Cloth Pads for Beginners: Getting Started

When I was pregnant I looked into cloth diapers for my little one while for during my Maternity leave.  Things like the money savings and the fact that they felt healthier for someone who was bound to be more sensitive to chemicals to me made it a no-brainer.

But it also got me thinking about my own body and how re-useable/non-chemical items might benefit my health too.  Which led me to start looking at things like re-useable menstrual pads and menstrual cups.  Of course, my biggest questions when I was looking at starting are the ones I’m addressing here, but if you have anything not covered please send me an email and I’d be happy to help answer anything I can.

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Before we go any further please know that I understand this is a slightly taboo subject.  I’m going to do my best to keep this post helpful without getting excessively detailed or graphic.  Having said that if things like blood or menstruation, bothers you this may not be the post (or topic) you are looking for. 

When starting anything new we all have questions, as a begginer I’m sure I asked my more experienced friends the same questions repeatedly.   While others may have had a different experience I’m answering from what I’ve noticed in the last couple years I’ve been using them. 

Can they really be clean enough?

Ok, this was the biggest question for me when I started looking at starting with cloth pads.  For beginners this is usually the first question that pops up. 

Our disposable pads are commonly referred to as “sanitary napkins” and many (like me) believe them to be sterile/sanitized (like hand sanitizer).  They come in plastic packaging and almost feel medical.  And because they are so bright white I often thought they were more sanitary then cloth.  If you are thinking the same thing I was right there with you. 

But here is the thing, those individually wraped packages?  They are not sterile, they are certianly not sealed (think about how you get gauze from the hospital what does that package look like?). 

What I’m trying to get at here is that your cloth pads cleanlieness is related more to how you clean and store them than anything else.  And our disposable “sanitary napkins” may not be as clean as you think.  

If you want more information on this please check out Are Sanitary Pads “Sanitary”?

Don’t they feel bulky and uncomfortable?

Ummmm, no.  On one of the Facebook groups I’m in for these types of pads we jokeingly call them “fluffy pillows for your vagina” or pillows for short.  Mostly because they are so soft that it’s feels like you have a pillow under you.  But when you stand up it feels more like you are just wearing your underwear (at least for me)

I don’t tend to notice that I’m wearing my Mama Cloth unless I stand up and get a gusher… then I have to think about if I’m wearing one or not.  The first time you put one in it will feel a bit different then your regular disposable.  But that’s a good thing, it will be soft and slightly cushy. 

I still recomend wearing one around the house a couple times before your first cycle, that way you know what it feels like (or if you will even notice it). 

How Many do I really need?

This answer is going to vary from person to person.  I would ask you how many pads do you currently use in a day?  And how many days do you want to go between washes?   

I’ve personaly found that over time I’ve needed less and less cloth pads in the same time frame (belive it or not your flow may change when you switch to cloth).  But when first starting out on average you will need the same number of cloth pads per day as you use disposable.

For example if you use 5 pads a day now, and want to wash every 3 days or so then you need around 15 cloth pads.  

Do they really hold as much as the disposables?

Yes and no, what I’ve found is that I change them out just as often as I did with disposables.  However the “gush” that happens when you stand up?  yeah, a lighter cloth pad will handle that faster/better than disposables ever did.

Also as meantioned above your flow could change over time after making the switch meaning you won’t need them to hold as much anyway.

Though exact volume retained cloth vs disposables will depend on the variety and make you purchase (for both disposables and cloth).  Some businesses add extra layers of absorbancy then others.  And there is no realy solid way to know exactly how much a pad will hold until you try it.

Do I need anything else to get started?

Not really no, there are some tools that can make your experience more comfortable but you don’t need them for this to work. 

For instance a wet bag is a great idea for when you are out of the house and need to change your pad, especially if you get a 2 pocket one like I use.  Clean pad in one spot & dirty pad in the other makes life easier/simpler.  But you could just as easily use a baggie or wrap the pad up with it’s wings keeping it closed.

How to they smell?

I’ve never noticed a smell from my pads.  And certianly nothing like the smell I used to get from disposables every time I went to the washroom.  

There are so many pretty prints, will they stain?

