Alternatives to Disposable Pads and Tampons

Editor’s Note: Back in 1997, we set up this page in a graphical chart format as a sort of shopping mall for people interested in buying these products.  As the Web evolved and searching became easier, it no longer made sense for us to keep updating the chart.  In the process of converting our site to WordPress, we decided to keep just the text of this article and the links to businesses that still exist.  (Last update April 17, 2015.) If you would like your business to be listed here, post a comment with the link or e-mail becca[at]earthlingshandbook[dot]org.

Most menstrual pads and tampons on the market are bad for your health and the environment, but those aren’t the only reasons to try alternative products. Reusable menstrual gear is just cool! It turns a period into a different kind of experience, one that I’ve found is more comfortable and less like being sick.

A reusable menstrual cup is incredibly convenient! Instead of packing my purse with tampons, I simply empty and reinsert the cup. It doesn’t even have to be rinsed every time. It holds more than a “super” tampon, so it lasts several hours even during heavy flow. During light flow, the cup can be worn all day. It doesn’t soak up water when I swim or take a bath. There’s no string to catch in my clothing. Because the cup doesn’t block the flow (as tampons do) and because it creates mild suction, it gets the flow out faster, with less cramping. Using a cup saves a lot of money! It seems expensive, but it lasts 10 years, whereas that money would buy enough tampons for one year or less! Cleaning the cup takes only a few seconds and uses a trivial amount of water and soap. The only negative thing I can say about the menstrual cup is that it’s not for squeamish people or virgins. It is fairly large, and you have to use two fingers to insert it. Most women get the hang of it pretty quickly. If not, some brands have a money-back guarantee!

I always thought I hated pads until I tried cloth pads! I’m amazed at how most of the uncomfortable feelings I associated with pads are unique to disposable pads. All their advanced technology can’t compete with flannel and terrycloth in any way except thinness! (Cloth maxi-pads are about as thick as what was called a thin maxi back in the 1980s, before disposable pads started using super-absorbent gel.) A disposable pad feels like some kind of medical gear; a cloth pad just feels like underwear. It’s like the difference between a plastic-coated-paper hospital gown and a cloth one. Which would you rather wear, a crinkly sticky stiff rustling thing that makes you feel like a walking bio-hazard, or an extra layer of clothing? Using cloth pads feels like dressing for the occasion, like putting on a coat in the winter, part of the natural order of things. Using disposable pads feels like treating a medical problem. When you’re forced to keep on with daily life despite an injury, you’re grumpy and uncomfortable, right? Disposable pads may be contributing to the discomforts of your period more than you think. Besides, they don’t come in fun colors and patterns like cloth pads do!

When you throw away tampons or pads after use, it’s easy to think of your menstrual flow as dirty, as ruining everything it touches. Disposable pads’ emphasis on dryness actually contributes to this, because dried flow looks and smells worse. Cloth pads tend to stay damp (especially during heavy flow) which is actually more comfortable–you get used to it instead of feeling each surge. (This also makes them easier to clean than you might think.)

Are reusable products “gross”? Only if you think your own menstrual flow is gross. Try this: Collect all the disposables you use during a period in one bag, instead of scattering them among the wastebaskets in various places you go. At the end of your period, look at how much trash you’ve accumulated. Now, that’s gross!

Check out my newer article with even more details on these fabulous products and this Natural Parents Network article discussing even more reusable options! If you’re not ready to switch to reusables, try chlorine-free disposables.

A quick explanation of the different kinds of environmentally preferable feminine supplies:

  • Reusable menstrual cup is a rubber or silicone device worn inside the vagina to collect menstrual flow. It can be reused immediately after emptying, and the only thing you throw away is your flow! The cup has never caused a case of Toxic Shock Syndrome (associated with tampons).
  • Reusable cloth pads are washed between uses. Most styles attach to panties with “wings”, but there are some styles with belts and some that stay in place by friction.
  • Chlorine-free cotton tampons do not contain rayon, chlorine, plastic, or super-absorbent chemicals, unlike most mass-market tampons. Some brands use organic (pesticide-free) cotton. In addition to being better for your health, these tampons are better for the environment because their manufacture is less polluting.
  • Chlorine-free disposable pads are not bleached with cancer-causing chlorine and contain minimal amounts of plastic (which encourages yeast infections by restricting air circulation). Most brands are packed in recycled paperboard boxes, and some brands use recycled or sustainably-harvested wood pulp in the pads themselves.

Try something new and better! The Earth will thank you, and you may be decreasing your risk of cancer, TSS, endometriosis, and infertility! Read labels to find safer products at your local store, or shop at these online stores. (The Earthling’s Handbook is not affiliated with any of these businesses.)

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