Reusable sanitary protection

Filed in by on June 4, 2008 54 Comments

Ella's House hemp washable padsLet’s just get this issue right out in the open from the start. We’re all friends here so we can do a little ‘grown up talk’.

Today I want to talk to you about sanitary protection. Ya know, that stuff us lovely ladies have to deal with once a month.

Landfill layabouts

What do the majority of us do? We bag it and bin it (if we’re good), and if we’re very bad we flush it down the loo.

Marketing tells us our periods are something to be hidden away, dealt with discretely and kept private. I’m not going to necessarily take you out of your comfort zone with that idea, but have you ever stopped to think just how much waste this monthly ritual of bagging and binning (or flushing) creates?

In her lifetime, Ms Average will rustle her way through an astonishing 12-17,000 items of sanitary protection. Collectively, on our green and pleasant island we buy more than three billion disposable sanitary items every year.

Thatsalotoflandfill.

If your monthly offerings go to landfill, plastic backed linings (and all those little individual wrappings so no one knows what is inside your handbag) stay there for hundreds of years.

Flush and forget?

If it gets flushed down el toiletto, it might end up washed up on a beach somewhere or pass you by and wave hello next time you take a dip in the ocean. Over 170,000 tampon applicators were collected along U.S. coastal areas between 1998 and 1999. (from the Center for Marine Conservation, info featured in E Magazine, March/April Issue 2001)

The thinner and more absorbant the product, the more synthetic absorbent materials made from petroleum it has in it. That funky ‘dri weave top sheet’ is just a load of plastic with holes in it that sits around in the landfill long after you have expired.

So, what’s a woman who wants to reduce her household landfill waste to do?

For those who are ready to embrace reusable products, there are two options – the menstrual cup and the washable pad.

Menstrual cup

The Mooncup is made from silicone rubber. It’s a bell shaped ‘cup’ that you insert like a tampon. It collects your blood and you simply empty it out, rinse it under the tap and insert again. They cost around Β£18 from Boots and health food shops. One cup will last several years so you don’t need a degree in maths to work out the massive financial as well as environmental savings.

As for ‘airing your knickers in public’; empty the contents into the toilet, wipe around with a tissue and re insert. Then give the menstrual cup a proper wash as soon as the first opportunity arises.

AND there’s no noise! that’s right, no noise. No rip of cardboard as you open the box, no tearing of paper as you open the tampon, and no bit of plastic that always floats in the toilet after you’ve flushed it. They’re MORE discreet than conventional products.

Washable pads

Washable pads are as effective as disposables. For women who baulk at the idea of getting close to their own blood; surely you have at some time had to deal with blood on your knickers, a bath towel or your bed sheets? (if not, call me, I want to lock you in a cage and do lots of horrible experiments on you).

You treat washable sanitary pads like anything else that gets blood on it: soak the pads in cold water and put them in with your regular wash. Most suppliers stock small waterproof bags that you can keep them in until you get home if you are out and about.

Like washable nappies, washable sanitary pads need half a dozen washes to reach maximum absorbancy, so don’t be too disappointed when you use them first time.

Washable pads come in two types – all in one and those with inserts. All in ones are less fiddley and come in a range of absorbencies, so all the work is done for you.
Pads with inserts give you more flexibility. You can adjust the absorbancy to how much protection you need by adding or taking away inserts.

Rachael Hertogs makes the only organic pads in the UK. She has a range of styles and colours to choose from and is just such a nice person doing her bit to change the world that I insist you buy from her henceforth. For a chance to win one of her pads throughout the month of June, enter our competition!

Hemp is 4 times more absorbant than cotton, so opt for those if you need extra protection or have a particularly heavy flow. Try Ella’s House for hemp pads. (Click on Minx pads to find them)

Washable pads have a higher initial financial outlay, but they last for years and years so the money is soon recouped. If you’re a seamstress, you can slash the cost by making your own. Many moons kindly share a sewing pattern for free on their site.

The fun thing; yes I said fun in an article about periods; about washable pads is you can match them to your outfit, your mood, your paintwork or your toilet roll. You can buy leopard print, moons and stars, cute bunnies, hearts, every colour of the rainbow or go au natrelle. The choices are endless.

Compostable products

If this article has you kicking and screaming with resistance at giving up convenient disposable products then all is not lost. You can switch to the Natracare brand of products which is available in health food shops and some chemists. Their sanitary pads and liners are made from biodegradable, chlorine-free cellulose and Bioplastics which are biodegradable and compostable under the correct conditions, and are safe for sceptic tanks. More on what on earth that means when I get a response from the email I sent them.

