Every woman experiences menstruation, but not every woman knows the alternatives to disposable pads and tampons. Not only do alternatives help the environment, they also help you. Don’t be afraid of losing your cleanliness, because these alternatives are actually healthier and leave you feeling more fresh than any disposable option.

Disposable pads and tampons are made of bleached rayon (sometimes bleached cotton) and plastic. These bleached materials contain harmful chemicals that you don’t want to have in contact with your body, let alone inside it. Bleached fibres can remain inside of you from tampons, causing infections. Disposable options prevent you from breathing “down there,” creating an environment for bacterial growth which can also cause infection and foul odours.

Landfills and wastewater treatment facilities are filled with feminine hygiene products, but you can make a difference and use reusable products instead.

If you tend to use pads, try using cloth pads. Cloth pads come in different thicknesses, lengths, materials (such as cotton or bamboo), with and without wings, as well as different colours and patterns. They’re straightforward to use and can be cleaned simply by throwing them in the wash, even with other laundry present. They’re suitable for women of any flow and are highly absorbent. Users of cloth pads find that it feels cleaner, more comfortable, softer and that they prefer them over disposable pads.

If you prefer to use tampons, try using a menstrual cup. Menstrual cups come in slightly different shapes and sizes, all with a little “stem” to grab for withdrawal. I’ve been using the Diva Cup for many years and have never had a problem with it. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but a search on the web can provide tips on how to easily insert and remove them, making this option more convenient than tampons.

They’re made of silicone and you’ll no longer have to worry about the risk of TSS (toxic shock syndrome). Depending on your flow you’ll likely only need to change it once in the morning and evening or even once a day. After each use you only need to rinse it with gentle soap and water (unless in a public place, in which case you would only empty it), then reinsert the cup. You don’t have to worry about feeling it inside you and it doesn’t leak.

You can safely swim with it in and there’s no need to worry about a string hanging out of your bathing suit. Contrary to what you may think, a menstrual cup is actually a very clean and non-messy option that many people prefer over tampons.

Where can you buy reusable menstrual products?

Reusable menstrual pads and cups are available at some health food stores, such as Whole Foods, and can easily be found online. Some popular brands of cloth pads are Lunapads, GladRags and PIMP (Party in my Pants). Popular menstrual cups are DivaCup, Mooncup and LadyCup.

How well do they really work?

Both cloth pads and menstrual cups are extremely reliable. Cloth pads are highly absorbent and are often advertised as having a “leak-resistant core” or “leak-resistant bottom shield.”

Based on reviews, these claims actually hold true. They’re breathable too—unlike disposable pads—and this greatly reduces, or even eliminates, any smell you would typically have with pads. As for menstrual cups, they’re easy to put in with some practice and work well for all ages, including those who have given birth. They hold a considerable amount of fluid, and as long as the cup is placed correctly for it to open up and is emptied when needed, you’ll not have any leaks.

How long can I use them for?

Each company has different suggestions for when they should be replaced, but generally cloth pads should last for at least five years before you would even need to think about replacing them and menstrual cups can last for up to 10 years.

How much do they cost?

Both of these environmentally friendly options do cost more up front than their disposable counterparts, but they quickly pay for themselves as you’ll no longer need to buy menstrual products for years to come. Prices vary and can be found online. As an example, I spent $6 each on cloth liners and $22 on a menstrual cup. If the price concerns you, just calculate how much money you’d be spending on pads or tampons for even one year then multiply that by 5 to 10 years. It’s easy to see that reusable options are actually quite cost effective!

by Michelle Balge
image: ecological feet crossed with poppy via Shutterstock