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Here are a few convincing arguments why you should change to cloth pads from your usual sanitary napkins.
This year, when a friend and I started a blog about social issues that narrated the trials and tribulations using a first person narrative, the first story I worked on was an investigation into how women deal with menstruation in slums. Of the several women I interviewed, only one used disposable napkins. All the others used cloth, and some even claimed that cloth was more comfortable.
I had my first period when I was 12. Whisper was available in the bulky rectangular pads you might remember from advertisements (where they poured blue ink on it) shown on television. Those were uncomfortable, yes, but I think most of my discomfort stemmed from the fact that I was conditioned to believe that the whole concept of menstruating was painful. Oh, you started chumming? Oh, you poor thing. There, there. Here, have some chocolate, it’ll make you feel better.
Then came the ‘small-is-powerful’ Whisper Ultra, and there’s been no looking back. I’ve used it ever since it was introduced. So the thought of using cloth just seemed a little horrifying.
I’ve heard stories from my mother about the times she used cloth, and every time she would insist that ‘it wasn’t that bad’, I would say ‘yuck, that sounds totally disgusting’. I’ve since changed my attitude towards cloth pads completely, and here’s why I think cloth pads are a much better choice in the long run:
I had never really considered the environmental impact of throwing out 4-5 pads per day for the five bloody days of menstrual gore. Until I read an article about menstrual waste.
The article quoted shocking statistics from Down to Earth magazine, estimating the amount of menstrual waste generated by India to be around 9,000 tons a month. The worst part about this kind of waste is, almost 90% of the pad is made of plastic (not taking into account the plastic it is wrapped in and the plastic we use to dispose the pads). This is despite the fact that only 12% of Indian menstruating women use disposable pads. It is believed that more and more women are switching to disposable pads, which means that the amount of plastic we are contributing to landfills is just growing exponentially.
Cloth pads are definitely more comfortable than disposables. It didn’t take me a single day to get used to them. It’s just like wearing underwear. I bought only one pad to begin with, because I just wanted to try it out. The website I bought it from said that cloth pads are less smelly, because the smell actually emanates from menstrual blood being mixed with plastic. After using cloth pads for three months, I must say, that this might be true.
There are times when I’ve stained clothes by incorrectly positioning disposable pads. In the past few months that I’ve used cloth pads, I haven’t stained my clothes even once.
Another advantage of a cloth pad with nickel buttons is that you can move it from one underwear to another, and readjust it as many times as needed. There are times when I’ve stained clothes by incorrectly positioning disposable pads. In the past few months that I’ve used cloth pads, I haven’t stained my clothes even once. They do not leak, soak more than disposables and there’s less dampness. In the interest of full disclosure, the cloth pads I bought have a layer of plastic in them that prevents leakage.
Till I decided to switch to cloth, I had not given the issue of ‘where-does-it-go-after-you-put-it-in-the-bin’ a single thought. For all I knew, the period fairy made it disappear. The fact is, once we dispose of the pads, they become a part of the household waste that is segregated by waste collectors. These waste pickers sift through the garbage without any protective gear and come into contact with ‘disease-causing microorganisms E coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus, HIV and pathogens that cause hepatitis and tetanus.’
The soft, comfortable Whisper Ultras cost Rs. 80 for seven or eight pads. While the cloth pads cost Rs 250-300, they can be reused for up to five years. So, in the long run, they are cheaper.
I actually enjoy telling everyone about my switch to cloth pads, so once I put up a picture of washed cloth pads as my Whatsapp profile picture. While my cousin thought they were ‘pretty’ and ‘colourful’, one of my friends said ‘there was no reason to put that up as my profile picture’ and that ‘they were definitely not pretty’.
Embarrassment about the menstrual cycle is so deeply ingrained in our consciousness, that you whisper about it, you find euphemisms for it, you blush when you ask the chemist for sanitary napkins. Many women I know believe that ‘it’s not taboo, it’s private’, and that ‘there’s no reason to discuss it out loud’. The fact is, it is a taboo in many households, where girls are asked to live in seclusion for those five days, and are taught to feel embarrassed about this normal, monthly bodily function. When I dry my washed cloth pads out in the open, under the sun, I feel like I’m contributing towards breaking the don’t-talk-about-it rule.
While I swear by cloth pads now and find the disposables completely odious and uncomfortable, I must admit that it is not always convenient to use cloth pads. While I was traveling back home from the UK, for example, I had to use disposables, because I couldn’t bear the thought of carrying used cloth pads in my cabin luggage for more than 12 hours.
“But how can you bear the thought of washing them?” Honestly, the first time I did it, it was slightly revolting. But then I thought, why is this so disgusting? I mean, we wash our own bums, don’t we?