What do you think? Are you already a convert, are you intrigued to have a go or totally turned off by the whole idea?

Don’t forget to enter our competition to win a washable pad from Rachael Hertog!

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (54)

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  1. Alice says:

    I’d just like to say thanks for writing about this – I think you are really brave to talk about this issue! I use a mooncup and I wish I’d got one years ago. It’s no effort to use it, I find it better than regular products and I’m so pleased that I’m not adding rubbish to the landfill.
    Unfortunately I don’t talk about it because I find people are really grossed out by the thought of it, so I keep my thoughts to myself.

  2. Katherine says:

    I tried some of these pads a few years ago and I have to admit I was a bit repulsed by the whole idea. But I have never looked back. They are loads more comfortable than the disposable ones and that hooked me there and then. I found the ick factor has diminished a hundred times since using reusable pads and now I don’t give it a second thought. I would say to every woman to give them a go!
    unlike Alice I just tell all my friends anyway! but then they know I’m a bit of a radical. I don’t tell them in a preachy way and make light of it and one of my friends has converted to the mooncup which she is thrilled with.

  3. Leah says:

    Great post! I’m a mooncup user as well and I LOVE it! No hassle, no waste, no worries about toxic shock and I don’t have to remember to buy supplies in. Plus I’m saving so much money. I think all women should give it a go at least to try it. Do it to save money if nothing else.

  4. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Alice, katherine and Leah,

    I’m so glad that you took the time to post with your experiences – thank you. It seems you are all getting along really well and Katherine; it’s great that you tried the pads despite not feeling too sure about it at first.
    Keep telling your friends – as Leah mentioned, it’s good to at least try before saying No!
    Thanks for the vote of confidence Alice; we were a bit unsure whether to post as it is such an emotive issue to discuss.

    Best wishes to you all,
    Mrs Green x

  5. Hi Mrs G – By now you will probably know that I use the washable pads. They are very comfortable fleece ones, which took me months to build up the confidence to blog about. The funny thing is that when asked about the one thing that we should keep out of landfill, while doing a live interview for an Irish talkshow, my mouth ran ahead of me and I blurted out “Sanitary Towels”! The presenter was knocked off his seat…It was even a shock to me back then, but I’ve got the stomach to laugh about it now. So good on you for tackling the subject so well ;-D

  6. Mrs Green says:

    Hey Mrs Way above Average πŸ™‚ Thank you for popping by to join in; I know you’re really busy with your own stuff at the moment, so I appreciate your time.

    I love how your mind just had to talk about them on that radio show and wasn’t going to take no for an answer! And a little humour goes a long way eh πŸ˜‰

    have a wonderful day,
    Mrs G x

  7. Tamsin says:

    So glad to see Mooncup get a mention! I’ve had mine for 2 years and it totally rocks (and I’ve been telling people about it when ever I can shoe-horn it into conversation!)

  8. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Tamsin,

    Great to see you here – welcome! I’ve heard lots of women say that they love their mooncups, so it’s lovely to hear from someone else who is delighted with their’s. Good on you for spreading the word too; you’re planting seeds and you never know when one will germinate and grow πŸ˜‰

    Mrs G x

  9. Barbara says:

    I am also a mooncup user, and I too love my mooncup. I would really urge everyone to give it a go, so simple, cheaper, greener. I’m happy to talk at length about mine to anyone who’ll listen!

  10. Mrs Green says:

    Hello Barbara – welcome to the site! And thank you so much for sharing your feelings about the mooncup. I’ve heard many great reports on them and women have expressed how they wish they’d come across the mooncup years ago.

    Keep talking about it – everytime you do, you plant seeds and some of them will flourish πŸ™‚

    Mrs Gx

  11. Allison Tanner says:

    Just had to join in with this one! I agree entirely. I was listening to the radio back in Feb and heard a woman talking about Mooncup – I’ve been going greener and greener for quite some time now, and quite frankly sanitary protection was something I’d always been bothered about. I searched the net and found it – I ordered it and it arrived the next day, and for once in my life I was looking forward to my next period so that I could try it out! Well, I’ve been using it ever since and it’s given my a new lease of life. I use it along with wemoon washable pads on my heaviest days for a bit extra protection. I am now on a mission convincing all my friends to try them out.

