The logic of what is and isn’t socially acceptable can be odd; reusable cloth nappies are an admirable choice when you have a baby and ‘moon cups’, reusable plastic menstrual cups, are gaining popularity. Despite those two things being socially acceptable, reusable cloth menstrual pads just aren’t something people have positive reactions to hearing about.
While ‘moon cups’ are written about and shown off as THE reusable menstrual item, their insertable nature means they are only really comparable to tampons. For people who use pads for whatever reason they do, reusable pads are the alternative to disposable pads. After all, some people just don’t trust insertables not to leak, find them too invasive and upsetting, find them uncomfortable, or just don’t like the idea. Plus, it’s reusable pads that don’t get the praise they deserve.
All three products have the same main drawback. You have to clean them. Cleaning plastic cups only means a quick rinse, but cloth does has to be washed. Washing cloth pads isn’t too hands-on or laborious, as after a soak they’re fine to put in the washing machine. One little waterproof bin with a lid in the bathroom and it’s a small chore. Pouring the dirty water away and chucking the pads in the washing machine is far less unpleasant than cleaning the poop from socially acceptable cloth nappies!
There are many benefits to cloth pads, from the eco-friendliness of reusing them to the trans pleasure of them being infinitely less gendered a product. They work out much, much cheaper in the long run than disposable pads, too. While a full set can cost around £80, depending on what thickness you need, a month’s supply of disposable pads can be as much as £4. It doesn’t seem like much, but it soon adds up. £4 a month is over £200 a year! Even if you only spend £1.50 a month, it’s only a year before you’re saving money with cloth pads. If you’re handy with a sewing machine you could even make your own, meaning they’d only cost as much as the fabric itself.
The fact that they’re reusable is why they’re eco-friendly, too. Instead of binning at three or more pads a day for an average of five days a month, filling landfills with at least 180 pads a year, you could avoid that altogether. That’s the main appeal of cloth nappies too, and in this era of global warming and realisation that we can’t keep just binning everything, environmental choices are admirable. If you sort your recycling and buy products with less packaging, this should be just your cup of tea. Metaphorically speaking. Make sure your pads have some peace signs and flowers on them, you hippy, you’re helping to save the Earth.
Yes, peace signs and flowers. Cloth pads aren’t plain white with sticky backs, they’re coloured fabric with pop button wings. The lack of glue is fantastic for someone like me, as I have a skin allergy to glue. If you’re prone to sweat, itching or discomfort, the breathable fabric is a wonder. The colour choices take menstrual pads from function object you hide away to item of clothing. You can choose light fabrics to see how heavy your flow is being or dark colours to hide any staining, you can have them all in your favourite colour or match different colour pads to different colour pants, and you can choose patterns like flowers, skulls and cross bones or birds. You’ll want to hang them to dry in your living room so people can see how nice they are. You’ll want to store them in full view, and flash your pants at people when you are wearing them.
Those pretty and funky patterns are just the tip of the iceberg of how different an idea the people making cloth pads and the companies making disposable pads have of their products of menstruation itself. Far less ashamed of natural bodily functions, the product descriptions on Etsy don’t avoid saying what they actually are and use words like menstrual and blood. Feminist and hippy words like ‘moon’ for ‘period’ come up, too, but the euphemisms are positive instead of embarrassed.
For trans men and other non-women who menstruate, the lack of words like “feminine hygiene product” are great in that reusable pads are often completely ungendered. Some shops go on about womanliness, but many are gender neutral and some cater towards trans people. Those colours and patterns are good on this point, too, as you can completely avoid the pinks and purples and the soft girly packet patterns most menstrual products have, and opt for whatever makes you feel manly or genderless about your period. Having dark pads hides the blood, too, so is fantastic for anyone who feels dysphoric or just squicked out by seeing it.
One benefit that won’t cross your mind until you actually use them is the comfort. Allergies aside, wearing disposable menstrual pads aren’t as comfortable as not wearing them. They might rub or make you sweat, but they just aren’t made of soft fabric. Cloth pads, being cloth, are. The initial chill you might feel of the metal pop-clip on your leg aside, having pads made of fabric won’t feel any different to regular underwear. All those discrete and unnoticeable disposable pads have nothing on pads that feel like any other fabric. For people with heavy periods, the rustle of a heavy or night pad as you move makes it feel more like a nappy than the secret it claims to be. You know what doesn’t have a plastic-y rustle? Fabric.
Here’s hoping these wonders get more socially acceptable, and more people get to experience them. The downsides are few and the upsides are abundant; if you’re using disposables it’s the perfect time to switch!