Health & Beauty, Life & Style

Reusable Sanitary Pads: A Beginners Guide To Getting Started

Looking to switch to reusable period products? Here’s almost everything you need to know about using reusable sanitary pads, to help you make that switch.

To help support the running costs of Moral Fibres, this post contains affiliate links, denoted by *. We may earn a small commission, at no extra cost to readers, on items that have been purchased through those links.

When it comes to periods, there are a host of eco-friendly period products out there. From period pants to moon cups, to organic tampons and sanitary towels. If you are starting out looking into greener options for your period, it can be bewildering knowing where to start.

To help you decide if reusable sanitary pads are for you, here’s my full guide. From how to use washable menstrual pads, to how to wash them and how often you should change them.

How to Use Reusable Sanitary Pads

Image of a reusable sanitary pad and other bathroom essentials, with a blue text box that says everything you need to know about using reusable sanitary pads.

I’ve used washable menstrual towels for quite some years now. Although I mostly use period pants now – do see my full beginners guide to period pants for more info on that – I started out by using reusable sanitary towels. To help out anyone new to reusable period products, I wanted to share my experience by discussing almost everything you need to know about the world of washable pads:

Just What Are Reusable Sanitary Towels?

First, you might be wondering what reusable sanitary towels are exactly. Reusable sanitary towels are much the same as their disposable counterpart. You wear them in your pants, and they work by locking blood away in an absorbent core. The main difference is that reusable pads are made using materials such as cotton or bamboo, and are designed to be washed and used again, rather than disposed of after just one wear.

How Do They Work?

Reusable sanitary pads work by drawing blood and moisture away and locking it between layers of fabric. Many, but not all, reusable sanitary towels use a fabric called Zorb as their middle layer. This is an incredibly absorbent fabric, that according to Zorb, soaks up liquids 20 times faster than other materials and absorbs 10 times its weight in under 2 seconds.

Zorb is made from a blend of bamboo viscose, cotton, organic cotton, and polyester. The use of polyester means many reusable sanitary pads are not strictly plastic-free. However, given that one pad can be used many times means that washable pads can be an integral pad for living with reduced reliance on plastic.

Other pads may use bamboo fleece, whilst other brands may use a blend of polyamide, polyester and lycra, or polyurethane laminate – a breathable yet waterproof fabric.

Rather than adhering to your pants with sticky plastic, most winged reusable pads secure to your pants with a button.

How Many Pads Do I Need?

How many pads you need depends on quite a few factors. It depends on how often you need to change your pads, how often you run your washing machine, or how quickly you can dry hand-washed pads, and whether you intend reusable period pads to be your main method of period protection or not.

If you want to use reusable pads as your main method of period protection, then you might expect to need anywhere between 12 and 16 pads. As it can work out expensive to buy that many pads in one go, I built up my collection slowly, buying a few pads at a time to help spread the cost. I’d recommend supplementing with disposable period products until you have enough reusables to see you comfortably through your whole period.

Is It Easy To Change Pads?

It’s really easy to change your pad. Simply unfasten your reusable sanitary pad, and swap it over for a new one – making sure that you secure the button. Unlike with period pants, you don’t have to remove your trousers or tights. And unlike with standard sanitary pads, there is no rustling of plastic. It’s altogether a much more discreet method of period protection.

How Often Do You Change Reusable Sanitary Pads?

Similar to standard sanitary towels, how often you need to change your pad depends on a few factors. It depends on the absorbency of the pad you are using, and how heavy your flow is. I personally find I need to change my pad every four hours or so on heavy days, and around every eight hours on lighter days. Within one or two cycles you’ll work out what’s best for you.

You’ll know when it’s time to change your pad when you notice a wet, heavy, or full feeling. I’d suggest wearing them for no more than 12 hours, for hygiene reasons.

Do They Work For A Very Heavy Flow?

If you have very heavy periods then I would recommend buying a pad specifically designed for a very heavy flow*. I would then suggest trying the pad out for the first time when you know you are going to be at home for a while, to see how it handles your flow, before buying any more.

The other option for very heavy periods is to consider supplementing your pad with a menstrual cup or a tampon – depending on your preferences. It could offer you extra peace of mind, and allow you get to get on with your day without worrying about leakages.

Do Reusable Sanitary Towels Smell?

If you change your sanitary towels regularly then they won’t smell. The absorbent core locks everything away, which means you don’t have to worry about bad odours.

Are They Comfortable, Or Do They Feel Bulky?

I personally find reusable sanitary pads comfortable – more so than conventional sanitary pads. There’s no sticky plastic to get caught anywhere, and I find that because they are made from cotton or soft fleece, then they are less inclined to chafe or rub. I would also say that reusable pads are much more breathable.

