I’m on the rag. (What it’s really like using washable menstrual pads.)

Update, April 2019: This post was written after using cloth pads for menstruation for the first time. It took a while for my period to come back after my son was born and I started getting into all things reusable. It’s been almost exactly 5 years since I wrote this post, and since then I have probably only had 5 more periods … and of course I had a daughter and twin sons as well.

I’ve continued to use cloth pads exclusively as panty liners and for postpartum bleeding and when Aunt Flow returns for the last time, I’ve got my substantial stash waiting with their wings. While I make a few jokes in this post about the embarrassment I felt about my period as an adolescent and how a lot of that could’ve been avoided thanks to the surprising convenience of cloth, what I’ve come to realize in the half decade since I started on my reusable pad odyssey is how much more accepting and in tune with my body reusable menstrual products have helped me become. And while below I talk about wanting to spare my hypothetical (now real) daughter the embarrassment of the noisy pad wrapper in a bathroom stall, what I now hope is that my open and unabashed use of cloth pads will normalize menstruation for her so that the idea that I used to turn on the hand-dryer in the bathroom so no one would know I was changing my pad will seem ludicrous.

What I’ve come to realize is that using reusable pads hasn’t just been about changing my environmental footprint; it’s been about changing the conversation around menstruation entirely. 

So, I’ve posted before about my love of washable panty liners. I stopped using throwaway liners almost a year ago and haven’t looked back. But I’ve also been advocating reusable menstrual pads for menstruation when… *gasp*…. I still hadn’t gotten my period back post partum! Be jealous, I know… Cub is 20 months old, and I only just got my period back!

Of course, as fate would have it, I have been wanting my cycle back since he turned one. We’d like to have another Cub sooner rather than later. It took night-weaning and a super boost in protein in my diet to bring back dear Aunt Flow, but now that she’s here, I get to give you my honest and candid appraisal of being literally on the rag.

First of all: ew! Before using cloth diapers, the thought of using washable menstrual pads was just repulsive to me. How much grosser could you get? Well, turns out, I’m now 200% more grossed out by all the icky stuff hiding in regular disposable pads and tampons and the waste they generate than I am of washing blood out of my pretty Mama Cloth.

I gave away all my Tampax and Always months ago, knowing it was go cloth or go home for me once my cycle started up again. I can very truly say that I have no regrets.

On Monday I went to work all day using just my reusable pads and I had no issues whatsoever. I wasn’t uncomfortable at all. A fellow cloth-curious Mom recently asked, in my local cloth diapering group, whether or not you feel like you’re “dans le jus” when wearing a cloth pad. (Even if you don’t speak French, I’m sure you can get the gist.) You know what? With my hemp and bamboo topped pads, I can honestly say, I did not feel wet. (I felt the wetness more with my cotton and flannel topped pads, but not intolerably so.)

I don’t know about your disposable sanitary pad habits, but I hate going to the bathroom and not changing my pad, even if it’s not totally soaked. I hate pulling up my pants and knowing I’ve got a bunch of dried blood sitting under me. That being said, it’s expensive and very wasteful to change your disposable pad every time. Guess what? Change your cloth pads as often as you feel like!!!

While at work on Monday (I tutor at a high school), I thought of a bunch of reasons why I like using cloth better, and why I wish I’d used cloth even as an adolescent.

Let’s face it, as a Mom I have lost pretty much any sense of modesty regarding bodily functions. But do you remember in high school hiding a tampon up your sleeve? Waiting for someone to run the tap or the hand dryer before unwrapping your pad in the bathroom stall? Freaking out about the swish-swish noise you were sure EVERY boy could hear as you walked by their desks with your pad on? Realizing, only when it’s too late, that there is NO trash can anywhere in the bathroom you are using?

If I ever have a daughter, (which I did just over a year after writing this post) I’m sparing her all of that anxiety by giving her cloth pads and normalizing menstruation!

1- They’re pretty, and you can get funky little carry-cases for them. They make zero noise to snap on and snap off …

3- The make zero noise when you walk.

4 – You tuck your used one into a zippered, leak-proof pouch in your purse, no stress! Please tell me I am not the only woman who has had to wrap up a used pad in a wad of toilet paper and hide it in her purse until a subtle opportunity to toss it presents itself? Whether it’s because there’s actually no trash can in the bathroom (usually in someone’s home), no bag in the trash can or because you don’t need your boyfriend’s Mom to know you have your period…. you’ve probably done it. Lest we imagine what a future partner of one of my children will experience when I give her cloth pads for Christmas … I’ll have come full circle from the embarrassed teen to the menstruation-obsessed mom! And if the conversation around menstruation has changed as drastically by then as I suspect, she’ll be thrilled!

