Let’s Talk About Feminine Products

by Amanda Hearn · 19 comments

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Overview of OptionsYea, so there’s no delicate way to approach this, so I’m going to attempt to just jump right in. I consider myself modest, but I think this is important not only for the environment, but for your health. Here goes!

There are a couple of eco-friendly alternative to tampons and pads. For a tampon alternative there are menstrual cups and sponges. For pads, cloth pads.

I’ll have to be honest and say that I have no experience with the latter, but that’s okay I’ll do my best :)

Let’s start with menstrual cups.
There are several brands, each a bit different and if one doesn’t work for you, another might, so don’t give up!

Here are just a few!

Now let’s talk about why these are a good choice :)

Better for the environment! – They are reusable. No cotton to be grown, no bleaching of the fibers, no processing and manufacturing, driving to the store, on and on and on. You get the picture :)

Better for your budget – Menstrual cups can last for as long as 10 years (I’ve read.) Many brands recommend replacing yearly, but even then it’s a savings. I think I picked my Diva Cup up for around $20.

Better for your health – No dryness. No reported link to toxic shock syndrome. Again, no bleaching, so less chemical exposure.

Comfortable & Convenient – Change less often and for many women it’s not even felt during wear.

How often do you empty it?/How long can you wear it?
They *can* be worn for up to 12 hours. Most recommend that you empty them at least 2-3 times a day. However, if you have a heavier flow, you will want to do this more often. This is determined by you and your body. It can be worn overnight.

What about when you’re out and about?
Since it can be worn for so long, chances are you won’t need to change it. If you do and can’t get to a sink, wipe off the rim and reinsert. When you get home, or to a more private place, give it a wash as usual.

Is it comfortable?
Yes, most women can’t even feel it. I do know that a lot of women cut the stem off of their cup because it can sometimes be felt. I experienced this, cut mine off and now I can’t even tell that it’s in. If your cup is uncomfortable, make sure that it’s in right, and if that doesn’t work, perhaps try a different brand. Some brands are more slender (the Mooncup is one I believe).

Is it sanitary?
Yes, most of these cups are made from medical grade silicone. Just be sure to wash your hands and the cup when you empty it. I think most of these companies recommend washing the cup at least twice a day. After your cycle, be sure to clean it thoroughly. Some can be boiled or sanitized with alcohol.

Do they leak?
Not usually. You mainly need to make sure that your cup fits you and that you have it in properly. Most of these brands offer multiple sizes and guidelines for what to choose. There also seems to be a bit of a learning curve to getting it in and sitting properly. If you’re unsure, try using a liner until you get the hang of it.

Is this good for an active lifestyle?
Yes! Swim, run, dance, etc. The only limitation is sex. I would imagine it would be quite uncomfortable for both you and your partner.

What do I think?
I love mine. No dryness, no running out of tampons and running to the store. No constant changes and worrying about leaks. I was fortunate and got the hang of it right away and I’ve been so pleased. I wish I had known about these long ago.

Cups not for you? How about cloth pads?
As I said before, I don’t have any experience with these, but I’ll do my best with the help of some friends :)

All-in-two style from Ama’z

As you can see, they clearly resemble traditional disposable pads. However, they are reusable and comfortable.

They are also customizable to you, your body and your needs.

How do you wash these? And where do you keep your dirty ones?
A wet bag (waterproof bag) or wet pail is often used to store them in. Most places I’ve seen recommend doing a cold soak with detergent before washing if you don’t use a wet pail. I would imagine a wet bag and cold soak in the washing machine would be an easy route. Some people even throw them right in with their regular wash.

Cold water is great at getting blood out of fabrics. From what I’ve read, hot washes are not a good idea, as they can set stains. If all else fails, a day in the sun should help :)

As for detergent. Most seem to recommend a minimal amount of detergent be used as not to cause build up. I would probably use a cloth diaper safe detergent, just to be on the safe side, and because I’d want less chemicals on my sensitive areas :)

What about when you’re out and about?

I would recommend a small wet bag that fits in your purse or bag.

How many do you need?
I’ve read that anywhere from 6-12 pads is a good number. This is going to depend on your flow and how often you need/want to wash them. I would suggest using how many disposables you go through as a rough guide. Because of the expense, I would start low and then buy more if need be.

Can they be used with a heavy flow?
Yes, from what I’ve seen you can find these in any absorbency from a liner to postpartum heavy flow.

The pads I’ve seen are made with absorbent materials like cotton, bamboo or hemp. Most pads use wool, microfleece or PUL as a protective and waterproofing layer.

PUL is polyurethane laminated fabric. It is typically used as backing on pads (just like the shell of modern day cloth diapers) as a waterproof layer. It’s fantastic, but likely not as breathable as fleece or wool. I think this is one of those things that you need to find what works for you.

What about smell? Are these sanitary?
Because these are natural fibers and *breathable!* There is far less odor than with disposables. That’s good news!

What if you want to make your own?
Grab some material and go for it! There are lots of patterns out there.If you want cotton & fleece, you can find that locally. I think flannel is a popular choice. If you want PUL and bamboo or hemp, try something online like Celtic Cloths Wholesale or Kids in the Garden.

