Updated May 2019
I realize it’s kind of a bizarre milestone to be celebrating, but what can I say? I’m excited and proud to announce that it has been almost exactly three years since I banished disposable panty liners from my bathroom cupboard and switched to reusable panty liners. Because I am blessed with excessive leukorrhea (excessive vaginal discharge) and have been since before puberty, I use a lot of panty liners: at least two per day since I was twelve. At certain stages of my cycle, I’m likely using three or four per day. During my first pregnancy, I was changing my liner probably closer to five or six times per day. Therefore, making the switch to washable liners has had a drastic impact on the amount of waste I produce and the amount of money I spend on pads. I based my calculations on two pads per day for three years, with a box of the ones I used to use costing $9.99 for 80 liners.
The reusable panty liners I use are made by an awesome, Quebec-based company called Öko Creations. I also happen to be their Social Media Manager, but in view of emphasizing my impartiality, I loved their liners before I managed their Facebook page!
Making the switch was really easy, because their panty liner is basically the same shape and size as the Always liners I was used to. You can read one of my very first blog reviews, ever, on the topic of Öko’s pads, here. I also used their longer pad, designed for a heavy menstrual flow, as a post-partum pad. In fact, they weremy FAVOURITE post-partum pad!
Each Öko panty liner is topped with a double layer of an absorbent hemp/organic cotton blend fibre: the same fibre used in their cloth diaper inserts and nursing pads. Hemp is the most sustainable fibre for textiles on the market and, in my opinion, the most comfortable natural fibre for cloth pads. I don’t feel damp when I’m wearing an Öko liner, whereas I do feel dampness in the 100% cotton or bamboo blend pads I have tried. The Öko panty liner is also waterproof, which is necessary if you’re looking for a pad to absorb on a light period day, as a back up to your cup or tampon or for light bladder leakage. These pads (literally) saved my butt during pregnancy. What makes Öko’s pads so special compared to others on the market (besides the fact that I have met the women who make them and spent a day in their quaint workshop) is that their waterproof layer isn’t synthetic fleece or PUL; instead, sandwiched between the hemp/cotton top layer and the pretty organic cotton printed back layer is a thin, breathable membrane of polyurethane. The best way to describe it is to imagine a piece of Saran wrap sewn in the middle of the pad. I conducted a slight dissection on one of my oldest, most worn-out pads so I could show you what I mean. *Update: Öko’s pads now use PUL, but still sandwiched between the cotton backing and hemp/cotton top layer, so the pad doesn’t slide in your underwear!*
And while this pad is three years old, I do indeed plan to continue using it. When I realized I was coming upon my third year using Öko’s pads, I also realized that I was still using the same pads I started with three years ago. My pads are the perfect test case for the lifespan of an Öko liner. If you are using your pads only for your period, then we’re talking perhaps 24 wash and dry cycles per year. (Assuming you use and wash each pad twice over your cycle.) But lucky leukorrhea-afflicted Lindsay has washed (and I do not use a gentle cycle) and dried (on hot, contrary to wash instructions) some of these pads up to 360 times! (I figure they get washed—at a minimum—every third day.) I recently got a few new sets of liners to beef up my stash and figured I could even show you how well my three-year-old pads have aged.
So obviously the top pad is the old one. You can see that it is worn at the edges compared to its new counterpart. If you use hemp diaper inserts, you’ll know that this kind of wear is mainly cosmetic. I plan to wear these liners until they are threadbare. Who sees them, anyway? Only me!
When you consider the wear and tear on my old pad, it’s important to remember how hard I’ve been on it. Most of the time, my pads get washed with our cloth diapers, so that means a heavy duty, hot wash cycle. The frequency of washing is also extreme: if you only use pads during your period or postpartum, think how much less wear and tear your pads would see after three years.
Like pretty much all “sustainable” choices we make, cloth pads lack the convenience of their disposable alternatives. I try to buy as few disposable products as possible and to reuse as much as I can even before I recycle. For me, cloth menstrual pads were a natural extension of cloth diapering. The “ick factor,” which I completely understand, totally disappeared once I’d given birth and started using cloth diapers.
While I can confess that I find disposable coffee cups more enjoyable on some levels than a travel mug (no dishes to wash, no need to remember to bring it along, no need to tote an empty cup all day), I am not exaggerating when I say that I really prefer my washable pads to the disposable ones I spent almost two decades using. I never left the house without a spare disposable pad in my purse or backpack, so toting a clean Öko liner with me is no different. I often brought my soiled pad home with me for lack of a discreet spot to dispose of my pad in a friend’s bathroom, so there’s no worries there either. I just use a little mini wet bag for my used pad. Öko makes this cute one with a side for a fresh pad and a side for a dirty one:
Cloth pads don’t make that distinctive crinkle when you’re in a ridiculously silent and echoey public bathroom. The don’t get folded over and stick to your labia (or worse, your pubes). If you’re wondering, you cannot feel the snaps on the wings, and Öko pads—because they’re not backed with slippery PUL—don’t shift much in my underwear. (They also make a liner for thongs, but I cannot stand wearing a thong, so I’ve never tried them.) When using disposable pads, I always hated having to decide whether or not to put on a fresh one when I’d go to the bathroom. The thought of wasting another pad that day (especially during my rather secretion-rich pregnancy) or toughing it out ‘til the next trip to the bathroom is not a dilemma I have to face with my washable pads. At home, I have a cute little box of pads near the toilet. I have a small wet bag hanging off the toilet paper rack for soiled pads and for family cloth. In my purse, I have my extra pad and mini wet bag. When I was at work, I used my cloth pads too, keeping them in my little cosmetic pouch where I also kept a toothbrush and lip balm.
While I know I won’t convince everyone to switch to washable feminine hygiene products, if you’re on the fence about it, I hope you’ll give it a try! At $17.99 for a two-pack, I figure a good rotation of pads is five packs, so ten pads total. That is a cost of $90, and three years’ worth of disposable liners would’ve cost me $275. As you can see with how well my three-year old liner has fared, the savings are going to continue onto year four. And when my Öko pads are completely unusable, it’s just that super thin polyurethane membrane and the metal snaps that can’t biodegrade, compared to the pounds and pounds of disposable pads that each Öko liner has served to replace.
Update: Öko recently redesigned their Öko Minis, and they make perfect liners for every day use. They are slightly narrower at the front and slightly shorter than their regular Öko-Liners (which are what I use), but they also now have a waterproof layer, so great for light bladder leakage and cup or tampon back-up.