In terms of bulkiness, I wouldn’t say that they feel bulky. I can wear leggings and you wouldn’t be able to tell that I was wearing a sanitary towel. In short, personally, I find reusables an all-round better experience compared to plastic-based disposable pads.

Can You Exercise In Washable Sanitary Towels?

You can exercise in washable sanitary towels. They don’t move around too much and stand up to the most vigorous of activities. If you have minor bladder incontinence when running or jumping, then your pad will also help absorb any leakage – however, I would recommend a specialist product if this is a more major problem for you.

The only issue I’ve had with reusable sanitary towels is when cycling. Sometimes the button can feel uncomfortable when you’re in the saddle. I don’t do horse-riding, so I don’t know if this would cause a similar issue. Opt for reusable pads without wings, or period pants to avoid this.

Can You Use Them Overnight?

image of reusable sanitary towels

You can use washable menstrual pads overnight. I would use a heavy flow pad at nighttime. In the main, I haven’t experienced many leaks overnight. Occasionally, the pad has moved about in the night, and it has caused leakage. For that reason, I do prefer to wear period pants overnight – which don’t move about. I also personally think period pants are a more comfortable option for overnight use, but others may disagree.

How Do I Wash Reusable Menstrual Pads?

With reusable sanitary pads, you have a few options when it comes to washing them:

In The Washing Machine

Washing your sanitary towels is really easy. When you change pads, simply rinse the used one with cold water, then toss it right into the washing machine with all your other laundry.

Alternatively, rinse the pad in cold water and then store the used pads in a wet bag until it’s time to put the washing machine on. You can wash them on your standard wash cycle (30°C or less), with your usual laundry detergent, and then dry them outdoors on your washing line or by hanging them to dry indoors.

There are just a couple of care points to bear in mind Don’t use a conventional fabric conditioner, as this can negatively affect the absorbency of your pads. And never tumble dry them, as heat doesn’t agree with them. Putting them in the tumble dryer will shorten their lifespan and affect their performance.

By Hand

If you don’t run your washing machine very often, then you can hand wash your pads. Simply add some warm water to your sink and wash them with a little bit of laundry detergent or soap, before rinsing, wringing, and hanging them up to dry.

Should You Soak Pads?

Some people like to soak their pads in cold water until they wash them. This is known as wet-pailing. I wouldn’t recommend this method, as pads left soaking in water for more than 24 hours can develop a bad smell that is hard to wash out, and they can grow mould on them.

Soaking your pads isn’t necessary. A quick rinse in cold water and then popping them into your washing machine ready for the next load, or into a wet bag is more than enough to get them clean.

What About Stains?

Many reusable sanitary pads are made using a dark lining fabric that does not show stains. If you are worried about stains, then make sure you opt for pads that have a dark fabric top layer. This means you don’t have to worry about tackling stains.

If you have pads with a light coloured top layer, then you have two options. You can take a relaxed approach and not let stains bother you. Personally, stains don’t bother me, as it’s only me that sees the top layer, and a stain that doesn’t wash out doesn’t mean your pads are dirty.

The other approach you can take is a proactive one. You can tackle stains, by soaking your pads for a few hours in a sodium percarbonate solution before washing them. You can also hang them up to dry outside in the sunshine. The sun acts as a natural bleaching agent, helping to remove stains.

How Long Do Reusable Pads Last For?

There’s no exact science as to how long each pad will last. Some brands say to expect your pad to last anywhere between 100 to 200 washes, whilst others say to expect anywhere between 2 and 6 years. It all depends on how well you look after your pads – making sure you follow the care instructions – and how many reusable pads you have.

My oldest pads are four years old and still going strong. However, I have gradually switched to using period pants most of the time, relying on pads as a backup when my period pants are in the wash, or when I am going to be out of the house for longer periods of time.

Which Are The Best Reusable Sanitary Pads?

I’ve built up a collection of pads over the years:

  • DAME Reusable Pads (from £9.99 via Content Beauty* or Naturisimo*) offer comfortable reusable pads with a dark lining. I only recently added a couple of their pads to my collection, so I’ll be sure to update later on how they perform in the long run.
  • Cheeky Wipes (from £3.99 directly from Cheeky Wipes*) offer a more budget-friendly introduction to reusable sanitary pads. I bought four dark fleece pads from Cheeky Wipes about three years ago, and they are still looking as good as new, without any deterioration in performance.
  • Lilah Pads (from £8 via Etsy*). These were the first pads I bought on my reusable period products journey, and I’m still using the same pads now. Unlike my fleece pads, the cotton top layer has got stiffer with time – we’re talking about four years here – but there is no impact on absorbency or protection. The top layer is a little stained, but the bottom floral layer still looks as good as ever.

