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Happy Earth Day – Alternative & Reusable Menstrual Products

April 22, 2008

Of course I was going to bring up reusable menstrual products on Earth Day – what other women’s health-related topic fits so neatly? There are definitely environmental issues associated with your choice of menstruation product, considering how often we need such items over our lifetime. I haven’t touched on this in a while, so I thought it might be time to revisit your earth-friendly and earth-friendlier options.

Some women like traditional, disposable pads and tampons but are concerned about production issues of more familiar brands such as the use of agricultural pesticides and genetically modified crops to produce the items. Natracare is probably the best known provider of organic/natural versions of tampons and pads; I used these when I lived in the co-op, because that’s what we bought for the house. Seventh Generation also offers organic cotton tampons.

Other women, like myself, are concerned about the cost, shipping, and disposal of so many products that simply get thrown away or flushed. In this case, you have several options, including absorbent cloth pads and cup-like devices, each of which can also be washed and reused.

If you prefer using pads, reusable cloth pads are an options, and can be purchased in a variety of patterns, sizes, and absorbencies (some allow an insert for heavier days). Lunapads and GladRags are probably the best known among cloth pad providers. Sckoon, which I wasn’t aware of until I started this post, sells cloth pads in some lovely colors and patterns. LunaPads also offers the all-in-one LunaPanties, where the cloth pad is basically part of a pair of panties rather than a separate item. Both of these companies also sell DivaCups/Keepers/Moon Cups, which we’ll get to shortly.

To be truly frugal and earth-friendly, you could just make your own cloth pads from things you already have. If you have old flannel pajamas around, that would probably do the trick. There are several websites that provide instructions, and the Cloth Pads Wiki has links to patterns and instructions, but you can find more online if needed (such as this very detailed page from the Hillbilly Housewife). If somebody comes up with a pattern for an all-in-one period panty like LunaPads sells, please let me know, because that is just cool.

I love the idea of these (I never could stand the irritation of “normal” pads), but I haven’t gotten around to trying to make them myself. If you’re not so handy, you can buy homemade pads on Etsy and perhaps elsewhere and support a crafter in the process. Some of the creations on Etsy are so damn pretty I want to buy them and not even use them.

Now for the cups! There are basically three products out there: the Keeper, the Moon Cup, and the DivaCup. They’re all basically the same thing – a flexible cup worn internally to catch menstrual flow that you just dump/rinse and reuse. When I say “reuse,” I mean you buy one and keep it for about ten years. I use a Keeper myself, and I absolutely love it. The Moon Cup and Diva Cup are the same, except they’re made of silicone for those with latex allergies, while the Keeper is latex. Don’t be alarmed by the stems on these things – you can cut them to whatever length is comfortable to you, and I’ve removed mine entirely.

If you’re really serious about this, some women do “free bleed,” or use none of these products for protection. I also found someone suggesting rolled up baby socks as makeshift reusable tampons. There are a lot of earth-friendlier options out there – choice is yours.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. April 22, 2008 9:26 am

    Free bleeders ROCK – as do reusable menstrual products! Thanks for bogging this Rachel.

  2. michelle permalink
    April 22, 2008 8:27 pm

    I love my Lunapads and DivaCup! Thanks for posting about this issue. I talk about it all the time and try to increase awareness that there are alternatives to disposable pads and tampons. There are also sponges which can be a great reusable product for some women. (It can’t be reused as long as a Keeper, but it’s still not a once and done product!) Just make sure to boil or sterilize the sponge before insertion since they are not FDA approved for this use (because sponges are natural and may contain sand, etc.).

  3. April 24, 2008 11:00 am

    rachel, this old lady learns so much here–even about things of no personal concern anymore. but i do have little granddaughters and need to be informed for the future. thanks, naomi

  4. Meg permalink
    April 24, 2008 9:28 pm

    I had to look up free bleeding because I wasn’t sure what I was assuming was true.

    After reading a bit about it, I’m still in the same mind set I was when I first heard about it.

    I think in everyday situations (outside of bed/home) this could be a quite dangerous. The women of my generation have always lived with HIV and AIDS and my first thought is that there are diseases that could be passed along.

    We really can’t pretend we live in a world where we don’t use hand sanitizer every day, seat covers in the bathroom and other items to protect ourselves and others. I think by encouraging women to “free bleed” you are running the risk that they could transmit an infection to another.

  5. April 25, 2008 6:40 am

    Meg, it’s not as though free bleeders are really running around dripping blood all over the place. Perhaps Denise will weigh in on this, but menstrual fluid really isn’t a constantly gushing tap, and some women free bleed only at night. While I suppose it’s theoretically *possible,* HIV does not survive well outside the body and I suspect the actual risk is much less than you’re assuming – I’m certainly not convinced it’s high enough in practice to tell women how to deal with menstruation.

  6. Meg permalink
    April 25, 2008 7:21 pm

    Don’t they drain pools when a swimmer who is HIV positive hurts themselves? And haven’t there been questions as to the blood your gums bleed transmitting diseases?

    From what I read (, most women have chosen the middle ground of it in bed while sleeping, but there are some who use nothing and simply bleed into their clothes or take no precaution. I think that promoting “free bleeding” is not wise. Maybe in the 1800’s, or even in the ’70s. But with HIV and AIDS, blood is no longer something to be taken lightly and by protecting ourselves, we are protecting other’s from what we may have.

  7. onesillyme permalink
    April 25, 2008 9:24 pm

    You’re correct that the HIV risk would be very small. Assuming the woman was HIV+, her menstrual blood would still have to find it’s way into someone else’s blood stream. I can’t think of too many scenarios where that is likely. Hepatitis B is a hardier virus, but again the woman would have to be infected in the first place to transmit it.

    BTW, I had never seen any of these reusable menstrual products before. My grandmother had told me about home made pads but I never used anything but disposables.

    It’s funny the gaps in knowledge… when I worked in public assistance I was constantly encouraging young moms to consider cloth diapers as a less expensive alternative and they had often never seen one…and thought the whole idea was disgusting.

    Coincidentally, this was exactly the reaction I got when I passed on the reusable menstrual product info on to my 3 daughters age 19, 19, 14. Ah well, at least they know the option exists!

  8. May 23, 2008 12:40 am

    Let every individual and institution now think and act as a responsible trustee of Earth, seeking choices in ecology, economics and ethics that will provide a sustainable future, eliminate pollution, poverty and violence, awaken the wonder of life and foster peaceful progress in the human adventure.

  9. Ximena permalink
    November 14, 2010 9:23 pm

    Go With The Flo pads are fantastic as well. My daughter and I use them and we love them.

  10. melly permalink
    April 21, 2014 7:36 pm

    only three cups? oh my goodness, how woefully under-informed! not only is there the Lunette, the Diva, the keeper the mooncup (us), and the SCKOON (yes, the company who you actually posted as a pad distributor has their own CUP as well, right there on their site, which i own, and it is AWESOME! it was my second cup, after the diva, and it is SO much better for my body!) there are other cup manufacturers that are out there… ladycup. lilycup, femmycup, rubycup (who donates a cup to a menstruating girl in africa for every cup purchased.) i also want you to know that i’m not saying shame on you for not knowing. until you buy/try/research cups, most people don’t even know they exist. the three you mentioned are there, sure, but there are TONS of cup options! 😀 (yes, the Sckoon is my very favorite.)

    also, there are etsy sellers for washable tampons as well, and don’t forget sea sponges! 🙂 props to you for spreading the word on re-usable products!


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