I’ve covered several different options for greening your period in this post. It’s very long but you can skim to the section you’d like to learn more about.
To skip ahead: Intro, Cloth Pads, Menstrual Cups, SoftCup, and Sea Sponges.
If you are like me, I imagine you started using either tampons or disposable pads at a young age and haven’t given it much thought since. Each month you rush to the store to restock and at the end of your cycle, all of that waste is buried in your local landfill for eternity.
Eternity? Yes, just like disposable diapers or anything else that goes inside of a plastic bag and buried under layers of dirty and garbage – tampons and pads will sit in your landfill for an eternity. But you flush your tampons? They don’t end up in the landfill do they? Actually, many do! Once you flush that dirty little piece of cotton it gets filtered at the local water treatment facility and hauled away to the landfill – where it will sit for eternity. I only say these things because I’ve seen them firsthand. Years ago I actually worked for a State agency and conducted environmental audits of both landfills and water treatment facilities. Oh the fun stories I could tell you!
Let’s talk chemicals for a moment. Disposable tampons and pads contain chemicals. Chemicals that you are putting into (or next to) your lady parts for hours at a time, for several days each month. Cotton may be used on some of these but there are dioxins from bleaching that cotton present in both tampons and pads. Tampons can also leave fiber residuals inside your body. WHAT? Watch this video from the Luna Gals that actually shows the fiber loss (cotton, viscose rayon, and other fibers). (Direct link if you can’t see the embedded video: What’s the difference between tampons and The Diva Cup)
Disposable pads contain small amounts of SAP (those little gel crystals that can be found in disposable diapers) as well as chemicals from manufacturing. I’ve seen estimates that the average woman will use 10,000 tampons/pads in their lifetime.
Is there a greener option? Something with less chemicals?
Yes, you may be surprised to find out just how many options there are for women today. There are several brands of reusable menstrual cups, hundreds of manufacturers of reusable cloth pads, and even some non-traditional methods like sea sponges. I’ll break them all down for you in their own section and give you my personal experiences with each one.
The picture above shows a very small sample of the popular cloth pads that are available today. Pads are available in a variety of sizes and can fit teenagers to adults. Cloth pads come in pantyliners, daytime pads, nighttime pads, and even postpartum pads for after childbirth. Mama cloth can even be worn with thong panties!
The most well-known company is probably the Lunapads brand. Lunapads has an entire line of pads and pantyliners to fit every woman. Other brands include Pink Lemonade (a work-at-home mom owned Etsy store), Charlie Banana, Knickernappies, Pink Daisy by Swaddlebees, Willow Store, and itti bitti rainbows (coming soon to the US). Many cloth diaper companies are starting to manufacture their own lines of mama cloth due to their growing popularity.
Mama cloth can come in many different fabric choices also including; fleece, bamboo velour, minky, and woven cotton. They can be backed with a waterproof fleece or even an interlock wool. One of the advantages of cloth pads is that they are super soft and comfortable.
Is it gross? I’ll preface this section with my own personal opinions. I’m not a huge fan of any pads for full time use. There is just something gross to me about looking at the blood/menses. As a teenager, disposable pads were the only thing that I would use. I thought they stunk! After having my children I used disposable postpartum pads and again was not very happy that I had to use them. They stunk and were messy. This is MY own personal opinion. I know many women who use only pads (disposable and cloth) happily with no complaints. To each their own!
I will use cloth pads as pantyliners; both on spotty days and for overflow on heavy days. I can handle the spotty flow and that doesn’t gross me out as much. ~Calley of The Eco Chic
How do you wash them? If you use cloth diapers the routine will look very similar. You can store your soiled pads in a small wet bag or pail in your bathroom. On wash day, you simply wash them in your machine (alone, with other clothes, or with cloth diapers) with a detergent that is free from fragrances and fabric softeners (which may make them less absorbent or cause them to leak). You’ll want to wash on warm or cool to reduce staining. Dry on low/medium heat and put them away for the next use. Do they stain? Sometimes, it depends on the fabric and your wash routine. I recommend washing every 2-3 days and a pre-rinse may help to reduce stains. I notice less staining with my Lunapads and Pink Lemonade pads because of the fabric and color of the fabric.