Have you tried washable sanitary pads? If so, what are your favourites? And if not, would you give them a go? And if I’ve missed any key questions, do let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Health & Beauty, Life & Style

Everything You Need To Know About Period Pants (But Were Afraid To Ask)

Intrigued by the idea of period pants but just don’t know if they are for you? I’ve got you covered with this guide on everything you need to know about period pants, including the questions you were just too afraid to ask, and the best period pants available in the UK right now.

In order to help support the running costs of Moral Fibres, this post contains affiliate links, denoted by *. Moral Fibres may earn a small commission, at no extra cost to readers, on items that have been purchased through those links.

Period waste is on the rise. An estimated 200,000 tonnes of sanitary products are estimated to end up in landfill in the UK each year. And, even more depressingly, sanitary products are the fifth most common item found on Europe’s beaches. This makes sanitary product beach waste more widespread than single-use coffee cups, cutlery, or straws.

With each pack of disposable sanitary towels containing as much plastic as the equivalent of 5 plastic carrier bags, it certainly makes environmental sense to ditch the disposables and try reusables where possible.

However, eco-friendly period products aren’t always the most accessible in terms of usage. Menstrual cups, for example, certainly don’t work for everyone, or suit everyone. Period pants are easier to use. However, with a pair of period pants costing upward of £12, these kinds of pants can be a pricey investment, and you’ll want to do your research before taking the plunge.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Period Pants

Image of four people wearing wuka period pants, with a blue text box that says everything you need to know about period pants but were afraid to ask.
Image used c/o Wuka

With that in mind here is almost everything you might want to know about period pants. I’ve been using mine for over three years now, so feel well qualified to take on your concerns.

What Are Period Pants?

Firstly, just what are period pants exactly? Periods pants are essentially absorbent pants that you wear when you have your period. The specially constructed gusset wicks away the blood and locks it away in between the layers of absorbent and leakproof fabric. I guess the best way to describe them would be the eco-friendly love child of a really comfortable sanitary towel and a pair of regular pants!

How To Use Period Pants

Unlike menstrual cups where the learning curve can be steep, I was delighted to find there is absolutely no learning curve when it comes to using period pants. When you have your period, simply put on a pair of period pants in place of your normal underwear, and then wear your regular clothes on top. That’s all there is to it – all that’s left is to get on with your day.

Are They Comfortable To Wear?

I personally have found period pants to be the most comfortable reusable menstrual product that I’ve tried.

Unlike standard sanitary towels, period pants do not rub or rustle. Nor do they feel like you are wearing plastic anywhere near you. In fact, they feel a lot more breathable than standard sanitary towels. They don’t feel bulky either – I promise it does not feel like you are wearing a nappy.

In particular, I love wearing mine at night. They don’t move about or ride up, so there is much less chance of leakage. And unlike standard sanitary towels, there is no chance of getting your pubic hair caught on the plastic tabs.

As such, I find it so much more comfortable than other sanitary options that can rub or chaff, or move and cause leakage.

How Long Can You Wear Them For?

In terms of how long you can wear period pants, I’m afraid there’s no real exact science. It all depends on the pants you have, how heavy your periods are, and where you are in your menstrual flow cycle.

When you are wearing your pants, they should feel dry as the absorbent core works its magic. You’ll know when it is time to change your period pants if you notice a wet, heavy, or full feeling. I’d suggest wearing them for no more than 12 hours, for hygiene reasons.

Can Period Pants Last All Day Or All Night?

sleep and period pants

Like the last question, it does really depend on a few different factors. I personally can wear mine all night. And certainly, at the start and end of my period, I could wear a clean pair all day. In the middle of my cycle, I find it more comfortable to change my pants at least once a day. Within one or two cycles, you’ll work out what works best for you.

Can Period Pants Work For Very Heavy Periods?

If you have very heavy periods then I would recommend buying a pair of pants specifically designed for a very heavy flow. Wuka, for example, offers super heavy flow pants*, that they say hold 12 regular tampons worth of flow. I would then suggest trying your period pants for the first time when you know you are going to be at home, to see how they handle your flow.

The other option for very heavy periods is to consider supplementing your pants with a menstrual cup or a sanitary towel – depending on your preferences. It could offer you extra peace of mind, and allow you get to get on your day without worrying about leakages.

Do They Ever Leak?

Personally, I’ve not had any leaks.  They are pretty tight (but not uncomfortably so) so do prevent leaks and are really very absorbent.  I would say that period pants are more absorbent than a standard sanitary towel, and as they don’t move about, are much less likely to leak. However, as with any period product, there is always the risk of leakage.

If you’re not sure about using a pair overnight, you could put a towel down on your bed during the heaviest days of your flow, to see how you get on.

