Have you heard of reusable menstrual products? This introduction to reusable menstrual products covers types, styles, and designs. These include reusable menstrual pads, reusable menstrual cups, period panties and reusable menstrual sponges for chemical-free natural menstrual absorption. I include product recommendations, issues and how to clean them.
Unlike disposable products, reusable menstrual pads, reusable menstrual cups and others are not made from toxic ingredients, are better for the environment and in the long-run easier on the wallet because they last years and are made from natural materials. Post contains affiliate links.
When my friend first told me about reusable menstrual pads and period panties I cringed. Wash my own blood? No way. Then, I learned about the chemicals in disposable pads and tampons and thought I would start out slow. I bought a few reusable menstrual pads and started using them on my light days. It was easier than I expected and they were very comfortable. Rinsing the blood out was not as gross as I imagined and the odor was less than with disposables. I continued adding pads and now have enough to last a full cycle!
Then my family went on vacation and I knew I would need something like a menstrual cup for swimming. I tried my first reusable menstrual cup at the beach and found it surprisingly comfortable, after a few tries, clean and easy to manage. No more pulling out a soggy tampon or feeling a string dangling between my legs. While I still primarily use pads, if I need to go somewhere, exercise or swim a cup is a great alternative.
Reusable menstrual product types:
Reusable Menstrual Pads
Reusable menstrual pads are shaped like disposable pads but don’t get thrown away. They fit in your underwear, come in different levels of absorbency, different sizes and can cost upwards of $10 each. From thin panty liners to large and thick post-partum pads, reusable menstrual pads cover every age, stage of menstrual cycle and are even used by some for urine leaks (even though they can’t be marked this way due to FDA regulations). The pad gets changed and unlike period panties, you keep wearing your underwear and just switch to a clean pad.
Reusable Menstrual Pad types
- Pad tops (absorbent part that touches your body)
- Cotton Jersey topped
- Poly Jersey topped
- Minky topped
- Bamboo velour topped
- Organic cotton topped
- Pad Core (center)
- Absorbent middle core
- Pad bottoms (part that touches your underwear)
- Fleece (my favorite)
- PUL (waterproof, can slide around underwear)
Pink Lemonade Shop Minky pad, fleece back with wings that hold pad around underwear below.
Reusable Menstrual Cups
What’s a reusable menstrual cup? Basically, a reusable menstrual cup replaces a tampon. Instead of being disposed of after each use, it’s rinsed or simply emptied, and reinserted. While they may look big or intimidating at first, menstrual cups are often very comfortable, come in different sizes, are available in different softness levels, and are different shapes and lengths.
Reusable menstrual cups have been increasing in popularity. They come in various sizes, lengths and shapes with the primary recommendation being that women who have given birth (vaginal or c-section) use the larger size and women who have not birthed used the smaller size. A reusable menstrual cup gets folded, there are several folds, and opens as it approaches your cervix. It collects blood up high and makes having a period pretty effortless. Because the collection is high it’s very clean and most cups can be worn up to 12 hours. In addition, most brands report that they do not pose the risk of developing TSS like tampons.
When asked for cup recommendations I often recommend the lena cup. I like that it’s made in the USA, has great customer service and FDA regulated.
Reusable menstrual cup benefits
- Medical grade silicone
- Stem (can be trimmed) for removal
- Vent holes
- Soft and flexible
- Reusable for years
- Easy to clean, wash and store
- Can run $20-$40 each so make sure to do some reserach before purchasing.
(Pin image below)
Reusable Menstrual Sponges
Reusable menstrual sponges, sea sponges or sponge tampons are an alternative to reusable menstrual pads, cups and disposables. While people seem to either love or hate sponge tampons, they offer a softer option to cups and tampons while remaining eco-friendly. What is a reusable menstrual sponge? It’s a sea sponge. Much like the sponge you may use in the bath, these are smaller and can be trimmed and fitted for individual use.
Downsides. They can contain sand, dirt, bacteria and other oddities you don’t want near your lady parts. Unlike a cup, these don’t come with a stem. After wetting and inserting, you may need to do some searching to locate the sponge tampon for removal or figure out how to DIY a string. The controversy about the hygienic nature and cleaning process for sea sponge tampons…however, it goes back to the love/hate for this method of reusable menstrual absorption. Women who love them report that they’re great for use during sex and love the comfort. I have yet to dive into sponge tampons…because I’m not one to roll the dice with TSS…but felt the need to include them here to be all-includisve.