  12. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Allison, it’s great to hear about your experiences; thank you for sharing and keep up the great work with sharing your ideas with your friends. Let us know how many you convert!

  13. Judy says:

    I’ve been browsing your site, and was wondering if you had a page like this – I figured you MUST, if you were going for zero waste!

    I’m happy to say I’ve been using The Keeper (similar to the mooncup, but made out of natural rubber instead of silicone) for nearly 10 years – and I LOVE it… I also use cloth pads occasionally – SO much better for the environment, more convenient, healthier, the list goes on!

    I would never go back to disposable products (and when I did use those, I used the kinds with the least packaging, but I still lamented the amount of monthly waste) Thank you for publicizing this!

  14. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Judy, welcome to the site and thanks for sharing your experiences with us. I’m glad you are getting on well with the keeper. Spread the word among your friends!

  15. maisie says:

    Just thought any ladies who might want to know that Boots sell mooncups now alongside the regular sanitary protection.

    I myself do still use tampons, but use washable pads and panty liners. I suffer from extremely heavy periods which pads alone could not cope with.

  16. Mrs Green says:

    Thanks Maisie – that’s a great tip as many people might not know where they can buy locally. Have you tried the natracare brand of tampons? These feel like a good compromise to me as they are organic cotton and can be composted if you should want to.

  17. maisie says:

    I have yes, but am afraid they just didn’t match up absorbancy wise to what I now use,I did used to use their panty liners etc before getting the washable.

  18. Mrs Green says:

    Ah, fair enough; I know that certain manmade materials are better for some jobs and it looks like this is one of them πŸ™‚

  19. Monica says:

    To Maisie (above) – I recently read about sea pearls which are natural tampons that you can use for around 6 months. I haven’t tried them so I can’t say how absorbant they are but that might be something to bear in mind.
    I bought a Mooncup about a year ago and really love it, although for the first 3 days it’s not enough as I have pretty heavy flow so I recently bought washable pads and haven’t looked back since. I’m still trying to convince friends, they still think the idea is kind of gross so I think I may just start giving them pads/mooncups as presents instead so that they can try for themselves. My sister is definitely coming round to the idea.

  20. I just wanted to join the chorus on reusable period products. I use the diva cup and it’s great – took a few times to get fast with it, but now it’s no problem.

    I didn’t know that about having to “wear in” cloth pads and diapers. Interesting.

  21. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Monica,
    welcome to the site πŸ™‚ I missed your comment; so I’m sorry I didn’t respond. Glad you are finding a solution for yourself and helping to spread the word. What do your friends think of their presents?

    Glad you have found something you like too, Jen. There are so many more people switching to reusable products, it’s almost becoming ‘normal’ πŸ˜€

  22. Sindy says:

    Hi,I am from China. I remember that when I was a kid, my mom used the reusable sanitary pad. But now most women in China use the disposable. I think your idea is good, I wanna try. The problem is where can I get the resuable sanitary pads in China…

  23. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Sindy,
    Welcome to the site and thank you for your comment. I have no idea where you would buy these in China; I’m guessing you could get them sent to you from an online supplier – many companies will send internationally now.
    The other thing is to make your own. There are heaps of suggestions on this page:
    http://www.fuzbaby.com/articles/makeyourown_clothmenstrualpads.htm
    Good luck!

  24. Gemma says:

    A great place to find reusable pads like these is a place called Esty (an online community of people who make things by hand): http://tinyurl.com/ctbqvn. Plus there are lots with nice fabric patterns.

    I use Natracare towels – really great product.

  25. Mrs Green says:

    Good idea, Gemma; it’s great to support people doing their own thing. I looked for them on Folksy – the UK equivalent, but I couldn’t find any products at all. I’m sure there is a gap in the market πŸ˜‰

  26. Gemma says:

    It’s been a while since I first read about the Mooncup on your blog, but I have finally plucked up the courage to order one! Unsure and intrigued at the same time πŸ™‚

  27. Carole Blake says:

    @Gemma:Hi Gemma, I’ve just posted about this here: http://www.thegreenestdollar.com/2009/02/this-ones-for-the-girls-green-your-period/

    Mrs G linked to this in one of her other blogs “Carnival of the Green” which prompted me too!

  28. Gemma says:

    @Carole Blake: That’s a great article! I’ll put a link to it on my blog as I think others would find it really useful too πŸ™‚ I don’t use tampons for alot of reasons mentioned in that article, so it will be good to try an all round healthier alternative.