How many do you need? It really depends on your flow, you may need to change them every 2-3 hours on your heavy days. That would be about 12+ cloth pads a day. 24-36 would be a safe number if you were going to use cloth pads exclusively.
How do you handle the dirty pads when away from home? Similar to cloth diapers, you can carry a small wet bag with your for changing dirty pads. Pads can be easily folded and snapped close like in the picture below.
My personal preferences: I’ll use cloth pads on my spotty days and for overflow protection on heavy days. I’ll also use cloth pantyliners for exercise or when I’m jumping on a trampoline! Don’t laugh – if you’ve had kids you’ll understand! I have tried all of the cloth pads shown in the picture above and prefer the Pink Lemonade brand for their softness, quality, and for the probability of no staining. However, they all end up in my rotation and function the same way!
Do you sew? The Eco-Friendly Family has a pack of three cloth pad patterns available for only $5.00.
If you are more of a tampon girl, you may prefer the menstrual cup. Menstrual cups are made from medical grade silicone and are completely safe to use. Menstrual cups are inserted inside the vaginal cavity and collect the blood/menses from the cervix. A cup needs to be emptied periodically and can be reused over, and over again. Sounds pretty simple, kinda!
How do I get THAT inside THERE?
The picture above shows a few different ways you can fold your menstrual cup so that it can be easily inserted inside your body. This may take a little practice but after a few times you’ll get the hang of it. There is no wrong way to fold a menstrual cup and every woman will find a way that is comfortable for them.
Once the cup is inserted into your body, it forms a vacuum seal against the vaginal walls. You may want to feel (yes, with your finger) around the perimeter of the cup to ensure that it has sealed properly and forms a complete circle with no folds remaining.
What size menstrual cup should I get? While each brand has their own recommendations a general rule of thumb is that women who have given birth are typically a size 2; while teenagers, women who have not given birth, and those fortunate women with very strong vaginal muscles (active women) may be more comfortable in a size 1. Refer to the companies website for more information on sizing or you can compare the different brands on a chart that The Eco-Friendly Family developed. Me? Well since I’m being so honest with you today, I’m a size 2!
How many do I need? How long do they last? You should only need one menstrual cup and they typically last for 1+ years. Some manufacturers differ on their recommendation for replacing cups. I’ve seen recommendations that say they should be replaced every 1-2 years; while others say they should last for many more years. Cups are most often made with silicone which shouldn’t breakdown quickly. If you notice cracks or are uncomfortable with discoloration, you may want to replace your cup. I have 3 in all and usually only use one for an entire menstrual cycle. (I have 3 because I wanted to test different brands – not because anything happened to them.)
How often do I need to empty a menstrual cup? This is another question that may vary depending on your own personal flow. For me, on my heaviest flow days I will only empty them twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. I have heard of women needing to empty them every 3-4 hours on heavy days. The general recommendation is to empty them every 8-10 hours regardless of if they are full. I have gone an entire day without needing to empty my cup and sometimes forget that I even have it in.
How do I get it out? The first few times you may want to practice inserting and removing your cup when you’re not on your cycle. This will help you master it without the mess. To remove, gently grab hold of the stem of your cup and pull out. You may need to push with your muscles like you were giving birth or going poop to help push the menstrual cup lower in your vagina. The menstrual cup sits fairly low and you should be able to feel the stem of your cup when it’s fully inserted. If it sits too low, you may wish to cut the stem shorter.
I have it out, now what? There are a few different options for how to empty your cup. If you are sitting on a toilet you can empty the contents directly into the toilet and flush away; while holding on to the cup. You can wipe it clean with toilet paper or a soft cloth. I have a sink right next to our toilet and will rinse it out quickly before I reinsert it. Another option is to empty your cup while showering. I actually prefer this method because you don’t have to worry about dropping your cup in the toilet or trying to reach the sink to rinse. While standing in the shower, remove and empty down the drain. Rinse and re-insert. Honestly, it is the EASIEST way to empty your cup.
What about going to work? Or traveling? Or long days out of the house? If you are lucky like me, you may only need to empty your cup every 8-10 hours. Most of us don’t have to leave the comforts of our home (or private bathroom facilities) for that long. I have had to empty my cup in an airport bathroom and in a port-o-let; it can be done! If you do have to empty your cup in a public bathroom there are a couple options for making that work.