“In late 1980, twelve “menstrual sponges” were examined by the University of Iowa Laboratory and found to contain sand, grit, bacteria, and various other materials. The sponges were voluntarily recalled by the distributor. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia also reported one case of TSS associated with the use of a sea sponge, and another case which possibly was associated with the use of a sponge. ” (1)
What are period panties? Period pants are like a reusable menstrual pad, but it’s the whole underwear and not just a pad that you attach to the crotch. Some period panties are meant just for leaks or light flow, others have adjustable absorption and some have a stuffable pocket for your insert. Either way, a period panty is meant to be changed in-whole each time and can be upwards of $30 a pair. What brand? Lunapad makes great period panties available at Kelly’s Closet! Image below stock from Kelly’s Closet, not mine.
Concerns about Reusable Menstrual Products
Am I going to have to touch my menstrual blood?
The short answer is yes. With reusable menstrual pads, you may need to rinse before tossing in the wash. At first, this was off-putting to me, but after using pads for awhile I found that rinsing from the back to front makes cleaning heavily soiled pads easy. If touching blood is totally out of the question to you, there are always gloves.
For reusable menstrual cup it’s a bit more than a tampon. Yes, there is a stem like a tampon string, but when you pull the cup out a bit may get on your fingers. It’s much less than I imagined, but after a few tries pouring out the cup is easy and oddly satisfying. It becomes very easy to monitor the amount of flow, stage in your cycle and overall health. I know that on day 3 I can fill half way in 3-4 hours and should my cycle ever be off…I know right away!
They’re expensive $$$$
Yes, reusable menstrual products can be a big out of pocket expense…at first. When I saw the price of individual pads, I was floored. How could one pad cost $12? Seriously. However, after purchasing a few pads I am excited to buy more! To save money, buy from reputable pad makers. Who do I recommend?
Pink Lemonade Shop – Fleece backed with a variety of great patterns and prints!
These make up the majority of my pad-stash. The minky is a synthetic topper…but long lasting and resists staining, colorful and make my period fun! Downsides? Shipping may take awhile, but these handmade beauties are worth the wait!
Bummis Fabulous Flo Organic Cotton – PUL (waterproof) backed organic cotton pads!
While the PUL backing is a big more slippery than fleece, organic cotton is hard to find and these pads are very absorbent and trim! Find them at Kelly’s Closet.
Getting the Right Reusable Menstrual Cups
To make sure that you purchase the right cup, you may need to measure your cervix height. How do you do that? This is a manual process that you or your partner may need to complete. Using a digit…or two, you measure how high you can insert before finding your cervix. While cervix height changes with cycle duration, it’s usually a good idea to know height around menstrual time. Most companies give details about cup sizes and lengths but some are superior in quality and manufacturing.
I do not recommend some of the inexpensive fly-by-night cup companies I’ve seen on Amazon. Users report that they smell like paint, degrade quickly and are not as functional as other brands. Buy right, buy reputable and make sure you’re keeping chemical-free and high-quality. Keep in mind that this cup will last years and is not the time to go cheap. Read reviews! Check blogs and read about issues and benefits.
Typically, the large size cup is recommended for women who have been pregnant and given birth, via c-section or vaginal, or women over a certain age range. The size different is not gigantic, but you can always get a starter set with 2 cup sizes to have both available for testing.
I often recommend the lena cup! They have multiple sizes, firmnesses and have great customer service. Worried about buying the wrong size? There is a set with 2 cups so you don’t have to worry about buying the wrong size. You have both ready to try out! I have heard from many cup users that the company replaced cups with discomfort too. Great customer service is very important to me and I won’t recommend a company without it!
My partner thinks it’s gross
We all know that the support of our partner can make or break our personal habits. How to win your partner over to loving your reusable menstrual cup, period panties, and reusable menstrual pads? For me, seeing how not-gross these products are in action was the key to winning my husband over. He’s not easily grossed out, but I think likes how happy these items make me and due to the fact that he doesn’t’ participate in cleaning my pads or cups…he does not really see these products in-action.
Understanding the cost. Like cloth diapers, there seems to be some hangup about financial stability and reusable products. If we’re financially stable we should afford disposables, right? The opposite is true. Forking out the funds for a full pad stash can cost over $100. That $8 box of disposable pads is a much easier up-front cost. My recommendation? Measure your current pads, buy the same size and read reviews. Buy a few at a time and build a stash to love!
I hope this article has given you an introduction to reusable menstrual cups, reusable menstrual pads, period panties and sponge tampons! Where ever your reusable period journey starts I wish you luck and happiness. I know Mother Earth would be proud!