  29. Mrs Green says:

    hi carole, I just read about your experiences over on the greenest dollar and it was such a good write up! I’m so glad it worked for you. It seemed that not only did it work, but it was Better than the disposable alternatives – how cool is that!

    I hope everything goes well for you Gemma – let us know how you get on πŸ™‚

  30. Sandie says:

    When I’m at home, I often use chopped up old clothes as rags (soft, absorbant tee shirt materials is good). I fold them over a few times to make a pad.

    The rags do then go into the bin, so I guess I could do a lot better on this one. However, at least I’m not buying manufactured, bleached, mixed material, plastic backed and wrapped items that have probably been shipped half way around the world…….

  31. Mrs Green says:

    @Sandie: Hi Sandie, I have done that in the past too, but I did wash them afterwards and reuse! This was before I had saved up enough to put in a bulk order for reusable products…

  32. Julia says:

    Hi – another plug for the Mooncup. Just to say, try it for the first time BEFORE your period starts and don’t be alarmed if you don’t get it in right first time – I was horrified that I’d spent all that money and couldn’t do it, but it only took me five minutes to get the hang of it (the secret is to hold it very firmly when you’ve got it in the folded position) and I’ve never had a problem since. I also always wet it first, even when I’m taking it clean out of its little bag – it seems to go in easier. I would NEVER go back to tampons now.

  33. Mrs Green says:

    @Julia: Hi Julia, welcome to the site. Great to hear of people getting on well with the mooncup – thanks for the tips about trying it out first and dampening it first; they sound like really helpful ideas.

  34. Louisa says:

    I haven’t been so lucky with the Mooncup – in fact I’ve reverted to tampons for the heavier days.

  35. Hannah says:

    Hi there ladies –

    I stopped using disposables about 8 years ago when I moved to an intentional community which only had compost toilets. For years I just used flannels folded over twice to make pads, and sometimes still do. I’ve also sewn a few of my own out of old t-shirts and towels and I would never go back to disposables – all that accidentally-sticking-bits-of-you-to-it-and-only-realising-ten-minutes-later-when-you’re-talking-to-your-boss – no thanks! I also have a mooncup but I think I cut the stalk too short at the beginning (when you’re fitting it to you) and now find it really tricky to get out. It’s great when I am using it though, like not being on my period at all.

    Hopefully between us we can keep convincing our friends that there is another way!

    xxx

  36. Mrs Green says:

    @Hannah: Hi Hannah, thanks for sharing your experiences and for making me laugh about the bits of the disposables sticking to you LOL! Glad you have found a solution πŸ™‚

  37. amy apple says:

    Hi, thanks for all your comments on here, it’s really helped me make me mind up to change from disposables.
    I do prefer to know what’s going on with my flow, so I’ve decided to use pads. It might seem silly but I was going to go for some pretty polka dot ones online, but can anyone tell me…do they stain? I would imagine they do, so the patterned ones must look a state after a month..? I don’t want to spend an hour each day scrubbing..
    Thanks Amy x

  38. Mrs Green says:

    @amy apple: Morning Amy – no scrubbing involved! All I do is soak the used pads in cold water until I wash them, as normal, in the washing machine – you treat them just like washable nappies. There is no staining as long as you remember the cold water pre soak. I wash them at 40 instead of 30, as our hard water *can* mean it doesn’t get everything out. But really, there is no big workload to deal with. HTH πŸ™‚

  39. amy apple says:

    Thanks Mrs Green!

  40. hinemoa says:

    Even simpler is the Greek method. Take a sea sponge, cut to desired size, insert. If preferred, pierce the sponge with a string to make it easier to get it out again. Rinse in clear water, press out water or dry naturally, reuse.

  41. Louisa says:

    How come the sea sponge doesn’t leak?

  42. Mrs Green says:

    @hinemoa: Hi Hinemoa, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’ve heard of sea sponges and seen them for sale online. I couldn’t figure out if they were a plant or animal? I was thinking of the vegan issue here…

  43. Teresa says:

    @hinemoa: I tried sea sponges and couldn’t get on with them as I had a heavy flow so tended to use them towards the end of my period. It was difficult washing them out when away from home and found myself staying at home more during my period (not easy when I would often come on unexpectantly when I went away on holiday or for the weekend and even on day trips) and the stains would remain. So I switched to a moon cup and didn’t look back as it could contain as much menstrual fluid as two super tampons could absorb. Since my flow was very heavy I still used sanitary towels in the first two or three days of my period.

