I wanted to post about the cloth pads for a while now. However, I wanted to experiment with it for a few months before writing anything.
Why switch to cloth pads?
India creates several 100 million used sanitary pads a month. Incinerators are rare and a very inefficient way of disposing of garbage, they end up along with dry and wet waste in landfills. These are a biohazard for people who clean them and since most poor and low-caste people do this work, we are putting these people who already have fewer resources to take care of their health in even more danger.
Flushing down is not an alternative as explained in this guardian article. “Even when sewers do work, they can be easily clogged by sanitary pads, designed to absorb liquid and expand, which is exactly what you don’t want in a narrow sewer.”
According to this Yahoo article, the Indian government is pushing mini-incinerators across cities (including schools) to burn sanitary pads – releasing toxins that are damaging to humans, animals, and the environment.
I think some people may question the intention of moving back to cloth pads. After all, isn’t the disposable pad technologically more advanced? If cloth pads are so good, why are we asking women in rural areas to switch to disposable pads?
First, I would suggest reading the Guardian article linked above. Second, if you won’t, the quick rundown is that women in rural areas still see periods as taboo. If cloth pads are washed properly and dried out- they contain no problems. The problems occur in the drying out part. Women still feel shy and pressurised to hide that they are menstruating and want to hide and bury the evidence, lest it affects male sensibilities. When a cloth that is washed isn’t dried out properly, it causes contamination. Basic science.
This isn’t just a problem in rural areas. Women in cities are also reluctant to hang their underwear to dry out in the sun. Imagine if a cloth pad looking material or a cloth with stains were to be hung. Living in a rented space, across India, I have had men and women (landlords) come and tell us to hang underwear inside the house. Even well-meaning mothers, aunties, and friends do this. If you do this, please don’t. The sun is a great anti-bacterial and anti-microbial killer. If your are using expensive laundry detergents and comfort fabric and what not, and hide your panties in the bathroom filled with moisture and not let it dry out in the sun, you are harming your health (Women are prone to get UTI’s and fungal infections, no amount of vaginal wash will help you if you are wearing undies that have not dried out properly).
Which one should I use?
Make it yourself! All you need is a soft cotton cloth. Instead of throwing out clothes that you hate, no longer in season and which are torn (so can’t give it to charity)- Please don’t give torn clothes to charity, use those. Bunch them together to form a thick, cushiony layer. There are various shapes online which you can look up and choose one which best suits your vagina. Everyone is different and a standard size is never applicable. Sew them together and voila! you have a cloth pad.
Now, if you suck at sewing or want to get a readymade one, you can get one online. Many companies (Indian companies, if I may stress not Patanjali) make cloth pads. Most of them are from small-time artisanal people and women, so buying them would help them and for the very patriotic people supporting the Make In India initiative (never mind, they have been making in India for many decades) but whatever floats your boat.
The one I got was from Ecofemme, a rural Tamilnadu based organisation. I got it through amazon. It was 1475 including the shipping charge (and was through a seller called looms and weaves). If you check it now, looms and weaves does not have it and Ecofemme is selling it by themselves and it is 1499, last I checked.
This is the Full Cycle Kit and you can also get individual pads from them.
It comes in a very well packaged, brown paper envelope bag as seen above.
From extreme left:
The two blue pads are Pantyliners (shown front and back). Similar to disposable pantyliner sizes.
The pink and green ones are Day pads (As you can see, I use these the most and the pinkish tinge you see on the purple are blood stains that have washed off and purple washed off to a pink tinge). Most similar to standard pad sizes.
The Red is the Night pad as it has a larger back on it. I use these on days, I have a heavy flow or at night. Most similar to Whisper ultra nights pad.
The other pink ones are also Day pads but are slightly smaller than the purple one’s I often use. These are similar in size to pads like Sofy.
How to use them?
I hope this instruction page is sufficient. They actually do a good job of covering all points. I would suggest soak them in hot water (not warm water) in a bucket as soon as you get them, even overnight is fine. The next day, you can run them in your washing machine. Please don’t use commercial detergents- a mixture of baking soda will be better or use a natural detergent like Krya. Hang them out to dry in the SUN.
Typical usage is the same. Once you have to change your pad, soak it in a bucket of hot water overnight and then wash them by hand or put in in the washing machine. It’s fine, your washing machine won’t get ‘contaminated’. We are soaking them beforehand and most of the blood and smell will be gone. So, don’t freak out. While hanging them out to dry, straighten it and then hang it out to prevent wrinkles.
