You might think that the idea of reusable sanitary pads is a little "out there", but once you get past the initial shock you will find that they are they are worth considering for several reasons. Cloth pads are more environmentally friendly, cheaper in the long term, comfier and prettier than disposable pads. They might even change the way you feel about having your period.
The first thing that drew me to cloth pads was their environmentally friendly nature. I used cloth nappies on my baby and it got me to thinking about other disposable products which I might be possible to eliminate from my life. Think how many disposable pads you might have to purchase over the course of your lifetime, all of which end up in landfill, not to mention the bleaching agents and other chemicals used in their manufacture which create pollution. Compare that with purchasing a single set of cloth pads which might last you a decade. Even when they do eventually wear out cloth pads, which are made of natural materials, are biodegradable.
You don't want to contribute to this any more than you have to. Ashley Felton / Wikimedia Commons
Not having to buy pads over and over every month also means that over time you save money. You do have to wash them, but being so small they are not a whole load of washing on their own and can just be thrown in with a normal colours load, so you aren't really using extra water or electricity. Some women choose to soak them before washing, which uses a little extra water but does not compare with the amount used in the creation of so many disposable pads. They are best dried on a washing line in the sunlight which is not only environmentally friendly but kills germs.
I have heard people complain that washing cloth pads is "icky", but menstrual blood is just blood. Clean cloth pads aren't sterile, but neither are underpants and most people don't seem to have a problem washing and reusing those. Australian made Scarlet Eve pads have an absorbent bamboo inner liner that can be flipped out for washing and drying. Bamboo is naturally antibacterial and antifungal. They can also be made with wings, like a disposable pad has, and a layer of waterproof fabric on the underside to help prevent leaking.
A Scarlet Eve pad with the pull out bamboo liner for easy washing.
The third reason to give cloth pads a try is comfort. If you find disposable pads itchy or uncomfortable you will be pleasantly surprised by the softness of a flannel or bamboo velour pad. Disposable pads, like cloth nappies, are treated with chemicals which make them more absorbent, and these may irritate the skin of such a sensitive area. There does not seem to have been any scientific testing done on this, but some women report that they experience less pain and had lighter periods when using cloth pads.
Finally, one last reason to use cloth pads rather than disposables is that they are just so much prettier. They are available in a huge range of different fabrics and colours which can even be customised to suit the individual. This can also have the side effect of changing the way you think about your period. Using something that is attractive and designed to be reused rather than something that is designed to be discarded reinforces the idea that menstrual blood is not something shameful to be hidden, but rather just a normal part of a woman's life. It's a way of honouring your body, and a little luxury like a pad with beautifully printed or tie-dyed fabric can help you feel better at a time when you may be feeling run down. A brand new set of her own cloth pads in pretty patterns would also make a lovely gift for a young girl experiencing her first period.
Cloth pads are probably still a long way off from being available in the feminine hygiene aisle in your local supermarket or chemist but they are available on line at places like the Cloth Pad Shop, which sells pads made by various home businesses and Scarlet Eve If you're crafty you can even make your own very cheaply. A free pattern is available here. If you're shopping online you can also find reusable alternatives to tampons, such as the Diva cup (a resuable silicone cup that can be inserted into the vagina to catch the blood rather than soak it up).
Cloth pads are still considered a bit unusual, but more and more women are coming around to the idea of using them for the sake of the environment, to save money, or for the comfort or luxury of pretty pads. Why not give them a try?