Cloth Pads or Menstrual Cups? The Complete Beginner's Guide to Reusable Feminine Hygiene Products & Tampon Alternatives
Ladies — did you know most disposable sanitary napkins aren't fully biodegradable? Or that several top tampon brands contain potentially harmful chemicals? Turns out there's a lot we haven't known or thought about regarding our menstrual product choices, much of which can impact the earth as well as our health.
According to the book Flow: The Cultural History of Menstruation, the average woman tosses out up to 300 pounds of feminine hygiene-related garbage in her lifetime. Although this only makes up .5% of the personal landfill waste in existence, it's still an unnecessary addition when healthier, eco-friendly options exist.
Plus, chemicals related to the manufacturing of many commercially produced feminine hygiene products are not only known to be toxic, but some have even been linked to endometriosis and other health problems. Some even say switching away from these brands to more natural, reusable products alleviated their menstrual cramps, skin rashes and infections, as well as returning them to their regular problem-free cycle again.
So what can we do? Thankfully, there are numerous feminine hygiene product alternatives showing up on the market for women to try. From reusable cotton pads and tampons to menstrual cups, period panties, DIY feminine products, or even 'free bleeding', the options are remarkable. Join us as we discuss the benefits of switching to eco-friendly, reusable menstrual products — and find out which ones are right for you.
According to reusable feminine hygiene products reviews, pads are used by the majority of women who make the switch to reusable — mainly chosen for their absorbency, convenience, comfort, and disposability. Some women also choose pads to allow the flowing out of fluids believed to flush toxins from their bodies, which tampons absorb but temporarily hold inside.
The problem with disposable pads is twofold:
- Pads are most often a single use product, discarded when maxed with blood and replaced with a new one, making them very environmentally un-friendly.
- Recent testing has shown that some top pad brands emit toxic chemicals including those identified by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and the State of California EPA as carcinogens, as well as reproductive and developmental toxins — and none of this is disclosed on the products by the manufacturers.
Hearing about those two issues is usually enough for women to start seeking alternatives in the form of reusable cloth pads. And when they do, they'll find plenty to sort through. Our favorite?
Best reusable pad: Joyful Living Naturals
Recommended as the best cloth pads by Wellness Mama, these reusable pads are handmade by working midwives. They come in an assortment of sizes, colors, and prints.
When you're ready to select your reusable pad, consider your usual period flow and how many pads you go through. Select from smaller or larger size pads based on this, and choose how many pads you purchase based on whether you'll be able to do laundry during your period or not.
As long as they are thoroughly rinsed in cold water, wrung out, and hung to air-dry, you can wait a few days to wash these if necessary. (If you need to swap out pads in the middle of the night when too groggy to wash them, some soak their reusables in vinegar until morning.)
Price: Ranges from $12.00 - $130.00 based upon how many pads are included and their sizes.
Where can I buy this? You can buy them here and they ship worldwide.
Absorbencies/sizes: These reusable pads come in a range of sizes to suit different women. Generally, smaller sizes are for a lighter flow, younger girls or women who haven't had children yet, while larger sizes work best for a heavy flow, overnight use, or postpartum bleeding.
Ease of use: Moderately easy as long as you don't mind rinsing them out after they've reached full capacity. If you don't have your own laundry facilities in-house, you'll likely need to arrange a special trip to the laundromat to get these fully washed out when your period ends.
Product Lifespan: Assuming you have at least 10-12 reusable pads to rotate, these can usually last up to 5 years or longer if properly cared for.
- Softer and more comfortable than store-bought pads
- Healthier for the user
- Lots of sizes, colors, styles, and prints to choose from
- Those accustomed to disposable pads may not enjoy the transition into washing out reusables
- More expensive (but cheaper in the long run)
Bottom Line: Give these a try if you're a pad user and want something healthier and eco-friendly. (Keep a few of your regular disposable pads on hand in the beginning just in case you can't get the hang of it right off the bat). If you decide you don't like this brand there are countless others making eco-friendly pads and similar products.
Other reusable pad brands:
If it's reusable tampons you desire, to Etsy you must aspire. We saw 32 different kinds at a quick first glance, so upon closer inspection, you'll surely find your favorite from among the crocheted, knitted, flannel, and organic cotton selection.
Our favorites from the reusable tampons they listed were these:
With a solid 5-star rating after 43 Etsy reviews, we knew these were the winning option. And for the fancy ladies, they also come in peach and blue:
You'll get 6 in this homemade pack, and although this ships from Bulgaria, you'll only pay a little over $5 in shipping costs. Nice!
You may also want to consider buying a wet pouch or wet bag like this best seller on Etsy for when you need to remove your tampon away from home. The wet pouch will keep it discreetly tucked away until you can get it home to wash it properly.
Price: $21.22. Wet bags are $8.64.
Where can I buy this? Right here on Etsy.
Absorbencies/sizes: This type is recommended as follows:
- Heavy Flow/Large: 2.5" Long
- Medium Flow/Normal: 2.2" Long
Most users say reusable tampons are comparable in absorbency to regular tampons, depending upon their thickness and the fabric used to make them. Super absorbent types can be knit or crocheted from wool, bamboo, hemp, or cotton, and they can be either inserted vaginally like other tampons, or worn inter-labially, kinda between a tampon and pad. Some felt confident using two of theirs at once, but use caution with this.