  44. Teresa says:

    I only used disposable sanitary towels as I had enough of washing out knickers and bed sheets so couldn’t face it with reusable sanitary towels and they would take too long to dry and with a heavy period I would need to change them quite frequently despite using a moon cup as well. I did however buy two reusable panty pads for between times but they don’t stay in place.

  45. Jenny says:

    I would like to reccomend the mooncup to all women! Not only is it eco friendly but it doesnt have all those nasty chemicals in them, that i seem to be allergic too :/
    Used it for one period, and I am never going to look back. Cost Β£20 from mooncup.com, Im going to be in the black for that purchase in no time if i think about the money il save from sanitary products πŸ˜€
    Have a happy eco-friendly period

  46. Mrs Green says:

    @Jenny: Hi Jenny, thanks for sharing your comment and giving another thumbs up to the mooncup. The money savings are huge for sure – a total win-win πŸ™‚

  47. Tracey says:

    After about 6 years without having to worry about periods due to my contraception, I changed from the depo-injection to an implant early last year. I’ve still not had anything, until yesterday morning when I was in the middle of a field camping…

    My first menstrual blood in years! I had a bit of a panic and the only thing I could do was nip to the first-aid tent and scrounge a pad or two (I was also wearing a corset, so tampons weren’t an option either – bending at the waist restrictions would be an issue!) to see me until I got home and I just felt so guilty having to throw the wrapper and the waxed(?) paper from the wings away as you can’t even recycled that!!

    I’m now going to pop to Boots and see if I can find a moon-cup and get the hang of it! Wish me luck!

    One other thing that popped through my head (TSS aside) was that, if you had a bokashi bin and used organic cotton tampons, could they, in theory, go into something like that? If we can convert the world to mooncups or similar, it wouldn’t be an issue, but I thought I’d throw the question out there, while we’re on the topic. πŸ™‚

  48. Tracey says:

    After having a peek on their website, their “new” photo page really puts it in perspective:

    http://www.mooncup.com/photographs.html

    A whole van full for each woman on the planet is a lot of landfill! πŸ™

  49. Mrs Green says:

    @Tracey: Hi Tracey, good luck with the mooncup. I’ve never used one but friends rave about them and wish they’d tried them years ago. There is a company called natracare which technically make ‘compostable’ products but I questioned them about whether this would work in a home composting system and I don’t think they were sure. You’re right – the photo really puts things in perspective…

  50. Lowen Crombie says:

    Wow this article has really made me think specially the whole one woman gets through 12-17,000 sanitary items I’ve never really thought of it before but now I’ve realised this you have me converted. thank you =)

  51. Victoria Wiltshire says:

    Hi

    I have never used disposable pads and like the idea. Not sure how they fix in place, some are described as having press studs or velcro, do these fix into your own knickers? Secondly, like the idea of the moon cup also, can these be used with a coil in place?

  52. Clare thomas says:

    I use old washable nappy inserts that I fold into 4 long ways, they are very absorbant and wash and dry easily as they fold out flat. I have some on the line now, they are dry in about 2 hours. I have been using them for about 5 or 6 years now, and with very heavy lomg periods, I wonder how much money I have saved over the years? My best tip is to wear them with granny knickers that are a size too small, they don’t slip at all. I have never leaked as I used to with tampons and disposable pads. I enjoy wearing them and seeing them on the washing line, I’m doing my bit for self sufficiency. When my daughter starts her periods I will give her the choice, but hope she uses cloth pads like me.

  53. Sue Corrance says:

    Mrs Green be encouraged… After reading this way back when you posted it, today I have finally taken the plunge and am using my brand new Femmecup… Hope it’s more fingers crossed than legs crossed! And straight after this article was published, I made pads out of my daughter’s washable wipes from her washable nappy kit. Feeling virtuous! That said, I’ve just used a stack of antibacterial wipes on the fox poo I trod round my house this morning when bringing in the milk from the step :o( I normally only use one every now and then for toilet seat emergencies.

    • Mrs Green says:

      Oh go you – you SHOULD feel virtuous! I hope your first experience of the Femmecup was good? And I don’t blame you on the antibacterial wipes – sometimes we just have to resort to these things for our own welfare and health πŸ™‚

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