All those practical reasons go alongside the environmental and health reasons. I had very naively believed that the products I was using in the most sensitive area of my body were safe and strictly regulated.  (They’re not.)

What about washing them? Isn’t that nasty? Well, if you’re already washing cloth diapers, menstrual blood probably doesn’t gross you out. If you’re considering cloth and you’ve not cloth diapered, then have you ever been surprised by your period and had to wash your bedsheets or your clothes? It’s no grosser than that! Most women know to rinse their sheets or clothes in cold water before tossing them in the machine. I can recall many-a-pair of undies soaking in the sink… Washing your pads is no different.

I put an empty ice cream tub with a lid in our bathroom and let my pads soak in cold water. So far, since I do laundry so often any way, I’ve just been tossing whatever pads are there in with our regular wash. They don’t come out perfectly white, this is true. I have ordered some pads that have a printed top layer, so this is a pretty great stain-hiding solution. If I was super concerned about stains, I’m sure I could get them out with a stricter soaking/wash routine. My plan is to sun them at the end of my cycle. (Like I said, zero modesty here!)

My flow this first cycle on the proverbial cloth horse has been moderate. I know what it’s like to have a ridiculously heavy flow, and I know they make some pretty heavy-duty pads that should be up to the job. (I’d love to hear your experience if you’ve got a heavy flow and use cloth pads.) I also plan to try a menstrual cup, but haven’t gotten the nerve up yet to put it in! (Though I know, once you get the hang of it, it’s an awesome solution.)

So, what about you? Are you on the rag?

66 responses to “I’m on the rag. (What it’s really like using washable menstrual pads.)”

  1. I tried reusable pads for a while before I finally made the plunge and got a cup. I LOVE my Lunette cup! I don’t have many periods thanks to PCOS, but when I do get them I am so thankful for my cup!

    1. I am most definitely going to try a cup.

  2. I felt like a really dummy after hearing about people using cloth pads and thinking EWW. No way. Then dealing with disposable products and feeling that they were smelly, etc. and wishing they could feel like underwear… FACEPALM. I entered to win a pad to try it out. Then bought more to use at night and tampons during the day. Then more for post partum. I’m not sure what my cycle will do in the future, but it waited longer to come back this time (4 months post partum instead of 2 months) and I don’t seem to have much of an issue. I’m thankful I can just change them out when they bother me and not worry about finding a place to toss them. My husband is thankful that they’re not in the trash can-he claimed he could smell reusable products even unused from a mile away. Plus we had issues with animals getting into our trash and strewing the contents – since there’s nothing in there, there’s less for them to try and get into.

    1. Oh! I forgot about how family dogs love to rummage in the trash. There’s another pro!!

    2. Sandi

      Our puppy likes to pull the used pads from the trash, too. So much fun to find bloody rags in the living room! Lol

  3. Zephyr Hill

    I sort of thought it was weird, too, but now in comparison to what I have to clean off of some of our toddler diapers…..let’s just say mama cloth is a breeze!

    1. Cloth diapers are a gateway drug to Mama cloth.

  4. Nixie

    I’ve never used cloth pads and never thought of it till I started cloth diapering my daughter. But I’ve gota question, we all know disposals stink but do cloth? I don’t want to put a used pad into my purse to bring home to wash if it’s going to cause it to smell through the day. .. Sorry if it’s a silly question like I said I haven’t used them and haven’t pp cycle since my daughter’s been born. Thanks

    1. That’s a great question! I’ll add it to my post. So far I have noticed no odor at all carrying one in my purse!

    2. Alicia

      Personally I havent noticed a smell besides the subtle smell of blood. when i’m out, I sometimes use a pad wrapper to hold the pad and put it all into a small wetbag…”just in case”
      Its also a bit like diapers…they will smell if not cleaned properly and have soap residue buildup.

      1. Good tip. Realistically, no one is sniffing around in your purse usually except you. And a pick pocket will get a nasty surprise!

