How To Make Reusable Sanitary Pads
Written by : Rosie Bornoff
Reusable period pads are a great alternative to disposable ones. This article will illustrate the economic, social and environmental benefits of them and how they can be used to combat period poverty. It will also give step-by-step instructions on how to make them yourself.
What Is a Reusable Period Pad?
Reusable pads are sustainable alternatives to disposable menstrual hygiene products. They have been used for centuries, originating in the late 1800’s when nurses would make them out of wood pulp fibre. In January 1921, Kotex published their first advertisement for a disposable menstrual pad product. As more women began working outside the home, the demand for disposable pads and menstrual products began to rise. Disposable tampons were not invented until 1931. With the rise of the environmental movement and consumers becoming increasingly aware of their carbon footprint and waste, reusable menstrual pads have recently become popular again.
How Do Reusable Pads Work?
Reusable pads absorb menstrual flow in the same way that disposable sanitary pads do; if not better. They are worn the same way as disposable pads, by being placed into your underwear, but instead of adhesive strips, reusable pads are often fastened around your underwear with poppers, clips, ties, or Velcro. Once used, they are simply rinsed, soaked, washed, and dried in order for them to be used again the following month.
The Benefits of Using A Reusable Pad
The average woman will use 12,000 to 16,000 disposable pads, panty liners, and tampons in their lifetime. This creates a huge amount of un-biodegradable waste which stays on the planet for up to 800 years. The negative environmental effect of disposable sanitary products also extends to their manufacturing, shipping, and packaging, where a serious amount of carbon is released. Disposable period products can also contain a number of chemicals and harmful toxins which are not only bad for the user’s health but also for that of the environment. Reusable pads decrease this huge carbon footprint but also significantly reduce the amount of waste, keeping our planet clean, healthy, and beautiful.
Because they are reusable, these cloth sanitary pads not only save the planet but also save money. In a lifetime, we spend £5000 on sanitary products. This expense makes sanitary products a luxury which many women in developing communities cannot afford. In Nigeria alone, about 83 million young girls are experiencing period poverty. In Kenya, this figure is an astonishing 65% of women and girls unable to afford menstrual products. Since they are reusable, you only have to invest in one every 2-5 years depending on how well you look after them. This saves the money and effort of having to buy disposable period products every month.
Period products should not be a luxury. They are a necessity that women need in order to continue with their daily routines. Most people cannot afford to stay at home 1 out of 4 weeks a month on average because of menstruation. In Sub-Saharan Africa, about 1 in 10 girls are absent from school during their period, leading to serious gaps in their education. Some girls miss up to 20% of their school year and may even drop out entirely. This has major long-term consequences as well. Girls who miss school days are more likely to get married as children and become pregnant at an earlier age. School is essential for girls so that they can get the skills they need to break out of poverty and take control of their own lives. This is why Hope Springs’ aim to alleviate period poverty is so essential.
Why Hope Spring Is Suggesting People to Use Reusable Pad
Along with the benefits stated above, Hope Spring suggests people use reusable pads since it helps mitigate many of the problems surrounding period poverty. When girls feel safe and comfortable during their period, it can contribute to achieving a number of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including quality education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5), and clean water and sanitation (SDG 6). This has a huge knock-on effect on other factors, such as quality of life and general community development.
Reusable sanitary pads are an excellent alternative to disposable ones. Hope Spring recommends that people switch to reusable pads for their environmental, health, and economic perks. We have seen the benefits of this in the many Menstrual Training Projects Hope Spring has orchestrated. You can read about these various projects on the Hope Spring webpage (https://www.hopespring.org.uk/periodpoverty/). These projects work towards alleviating period poverty, reducing school absenteeism by keeping girls in school during menstruation, allowing them to complete their education, and introducing eco-friendly menstrual products that reduce waste.
As a charity, Hope Spring gets its funding from donations and fundraising events. Recently, Hayley Deaner and her team of fundraising volunteers raised over £2000 to support Hope Spring Water Pad, a girl’s initiative to fight against period poverty. With this money, Hope Spring hopes to run a new No Period Poverty workshop in 2022, where women and girls learn to make, clean, and safely store their own reusable sanitary pads.
How To Make Your Own Reusable Pad
Although it is possible to buy reusable pads in shops and online, Hope Spring works directly with schools and communities to teach women and girls how to make them themselves. Not only is this more cost-effective, but it also teaches a skill that can be re-taught and passed down through generations. The rest of this article will show a step-by-step breakdown of how to make your own reusable period pad as well as how to keep it clean and sanitary.
Materials used in making a reusable pad:
- Fabric (cotton, linen, hemp, flannel, fleece or any other fabrics which are safe to touch skin)
- Absorbent fabric (flannel, cotton or bamboo fleece, or any specially designed absorbent fabric e.g., Zorb)
- Snaps and tools to attach snaps (Velcro, clips and buttons are also practical options)
- Needle and thread or a sewing machine
- Pen and paper to create a pattern
How to make a reusable pad:
1. First start by making the stencil.
a. Trace around a panty liner on paper, allowing for a 1cm seam allowance and cut out. This will be the absorbent part of the pad.
b. To create the base portion with the wings, measure the pantyliner’s height, which is typically 23 cm. Then add a 19cm perpendicular line in the centre of this line.
c. Join the lines together to form a rounded diamond. Around this piece, add a 1 cm seam allowance.
d. Cut out two of the diamond pieces. Then from your absorbent fabric cut out as many pieces as needed to achieve the necessary absorbency.
e. There are also many stencils and patterns online with pre-made measurements which you can use.
2. Sew the two sections
a. To begin, put together the outer layers by sewing the two diamonds together at their borders with their right sides facing outward. Make a cut, then turn the right sides out.
b. Assemble the liner by piling the liner pieces on top of one another, right side up (this piece will touch your skin). To keep the layers together, use pins or clips. To cover the rough edges of the liner, stitch in a zigzag pattern.
3. Now to sew the pad together
a. Place the liner on top of the outer layer, right side up, to cover the slit. Pin or clip the two together then sew.
4. Attach snaps, Velcro or any other tying mechanism
How to keep a reusable pad clean:
To ensure your reusable pad lasts as long as it can, it is important to keep it clean.
It is possible to hand wash your pads. Rinse under cold running water once removed. You can also allow them to soak in a bath of cold water to remove stubborn stains. When finished rinsing, give them a deep clean with soap. You can use anything antibacterial, such as handwash, bar soap, detergent, or sensitive face and body wash.
Another effective way to wash them is in a washing machine. Before putting them in, make sure to rinse them separately from the other laundry. Wash at a low temperature with detergent. Ensure not to use fabric softener, as this will decrease the absorbency over time by leaving a residue on the fabrics.
After washing, leave it to air dry. Air drying is the preferred drying method since not only does it prevent shrinkage and keep your pads in better condition, but it is also more environmentally friendly since it uses less energy and does not remove fibres or any microplastics that are present in the fabrics.