Additionally, they also send you this menstrual tracker chart and pouch to carry your cloth pads- soiled or otherwise. It is immensely helpful to track your periods. I use an app called Clue.
Other important things to know
- This eco femme pad advertises as beautiful, soft, absorbent flannel cotton top layer, the absorbent inner core of cotton flannel layers, PUL leakproof layer and exotic Indian stripy fabric on the back. Easy to care for – the PUL layer is designed to last for approx 75 washes but could be replaced to prolong the life of the pads.
Eco-friendly material, waterproof and bio-degradable, the Super-absorbent material used inside, Inner made up of 100% pure cotton fabric, lasts for 5-6 years.
- After a few washes, the cotton inside may have moved. But don’t worry this won’t cause any problems and they still absorb the blood well.
- These are perfectly safe to be used even for young teenagers. However, if you have a heavy flow, I’d recommend the menstrual cup although the night pad works really well for me on heavy flow days.
- Another great reason to switch: No rashes. No matter which companies’ disposable pad I used, I would always get rashes- on the outer and inner labia which would last a week or so after the period. It was super painful and I didn’t know how to avoid it. Disposable pad’s block air flow to the vagina and the lining is pretty rough on the sensitive labia. Cloth pads are kind to your vagina, as they should be.
An important reminder:
I know many women have switched to using cloth pads and menstrual cups purely because of the ecological repercussions disposable pads have. To you, I say thank you. It is not an easy switch. I also know many women ( irrespective of the number of people blaming modernity, western culture, technology) who have many serious female reproductive issues like PCOD to endometriosis and various other invisible illness have also made the switch.
For women who have 20 days periods, to clots, to painful cramps and many other issues, please make the switch when you are confident. As more people are getting aware of environmental issues, there is also a number of policing people. Everyday working people who do 9 to 6 jobs, don’t have access to MNC type fancy bathrooms, or people who have long hours of commute may not have the same luxury of experimentation I had.
We cannot exclude these women which is why I wanted to write this post. I have travelled for long hours in public transport, didn’t have access to fancy bathrooms at work and do long hours at work and the cloth pad worked for me. However, I have 3 days of period which wanes of for the next two days.
But for women who may have other problems, please know that you are not obliged to make the switch. Make the switch slowly. Try using it on less severe flow days to see how you feel and if you are confident, you could do it on heavy flow days too. I write this because I remember reading an email from a guy who had written in a tone of condescending manner asking women to use cloth pads and not disposable pads during an outdoor event.
No matter how environmentally aware you are as a man, please don’t take it upon yourself to preach women on this issue. I know many women who have had to change 6-8 disposable pads every day but manage to go to work and attend outdoor events. It seemed arrogant to me that someone who didn’t understand the complexity of a menstrual cycle amongst women is making a tone of finality about using cloth pads. Even if a woman had said that it still would be problematic.
What could they have written instead? It wasn’t like the outdoor event didn’t have any women. How about one of the women had sent an encouraging email asking women to use cloth pads and if someone needed help, they could ask one of them and if any women had problems and needed to use disposable pads, they would support her?
As ecologically conscious people, your job is not to threaten people to use products or exclude them from the tight-knit clut type behaviour people engage in. Your job is to include all women and support them.
Note to guys like that: Unless a woman specifically asks you, don’t tell her what to do (However, well intentioned).
Note to organisers that ask men to send out emails: If you want to talk to women about women’s issues, please make sure a woman is putting across the communication- so women know they can address questions directly to the women and not through a man.
Note to women: I don’t care how ‘woke’ or ‘aware’ your husband, boyfriend, brother, a friend is, if they indulge in this behaviour or you casually ask them to handle issues like this, please don’t. You may be comfortable with them, other women don’t share the same comfort level.
P.S: Before potential people start screaming man-hater and other chosen expletives while saying what about male gynaecologists and other mundane examples. That’s the entire point. For decades women couldn’t practice women’s health and treat women and only men were allowed to practice medicine. We have made strides in progress and women are now practising medicine. Also, a medical doctor is not an accurate comparison to a regular person organising events.
Shouldn’t we engage men also in these conversations? Yes, we should. Engage being the operative word not preach. I have conversations about this with male friends and my partner. Both understand asking women to make a switch vs preaching to them is very different. My partner cannot, for example, go preach to a woman at his work saying, ‘hey, switch to cloth pads because my-my spouse does it’. If the woman asks him, hey, can you tell me about cloth pads (although this incident occurring is very rare), I would expect him to say, let me connect you with women I know who can talk to you about it.