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.

– Anita

You can read Anita’s original article at the Period Store: WASHING YOUR CLOTH MENSTRUAL PADS IS SPECIAL

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Showing 9 comments
  • Hiba

    So can I just use a normal hand wash liquid soap like Lifebuoy or Palmolive to mildly wash it? Or how about a rin detergent powder?

    • Laura

      Sure, you can use whatever soap you like.

  • Madhumitha

    Sometimes when I’ve had the pad on for a while longer than 6 hours, some light stains persist beyond soaking. For removing this, when I add a dash of shampoo and brush against itself, a linty texture forms on the surface. Does this mean its wearing out or is this normal and nothing to worry about?

    • Natasha Nair

      Hi Madhumitha,

      The washing procedure is to soak for half an hour, to wash (by rubbing the flannel against each other) with detergent and rinse until all blood and soap is out. If the pad does not get clean, then try another soap, as this might really make a difference. Scrubbing will speed up the wearing off/shorten the life of the pad. The linty texture in itself is not really a problem.

      Hope that helps

  • Amy

    I notice an iron/metallic smell to the center of the pad that doesn’t come out even after soaking in plain water or water with oxy clean. Is it normal? Or does it mean it’s growing bacteria and can’t be used anymore

    • Natasha Nair

      Hi Amy,

      The metallic smell could come from the blood as it contains iron.
      Generally if you would do the washing procedure (soak for half an hour, wash with mild soap and rinse till no blood or soap is left and water comes out clean) within 24 hours there should not be a problem.
      If you can hang it in the sun and then wash it one more time if the smell is still there, you could also add a little vinegar or droplet of essential oil.

      It is not required to throw away your pad.

  • Maritsa

    I let my reusable pads soak for too long (1+ wk) and didn’t know about switching the soak water at the time. My pads are clean however they have a smell. It’s smells like a elderly person house or in some cases a little foul. Is there away to get rid of that?

    • Natasha Nair

      Hi Maritsa,

      Once you try them under direct sun, the smell will be eliminated. Send us a mail on [email protected] if you still face problems.

      Hope it works well for you.

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  • […] Some wash each single pad immediately after use, others wash their daily batch at the end of each period day, and again, others collect all pads throughout their whole period and wash them all together at the very end. Find out what works for you. Have a look at Eco Femme user Anita’s washing routine. […]

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