Ease of use: These are easy to use as long as you don't mind rinsing them after taking them out, wringing them out, hanging to air dry — and then thoroughly washing them in the laundry at your earliest convenience. Some users soak them in vinegar if it isn't possible to rinse and hang them immediately.
Materials: This kind is made from 100% cotton yarn on the outside and 100% cotton flannel for their absorbent core.
Product Lifespan: Over 3-5 years if properly cared for.
- Huge selection to choose from
- Possibly softer/more comfortable than other kinds of tampons (although some have indicated otherwise)
- Environmentally friendly
- Probably not the best for heavy flow
- Although made with organic cotton or other natural fabrics, tampons of any kind (as well as cups) may still pose a risk for toxic shock syndrome (although some say the risk is lower due to the absence of bacteria-friendly rayon)
- Some worry about the disintegration of the fabric over time and what that means for the inside of the sensitive vagina
- Some have concerns about dirt, lint, or other such fragments getting into their vagina from the cloth
You'll have your best luck shopping for reusable tampons on Etsy, but there are occasional lucky finds elsewhere, like Honour Your Flow in the UK or ImseVimse in Sweden. You may want to wear them with a pad as backup until you can determine your best type and figure out how long you can go before changing. This type recommends every 2-4 hours, and *never* longer than 6.
Another favorite among fans of reusable feminine hygiene products is the menstrual cup. When shopping for a cup, look for the most natural, nontoxic option you can find. A decent quality cup should cost around $30-40, but the good news is you'll probably never need to buy another one — saving yourself hundreds of future dollars when compared to the price of disposable pads and tampons.
Best menstrual cup: OrganiCup
One of our favorite menstrual cups is the OrganiCup, which can collect 3 to 5 times the amount of fluid absorbed by tampons. (The great part is, the OrganiCup only collects it; it doesn't absorb it — so there's no irritation or dryness and the vagina's pH balance is not disrupted.)
According to their website, OrganiCup is hypoallergenic, certified vegan, does no animal testing, and complies to all relevant legislation. Additionally, they've received the 'Product of the Year' award for Scandinavia twice.
If you're new to menstrual cups, they also feature this guide for beginners.
For those still comparing menstrual cups vs reusable pads or tampons, know this: menstrual cups can hold up to 28 grams of fluid — and when it's properly inserted, there's sufficient suction to prevent leakage altogether.
You may also want to consider getting some OrganiWipes to carry with you, in case you need to wipe off your OrganiCup when away from home, while using a public restroom, or anywhere the sink isn't right next to you when you empty your cup into the toilet.
Price: 28 Euros, which converts to roughly $32.47 USD.
Where can I buy this? Right here. And even with international shipping, my shipping costs were only $4.00.
Absorbencies/sizes: The OrganiCup menstrual cups come in two sizes: A for women who have given birth, and B for women who have not.
Ease of use: These menstrual cups are super easy as long as you don't mind how it feels being inserted or remembering to use proper cup hygiene (i.e. washing your hands before inserting it every time, and sterilizing it in boiling water at the beginning and end of each cycle)
Materials: OrganiCup is made of 100% FDA approved medical grade silicone.
Product Lifespan: Up to 3 years or longer.
- Easy to use, once you get accustomed to it
- Eliminates the need to purchase monthly tampons or pads, or continuously wash reusable ones
- Keeps odor to a minimum since the suction created when in place prevents leakage (and the odor-inducing exposure to oxygen)
- Can be odd to get used to putting fingers inside your vagina to poke and prod the cup into place, then to remove it later
- Can seem expensive up front compared to a box of pads or tampons, but if you can adjust to it, it'll save you plenty over a few years of use
If you can handle putting your fingers into your vagina to move the cup around and then later remove it, and you don't mind how it feels once in place, you'll be fine with this option. Just be sure to remember to empty it on time (some forget it's in there after they get comfortable), and maintain proper hygiene to avoid infections.
You can also find the latest OrganicCup discount codes here.
If you don't like the OrganiCup, you could also try some of the other best menstrual cups available.
Other menstrual cup brands:
- Keeper — made of all-natural gum rubber
- Moon Cup
- Diva Cup
- The Fun Cup Explore Kit — perfect if you aren't sure which size you are
- Lena Cup
- Halo Cup
- Dutchess Cup
- R Cup
- Intimina Ziggy Cup — allows you to have sex with it inserted during your period
- Super Jennie — the larger Super Jennie can hold over 41 ml, making it great for a heavy flow
- Lily Cup — good for beginners or for easy portability, since they're niftily collapsible
- FemmyCycle — if you have a low cervix
- Juju Cup — for those with a high cervix
- Ruby Cup — which donates a menstrual cup to girls in need for every cup they sell
Among the most natural of reusable feminine products is the sea sponge. If you're not comfortable wearing a menstrual cup, but you want a reusable alternative to tampons that you can insert, this might be for you.
