I've been using cloth menstrual pads for about three years now and I will never go back to paper/plastic pads. Post-partum after Z2, I tried to use disposable pads and after a day or two, I couldn't take it anymore and got out my cloth. I find cloth to be far more comfortable than disposable but also surprisingly as effective.
Photo Courtesy of www.moonpads.comThe minute I tell folks I use cloth menstrual pads, their expression noticeably changes into one of confusion and sometimes disgust. But as I glowingly tell them about the benefits of cloth both to myself and to the environment, they start to listen and realize it's not so weird or strange after all.
My switch to cloth pads was a natural progression since I was already cloth diapering my son. There are basically two natural (reusable) options for menstrual blood collection: a cup, which is emptied out periodically and then rinsed and re-inserted or cloth pads which are washed. Since I never really liked tampons I decided to go with pads.
Like with cloth diapers, I didn't know many people personally who used them and I just jumped right in to try to find what worked for me. Initially, I collected patterns in hopes of sewing my own but as with diapers, a serger, which I don't have, would produce a much better finished product. As such, I purchased an assortment of pads some of which I absolutely love and some of which I use as a last resort or just because I have them.
The first cloth pads I acquired were GladRags through a co-op on MDC for a significantly lower price than retail. Actually, a sistren of mine at the time did mention using these pads once and she seemed to like them so I was excited about getting them. I purchased three cotton day pads and one organic overnight cotton pad. How these pads work is that there's a pocket where you can slip in absorbent cotton inserts depending on how much protection you need. I find the day pads are a tad bit short for me and when I first started using them, I never felt quite comfortable. As my flow lightened though, they worked better. The overnight pad is nice and long although I wish the inserts were a bit longer (they are the same length as the day pad inserts). Over time, I've purchased two more overnight pads. GladRags are high quality pads that I don't mind recommending.
Next I turned to Ebay and found the seller "Naomiomy". This seller sells basic, quality pads. They're made from flannel and so they are very soft and quite comfortable. Again, when I first started using cloth, I found these to be too narrow (although long enough). As time went on though, I found that they do the job. And the price is quite right especially compared to GladRags.
On Ebay, I also found Ama'z Padz (she doesn't sell on Ebay anymore because she has a store on Hyena Cart) which are my absolute FAVORITE pads in the world. In fact, I just ordered some more recently. Ama'z Padz are ingenious. Although she does sell all-in-ones and other types of pads, I am partial to her original padz (click link to see how they work). The regular pad is perfect for me lenghtwise and widthwise. They are so absorbent, deceptively so since they are quite thin in comparison to other cloth pads and even to regular disposable pads. They are also very convenient to use. These are the pads I use if I'm going out and the ones I used when I was working outside of the home. I love, love, love them.
I have one LunaPad that I bought when I couldn't get more Ama'z Padz (I was always missing her re-stocking). I can't stand that pad but I wear it because I have it. It's soft and comfortable but I don't get how the rick-rack stuff is supposed to hold the pad in place. I generally turn it upside down, ignore the rick-rack to wear it and it's not bad that way. Very absorbent and pretty too.
I have three panty liners that I bought on Ebay too. They are an all-in-one situation, are cute, absorbent and fit neatly in my bag when folded up. I carry these around in case my period comes unexpectedly (which it never does but old habits die hard). I looked on Ebay to see if I could find the seller but no luck.
There was one last Ebay purchase of flannel all-in-one pads. That purchase was a complete miss and I will only use those on the very, absolute last day of my period.
Most of my pads are cotton/flannel but many use hemp and fleece (which stays dry to the touch even when wet). I do not have any that have a waterproof backing (PUL) and I find I haven't needed that. I like the fact that all the pads I have are 100% breathable. That has eliminated the issues I had with disposable pads in terms of it being too hot in the summer, itchy, etc . . .
Now to the knitty-gritty of using cloth . . .
Most cloth pads are secured using snaps (most of mine do). Some use velcro. Some just lay in your underwear and friction keeps them in place (one overnight pad my sistren sewed for me works this way and it works well, suprisingly). I, like many other woman, have "period panties". My "period panties" are not dark-colored or anything. They are just slightly smaller than my regular panties. This helps to keep the pads in place and the pads keep the tighter panties from being too wedgie-fabulous.
I change my pads pretty regularly throughout the day and it seems to be about every time I go to the bathroom. That averages about 5-6 pads daily. I change not because the pad is full but mainly to feel fresh. When I take a pad off, I soak it in a pail with water and hydrogen peroxide or color-safe bleach. The pail (which is, by the way, not see-through) is covered for the kids' safety and also for the sake of the hubby and guests who I don't think need or want to run into a bucket full of bloody pads. But that's just me. I change the water daily until it's time for wash day.
I used to wash my pads by hand but I felt I was wasting water so I started to wash them in the machine. No special procedure: I simply washed with whatever detergent I had and hung them to dry or dried them in the dryer. Nowadays, I wash my pads along with the diapers. I was skeptical about doing this at first but I realized that the diapers get rinsed first, washed on the longest hot cycle then rinsed again. Everything comes out smelling and looking clean and fresh. No stains or anything. Plus, I don't use any extra water to wash my pads which is great.
To go out, I carry my pads in a plastic cosmetic bag that is divided in two sections. One section I stow my clean pads and the other section holds my used ones. Once I arrive home, I empty out the wet bag (that's holding used diapers) into the diaper pail and I put my used pads in to soak.
To store my pads, I use a jumbo-sized Rubbermaid clear plastic rectangular food storage container with a lid. While I'm on my period and using the pads, I rarely put the lid on. Once my flow is over, I organize my pads neatly and put the lid on ready for next month.
Back to the hubby issue. It took a little convincing to get the hubby to be okay with the cloth pads. He, like many others, thought it was gross and a bit too much work. But after I showed him what it was about and didn't act grossed out myself (because I wasn't) and drew lots of comparisons to cloth diapering, he accepted it as a normal part of life and now is all for cloth pads. Because, of course, in the long run using cloth pads saves money and the hubby is all about that. I would say the start up costs/the money I've spent to date on cloth pads is about $125-$130 dollars. I have 18 day pads, 3 liners and 3 overnight pads. I used to buy a pack of Always overnight pads (which I would just about finish during the first 4 days of my period) for about $5 or $6 and I'd use a pack of regular pads to finish out my period. That adds up and so now that I've been using cloth for so many years, it makes financial sense. Some frugal mamas, I've heard, even use newborn unbleached prefold diapers as pads and that would be a very inexpensive way to go.
I'm pretty sure by the time I need to buy more pads, i.e.when these ones are worn out, I will be ready to sew my own (which would be the most cost-effective route). But right now, I'm quite pleased with what I have.
Many women who use cloth use the soak water to water their houseplants. We buried Z2's placenta in the backward where the garden will be (we decided against relocating it) and I can see using the soak water to water the plants back there. After all, that menstrual blood is what would have sustained life. That would make the garden uniquely mine.
Saying a woman is "on the rag" is a slang term to express that she's menstruating. Back in the day, many women used cloth to catch their menstrual blood since disposable pads were not available yet or very expensive. I'm not sure if it's derogatory or not to use the term but I like the way it sounds. It's not bad being "on the rag," quite literally.
Recommended reading: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.