Washable fleece pads.
Washable pads. Reusable pads. Cloth pads. Whatever way you say it, it’s still feels a little bit embarrassing doesn’t it? Even if you aren’t immediately disgusted by the concept, there’s still a temptation to be slightly apologetic and coy when discussing it. Well, I’m trying not to be, so here goes.
With all this talk on The F-Word lately about alternative menstrual products, my interest in this whole area was peaked. I’d spent some time investigating the U.S. and Canadian products online, and I think it was the Blood Sisters’ Urban Armour and the Hag Rag collections that finally convinced me without question that this whole alternative menstrual products thing was actually cool, subversive, and feminist. Check out their sites if you think washable pads are hideously ugly and embarrassing: take a look at the radical prints, the “red flag”, the up-front feminist politics, the young, hip vibe of it all. Also, reading the book Cunt by Inga Muscio helped too – she made alternative menstrual products sound like it was just the coolest thing to do.
But the first problem is that it’s just quite difficult to find out where to get the stuff in the UK. Readers of the American feminist magazines Bust and Bitch will be familiar with adverts for sellers based in the States, but where on earth would you start trying to find sellers over here? Eventually I did manage to find some sellers in the UK – most of them are linked on this page. Out of all of them, Moon Mammas caught my attention – for one thing, they had loads of funky colours and patterns – leopard print, big bright flowers, cow print, psychadelic swirls; you name it, they had something to suit everyone. Secondly the pads were really good value compared to some of the others I’d seen – ranging from between “3.00 and “4.75 as opposed to some of the others which retail at around “6-7.
So, I decided to get some. After a bit of a stressful time registering with PayPal in order to pay online, off my order went.
Here are the five pads I bought (pre-use I hasten to add!). The image is not the best but hopefully you can get the general idea. You can get the Moon Mammas pads in four different sizes. The pads stay in place with wings which are attached by snap fasteners. The small square thing on the left shows how you can store the pads by folding them up and snapping the wings over to make a small parcel (you can also do this when they’ve been used, for transport). The two red ones in the middle are the medium sized pads. The zebra print one (cool huh?) is the larger size and the one on the far right is the smallest and thinnest.
So… how was it to use them? It was fine! First of all, they are actually more comfortable than disposables – the fleece makes them really soft. To be honest, the medium sized ones can a little bit more bulky than disposables, but that doesn’t really bother me too much and I guess its pretty much inevitable really. The largest size was a bit too large for me both lengthwise and bulkwise, and I’d only use it at night or when at home. But overall, it worked really well. The fleece really did soak up the blood and there was no leaking. Despite the lack of a dry-weave topshite (or whatever its called) they actually felt dryer than disposables. I think it’s because of the plastic; after trying the fleece pads, now it makes perfect sense to me that sitting on plastic makes things, well, kinda sweaty down there. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Also they all stayed in place (they really don’t need the adhesives that the disposables use). Intriguingly, anecdotal testimony on a lot of the alternative menstrual products websites suggest people feel like they’re bleeding less when using cloth pads.
Yet there’s still a feeling that using washable pads mean you’re more exposed, people will somehow know. Not true. And in fact they’re actually much more quiet than ordinary disposables. Yes, that’s right, quiet! Have you ever tried to discretely change a disposable pad in a public loo? First you have to get it out of it hermetically sealed plastic sanitised wrapper: RRRRRRRIPPPPP! Then you have to tear off the used one from your pants: RRRrrrrrRRRRRRRRrrIIIIIIIIIPPPPpppppPPP!!!! Then there’s removing the little plastic bit which goes on the wings: crinklecrinklecrinkle, then sticking the pad down: ticktickcrinklerustle, rolling up the used one in the wrapper, getting the glue stuck to your fingers in the process: ticktickrustlerustletock… and finally there’s the minefield of putting it into the sanitary bin: creak-doomph-clack. By the time you’re done the whole street knows what’s going on, never mind the woman in the cubicle next door. The contrast of using the cloth pads with their snap fasteners was much more discrete – if anything all you hear is a quiet snap or two. Much better.
Ok, so you’re wondering about the washing issue. Well, basically most washable pads are dealt with in the same way. You rinse or soak them in cold water and then wash them with everything else and they turn out fine. Mine didn’t stain, but you might want to consider getting ones with a dark colour like red, if you’re worried about that. Leaving them soaking in a tub in the bathroom isn’t an problem for me, but I can imagine that if you’re sharing a house it could be a little awkward to explain!