Best "Sea Sponge" / menstrual sponge: Jade & Pearl Sea Pearls
Jade and Pearl Sea Pearls are actual bonafide sea sponges — as are the rest of the brands suggested below. Also called Period Sponges or Sea Sponge Tampons, these are just like the ones in the ocean — in fact, they once were the ones in the ocean (we're told they were sustainably harvested, though).
To insert them, just get them wet, then wring out and squeeze into a small and comfortable enough shape to insert into the vagina. Once in place, it'll expand and absorb the flow until full. Then, just take it out, rinse and reuse. Amazing, huh?
We'd recommend a wet bag or pouch like this for use with your sea sponges as well as your reusable tampons or pads (just make sure it's the right size), especially when you need to be away from home.
Price: Depending upon which you buy, this can range broadly. We recommend this for $21.00, and you can choose from the options provided on size and number of sponges.
Absorbencies/sizes: You can purchase any size on the spectrum in sea sponges, from tiny to larger than your fist. Get a Multi-Pack from Jade & Pearl for $21.00 to try one of each size.
Ease of use: Extremely easy to use once you get accustomed to moistening, shaping, and inserting them. Rinse with water during use, then sanitize with vinegar or sterilize in boiling water between cycles.
Materials: Natural sea sponge.
Product Lifespan: These should be reusable for 3-6 months or more.
- Fully biodegradable (can be composted when totally finished with them)
- You can easily trim them into the size and shape of your liking
- More comfortable and won't dry out the vagina or irritate it like tampons can
- Some say users can have sex with these inserted
- Won't last as long as other reusables
- Sponges are actually categorized as animals, not plants - although they are arguably the most simple form of animal, and are sessile, or non-moving, like plants. So if that weighs against your ethics, you may want to opt for a different reusable
- Tricky to swap out for a new one in a public rest room
These are great if you want into reusable eco-friendly feminine hygiene and don't mind inserting things into your vagina, but prefer not to use a cup. If you don't like the Jade and Pearl sea sponges we suggested, you can also try these:
Other period sponge brands:
- Jam Sponge in the UK
- Poseidon Sponges — come with retrieval strings sewn onto them for easy removal
- Natural Intimacy sponges — ethically harvested
- Sponge Producers — for the frugal ladies
- Levant natural sponges
Period panties are just like any of your other underwear, but with a pad and leak-proofing thrown in. Some people wear them as a backup to their regular menstrual products, like tampons or a cup, while others wear them for straight-up free bleeding (well, er, except for the built-in pad part). Other folks mix it up by wearing them only for the light days of their period or only when away from home or on gym days, etc.
Best period panties: HestaOrganic
Anyhoo, there are many ways to wear them and many types to choose from. Our favorite type? HestaOrganic Cotton Period Panties.
At 3 for $44.90, they're about $15.00 each. This isn't bad when you consider some period undies are $30/each or more.
Comprised of GOTS-certified cotton with elastic waistbands and leg bands, and polyester film for the leak-proofing, HesterOrganic panties are made with only natural colors, free of dyes and bleaches.
While they make other types of panties too, their period panties are breathable, provide great coverage, and are cottony soft.
Price: $44.90 for a 3-pack.
Absorbencies/sizes: HestaOrganic period panties come in 2X-Large, 3X-Large, 4X-Large, X-Large, X-Small, Small, Medium, Large.
Ease of use: As easy as putting on and taking off underwear — only you'll need to rinse and wring these out and hang them to air dry after putting on a new pair.
Materials: These are chemical-free made with organic cotton, elastic in the waist and leg bands, and polyester for the leak-proof barrier.
Product Lifespan: 5-10 years with proper care.
- Reasonably priced
- Made with soft organic cotton and spandex
- Can also be used with (light) incontinence
- Available in packs of 3 (buy 2 packs and most of your period is covered)
- Available in black or beige
- Some say they make a noticeable sound when you walk
- Although you could try it for light days, HestaOrganics period pads are not designed for free-bleeding, (unless you don't mind leaking through)
- Not much different than wearing a pair of panties with a pad
- Leg holes are elasticized, so consider your thigh size when choosing your panty size
- Some say there is insufficient leak protection in the front, only has it in the back
HestaOrganic period panties are great if you plan to wear them on light period days or as backup to a tampon or cup. Otherwise, they may leak. Available in several sizes and two colors, there should be something for you to try here. You only have 30 days beyond the confirmation of shipping email to return them for a refund, so check them out ASAP.
You can also find HestaOrganic discount codes here.
Other period panty brands:
- Thinx period panties
- Pantie pads underwear — super cheap
- Period Panteez
- Adira — period panties perfect for girls in school
- Aussie-owned ModiBodi
- Anigan — if you like wearing (sort of) sexy panties on your period
- Dear Kate
- Fannypants — superior odor control
- Eva wear
- Harebrained — lots of humorous prints
So what do you think? Planning on trying any of these or do you already have a favorite? Let us know in the comments below!
Note: We've seen several other new options for feminine hygiene products which work similarly to cups or sponges but are slightly different, such as SoftCup menstrual discs, but these are not reusable so therefore were not included in our reviews.