Do They Feel Sticky or Wet When You Are Wearing Them?

My period pants never feel sticky or wet when I’m wearing them unless I’ve been wearing them too long and it’s time to change them. I swear it is some kind of magic. They seem to draw fluids away quickly and dry quickly.

Do The Pants Smell?

Because period pants lock the blood away in the core, then there is no smell associated with them.

Do They Absorb Clots?

Wearing period pants is similar to wearing a sanitary towel in this respect. They don’t absorb clots – you see them on the crotch of your pants when you go to the bathroom. When that happens you can just wipe it off with toilet paper. It’s no big deal.

Would They Work After Having A Baby?

It’s been a little while since I had my last baby (6 years ago), and those early days are a bit of sleep-deprived haze. From what I recall from the early days, you would probably want something specialist for at least the first week or two, before switching to period pants. I’m not too sure how it would work with caesarean sections.

I’ll update this section once I know more about both questions. If you used period pants post-birth, do feel free to let me know your experiences – either via email or in the comments below.

What About For Exercise?

Whilst you may not feel like doing any exercise on your period, which I think is totally valid, would you believe that some people do wish to exercise?

If you fall into the latter camp, then period pants are my favourite period product to exercise in. They don’t budge, so don’t rub or chaff, and are incredibly comfortable. They are also helpful if you have a little stress incontinence. I’ve found that the button on reusable sanitary towels can be a little uncomfortable when you are riding a bike – with period pants you don’t get that.

Which Are The Best Period Pants?

period pants from wuka

The best period pants I’ve found in the UK are from Wuka* (pictured above). This inclusive brand offers pants catering for 4 different flow rates – from light to super heavy. What’s more, their period pants cater for UK sizes 4 through to 28, in various different styles to suit your needs best. Prices start from £12.

I have only tried Wuka pants. However, there are other UK period pants brands or sellers, that I’ve heard good things about. These include:

  • Modibodi* – these period pants come in UK sizes 4 to 26, in many different styles, and varying absorbencies, from around £18. Whilst I haven’t tried them, I’ve heard only good things about these pants.
  • Marks & Spencer* – Marks & Spencer now offer period pants, coming in UK sizes 6 to 28. They come in three different styles and different absorbencies, and cost £12. The best part is that M&S often run promotions on their period pants. Right now you can buy 3 pairs of period pants and get the 4th free. I haven’t tried these pants, and haven’t heard much about them, so I’d recommend reading customer reviews before trying.

How Many Pairs Do I Need?

I think it all depends on how you plan on using them. If you have heavy periods and plan on using period pants as a backup in case of leakages of your menstrual cup, tampon, or sanitary towel, then you’ll probably only need one or two pairs.

If you plan on using period pants full time during your period, then it depends on how heavy your flow is, how long your usual cycle is, and how often you do laundry. Around five pairs works for me, but in a four-family household, my washing machine is in use at least every other day.

In terms of buying them, I didn’t buy five pairs of pants in one go. I bought a pair at a time when it was affordable for me to do so, using other types of period products when my pants were in the wash.

How Do You Wash Them?

Washing period pants is really easy. Simply rinse them with cold water, then toss them right into the washing machine with a dark load. Alternatively, store them in a wet bag until it’s time to put the washing machine on. You can wash them on a normal wash cycle, and then dry them on your washing line or by hanging them to dry indoors.

There is only a couple of no-no’s when it comes to washing them. Don’t use conventional fabric conditioner, as this can affect their absorbency. And never tumble dry them, as heat doesn’t agree with them.

If you don’t run your washing machine as often as I need to, then you can hand wash them. Just add some warm water to your sink and wash them with a little bit of laundry detergent or soap, before rinsing, wringing, and hanging up to dry.

What Do You Do At Work Or When You Are Out?

This is the area where I feel that period pants do lose their shine a little. Depending on what you are wearing, it’s not a quick and easy job to change your pants.

You need to carry a clean pair of pants in your bag, inside a wet bag. Then you remove whatever you are wearing on your bottom half, before changing your pants, and getting dressed again. It can be tricky doing that in a public toilet cubicle!

If you are wondering what to do with the used pair of pants, don’t worry. You can pop the used pair inside a wet bag, and then wash it when you get home.

If you are new to wet bags, these are waterproof and washable bags that are designed to carry used reusable sanitary protection or reusable nappies. Wet bags do come in many discreet designs, so the good news is that they don’t scream that you are about to go and change your pants.

Any Other Questions?

Got any other questions? Leave a comment below or drop me an email and I’ll be sure to add them to this post.

And period pants not for you? Check out my guide to eco-friendly period products for other suggestions which might suit you better.