Talking about the 3 P’s – pee, poop, and period – is still a bit taboo in this day and age, especially when it’s coupled with the topic of saving money. My grandmother (who mostly raised me), didn’t even warm me about the third P, which first came to me in a what-on-earth-is-happening!?!? kind of moment. And in my grandmother’s time, there was no such thing as disposable menstrual pads. In fact, the word disposable wasn’t really in her vocabulary.
A little history: Kotex pads were first invented in the 1920s, but required a sanitary belt to hold it in place. Adhesive sanitary pads later came in the 1970s. Even though disposable sanitary pads were available during my grandmother’s time, they were much too expensive for her. So most women continued using more traditional methods, like rags and cloth which they washed and reused. It was in my mother’s generation that disposable adhesive pads were the norm.
How Much Can You Save with Reusable Cloth Pads?
In Singapore, the average age of menarche in girls is 11-12 years. And the average age at menopause (in Singapore) is 49 years. This means woman can spend nearly 4 decades (half their life!) using disposable menstrual pads. Depending on the brand, the type used, and the frequency, this could cost anywhere between $2.50 and $6 per cycle. Over a lifetime, that would amount to roughly $1000 to $3000.
This may not seem like much to most people, but consider for a moment whether it’s even worth $3000 to buy products for a problem generations before us successfully dealt with. And consider how many sanitary pads and tampons women all around the world need to dispose with every cycle. Remember that the average woman has around 500 cycles in her lifetime. What a bloody nightmare!
Health & Environmental Concerns
Disposable pads are typically made with a combination of plastics, cotton, synthetic fibers (like rayon) and wood pulp. To get that bright white sterile appearance, the cotton is often bleached. If it’s not organic cotton, then it may contain pesticides. Some manufacturers also add fragrances, odour neutralisers, or other chemicals to their tampons and pads. And those materials and chemicals contact a part of you where it can get direct access to your bloodstream.
Pads lined in plastic also reduce airflow to that region which may lead to side effects like rashes and infections.
Switching to a cloth pad not only eliminates most of these issues, but it can have a tremendous positive impact on our environment. It’s estimated that nearly 20 billion pads and tampons are discarded each year in North America alone.
Although cotton is a natural fibre that biodegrades, the plastics in a pad will take hundreds of years to decompose. But it’s the manufacturing process that does the most harm. From harvesting to assembly, the resource-intensive process pollutes our waterways, air and animal habitats.
If you’re willing to challenge the belief that disposable pads and tampons are the only means of dealing with your menses, then here’s a great alternative option.
How to DIY Your Own Pad
There are plenty of people who sell handmade menstrual pads online (you can find them for $5), and you can support these independent companies and artisanal makers. But if you have the time, they’re easy to make so why not make your own? There are a ton of how-to videos online.
For a very simple one, I just use old rags (like the good morning towels), and cut them up into strips. Then use old t-shirts or even old underwear as the outer layer to keep the rag (the inner layer) in place.
While there are some fancier ones with colourful patterns, wings and snaps, I just made a simple strip (no wings) version because I don’t have a sewing machine.
I’ve been using them for a while now, and only very occasionally have to use a disposable pad/tampon. There was an initial yuck factor, especially when I first put them into the washing machine with the rest of my laundry. But nothing funky occurred. My shirts didn’t come out blood-stained. And I didn’t have a murder scene situation. All was good.
Though some people prefer to separately hand wash them. (I’m just too lazy.)