Cloth Pads - FAQ

I recently wrote about Bea Johnson's zero waste lifestyle. She can fit a years worth of trash into one mason jar. Holy cow. Inspired by her, I've decided to embark on my own zero waste journey. It may seem impossible, but I know there are plenty of things I can do to minimize my waste. The point isn't to make life more complicated or to give up things, rather to detox - to clean up my life by trashing my wasteful habits. 

For Bea, this means doing simple things like swapping out drugstore bronzer in favor of cacao powder which she buys in bulk for pennies. She didn't given up make-up or make it her guilty pleasure. Rather she found a way to get the look she wanted while saving money and not sending empty plastic compacts to the landfill. 

This post focuses on another area of women's lives that is a major unnecessary source of waste, periods. I've noticed more and more women are saying no to disposable tampons and pads as they learn about alternatives. The more women share their experiences, the less taboo it is to speak up about our periods. On the other hand, companies marketing perfumed menstrual products to young women are sending the opposite message that periods are something we need to cover up and hide. 

cloth panty liner

cloth panty liner

Hearing influential women, like Bea Johnson talk openly about using alternatives to disposable menstrual products helps other women do the same. I've used cloth pads for over eight years, but always hesitated to share this information with anyone. I was especially nervous to tell my boyfriend when we first started dating because I was sure he would be grossed out. He wasn't - turns out his mom uses them too! Now that I'm a little older and wiser, I'm happy to recommend them to my friends and family and share my experience with those who want to give them a try.

Initially, my motive for making the switch was to reduce my ecological footprint. I was a freshman in college at the time and I still remember how empowering it felt to realize that being a woman did not mean I had to be responsible for tossing out a dozen plastic pads each month. There were less wasteful alternatives I could choose from. I chose cloth pads because I was already accustomed to using disposable ones. There are lots of other options, such as menstrual cups and period panties.

Now, I'm enjoying the savings. Doing some quick mental math, I would have spent at least $400 by now on disposable pads. Contrast that with the $100 I have spent on my reusable pads and it's easy to see I've saved a lot of money over the years. Menstrual cups can be even more cost effective over time, though they are still made from plastic which won't break down in the end like cloth.

wings snap shut

wings snap shut

The sheer variety and availability of products, styles, and brands making reusable alternatives to tampons and pads is a good sign that more and more women are making the switch. Personally, I'm a big fan of the company Gladrags. They make cotton flannel pads with removable inserts so you can adjust according to your flow. I bought five of them back in college and they have held up so well that I'm still using them today. If you feel hesitant about making the switch, I created a FAQ to help dispel any lingering doubts you might have. Of course it always takes time to adjust to something new, but the first step is simply to try

Cloth Pads - FAQ

How many pads per cycle?

  • This will depend on your individual needs and preferences, but seven is a good number to start with. For years, I only had five and that worked just fine. Now, I have eight pads and three panty liners. I rarely use that many, but I like having a few extras just in case. 

How much do cloth pads cost?

  • Gladrags are about $16.00 each. I also have a couple I bought at a craft fair in Japan for about $5-$8 each. 

Where to buy them?

  • Health food stores are likely to sell them. If you don't have one in your area you can buy them online. Craft fairs and sites like are good places to find handmade ones or you can use a free pattern online to make your own! My mom made me a couple with some fabric scraps that she modeled from Gladrags. 

How to clean them?

  • I usually rinse them out in the shower with a bar of soap before throwing them in the wash. To prevent blood stains you can let them soak in baking soda. I do this once every few months to keep them looking nice. You can also use an iron to sanitize them.

How to travel with them?

  • I travel with mine just fine. I fold them up in little squares and toss them in a bag until I have a chance to rinse and wash them. It's a little more work than disposables, but not much. 
on the go

on the go

If you have any questions or anything to add let me know!

Zero Waste Lifestyle & Book Review

You may have heard of Bea Johnson. She's been living nearly waste-free since 2008. According to her blog, all of her family's waste for the year 2015 fits snuggly into one pint size jar. This is a far cry from the two 35-liter plastic bags I toss out each week and she has a family of four + a dog. 

I'm sure I would have rolled my eyes and thought she was absolutely crazy had I not just finished reading Garbology by Edward Humes. In his book, he writes about the Great Pacific garbage patch and the Puente Hills Landfill, two places I had no idea existed. He also shares Bea Johson's story and in the context of polluted oceans and trash mountains, her lifestyle no longer seems so extreme. I read her book Zero Waste Home and I'm determined to do what I can to cut back.



In her book, she shares five easy steps for cutting household waste: "refuse what you do not need; reduce what you do need; reuse what you consume; recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse; and rot (compost) the rest." When followed in order very little waste gets generated. As she explains in her book, "The first and second Rs address the prevention of waste, the third R thoughtful consumption, the fourth and fifth Rs the processing of discards." 

1. Refuse

  • Single-use plastics such as plastic bags, bottles, and packages
  • Freebies such as samples and other promotional products

2. Reduce

  • Declutter and donate the things you no longer want or need
  • Decrease exposure to media that leads to consumption
  • Share, use the library, carpool, etc.

3. Reuse

  • Replace disposables with reusables
  • Buy used

4. Recycle

  • Find out what kinds of products can and cannot be recycled

5. Rot (Compost)

  • Food scraps, tea bags, coffee filters, etc.
  • Hair, nail clippings, natural fibers, etc.

Over the next couple months, I'm going to tackle the first two Rs: refuse and reduce. Eliminating single-use plastic packaging may not be possible now, but I can focus on reducing my consumption by opting for products in recyclable containers like glass. I can also eliminate my dependence on plastic produce bags simply by bringing an extra cloth bag to the store for my fruits and vegetables. As far as reducing my consumption, I'm going to try to use up what I already before buying anything new. 

If you want to find out more and learn what you can do, I highly recommend reading Edward Hume's and Bea Johnson's books back to back. Garbology will bring the trash problem front and center and Zero Waste Home will show you how to help. If decluttering is your first step, check out Marie Kondo's The Life Changing Magic of Tidying-Up.