How to Wash Reusable Pads [Complete Beginner’s Guide]

Whether you’ve just bought some brand new cloth pads, are simply considering buying reusable pads and looking for more info, or you 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.

Let's go! 

How long do reusable pads last?

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. 

How do you get the smell out of reusable pads?

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. 

How do you deep clean cloth pads?

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 fabric softeners, since there’s a risk that the fabric may become less absorbent.

What temperature should you wash reusable pads with?

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 setings. 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. 

How to wash your pad, step-by-step

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 sceptical now, trust me, after a couple washes this won’t be a concern at all.

Here are some simple steps:

  • The preparation
  • The washing 
  • The drying

Preparing your pad for the washing

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.

Although if stain removal isn't your biggest problem, you can simply rinse the cloth pads in warm/hot water.

Washing your pad

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 at approximately 40 degrees - which you can safely do with other clothing.

If you choose to handwash, 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 hand wash, or an organic detergent for the laundry.

Drying your cloth pad 

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 easy and reduces 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.

My final thoughts on washing cloth pads

Cloth pads are a small, but a 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. 

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