Here are a few patterns you might try.

Adahy’s Cloth Pad Patterns – free from what I can tell
KCK Mamapad – $3.00 (this pattern looks easy to use!)
PrettyPads – $14.75

Personal Opinion?
Well, I don’t have one, but if you use them, I would love yours! If you would like to contribute to this post please contact me. I would love user opinions on these.

Still stuck on tampons?  How about a natural option?
Try a sea sponge!  A sea sponge works just like a tampon.  It is worn in the same fashion and absorbs – but without all of the nasty chemicals and waste.  A two pack can run you $8-$14 and last for at least 6 months.

So how do you use them?
Though they are used like tampons, they do not have an applicator, so you will have to use your finger (like an o.b. tampon).  Dampen the sponge and squeeze out the water and insert.  When you change it (ever 3-6 hours, just as you would with a tampon) you can either rinse out the sponge with warm water, squeeze and reuse.  You can also replace it with a fresh one while you wash the other to use next time.
How long do you wear it?
You will change this approx. every 3-6 hours, the same as you would for a tampon.
How often do you have to buy new ones?
They are said to last at least 6 months, and some say up to 12 months depending on how you care for them.
Does it leak?
I haven’t tried these, but from my reading they are as reliable as a tampon.  It shouldn’t leak, but if left too long, there is that risk.
What if it’s too big?
Ahh, the beauty of a natural sponge.  Get out some scissors and trim it!  Do so in little bits, you don’t want to get it too small.
What about dryness?
As I said, I haven’t tried these, but I’ll offer my thoughts… while sponges are absorbent, they do not contain the same chemicals that cause most of the problems with dryness in tampons, nor the rough, chemically treated fibers that cause micro-abrasions.  I would imagine that the sponge would make you more dry than a menstrual cup, but much less dry than a tampon.
What about when you’re out and about?
You could potentially wash and rinse as usual, however that might be difficult in a multi-stall bathroom – not to mention embarrassing if you were to be seen.  I would recommend buying a little wetbag like the one below.  You could keep a spare in the dry pocket and put the dirty into the waterproof side until you get home.
How do you really clean and disinfect it after your cycle?
The brand seen below recommends soaking your sponge/s in a cup of warm water that contains either baking soda or apple cider vinegar (I would choose the ACV if it were me).  They suggest leaving it to soak for about 15 minutes then rinse and let air dry.

Still have questions? Email me or leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer it :)

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

April October 28, 2009 at 9:29 pm

I love that you posted on this! It can be such an awkward subject. That said, I am a menstrual cup convert. A friend recommended it to me back in the spring, and I feel cheated that I waited 33 years to find out about it! I love it and love that I will be able to share it as an option for my girls when they get older! Thanks for posting this!

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Sarah J. October 29, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Thank you! I feel like such a hypocrite because I cloth diaper my son partly to reduce waste, yet I still use tampons. I have been considering switching, but I definitly will be now after your rave reviews and explainations!

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Jaye October 30, 2009 at 2:46 am

From my experience The Keeper was not pleasant if you spend a lot of time sitting in a hard chair! I wore one in high school and it was miserable! I tried cutting the top off a bit but that just made it worse because it would poke me. Not fun! I noticed the Diva Cup has a shorter, rounded stub so I imagine that would feel much better! I'm getting one as soon as I run out of my Costco-bought box of tampons (another month or two).

Just to let your readers know some personal experience with the brand!

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Brenda Pike February 1, 2010 at 9:18 pm

I avoid these products entirely by using an IUD. My usually light periods have disappeared entirely. It's so nice!

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Amanda February 1, 2010 at 9:23 pm

I understand the appeal of an IUD and I appreciate you taking the time to read this and contribute your point of view.

However,I don't want to use hormones *at all*. It goes against everything that I believe in. I find that not having a period when you otherwise would (by stopping)is not how nature intended it, and certainly not something that I should be messing with.

It is not my choice to do things that way.

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evilbunnytoo February 4, 2010 at 7:46 pm

not all IUDs have hormones.

I have one that is all copper because I react very badly to hormonal birth control. I've found it to be a very easy to use and somewhat eco friendly option – the copper can be recycled (not the nylon string through) and I only use one item for 5-7 years.

However, IUD users generally can't use the menstrual cup method (or the manufacuter doesn't recommend it for many cups) so I'm investigating the sponge method combined with pads to see if I can do it – my big problem with any of these methods is I commute a long distance to work on a train so the idea of carry a bloody pad or sponge around for a long time is off-putting, plus I would need plastic to carry them around.

I'm very surprised i don't see the sponge up here as a replacement for tampons.

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Amanda February 4, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Thanks for the info. I had a look at one like what you mentioned (the IUD) and that definitely seems like a better alternative to hormonal birth control (of any kind). I'm still not sure how I feel about something foreign in my body, but that's at least something to consider :)

I wasn't aware of the sponges. I'll have to look them up and add them :) Thanks!

