Making the switch to cloth may seem daunting to some. There are many reasons why. Some consider the thought of washing what they generally dispose of to be disgusting. Others think cloth is outdated and too inconvenient for today's fast-paced lifestyles. Many cite the initial cost of cloth products as their main issue with switching. So, let's take a closer look at these arguments and see if we cannot change the mindset behind them. I am going to mainly deal with cloth for menses but know the same principles apply to cloth for incontinence.
The "Yuck" Factor
First, let's deal with the "yuck" factor. Let me ask you a question - how much of the "yuck" has society and cultural norms conditioned us to believe? Granted, no one I know is thrilled by their menses and the timing of them is never "right." However, they are a natural and healthy part of being a woman; they are not something we should be embarrassed, ashamed or disgusted by. The main "yuck" I hear is in the storing of soiled pads until there are enough to be washed.
The second "yuck" revolves around washing soiled pads. There are simple and easy "non-yuck" solutions for these concerns. Soiled pads can be stored in something small like a waste basket with a liner and lid. Simply fold the soiled pad in half and toss it in. Done. A large Zip-lock tucked under a sink cabinet will also work. The possibilities are endless. Now, I am aware that some people do prefer to pre-soak their pads as soon as they change them to help eliminate staining and remove blood prior to washing. I see no problem with this. However, not everyone wants to "get their hands dirty" and that's okay. You don't have to. Most washers have a pre-rinse cycle and once your pads are ready to wash, simply rinse them first. As far as blood residue in the washer goes, in 14 years of using cloth, I have not seen it happen even once. While some prefer to wash their pads separate from their regular laundry, I have found this is unnecessary. After the pads are rinsed, I usually wash them with the towels. Everything comes out clean, every time!
Perfect for Today's Active Lifestyle
Cloth is neither outdated nor inconvenient for today's active lifestyles. Products are available that are made of amazing and durable fabric choices. This is not your grandmother's "rags." After customers receive their orders, I often hear they are now excited for their periods. This is most especially true from mothers who buy their teens cloth; something that was once dreaded by their daughters is now something they are excited for simply because they have pads in colors and styles they love.
More Comfort, Less Chemicals
Let me tell you a story about a teen who came to stay with our family a few months ago. She literally flew out with the clothes on her back and little else. When it was near the time of her period, she asked me if I had any pads or tampons. I told her that I did have pads but they were cloth. She'd never heard of cloth pads. So I set her up with a few to try. She shared that she had been dreading her period arriving because her menses were always horribly painful and long. I shared with her that the majority of those issues seemed to vanish when people switched to cloth. Hearing this, she was more than eager to give them a try. Her initial comment was that they were really comfortable and after wearing the pad a very short amount of time, she hardly even noticed it. Over the first two days of her period when she would normally be absolutely miserable and unable to do anything due to cramping, she instead found she had significantly less cramping and was able to "live" normally during that time. By day five, her period ended and she was elated telling me that they usually ran on to the seventh or eighth day. Long story short, she went back home a with a nice stash.
This story isn't the exception, it is what I hear every day. It is more common knowledge today than in years past, that disposable pad products are full of synthetic, irritating chemicals I've had many customers switch to cloth out of necessity; the chemicals were more than their bodies could stand. They, too, were elated with the comfort of cloth. With that said, cloth is not outdated, it is most especially for ladies today. Quite simply, it is the healthier and more comfortable choice.
Disposal Vs. Containment
The argument that cloth doesn't mesh well with today's active lifestyles seems to be two-fold. First, it comes back to disposal vs. containment. Yes, it is easier to throw a pad away and public restrooms make this very convenient. It is also simple to tuck your soiled pad into a Zip-Lock in your purse. Maybe that means you need a bigger purse. Maybe you already carry a satchel. Either way, it's a matter of mindset more than convenience. Some raise the issue of smell not realizing that cloth products do not "smell" like disposables do. Much of the disposable "smell" is the chemicals reacting to blood or urine. There is little to no smell in cloth pads because there are no chemicals added. Whatever odor there might be is easily extinguished in a Zip-Lock.
The second argument revolves around activity in itself. Maybe cloth is fine for home and work, but what about sports? Okay, obviously water sports and cloth are out, but again, the possibilities for non-water activities are endless. If we are honest, none of us look forward to demanding physical activity while on our periods, most especially on the heavy days. I believe this to be true for users of both cloth and disposable pads. However, with the above mentioned benefits of less cramping, less irritation, and shorter periods, would these things not be a benefit of using cloth during sports? Let's talk about breathablity for a minute. Disposable pads do not breathe. They trap moisture and heat. The pad gets wet from sweat on the sides and will chafe skin. Neither of these sound comfortable. Cloth pads do breathe; they allow heat to escape and some moisture to evaporate. They will soak up sweat, sometimes more than you want them to so you'll need to change more often. And, if pads are worn with form-fitting underwear with good elastic, the chances of shifting or chafing go way down.
The final issue with using cloth is the initial cost. The average cost of using tampons or disposable pads per year is between $60-$80.00. This average is based on a "normal" five day cycle. It does not take into account postpartum menses nor use of pantyliners which would drive up the cost even further. Additionally, it does not include the cost of pain-relievers and other assorted sundries we need and want during our menses. This cost is easily absorbed over that time as the buyer usually doesn't purchase a year's supply all at once. What seems to be missing from the information about cloth pads made from durable, quality materials is that they can last years, even a decades or more. I have pads in my stash that were made in 2002. I have pantyliners that were made in 2003 that I still wear everyday and wash weekly. That is a ton of use and washing yet they are nowhere near needing to hit the garbage. With that said, based on the "average yearly cost of disposables," if your initial start up costs for cloth are $200 and your pads last five years, you will have saved $100-$200.00 over that time span. If those same pads last ten years, you will have saved $400-$600.00 over that time span. Perhaps to some, the savings may seem insignificant but please look at the whole picture I've painted thus far. Cloth is healthier for your body. It is not a huge inconvenience. It is not any more "yucky" than a stinky, disposable, chemical-laden pad.
Consider the environmental issue. I've saved this for last because I find it's usually not the #1 reason people cite for switching to cloth. Additionally, environmental concern is probably the easiest to nit-pick because we simply do not live in an earth friendly age. I try to live as "organically" as I can, yet our family cars are still fueled by gasoline. I recycle - yet I still purchase goods that cannot be recycled. I love to wear natural and organic fabrics yet my wardrobe includes a lot of polyester. My point is, it is easy to feel like a hypocrite when you are trying to be "earth friendly" in some areas while not in others. In many of the above-mentioned cases, it's not that I don't want to protect the environment - I simply cannot afford the high cost of going green in many of these areas. What should I do about this? Stop trying? No! Every little bit helps no matter how insignificant it may seem.
As far as using cloth pads for menses goes, if the average lady uses more than 10k disposable period products over her lifetime, that is a ton or more, literally, of chemical waste that takes hundreds of years to decompose in a landfill. Again, that is just for ONE lady! This alone proves that just one lady switching to cloth can make a difference.