    3. I also have never noticed a smell. I think the majority of period smell comes when it mixes with the chemicals or perfumes in a disposable pad or tampon

  5. playmemama

    I switched to a cup so long ago I don’t remember not using it, but have just recently started supplementing with cloth pads and like them also, althoughI have not bought too many (yet!). I also like that you can get full underpants style ones that I think I would like for overnight.

    1. Like Mom-size diapers?! I didn’t know that was a thing, I confess!

      1. playmemama

        well apparently Lunapads makes them…I am super curious about them!

  6. im using rags post baby but usually Im a cup user, which I like even more. talk about no one needs to know? Well I have nothing to carry in or out of the bathroom. I came to the cup and the cloth by way of allergies but wish I had before then…so much cheaper, easy and discrete. I do prefer my cup over cloth though.

  7. I switched to reusable products when I got my first postpartum period. I am never going back to disposables! I like to use a combination of cup and pad.

  8. Hey Jen

    My mother started using wash cloths that she bought specifically for this sort of thing and I thought it was so gross and weird and here I am now about to have a baby and am all about cloth diapering. I was still on the fence about the whole cup thing and then started giving consideration to using cloth pads. I have entered so many giveaways for them that law of average says at some point I will win one! But I only have a a few weeks left before I give birth so hopefully it will be soon! Either way I will end up making a purchase, because this just seems so much more economical than having to go to the store and buying tampons and pads. I will admit that the cup still kinda makes me a little weirded out, but I’m willing to try it out. Now if only I could get my teenage daughters on board with it.

  9. I gave used cups for over 7 years, long before cloth diapers. In fact it was the cup that was gateway to all that crunchy stuff. I just started using pads on lighter days and as a backup to my cup on heavier ones. I was very anti cloth pads since I don’t like pads in general but then I was approached for a review. I’m sold now!

    PS. Minky topped pads don’t stain at all 🙂

  10. It is funny, I find that cloth diapers and mama cloth smell less than paper products. I do still use paper and tampons on the go, but it is very rare. I stay home! lol. The minute I am back in the house it is back to cloth. I also have been eyeing my daughter’s diapers- the inserts are going to make me a fantastical collection of mama cloth some day;)

  11. Sara

    I am new to this whole concept. I do cloth diaper and just did find out about mama cloth for the first time a month or so ago. I am really interested in using them, but haven’t yet because I don’t know what to buy exactly. I have a very heavy flow for the first few days and need to use pretty long pads. I have read a few review sites, but it just gets overwhelming and I quit reading. Are most of the pads pretty much the same or are some truly better than others? Thanks!!!

    1. I haven’t tried a HUGE variety yet, and I know what you mean: there are a LOT of different types. I do love Okocreations.ca pads, and a lot of WAHMs make heavy flow, long pads. I just got some from Janine’s Place that seem great, but I haven’t tried them yet.

    2. I’ve not tried them myself, but most companies do make post partum pads as well that you might consider trying if you have a really heavy flow.

      1. Good idea! Or even overnight pads might be suitable…

  12. Témoignage de règles hémorragiques: c’est tellement mieux avec les serviettes lavables! La première demi-journée, je pouvais changer de serviette jetables aux 30-45 minutes. Je m’en suis tirée aux 1h30-2h avec les lavables. Aucun problème la nuit, l’irritation en moins. 1 cycle et je suis déjà convertie. J’aime juste pas dealer avec les caillots. 🙁

  13. Jenn

    I started using cloth pads and a cup when my flow came back after I finished breastfeeding. Like you, I first thought they sounded gross, but I was cloth diapering so eventually I thought I’d give them a try (and as you mentioned already cloth diapers are a gateway drug to cloth pads…and many other reusable products). I will never go back to disposable pads or tampons! Cloth is so much more comfortable, I can change them frequently and I actually get excited to use my pads. The cup is fabulous for travelling as you can leave it in for 12 hours without any problem (depending on your flow I suppose). For me finding the thinest pads was necessary, as I just can’t deal with the feeling of a thick pad. Now I’ve found the brands I love and am sticking to them! I also never had any placement issues with my cup and got it right on the first try. I do like the Lunette over the Diva, but they are very similar except for the stem. I’m not as comfortable as you in sharing that I use cloth pads, but I did talk to some friends about using a cup and they were really interested. I think everyone should at least give cloth pads or a cup a try!

    1. Bwahahha! I’m an over-sharer! I have a Diva cup to try, so good to know I might try the Lunette if Diva doesn’t work for me!

