Alternatives to disposable sanitary items

7 September 2007

This post is by guest writer, Bel. Bel's blog is here.

Through time and across cultures, the menstrual cycle h
as been sacred and taboo, celebration and woe. In our society, menstruation is generally treated as an inconvenient condition. ‘The curse’ sentiment lingers while our negativity toward our monthly bleeding shapes our daughters’ expectations. In order to feel good about our bodies and their natural processes we need to accept and love ourselves as we are. If it weren’t for menstruation, there would be no human life.

Modern advertising for disposable menstrual items focuses on the products, not the physical, spiritual and emotional process that is our cycle. Females are bombarded with many sterile, slim, paper products that invariably announce that periods are things you should not feel, see, smell or tell others about. But are the disposables as convenient and hygienic as we’re led to believe? With disposable options there are the issues of cost, dioxins and other chemical nasties, landfill and the environmental costs of production of all those individually wrapped, perfectly white sanitary items.

There is a myriad of alternative menstrual products. Cloth pads and liners are more comfy, cool and clean than the feminine hygiene items that the supermarkets stock. They are readily available in many health food stores, some markets, by mail order and online. A comprehensive list of online cloth pad sellers can be found here. I recommend that you try a sample pad or pack before purchasing all of your pads from the one seller. There are so many types of pads available, and only you will know which suits your size, shape and cycle.

Fabric pads are quite easy to sew at home, which is a special menarche or moontime ritual in itself. Bright and funky fabrics (or whatever your preference is) make this project lots of fun. And if we’re going to bleed, why not make it fun? If you browse the free printable pad patterns here, you will see that there are many designs to choose from. I have tried and prefer this one and this one. Or you can do what our mothers and grandmothers and those before them did. Pads can be as simple as a few strips of old towel, held together and to your pants with a safety pin. Or face washers folded into quarters lengthwise. But I do think the slim, snap-on version is more comfortable! Pads can be made from recycled materials – towels, bunny rugs, old clothing, buttons etc. The fabrics need to be absorbent and easy to wash and dry. On the underside of the pad, polyester fabrics can be used and help create a leak-proof barrier. Fabrics can be purchased specifically for that leak-proof barrier if you prefer – taslon, PUL, polar fleece etc.

Cloth pads are not a hassle to store or clean. Used pads can be placed in a small bag such as a cosmetic bag for when you are home to rinse and soak them. The ones with wings fold up onto themselves and snap shut so only the outer layer is showing – this is great for transporting used pads. There are many different methods for washing pads, as you can read here.

If you prefer internal methods of protection, menstrual cups are a reusable option. The most common brands available are The Keeper, Diva Cup and Mooncup. The former is latex rubber, the other two are silicon. The Keeper is available in Australia from and The others can be ordered from overseas, postage is fairly cheap because the item is lightweight and delivery is usually only a week or so. If you type any of the brands into a search engine, it is easy to find local suppliers or mail order services worldwide.

As well as reusable pads and cups, sea sponges and organic disposable tampons and pads should be considered. The sustainability of most commercially available disposable menstrual products is a valid concern. We are making greener choices in our food, clothing, cleaning and health care. We use cloth nappies on our babies, so why not cloth pads for ourselves and our daughters? If you’re initially turned off by the ‘ewww’ factor (I was), please still try cloth at least once. The environment, your budget and your body will rejoice!

May knowing and celebrating your natural cycles encourage wellness and empower your spirits and those of your daughters.

* Photo - these pads I made for my firstborn daughter's menarche. I tried to create different shapes, sizes, absorbency, textures and colours. Some are for daytime use, some for night, some for going out (with matching storage bag) and some are liners for in-between days. She loves them and has hardly used a disposable item since her periods began.


  1. You've said all I've wanted to say. Just one more thing--I love cloth pads!! I sing their praises to all my women friends and my husband, much to his blushing. ;-D

  2. Bel, thank you so much for writing such an informative and useful post. I'm sending it off to some friends with daughters. : )

  3. Great timing - last night I spent the evening cutting fabrics to make new cloth pads (LOL what my friends might think if they knew I was spending a Friday night making sanitary pads....I got some amusing responses recently when I said I was knitting dishclothes!!!only tested this on a few people :)

  4. hahaha Bella! When I'm knitting dishcloths and people ask: what are you knitting? When I tell them, the answer is usually: WHY!!? I'm glad I'm not normal. : )

  5. Thank you! I am glad this post has been well-received. If you have any questions, I'm happy to answer them here. I've used cloth for over 10 years now, and sewn tons. Now I'm teaching my friends and their daughters to sew their own cloth. Last year, I bought a Diva cup too.

