Do-It-Yourself/Reusable menstrual pads
What are cloth menstrual pads?
Cloth menstrual pads are a reusable alternative to disposable sanitary napkins used by women when they are menstruating, experiencing post partum flow, and also by people who are mildly incontinent. They are made of an absorbent cloth and are washed and dried between each use. There are many different designs, and may include one-piece items, or a case and towel insert.
Traditional disposable sanitary napkins are made of plastic and bleached cotton/rayon batting. These are not reusable. Cloth menstrual pads can be made from new materials or from old materials such as old pillow cases, sheets, and towels. 100% cotton fleece fabric (like the fabric found in most jogging wear) is the best for both comfort and absorbency. Some designs suggest a flannel bottom layer to go against the underwear, as it helps the pad to stay in place, others recommend a light-weight waterproof fabric attached to the bottom of the pad and either buttons or Velcro to fasten the pad securely into underpants. Some people use nylon for the waterproofing. There is also a breathable fabric available (i.e. Gore-tex) in some fabric stores, and many pad makers use a coated fabric called PUL, which is very popular in reusable diaper-making.
Advantages of cloth menstrual pads
Disposable sanitary napkins are expensive, particularly to the environment. At the rate of 4 per day, 6 days a month, 12 months a year, for over 35 years, an average woman will be throwing away about 10,000 pads or tampons in her life as well as their plastic packaging. These are then either incinerated (bad for air quality) or put into land fill (where they will take hundreds of years to break down). Cloth menstrual pads last for years before disposal is necessary and some may even be composted.
Reusable pads are a more natural alternative than disposable napkins. As they are made of cloth rather than plastics, they allow your skin to breathe, causing less odour and reducing chaffing and irritation. They are less likely to cause rashes, contact dermatitis, and may reduce the scent of menstrual blood on the cloth pad, as well as helping women afflicted with certain types of vaginitis. Women with sensitive skin and allergies may find cloth pads to be more comfortable against their skin, particularly cloth pads made of undyed organic cotton.
In the long term, it is less expensive to buy and produce cloth menstrual pads compared to disposable menstrual products. They can be made by hand for little or no cost. Cloth menstrual pads are also highly customizable so you can make yours fit you.
Average lifespan of cloth pads
Many companies that manufacture cloth pads indicate that the pads and liners have a lifespan of approximately 5 years. However with proper care, pads and liners may remain in usable condition for up to ten years.
Assessing your needs
This guide will assist you in making a one-piece reusable pad. These are very similar in shape and use as disposable pads and are treated as one piece.
- Pre-washed and dried cotton fabric (this preshrinks the material)
- Pre-washed and dried terry toweling fabric (towel material)
- Cotton thread
- Button or press-stud
- Pen/pencil/fabric marker
- Sewing machine or serger (or a needle, if you are sewing by hand)
- Press stud assembly kit if using press studs
- Make cardboard templates.
- Cut the fabric to size.
- Attach a button.
Make cardboard templates
Get a shop-bought pad of a brand that you've found comfortable (preferably with wings). Trace around it (wings out) on the cardboard and then add a 1-1.5cm seam allowance around that. Cut out the cardboard shape (with seam allowance). This will be your outside pattern.
With the same pad, close the wings in and trace around it on a second piece of cardboard. Cut the cardboard out 0.5-1cm smaller than this shape. This will be your inside pattern.
Cut the fabric to size
Cut two sheets of cotton fabric (this is for the outside) matching your outside pattern.
Cut 3 or 4 layers of towel fabric (depending on your preference) matching your inside pattern. Pin together.
Put both layers of cotton fabric together, pattern side inwards. Sew from the top of one wing, down around that wing and up to the top of the second, leaving the top of the case open.
Using blanket stitch or zig-zag, sew around the layers of towel so that they'll stay together.
Turn the case inside out so you can now see the pattern on both sides. Insert the layers of towel into the gap and pin into position. Sew through the case top, towels and case bottom in a long oval shape to hold everything together.
Hand stitch the case closed.
Using a press stud assembly kit, sew on studs, a regular button or velcro, make a fastening so that the pad can be fastened around your underwear. You're done!
How to wash a reusable menstrual pad after use
Separate pads and liners (if required) and rinse in cold water. You may then choose to soak the pad in a bucket of cold water, optionally adding a non-cholorine bleach, washing powder, laundry detergent, antiseptic solution or other cleaning agent of your choice. Alternately, if it will be several days until your next load of washing gets done, you may choose to hang the items up to dry. This will prevent them from developing an odour from soaking.
Once you are ready to wash a load of washing, re-rinse any pads which have been left soaking, and add all pads and liners to the washing machine. Launder as you would any other household items, using your regular detergent, but without fabric softener. Dry in full sun if possible, or as you would dry other household items.
If any items picked up odours before washing, and these odours remain after washing and drying, put them aside to wash again in the next laundry load. If feasible, and depending on the material used for your pads, perform the next wash on the hottest reasonable setting.