  14. bluegrassmom

    I’ve been using a cup for years and love it! Now you make me want to try some cloth Pads.

  15. cloth pads are nothing new. they are just nicer now. My Mom told me about how they had to really use rags. But that was all there was. When you had a baby they gave you a box of the disposable ones & when they were gone you were on your own. So being on the RAG meant just that they used rags

    1. I know! Just like cloth diapers, it used to be the only option! But now cloth pads are just as appealing as disposables, if not more so.

  16. Sara

    I’m sure there are a lot of different opinions out there, but – what “company” has the best pads? Right now I wear the disposable Always Infinity. They are sooo super thin and really absorbent. I need something long and absorbent. Thanks!

    1. There’s a link at the bottom of my post to a great site with reviews of various pad makers. I really like Oko creations, but I haven’t tried many brands yet.

    2. Jenn

      For thinness I really like Party in my Pants and Talulah Bean Slim and Trim (slims are thinner).

      1. I haven’t tried those brands yet, but MY GOSH do I love the name “party in my pants.”

  17. Katie

    My first day is always very heavy.. I just use regular cloth menstrual pads and change them every hour or two. I don’t see how a longer or thicker pad would be better, since if they do leak it is around the sides to the front for me. I just have a few more in my stash so I can freshen up more often!

    1. I like the longer ones for overnight heavy flow, since when you’re lying down, the longer pads catch your flow!

  18. Sandi

    I have been using cloth for almost 10 years. I think I did disposables post partum on the youngest (who was the only one born after the switch.) But hated them enough to go back to cloth. The only time I have smell is when I have left one on too long. ( like overnight and half a day!) And that may have more to do with needing to was my areas than actual pad odor. I am currently on birth control to help a hormone imbalance created by Having to have an ovary removed, so my periods are usually quite light. I have a Moon cup, but rarely use it. I like the happy heineys pads for heavydays. They are the only pads I have purchased. I make my own. There are some great patterns out there for even a beginner sewer! I will not go back, I might buy one box ofdisposables a year for friends, my teenager’s friends and my stepdaughters who refuse to give them a try.

  19. […] partum to get back Aunt Flo!) That cycle was my first time using cloth menstrual pads, and I was a huge fan. For my next cycle, I promised to try my first menstrual cup, and, as luck would have it, The Luv […]

  20. […] more Kotex, Tampex, and co. for all your ladies out there. Go reusable or go […]

  21. […] Janine was cheering me on and offering tips as I waited for the return of my cycle (ostensibly because she wanted me to be able to get pregnant, really so I could try out her creations). She was one of the first to know when I was ready to hop on the reusable cloth train! […]

  22. […] pas convaincue d’essayer les serviettes lavables? Lisez mon billet sur le sujet! Une fois décidée, approvisionnez-vous de serviettes faites ici au Canada par une maman qui […]

  23. […] apprehensive about trying cloth pads? I tell you ALL about it in this blog post. Once you’re convinced, stock up on these Canadian WAHM-made beauties and […]

  24. Sara

    You said, “I know what it’s like to have a ridiculously heavy flow, and I know they make some pretty heavy-duty pads that should be up to the job. (I’d love to hear your experience if you’ve got a heavy flow and use cloth pads.)”

    I have a fairly heavy flow (some times more so than others, of course) and use strictly cloth pads. I have found the organic GladRags Day Pads Plus to be excellent, and the Overnight variety with Plus liners cover well and offer great protection.

  25. Monica Miller

    I’ve been meaning to make the switch for a while now – but I’m more of a tampon girl than a pad girl. I’d love to get something like the Diva Cup along with some cloth liners. Do you have any experience with the Diva Cup?

    1. Lindsay Gallimore

      I used the Luv Ur Body cup and also tried the Diva Cup before I got pregnant again. I found the Luv Ur Body cup (I’ve got a review) more comfortable, but I think I still need more practice with cups in general!

  26. Anna W

    I love my cloth pads, I made them myself and will never go back to disposable.

  27. Samantha Shank

    Typically, I use disposable things and am just starting to get used to cloth!
    Samantha S.

  28. […] diapers. Heck, now I don’t even use toilet paper! I wrote extensively and descriptively about my first period using washable pads, and I discovered that many of the annoying things about using pads in high school were eliminated […]

  29. I think menstrual cups are a far better option than than cloth pads. All the environmental benefits, minus all that laundry!