  6. I also did a blog entry on cloth pads and I was a bit scared as I know some people at work read Gobblers Run and I was worried about how they would take it but to my surprise they were fine with it. If fact I was able to answer a lot of questions people had with out embarrassment! LOL at Brandy, my partner cant even bring himself to say pads LOL he calls them Froggos as they have frogs on them!

  7. Thanks Bel. I love the look of your daughter's pads. I'm going to let my sisters with young daughters know about these. :-)

  8. Wow.. This is the first time I have heard of making pads for your periods.I didn't know people did this in today's time...I remember my mom telling me about my grandma using towels for her periods.It was hard to believe!!! Now I see what she did and have learned very much from you.Thanks for sharing. Baba

  9. I would love to know what you think of your diva cup, Bel. I read about those last year but haven't had enough nerve to try one yet and I guarantee none of my friends know anything about them. I'm not normal either. :) I'm very squemish about certain things and I have to admit I'm right there with the curse attitude.

  10. Informative =P
    I bought a diva cup a few months ago. I'm very pleased. I've just used tampons and the bought ones sanitary pads before, and I was so sick of it.. They just dosen't respond to your body in a natural way, it feels uncomfortable, smells, cost money, leaves tons of trash... well, anyway.. I'm very pleased with the Diva cup:
    It's cheap (not if you compare to one box of tampons, but when you compare to what you buy in a year).
    It feels better.
    Smells less (only fresh blood which dosen't smell as much)
    Little work.
    It has a years guarantee, and you don't need a reason to send it back and have your money back..
    Lots of other reasons, but I really have to go. I really really recommend it! Bought mine at
    Be blessed,

  11. Hi Sharron!
    Like åslaug said, there are many benefits to using a Diva.

    At first I found it uncomfortable and tricky to manouvre into place. And some days I just didn't want to wear something internally, so used pads only.

    After a couple of cycles I began to use it more (I was using the pads and cup). It was easier to insert and remove, comfortable etc.

    I cut the stem right off mine, as I found it difficult. It's still easy to remove without that stem as it isn't inserted high like a tampon.

    Cups are preferable to tampons as they simply hold the blood, rather than absorbing it. So there isn't that risk of TSS and issues with irritation... They suit me for swimming and active times when pads aren't suitable. A lot of women say they are great for avoiding that night-time leakage problem as well.

  12. I know this is a late post but if anyone else stumbles upon it like me, I would throughly recommend the diva cup.

    I've had really heavy and painful periods all my life. While the diva cup hasn't cured that it (despite me being totally skeptical that it could), reduced the un-comfortablenesses and made the heavy days more manageable by reducing leakage. It also probably paid for it's self within the first 6 months.

    As Bel said, can take a cycle or two to get used to but in my opinion it has been really worth it.

  13. I'm only now catching up with all your old posts as well Rhonda Jean but even though they're old posts I'm still leaving the occassional comment - I assume I'm probably not the last person who'll be reading back through your old posts! :-)

    I switched to using cloth pads about a year ago after having read a few bits about the Divacup and then also reading this discussion: (of course it wasn't 63 pages long at that stage - it still took me a good hour to get through it but it was worth it). I would like to use a Mooncup in the future as well but am not too comfy with using internal protection so it's one of those things which will sit in the back of my mind for another while yet.

    The one huge difference I've noticed is the lack of pain I now experience when I get my period. I'm not trying to claim I never get a cramp but I'm no longer laid low, I've been able to come off the Pill and don't need to take any strong painkillers anymore. My periods also only last about the amount of time they did when I was taking the Pill (four/five days) as opposed to twice that length before. Just one more benefit but one that makes all the difference to my life.

  14. I know I am coming on this blog LONG after it started, but I surely wish I had considered these options in 2007 when I still had periods. I have become so much more conscious of the waste in my life and how it can be limited with some simple effort and changes. I live on the border now and I discovered how people here deal with personal trash since they cannot just be dumped down the toilet in many cases. TP is disposed of in the wastebin and so are sanitary products. Anyone familiar with the effort of washing cloth nappies knows that it is just the matter of a load of laundry. During the course of her lifetime, a woman can contribute 500 pounds of menstrual product trash. I wish I had checked into options before nature took her course and eliminated the problem for me.



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