Whether you’ve just bought some brand new cloth pads, are simply considering buying reusable pads and looking for more info, or came here from my article on how to use reusable pads; knowing how to take care and clean cloth menstrual pads is essential.
Cloth pads really changed my life - I've been using them for years and have certainly learned a thing or two. As I say to friends, there really is nothing to be worried about - reusable pads are hands-down a better product than disposable pads.
Still on the fence?
That's great, let me try and convince you that you need to change and how easy it is.
I'll start with some general pad knowledge and then a step-by-step tutorial on how to clean and wash reusable pads.
So, how long do reusable pads actually last?
Well, dear reader, this is one of the main ideas behind getting on board the cloth pad train: they last.
Disposable pads contain materials and chemicals that can be harmful to you and the planet. One of the main materials being plastic (not to mention the packaging it comes in) - which is no friend of the environment.
Cloth pads are made out of cotton and can - if given the proper care - be used over and over again for several years. They are estimated to last around 5 years (though some can last even longer than that). This makes them very sustainable - all you have to do is wash them (pretty easy, right?).
Their sustainability also means that you’ll be able to save money - not having to buy a new package (or packages) every month. Around 10 cloth pads would be enough to switch throughout the week. It all depends on how heavy your flow is and how long your period lasts.
The key is in the title: you wash them. Although bad odor isn’t a usual issue with reusable menstrual pads, it can happen.
During use, reusable pads actually stay fresher than disposable pads and let moisture evaporate (making the fabric more breathable), getting rid of any unwanted smell.
You can either wash cloth pads by hand (although it does use more water) or in a washing machine. Whichever suits you best.
Cloth pads and disposable pads are equally sanitary. But, unlike one-time-use pads, cloth pads can be washed both by hand and in a washing machine.
To get the best result you’ll want to soak your pads before washing them - to avoid staining - or use hot water when you wash them. As for soap and detergent: any kind of detergent can be used. Though, you’ll want to avoid using a fabric softener since there’s a risk that the fabric may become less absorbent.
Depending on the state of your cloth pad and the severity of your period (runny or heavy flow) different temperatures can work.
If you decide to throw them into the washing machine use settings that wash with either cold or warm water. If you want your cloth pads to be extra sanitary, use one of the hotter water settings. However, if you do boil your cloth pads you risk staining (which, by the way, doesn’t mean that the pad isn’t clean). But if hygiene is more important to you, what harm could a bit of spots do?
You can also handwash the sanitary pads. The easiest way to do that is to soak them in cold water overnight or till laundry day - in which case make sure to change the water every day - to make washing them easier. When you do wash the pads, rinsing them in cool water is also a fine choice.
As I’ve already stated, there are two options when it comes to washing your cloth pad. You can throw it in the washer, or you can wash it by hand.
These days, with newer appliances, machine washing is arguably the more eco-friendly solution - just use a full wash to not be overly wasteful. Warming up water to hand wash requires a lot more energy. And you might end up using just as much or more water as if you had used a laundry machine.
And clearly, washing cloth pads with the rest of your laundry is a quicker solution. However, if you are not in the vicinity of one (if you're camping or the machine just broke), you can also, pretty easily, do it the old-fashioned way and grab a bar of soap.
If you’re a bit squeamish and think the idea of washing your bloody pad sounds horrible, don’t worry, it’s really not bad. Personally, the handwashing part wasn’t a problem for me, but even if you are a bit skeptical now, trust me, after a couple of washes this won’t be a concern at all.
Now, you’ve worn your pad. What to do with it? First of all: remember not to throw it out - it is not disposable!
Second of all, you’ll want to soak your pad after you’ve used it, to avoid staining. To do that, you can put it into cold water (face down) and let it soak in the water at least overnight. If you’d rather wash them all at once you can wait till your period is over and let the pads soak till then.
When you’ve let your pad soak in the water for about a day, change the water.
Remember to use cold water - hot water can result in staining and ruin the waterproof lining of your pad.
However, if stain removal isn't your biggest problem, you can simply rinse the cloth pads in warm/hot water.
After you’ve soaked (or rinsed) the cloth pad in cold water, most of the stains should be lifted and you can get ready to wash it.
The first couple of times can be a bit weird but it really sounds worse than it actually is, so if you cringe it’s completely fine. Keep persevering and you’ll probably get comfortable with it soon enough.
You can now take the pad out of the soak and rinse them in cold water. After you’ve soaked your cloth pads, you can just throw them in the washer and wash them at approximately 40 degrees - which you can safely do with other clothing.
If you choose to wash by hand, after soaking keep rinsing and gently rubbing the fabric against itself until the water running off it is clear. Avoid using a brush, as it can damage the fabric.
When it comes to soap, try to omit detergents and soaps that contain harmful chemicals. You can use a natural soap bar when you handwash, or an organic detergent for the laundry.
Once again there 2 ways you can complete this step. Use the dryer, or use the air. But, before doing any of that, pull the pad into its rightful shape again.
Most cloth pads can be put in the dryer. Just make sure to use a low or medium setting.
Air drying is the optimal solution - as it is not only easy but a great way to reduce CO2 emissions by saving energy. After you’ve pulled your cloth pad into shape again, hang it out on the balcony or wherever fits you best. If you leave it out in the sunlight, it could help kill the leftover bacteria. Just don’t leave the pads out for too long, as it can ruin the waterproof lining and colors on the back of your pad.
Ideally, you should wash your reusable pads after each use to maintain hygiene. If you're using multiple pads throughout your menstrual cycle, you can store used pads in cold water until you're ready to wash a batch together.
Absolutely! Once you've pre-soaked and rinsed your reusable pads, you can wash them in the washing machine with other clothes. Just be sure to use a gentle, eco-friendly detergent and avoid high temperatures that could set stains.
Pre-soaking the pads in cold water overnight helps lift most stains. For tougher stains, gently rubbing the fabric or using a natural stain remover before machine or hand washing can be effective.
Yes, it's best to avoid harsh chemicals and fabric softeners. They can deteriorate the fabric and reduce the absorbency of your pads. Opt for natural, gentle detergents instead.
After washing, reshape the pads and either air dry them or use a dryer on a low heat setting. Air drying in sunlight not only saves energy but can also help disinfect the pads naturally.
With proper care, reusable pads can last up to 5 years or more. The key is to follow the recommended washing and drying instructions to maintain their quality and absorbency.
Reusable pads are designed to be breathable, which usually prevents odors. However, if you notice a slight odor, ensure you're washing them thoroughly and allowing them to dry completely. Sunlight can also help neutralize odors.
Yes, reusable pads come in various sizes and absorbencies, making them suitable for all types of flow, including heavy days. It's all about finding the right size and thickness for your needs.
Cloth pads are a small, but positive step towards a greener earth. Not only are they sustainable due to the years of use you’ll get out of them, but they are (in my opinion) a better user experience overall.
After I got used to the cleaning process and figured out a changing routine that fits me the best, I couldn’t go back to disposable pads. Cloth pads are much more comfortable to me and the worry of bleeding through isn’t a worry at all. That of course also has to do with the size of the pad, so if you still haven’t found the right one be sure to check out my article reviewing my personal picks for the best reusable menstrual pads out there.
Thank you for reading along and joining me in my mission - I hope you love your cloth pads as much as I do mine.
If you found this article helpful, check out our piece on menstrual cups to explore more sustainable options to use during that time of the month!