- Find a handicapped bathroom or family bathroom that has a sink in the stall. This way you have a more private area to rinse your cup without others looking on.
- Take a water bottle and paper towel/soft wipe in the public bathroom with you. Once you empty your cup, use the water bottle to rinse and paper towel to wipe if needed.
- Carry along a spare cup to change. Empty the full cup into the toilet and rinse when close to a sink. This is my least preferred option for anyone who enjoys their menstrual privacy.
Other common questions about menstrual cups:
- Do they leak? If you don’t get a good seal or if it is full it may leak. Once you get the hang of it and know how long you can wait, you shouldn’t experience any leaks. On my heavy days I’ll still wear a cloth pad or pantyliner for extra protection but it rarely gets soiled.
- Can I exercise in a cup? Can I sleep in a cup? Yes and Yes! There are no limits on using a menstrual cup. I have done yoga, kickboxing, running, and even jumped on a trampoline while wearing a menstrual cup. I sleep while wearing my cup all the time. They can last most women for the entire night without leaks.
- Medical questions and complications? There are several questions that arise regarding low cervix, IUD, and other medical related issues. Each manufacturer has their own guidance on these and you can also consult with your medical professional.
What brand do you recommend? I have used the Diva Cup for almost 2 years now. I’ve never had any problems with it at all. I have recently tried the Lunette Cup and was even more happy with it. The Diva Cup is a clear silicone and can look a little dingy after a while. The Lunette Cup is available in clear and colored. I have a pretty green Lunette Cup and I like that it didn’t discolor after my cycle. I also liked that the Lunette was a stronger/firmer silicone. I personally found it to pop and seal better than my Diva Cup. While these differences don’t impact their function, it is encouraging to know that if you don’t like one cup you may like another brand. There are several brands on the market but the Lunette and Diva Cup seem to be the most popular and available brands in the US.
For another insightful look into menstrual cups, I think you’ll enjoy this video by Kim at Dirty Diaper Laundry; Menstrual Cups: What Every Woman Should Know.
Another option is the SoftCup by Instead. SoftCup comes in a disposable and a reusable cup; however the reusable cup is for one menstrual cycle only. Both of the SoftCups will end up in the landfill at the end of the day or the end of your cycle. You can tell by the photo they look quite different from other menstrual cups. They fit differently inside your body. Instead of forming a seal around the cervix, the SoftCup sits at an angle. You can watch their video on how to insert/remove a SoftCup for a better understanding.
Advantage of SoftCup: SoftCups are available at retail stores and don’t require a large investment to try. Another advantage of the SoftCup is that since the cup sits at an angle, you can still have sex while wearing the SoftCup and your partner will never know that you are menstruating.
I personally did not care for the SoftCup. I love the idea of being able to find it locally (and have sex) but I never found a good fit. Every time I tried to remove it, I would spill and end up with a mess. Also, they are disposable and add to more waste being added to the landfill. You still have to remember to buy new ones before your cycle begins and you won’t be saving money by using them either. It’s an option that many women prefer but it wasn’t for me.
Finally, the last option that I’ve personally tried are reusable sea sponge tampons. Sea Pearls are natural sea sponges that are moistened (with water) and inserted into the vaginal cavity. They come in a variety of sizes and are incredibly absorbent. They can be reused for 3-6 months (or longer) and are safe to be worn during sex.
Jade and Pearl sent me a sample of these a while ago and I really wanted to love these. After I got past the initial fear of trying them, I found out that they were very easy to insert and very comfortable. Perhaps the failure is my own but I attempted to wear these during a workout at a gym. I could feel it starting to come out during my workout. I’ve had 2 kids and I know my pelvic muscles are horrible but I was disappointed that they didn’t stay in. I tried them once or twice more but they are just too messy for me. To remove them you will get your hands dirty and you’ll then have to hand wash them to reuse. Not the most practical solution for me, but they are an option that will work for some.
Are you ready to make a change? Have you already tried menstrual cups, mama cloth, SoftCups, or sea sponges? What questions do you still have? Please leave your comments and/or questions below and I’ll be happy to help
Looking for cloth diapering resources and tips? Visit my cloth diapering archives, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and on Pinterest.
Subscribe to new posts via your favorite RSS Feed Reader or by Email.