When I tell people about this cloth pad switch, after the horrified yucks and ews, some women ask, “But how can you bear the thought of washing them?” Honestly, the first time I did it, it was slightly revolting. But then I thought, why is this so disgusting? I mean, we wash our own bums, don’t we? It’s not pleasant, but it has to be done. Why don’t we just assign a number to menstrual fluid? Say, numbers one and two are wee wee and poo poo, three, I hear, is ejaculation, and four is menstrual fluid. The reason it is so disgusting is that we want to pretend there’s no such thing. We haven’t completely accepted the fact that once a month, our red flowers bloom (as Cersei Lannister so eloquently puts it) for four-five days. Once we come to terms with the fact that menstrual blood isn’t as revolting as we’ve been told it is, we can get rid of all the period taboos and just menstruate in peace.
Sanitary Napkin, Tampon and Cloth photo via Shutterstock
Vinaya Kurtkoti works for an editing firm in Pune, while simultaneously pursuing her passions of
Appreciate the thoughts and efforts mentioned in this article. But having used the cloth pads and sanitary pads of different brands and types , kind of disagree that cloth pads could be used every other time. When I am at home I do use cloth pads but while at work for 12 hours I don’t want to use cloth pads. Even for the sanitary pads that we use , we normally wash it and then dispose it .
I agree we can’t entirely do away with disposables. But I’ve started using cloth even at work lately. But I carry disposables on days that I know are going to be long. I think it’s commendable that you use cloth pads at home 🙂
which cloth pads are u using? I have been using cloth pads by ecofemme and they are pretty good!
Even I use Ecofemme pads. I’ve been using them since January, and I haven’t had any trouble with them yet. It’s so heartening to know that there are other women who are open to using cloth pads 🙂
I haven’t had any trouble with them either! 🙂 Nice to read this article from you!
Thanks, Geeta 🙂
Nice eye opener…I have been thinking lately to swtich to cloth pads and this article justifies it.
Thanks Jeydevi, I’m glad you are considering the switch! 🙂
i loved the content and audacity with which you put it across.. i loved every single line of it.. though i am surprised to know about this.. n i really confess that it will take me some time to digest this.. it’s kind of true that we women have still not accepted our own body as it is.. will re read you..
Thank you so much Swati! I just happened to stumble upon that article on mountains of menstrual waste that made me rethink things. But it took me a long time to take that leap towards cloth 🙂
Hi Swati, I will suggest you to join facebook group “Sustainable Menstruation India (SMI)” over 5000 members who have switched to or are willing to switch to cloth pads and menstrual cups. best place to share/discuss sustainable menstrual practices.
Just last week I came across an article promoting cloth pads made by women in Rajasthan. I was immediately interested and read more about these pads – turns out, there is no plastic layer to protect them. Surely a cloth pad without plastic will leak? Just to save time researching, I’d like to know how you wash it. When I got my period for the first time, I too was using bulky whisper, WITH a protective layer of cloth underneath as adviced by mommy dear. But I soon discontinued it. You cannot even determine without risking it a few times to find out exactly when to change! Also, there have been some emergencies I faced in life – untimely period and caught in a spot with no pads. In these situations, I have tried to wrap many layers of toilet tissue until I got to a pad. Honestly, the tissue just moves from its place all the time. Backwards, in my case and in particular if you are walking. Surely the same must happen to cloth pads that do not stick to the panties? Do let me know!
It’s great that you are so interested 🙂
I’ve tried the toilet paper trick too! The cloth pads have wings with nickel buttons to secure them onto underwear… they do not move. They are much thicker than toilet paper, and look just like disposable pads, except they are made of cloth. And you know how disposable pads shrivel up on days of heavy flow? And you can’t do much because they are stuck to your underwear. These do not shrivel as much, and if you notice any shriveling, you can take it out, straighten it and put it back on. It has happened just once to me.
About the washing, it is recommended to wash it before first use. And, after using it, soak it in warm/cold water for 30 minutes with a few drops of Dettol. Drain the water after 30 minutes. I soak them for a bit longer after that, this ensures that it’s almost blood-free. Then you can wash it in the washing machine. But I wash them myself. There’s no need for a brush, you can just rub them.
I’ve started using cloth pads at work too. I just carry them home to wash them.