The more I get used to the reusable concept, the more I think it makes total sense. Sure, disposables were invented for a reason, but that’s when “on the rag” really meant on the rag and the washable pad hadn’t been introduced to Hello Kitty fleece patterns or tiger print cloth. Think about it: we all bleed, its a fact of life. We have to go through it once a month for a large portion of our lives – WHY THE HELL SHOULDN’T WE TRY TO MAKE THE BEST OUT OF IT? It might sounds strange, but why can’t we try to make it fun? Why do we have to be so sour-faced about it? I’m fed up of individually sealed bleached white sanitised plastic – hello, I’ve not got a disease, I’m menstruating. They’re actually selling “de-odorising” sanitary pads now. The industry isn’t particularly pleasant. And it is a mega multinational industry we’re all being forced to pour our cash into every month, have no doubt about it. And another thing, remember the “period talk” at school? Why were we never told about the choices available? No-one ever mentioned this did they? Especially if it was presented by “the Tampax lady”.
Another thing you’ll notice after investigating washable cloth pads is that there is much more variety in design amongst the cloth pads than there is in the mainstream products. First of all there’s the colour issue: washable pads can be an infinite variety of colours and patterns to suit everyone. Disposables are 99% of the time blinding sterilized *white* *white* *white* (remember how radical it seemed when they introduced the black liners?). Secondly there is a greater variety in design – with cloth pads each brand is slightly different in the way it is put together and designed. With disposable pads, apart from a few very minor “scientific” differences (dry-weave top sheet, I’m looking at you) they’re all the same. Doesn’t it seem a bit weird that there’s such a lack of variety and an appalling lack of imagination when it comes to something which affects us all on such a regular basis? I mean, you can get bog roll in an infinite variety of colours and patterns, but san pro? Nope.
Using washable pads also ends up cheaper in the long run, and there’s also the environmental issue to think about. How long does it take a disposable plastic pad to biodegrade? I’m betting it takes quite a while. And it all goes into landfills doesn’t it? Euw. Am I alone in finding that idea much more disgusting than the idea of washing your own pads? And I know it’s the reusable aspect of it that most people find repulsive about this whole thing, as if it’s comparable to re-using toilet paper (which says a lot about society’s attitude to menstrual blood, really). Firstly, anyone who’s had to wash a blood stain out of their underwear (most of us I would reckon) shouldn’t have a problem with the concept of washing pads. And secondly, it feels a lot more clean to wash cloth pads instead of chucking them in the bin and letting them rot in some stinking cess-pit somewhere on the edge of town.
Need more reasons? By buying washable products you’re supporting small-businesses run by women. Also, some women are attracted to washable pads out of a kind of spiritual need to honour their monthly cycle instead of hiding it away with mass-produced corporatised products that deal in shame and taboos. When you look at all the benefits, the valid feminist reasons for embracing alternative san pro just stack up: environment, self-esteem, supporting women-owned businesses, saving money… you can be a pretty smug feminist can’t you? Talk about killing several birds with one stone!
Having said that, washable pads are not for everyone, and you may just not feel right using them. If you’re a tampon user, you might want to consider the sea sponge, Moon Cup or the Keeper – click here for links. But even if you only use washable pads at home and are too nervous to use them out and about, as Inga Muscio says in Cunt, at least you’re cutting down your dependence on the corporation by half. But if you are interested in splashing out (no pun intended) on cloth or fleece pads, there are a few things you might want to know before embarking on finding the right pads for you:
- You’ll find a lot of mentions of the “Moon”. Many Moons, Moon Time, Moon Mammas, We Moon, and the excitingly different Luna Pads (a U.S. brand). I understand the reasoning behind it (and it doesn’t bother me, in fact I find it interesting) but it can get a little bit wearisome and you’ve got to have a strong constitution to plough through all of that if the whole “Moon” aspect just isn’t your thing.
- You’ve also got put up with the fact that the vast majority of the sites selling pads will assume you are “mum.” As Laura said when she sent me the list of sellers on this page, the main business of many of the sites that sell pads is washable nappies, so you’ll have to look under the “for mum” section on many of these sites. Apart from Moon-Mammas, which is focussed on menstrual pads, the exception is the “Being Girls” site set up in connection with the Moon Time brand (but again, this is distinctly for girls – not grrrls. The point is there’s not a lot out there marketed at the hip, young, modern, feminist chick). Be prepared to look through pages extolling the virtues of various nappy types to get to what you want.
- A lot of the women who make these products at mothers working at home, hence the common acronym WAHM (work at home mum) you often see on the sites.
- You can get pads which are all-in-one (as a disposable would be), or you can get them in two parts: the pad itself, and an insert (either pad shaped or a square of cloth that you fold up and insert into the pad). The benefit of all-in-ones is less fiddling around, the benefits of inserts is that you can adjust it to how much you need – e.g. if you have a heavy flow you can insert more, or if you are towards the end of your period you can use less.
- If you’re really into the d.i.y. ethic, there are also various sites out there which tell you how to make your own.
The product reviewed in this article is Moon-Mammas fleece pads, which are made in the UK.
When I told the creatrix of Moon-Mammas pads that I had reviewed her products, she kindly offered to allow readers of The F-Word 10% off for one month from the publication of this review, 18th May 2003. Email email@example.com for more information on how to claim the discount – and don’t forget to mention The F-Word! One discount per person.