Honestly they might, but some fabrics stain less then others and how you take care of them will play into this.  You can use things like a stain stick, or like I do soak them in cold water before washing to reduce the risk. 

some pretty cloth pads with a cotton top, some of the patterns can be really gorgeous!

How hard are they to clean?

It’s easier then you think.  Now I’m not terribly squeamish, but I know there are those of you out there who can’t handle the idea of touching blood.  It’s important to note I’ve never touched the blood on my pads, not even on my crazy heavy days.  

How to you clean them?

Let me count the ways… no seriously there are a bunch of ways you could do this. Like:
– rinse & place in wet bag right after use
– toss in bucket to soak with oxy clean (changing water daily)
– rinse & treat with stain stick right away then soak on laundry day
– or toss in wet bag & soak on laundry day <—- this is my prefered choice though I use a bucket at home so I just add cold water an hour before washing. 

Do cloth pads leak?

They can, but it’s dependant on how heavy your flow vs the pads absorbancy.  I find that if I stick to the heavy pads in the Night/postpartum cut from Tree Hugger Cloth Pads I don’t tend to leak.  But if you are changing them out based on your flow you should be more then fine. 

How does it work when you are out of the house?

The ladies who got me started suggested using a wet bag, which has a waterproof lining and can be 1 or 2 pockets that helps you keep your stash clean and the soiled ones contained.  When changing your pad you just fold & snap the used one up and pop it in the wet bag, and grab a clean pad to replace it (just like with disposables)

I typically set up my purse with a 1 pocket wetbag & just put my clean pads in the purse beside it. 

Can I throw them in with the rest of my laundry?

If you want to sure, I do.  Some women prefer to keep them separate from the rest.  However the way you wash them is entierly up to your personal preferences.  Just be mindful of the heat settings on your washer and dryer.  Generally speaking cloth pads should not be treated with hot water. 

As most of our laundry is done in cold water though I tend to just toss them in with the rest.  I also to a “pre-soak” before hand that uses cold water as well which helps prevent stains etc.  

You can air dry your pads, but if you are just starting to build a stash this may not give you enough in rotation as they take a while to dry.

 Are they really less expensive?

There is an upfront cost to get started with cloth pads, normally between $8 and $15 per cloth pad.  But over the long term it ends up being a LOT less expensive as the pads will last for years and in some cases I’ve heard of decades. 

Just be warned that a good number of women I know who have started with cloth pads also started collecting them for all the pretty prints etc.  If you go that route (I’m seriously heading there) then it can get expensive.

How should I pick which ones to start with?

Measure the pads you currently use.  Go ahead grab a ruler and a new pad you would normally use.  Make sure it’s fresh and one you would find comfortable with and measure the length and width.  If you have any pads that are uncomfortable or that you don’t like note the reason for that, are they too long? short? puffy?  This will give you a good idea of the size of pad you want for your cloth pads. 

Purchase a variety to start with. This ensures that you will get to try out multiple types, styles, and fits.  I personally recommend Tree Hugger Cloth Pads, you can find their online store here. I love their bamboo topped night pads.  But they also have cotton and minky, and offer a variety of sizes plus adding an extra snap for narrower underwear.

What absorbancy should I start with? I personally always lean towards the “heavy” pads.  There is just something in my brain that says I don’t have light days so stick to “heavy”.  But the fact of the matter is that as you get used to them you will be able to guage what will work for your body and what won’t.  So start with the heavy, or get a variety of absorbancies to see which ones you like more. 

Final Thoughts on Cloth Pads for Beginners

I’m personally a huge fan of Mama Cloth/Cloth Pads, and getting started is easier then you likely think (and less gross I promise).  But the best way is to just dive right in, and get some samples.  You don’t even need to buy a full stash. 

When I started I bought two pads to see if I liked them.  I tried them on my next cycle and loved them!  All I did then was use the cloth, then wash while using disposables.  And when the cloth was ready to use again did so.  

I think it’s a good idea to add a pad a month if you can/want to.  And that way you can try a bunch of different ones as well.  However if you are looking for a full stash right away I’d recomend starting with my favourites from Tree Hugger Cloth Pads, my current stash is primarily from them.

Mrs. B.’s Mama Cloth Stash in the bin they are stored in.