Let me know if you decide to try them 🙂
I am definitely planning to give it a shot – just that they are either not available in Germany or I do not know where if they are. So what about cloth pads without a plastic layer? Doesn’t it leak? I am not sure I faced the shriveling effect with disposable pads, though. It could be because I am extremely conscious during my heavy flow days and keep checking every so often – plus I use tight panties without elastic and with extra broad base on my first four days. My complaint is the smell – I am so conscious that I feel like I stink even though I don’t and I am absolutely always uncomfortable. I am definitely giving it a try in the next month when I return. Ecofemme seems to have this plastic layer you speak of – since I haven’t experienced using these cloth pads, it is contradictory that you say that the plastic and blood are the source of the awful smell but still, these pads seem to have a plastic layer in them…??
The layer of plastic is inside the pads, covered with cotton, and it’s not visible. The blood does not come into contact with the plastic (that we can see), and it does not raise that putrid stench that disposables do. Cloth without a plastic layer, yes, I guess that would stain.
You can buy Ecofemme pads in Germany —
you can buy cloth pads in germany – http://www.me-luna.eu/epages/63898218.sf/en_GB/?ObjectPath=/Shops/63898218/Categories/MeLuna_Produkte/Monatshygiene/Momiji
menstrual blood in menstrual cups or cloth pads does not stink as it would in sanitary pads.. the plastic in cloth pads is inside layers of cloth. Reason for the bad smell in sanitary pads in the combination of blood, plastic and air.
I came across this just today and got excited. Haven’t heard about it before, not sure if we get it in India:
That does look very exciting! I hope they are available in India soon 🙂
I know these are not available in India, but I don’t think they are worth the price. They are not bio-degradable. Why don’t you give a try to menstrual cups? They are easily available in India.
Good one. It is a little embarrassing to say that I didn’t even know that there were cloth pads that could be bought from a shop until I read this article. This is an information that needs to be shared across. Thanks for writing it.
I don’t think you have any reason to be embarrassed. None of my friends had heard of cloth pads, and despite my constant coaxing, none of them are even willing to consider them as an option.
Thanks for the encouragement 🙂
Hi, even I have come across a number of people who do not want to consider cloth pads, but response has been much better for menstrual cups.
Just chipping in to say that I’ve recently started using the Ecofemme cloth pads. What I liked about the cloth pads was the complete lack of any odour and they were certainly more comfortable against the skin. On the other hand, the feeling of dampness is something you do have to get used to. But then, since I use tampons (in the process of switching over to a menstrual cup), I don’t have to contend with much dampness.
I bought mine from Shycart, but the auroville.com website has more options.
Washing wise: I wash off under a tap first and then soak it in a cold water (cold water is key). Sometimes I wait till there are two or three pads (keep changing the water frequently) before I scrub lightly and dump them in the washing machine. I recommend Ecofemme’s foldable cloth pad if you live in a place where it is humid, as it will dry faster. I haven’t found the washing part icky at all. I mean, all of us have washed bloodstained clothes (or sheets!) at some point of other, haven’t we?
I haven’t yet figured out what to do when I’ll travel. It’s not always possible to soak, wash and dry when one isn’t in one’s own home. While I don’t have much patience for people who are embarrassed around menstruation, sometimes it feels polite to comply in other people’s homes. Maybe I’ll use the cup and back it up with disposabes.
I have been using menstrual cups since 2006, and it has been a blessing. as you only need 1 reusable cup for 5-10 years, it is the best we can do for the environment.
despite the environmental benefits, I find it far more hygienic than pads/tampons. cups are not associated with any side effects.
I agree, menstrual cups are even better than cloth pads. I was just not comfortable with the idea of putting it inside me and keeping it in for 12 hours. It can seem very daunting to women who haven’t used tampons and are used to disposables. But I agree it’s worth a shot if there’s less washing involved. And once you get used to them, you can go for up to 12 hours without having to worry about changing.
When I switched to cloth, I had considered the cup, but decided against it because I was concerned that it wouldn’t be very comfortable. But I think I might give it a shot, and continue to use my cloth pads as backup on heavy flow days.
Fantastic article. A+ for the Song of Ice and Fire reference reference.
Thank you, Madhulika 🙂
Brought back old memories!! I am glad to admit that i am one of those who has used cloth as pads for many years. Only in the past few years, i have switched to the sanitary pads available over-the-counter.
Time to get back to my old ways, I think.
BTW, this post is so very well written.
Thank you, Naveena 🙂
hi vinaya, its an eye opening article i must say. i must admit that i started my periods with using cloths in the first place as for some reason sanitary pads were not handy at my uncle’s place long back. even now i still use them intermittently when flow is less or change it frequently if it get stained too much (that way i have used most of my cotton materials we have at home). but do use sanitary pads in general when moving out. i came to knw about menstrual cups and cloth pads after reading your article. thank you for the same.
Clean private parts are necessary to stay healthy and fit and for that changing pads every 3 hour is necesssary.
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