    1. Lindsay

      I definitely like both options! I still need practice with a cup, and a cup wasn’t an option post partum 😉

  30. Libby

    My daughter got her first period today… And I started as well! I’ve used diva cup for many years, but it’s not really great for a 13 year old girl. We talked about shopping for supplies… And I’m just not thrilled about giving her chem laden products to use. We will see some pads up 38th is weekend. I am glad to see that varying a used pad or two for a few hours isn’t going to be a big deal. Thank you!

  31. If you are on Facebook check out Poshy Peach, this lady makes great ones in all sizes. I purchased the organic bamboo and even the largest size is super comfy. It’s a closed group, so you just have to hit the request to join. Just a bunch of woman buy and talking about cloth pads.

  32. Here’s my biggest question about these (as I am totally sold on the idea already, ordered my first cloth pads and got so impatient I made some of my own).
    What do I do with all my old disposables?! I was thinking of donating to a women’s shelter. Do you think they’d want them even if the outer packaging is open??

    1. Great question! I did actually give all mine to a youth home, and they didn’t mind about the outer packaging!

      1. Awesome! I’ve read that women’s homeless shelters often need these products but no one ever thinks to donate them, so I hope they want them.

  33. Certainly, reusable pads are such great choices. But I still prefer the menstrual cups where there’s no need for frequent changing, washing and no worries too, when it comes to leaks and stains!

  34. You’ll surely love the reusable menstrual cup too. It’s more comfortable, more economical and more eco-friendly. The best part of all–no more yucky feeling when cleaning it! All you have to do is throw the cup’s content in the sink or toilet bowl, wash the cup and re-insert!

  35. Since I discovered the reusable menstrual cup, I’ve been using it. It can last up to 12 hours so it can spare you from the uncomfortable feeling of wrapping it in a paper or towel and bring it along inside your bag all day!

  36. Monica

    I have three daughters so I’ve been looking at different options for them. We sat down today to discuss what happens during puberty and I showed them all the options (even the cup although I feel sure they can’t use them til they are a lot older). They chose the reusable pads so I have been looking up patterns since I’m a DIY’er. Is it bad that I almost regret the IUD taking away my period so I can’t try these? Lol

    1. Lindsay

      Haha no, I totally get it!

  37. I have been using a menstrual cup for many years (Diva Cup) and I really wish that I knew about it much earlier. The cup is so easy to use, comfortable and discreet!! It doesn’t take much space in a purse, and allows you to practice any sport when you have your period (like swimming…) and wear any clothe you like (tight fitting pants/leggings for example). It does take a few cycles to get the hang of putting it in well and quickly, but then, no leak and what a difference in comfort it gave me compare to pads! The cup doesn’t need to be emptied as often as other protections either. I highly recommend the menstrual cup.

  38. Eline

    I hope someone picks this up and can give me and answer. I’m looking into cloth pads but I’m still a little hesitant. I’m not grossed out by it or something it’s just this: When I first had my period at like 13 or so, I used regular pads (always and such…) but this felt like I was wearing a diaper. Honestly I hated that feeling and switched to tampons. I now have ordered a cup but still need to “test” it next month. I was thinking about playing it safe and using a cloth pad with it (or a cloth liner) just in case, you know, when the bloody (pun intended ;P) thing leaks or something because I’m not used to it yet. Can somebody tell me if cloth pads really feel that much better than regular throw-away ones?! Thanks a lot girls!

  39. Havyn Bowen

    How do you get your parents to let you use reusable pads? My grandma (my guardian) doesn’t really like this idea!

    1. Lindsay

      Hi Havyn! That’s a great question. I only started using reusable pads as an adult, living on my own. I guess you have to address what she doesn’t like about the idea. In essence it is cheaper and healthier, but perhaps she sees it as messy or more work in terms of laundry? If you are the one taking care of the laundry maybe that will help persuade her?

  40. […] employee (with mini maternity leaves spliced in) for eight years. I first wrote about my experience using cloth menstrual pads way back in 2014. A lot of that post makes me cringe―more on that later. I’ve also talked […]

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Welcome to my Wolf Pack!

My name is Lindsay and I am a 40-year-old mama of four trying to live an eco-friendly, budget-friendly life! I am a substitute teacher and Child Passenger Safety technician in Calgary, Alberta. Join me on my adventures!

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