them could use a fertilizer boost. Menstrual blood is rich in nitrogen and many other nutrients that plants love. Ever wonder why commercial organic fertilizers contain animal bloodmeal? You can give your plants a fresh, cruelty-free version for free. For example, I water my mint, cilantro and malabar spinach with diluted menstrual blood. The high nitrogen content in the blood assists plants with leafy green growth, so use it on plants that you want to produce more leaves. If your tomato plants are fruiting, it’s best not to give them menstrual blood as they will put more energy into producing leaves rather than tomatoes.
If you want to machine wash your cloth pads, you can put them in the washing machine with your clothes after they’ve soaked in water. For this you will need to do laundry often or get about 15 pads to get you through your period before doing a load. If you want to wait until the end of your period to wash all your pads, be sure to change the soak water daily and add a dash of vinegar each time to keep them smelling nice.
If you want to hand wash your cloth pads, remove the water-soaked pads from the bucket and squirt some natural liquid soap or rub natural bar soap on them. I spend about 10 seconds scrubbing each pad by rubbing the fabric against itself. Sometimes I sort of beat the pads on the bathtub floor a couple times, a technique that the washerwomen of India swear by. Then put the pads back into the bucket and fill it with some water, swishing them around a bit. Empty the soapy water and fill again with fresh water… and ta da, they are clean! Just wring them out and hang them to dry in the sun if possible. If you must dry them indoor, add a dash of vinegar or tea-tree oil to the last rinse to help sanitize them.
How many pads do you need? If you go the hand washing route, 6 should do. I use 2 day pads and 1 night pad on an average day, which means I need 4 day pads and 2 night pads total considering that it takes a day for the previous batch to dry. If you machine wash all your pads at the end of your period, start out with 15 pads and see if you need more. Every woman is different!
I hope you find the process of caring for your cloth menstrual pads and your body to be special, not gross.
You can read Anita’s original article at the Period Store: WASHING YOUR CLOTH MENSTRUAL PADS IS SPECIAL