Why Period Underwear is an easy sustainable switch
If you follow more than a few sustainability bloggers, chances are you’ve seen at least one post on sustainable periods. In most cases, the holy grail product that gets recommended is the menstrual cup. Typically made with medical grade silicone, the menstrual cup is a reusable alternative to tampons.
But some of us – myself included – don’t really like tampons. Due to differences in body shape, discomfort with insertion, or even specific health problems – not to mention fear of TSS, which is still possible with menstrual cups – tampons and other insertable, internal period products simply aren’t for everyone.
I have very light periods as a result of the birth control medication I’m on, and so for the past several years, I’ve been comfortably using cloth pads and panty liners in lieu of disposables. In fact, reusable pads were one of the first sustainable switches I made, and also one of the easiest to implement over the long term.
Cloth pads are exactly what they sound like: typically, cotton pads with a felt lining that snap around underwear. You can pre-wash them in the sink with a bit of hypoallergenic soap and/or throw them in a laundry zip bag and wash them with your regular clothing.
I haven’t had to replace mine at all since I purchased them in 2015, which means I’ve saved around 75 pads from going to the landfill each year. In four years, that amounts to 300 pads!
This post contains affiliate links and I may be compensated should you make a purchase, at no additional charge to you
I purchased my cloth pads from Mimi’s Dreams on Etsy, but you can also try Luna Pads or GladRags.
I want to respond to some FAQs below (based mostly on MY frequently asked questions, but also on those of friends and family), but first let me share a bit about my new go-to, Thinx.
Thinx Period Panties Review
Thinx makes underwear intended to be worn during your period, either as a standalone or as a backup to another product, like tampons or menstrual cups. They use a proprietary textile lining that absorbs blood and moisture, and can hold a surprising amount of liquid without the bulk of a typical cloth pad.
The lining is some kind of synthetic fiber, but Thinx now makes a version that incorporates organic cotton in the body of the underwear, which is my preference for comfort. I tried two pairs of the lighter days organic cotton thongs and I have to say, they’re the bomb.com! With my particular flow, I can wear these as standalones without any fear of leaking. I waited two full cycles before reviewing to ensure that it does the job, and even during a 90 degree, strenuous move-in day last week, I was completely covered.
FAQ About Using Period Underwear & Cloth Pads
Aren’t zero waste period products hard to clean?
No, not at all. Honestly, after using cloth pads for a few years, I am not that fussy about pre-washing, but I do run my cloth pads or period underwear under cool water after wearing them, then put them in a mesh bag with laundry that’s being washed with cold water.
I use unscented or organically scented detergent for all of my laundry, but I definitely recommend you do so for reusable period products (and really, all underwear) to avoid irritation. I hang them to dry on a drying rack. It’s really easy.
If you’re using pads that incorporate a lighter-colored textile, just keep in mind that you’re going to be able to see the blood. It’s totally normal, but if you don’t want to see it, go with a dark color, like black or navy (or red!).
Do cloth pads or period underwear hold odors?
No, cloth replacements for regular pads contain a lot more natural fibers than the plasticated versions you can buy at the pharmacy, so you can wear them for longer before any, uh, fragrance sets in.
Are zero waste period products comfortable?
Yes, definitely, especially period underwear. You need to maintain basic hygienic standards, like changing out your pad or underwear every 8-12 hours at the most, to feel the most comfortable, but these are so much better than pads, and I never liked tampons, so definitely better than tampons.
Even thicker cotton pads, though they take some getting used to, are comfortable, because there are no scratchy or plastic parts that rub your skin the wrong way.
How do you travel with zero waste period products?
I use a little cloth bag that came with a fair trade clothing item (shoutout to MATTER) to store clean cloth pads and underwear. Used cloth pads can be folded over and snapped shut, so they’re really self contained, but you can purchase a nylon or plastic zip bag (or buy or make pad wrappers) if you’re worried. Period underwear can go in a water proof bag, as well.
Are Thinx worth the price?
I think so. The style I purchased are $24 a pair, but I bought them during a sale earlier in the summer. I needed two pairs (I still use my cloth pads if I need back-up in the evenings), which can be reused for years.
So if I had just switched to zero waste period products this year, I would have halved my period costs. If you have a heavier period, you’ll need to make a bigger investment up front, but that tracks with higher costs associated with the purchase of conventional products, so it’s a good choice long term.
P.S. You can purchase bundles for less here.
Isn’t it gross?
I’m not one of those people who goes around saying “periods are beautiful,” but the fact of the matter is that, if you’re someone who gets periods, this is your reality.
It’s your body, not a blood-thirsty uterus demon. The comfort and ease of reusables – I never ever have to rush to the store to buy pads because they’re always ready for me – makes seeing a little blood worth getting used to.
Kathryn of Going Zero Waste has heavier periods than me, and also recommends Thinx. You can read her review here.
Have any other questions? Ask in the comments!
Update Spring 2023: Thinx is involved in a class-action lawsuit pertaining to false advertising. Consumers are concerned that Thinx period panties contain unsafe levels of PFAS even though Thinx has claimed that their products are PFAS free. I am still using my Thinx, but you may wish to do your own research.
Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.