As for carrying them around, would a small wetbag work? They are often PUL lined (like many cloth diapers) and shouldn't leak.

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Johanna February 27, 2010 at 6:13 am

I bet the cloth pads are more comfortable than disposables. It's been a while since I've needed anything thanks to pregnancy, but that's going to change soon. I am really picky about pads, specifiably refusing to use Always since they have that dryweave plastic top. Yuck! Thank you for putting all this in one place.

As for an IUD. I had the Mirena for years with no period. At the time I thought it was awesome, then I had it removed. I instantly noticed it's absence from my body. It was such a jarring realization, that I won't be getting another one.

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karlitacat January 25, 2011 at 7:22 pm

I'm pretty open about discussing these kinds of things, and at one point I posted about menstrual cups when I still had a Facebook account. One of my friends – who wrote openly about her accidental home birth – said she didn't feel comfortable responding to it! Anyhoo…

I've tried the Diva Cup, and wasn't too keen on it, but am wondering if another brand would be better. I had looked into cloth tampons (I've seen them sold on Etsy), but these days, I use sea sponges. You just wet the sponge, wring it out so it's soft and slightly damp, then stuff it on up there.

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karlitacat January 25, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Just noticed some of the conversation about the Diva. The stem really bothered me, and I ended up cutting most of it off.

And I, too, feel that adding hormones to my body does more harm than good. In junior high I was hospitalized for almost bleeding to death; my period didn't stop for a month, my parents didn't believe something was wrong, and I got weaker and weaker. I think it took a few fainting spells for them to realize I wasn't making it up. I got put on birth control to stop the bleeding, and I believe this contributed to future problems – infertility (I did later have 2 children), irregular periods, hormone imbalance.

Although it's nice and convenient to skip periods and not worry about getting pregnant, I will never go on hormonal birth control again.

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The Eco-Friendly Family - Amanda January 25, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Thanks for your thoughts on this karlitacat, I am really pleased with the Diva, but Mooncup UK (which you can only find on Ebay at the moment) is shorter (and popular), as are some others – which may help some people.

What's funny (to me) about this topic is that I'm generally a private person with such matters, but I feel very strongly about the importance of safe products in this category. Growing up, I used tampons, but never liked the dryness (TMI, sorry). When I heard about cups, I took it wasn't something that appealed to me, but I wasn't going to knock something I hadn't tried. The more I heard, the more curious I became. I finally caved and bought one. I wish I had known many years ago. I have found it so much more convenient and my body responds noticeably better.

Thanks for mentioning sponges, I really need to get that added to this post.

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della330 January 26, 2011 at 8:40 pm

I just switched to cloth pads from Homestead Emporium this month after having a baby – I had heard they were good for postpartum so I jumped in with both feet.

OMG!! I'm so upset I didn't have the guts to try these years ago!! I had used Always products (and tampons) before but thought the pads dry-weave layer stuck to me, esp when I was working/sweaty. The cloth pads are amazing – soft velour fabrics – dyed in my favorite colors, don't shift, have wonderful absorbency and are very breathable. Plus I've heard that using cloth can lighten your flow, and I'm all for that! I also got a bunch of liners to use, too.
I esp love the H.E. brand and they have wonderful customer service. If you're thinking of trying them out, JUST DO IT!

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environmentalgoddess January 28, 2011 at 4:07 pm

I also use the Diva Cup, LOVE IT! Great post by the way!

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Stephanie @ Confessions of a Trophy Wife May 1, 2011 at 11:04 pm

I have just recently fallen in love with my menstrual cup. Yep, in love. I said it :)

I first tried a Diva, size 2 based on their recommendations and it was just too large and very uncomfortable. I then tried a Lady Cup size 1, despite their recommendations, but based on the knowledge of my body. The first cycle I used it, I tried to love it so much and even though it went better than the Diva, it was still very uncomfortable.

This cycle, I finally tried trimming the stem – The Lady's stem is quite long, longer than The Diva. I trimmed it to about 1/4" and it made all the difference in the world! I finally can't even feel that it's there. Before, not only was the stem poking (OUCH!), but it must have also been preventing me from getting it positioned properly.

So, I'm now in love and I'd like every woman to feel like me. Seriously, more people should know about this – thanks for spreading the word!

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Becca May 1, 2011 at 11:12 pm

the cups remind me of product we used in college called "insteads" no called :soft cups" – they are, however, disposable. i am glad to see that there are more products out there similar to these as i found them comfortable and rarely had leaks. thank you for posting about this subject – women need to know about all their options!!!

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Leslie July 1, 2011 at 10:45 pm

LOVE my Lunette cup! I read a ton of reviews and went with the Lunette because of some minor design difference. After my first cycle I got the placement down and haven't felt it since.

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articles September 30, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Nice article! I like your willingness to inform readers about options you haven't tried yourself. Everyone's different in what we're willing to try and find most appealing!

I've been using a cup and cloth pads for 14 years now and love them. Here are my detailed ravings.

—'Becca (who can't figure out why OpenID thinks my name is "articles"!)

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