Reusable Menstrual Products for a Waste-Free Period

July 20, 2020

Sharing my experience with reusable menstrual products! These are game-changers if you want to reduce your waste and use more eco-friendly period products.

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Ladies, real talk: how satisfied are you with your period products? You know—tampons, pads, menstrual cups, period panties—all the things you use to make that time of the month slightly more bearable?

If you are still using the same products you were using in the 80s, it’s time to upgrade ya girl!

The Impact of Menstrual Products

The big takeaway here is not all menstrual products are created equal. Some are designed to be less harmful to our planet and our bodies.

Now we are seeing organic cotton tampons that are free from pesticides and GMOs as well as reusable silicone menstrual cups.

But can we really make an impact on our planet by individually practicing a zero waste period? After all, the period industry is enormous…

How much does the average woman spend on menstrual products?

Sanitary maxi pads, panty liners, tampons, heating pads, and other period products can be quite expensive, especially when you consider buying them every few months. There is a price breakdown on various feminine hygiene products here.

In summary, women spend at least $144 per year on products but other estimates are as high as $300! The average woman will have a monthly period for 33 years so the costs over that timeframe can reach $17,000. Take into consideration that these numbers doesn’t include ibuprofen/Midol Complete, feminine wash, and other products find necessary.

By 2025, the whole industry could reach up to $33.78 billion USD worldwide. More and more women are concerned with what they put into and on their bodies and feminine hygiene products are the most intimate items we use.

That being said, I wanted to explore some options that are less wasteful and much kinder to the environment. 

But before we get into that, I wanted to talk a little bit about why we may feel period shame and why period stigma still exists today.

woman wearing blue tank top is holding her hair up with text for feminine products

Quick History Lesson on Women’s Periods

In ancient Greece, writers viewed them as inherently dirty, poisonous and even sleazy. In the United States, by the mid-1800s, that perception was further solidified as periods were seen as “bad blood” and even shameful.

Obviously, we’ve evolved to understand what a period is—the shedding of the lining of the uterus that doesn’t have a fertilized egg—and we are all educated in knowing that while periods aren’t exactly the most convenient, they’re certainly not “shameful” or even “dirty.” 

Having said that, women still needed a way to manage them when they arrived. Leftover scraps of cloth and fabric were originally used, which proved to be both awkward and disruptive to daily life.

Sanitary Maxi Pads

It wasn’t until 1921 that Kotex started producing a sanitary maxi pad from an absorbent plant-based fabric called Cellucotton which was the same material used for medical bandaging in World War I.

This new product revolutionized the period.

Women suddenly had an option that didn’t require a DIY solution and instead now had something deemed as “hygienic” that they could simply purchase at the store or pharmacy.

Did I mention that they were disposable, too? Women welcomed the discreetness especially since Kotex’s advertising still marketed a period as something to be concealed because it was still disturbing to men. 

Tampons

Soon after, the modern-day tampon was patented and invented in 1929 by Dr. Earle Haas based on a compressed cotton that doctors would use to absorb blood from a wound. A few years would pass before he would sell his patent to a businesswoman named Gertrude Tendrich who would then go onto form the Tampax company. She began mass-producing these tampons and it wasn’t until 1949 that Tampax tampons became readily available for public consumption. 

While both these products are instrumental in how women have been managing their cycles for decades, it doesn’t change the fact that an unfortunate effect that this disposability has created is an insurmountable amount of waste that we now have to deal with. 

Menstrual Cups

A third, less popular option was the menstrual cup. Interestingly, it may have been originally invented as early as 1867! In 1937, an American actress named Leona Chalmers invented what is now the modern-day menstrual cup.

pink menstrual cup surrounded by pieces of red heart confetti with a calendar in the background

Made out of rubber, Chalmers patent claimed that it wouldn’t be uncomfortable and that women wouldn’t even be able to feel it inside their bodies. Somehow, though, the menstrual cup never fully caught on. And although they’ve become more popular 150 years later, even today only 11-33% of women are even aware of them.

Period Panties

And what about period panties? Were those even a thing back in the day? Spoiler alert: They weren’t!

Although there were patents for “women’s menstruation underwear” in 1987, the first period panties similar to the ones we know today came on the market in 2011 under the brand Sexy Period. That was only nine years ago!

Period care is evolving and I like it. Just by talking openly about our periods can help break the stigma and I’m here for it. All of it.

So, how wasteful are pads and tampons?

Now that we know the history of tampons and pads, it’s pretty evident they’re not the greenest option. In fact, did you know that the average woman uses 11,000 tampons in her lifetime? That’s one woman and it’s not even taking into account the number of sanitary pads or pantyliners they may also use.

All of those products need to go somewhere which means they end up in a landfill. And if one woman contributes that much waste, I wondered how I could do my part.

And the most important million-dollar question I had swimming in my mind was: Is it actually possible to have a waste-free period? 

“A waste-free period?!” Yeah, I said it.

A. WASTE. FREE. PERIOD.

With so many products on the market, it’s hard to know where to start or what to choose. Sounds impossible, right? No! It’s not impossible at all if you know where to look. 

I started gradually by making a conscious effort not to purchase disposable period products anymore once I entirely used up what I had. I had already started using Thinx period panties together with tampons as added protection but I wanted to go all-in this time.

This meant that I would try the menstrual cup in lieu of tampons. I also wanted to try another brand of period undies that I had heard good things about. Not gonna lie, I was a little nervous about it. More specifically, I was nervous about the mess I might make while using a cup.

Would my bathroom look like a crime scene for a week every month? Would it get stuck? (I know, I know.) Would it be a nightmare in public? What if I leaked?

And then the questions I had about using period panties without the security blanket of a tampon compounded my nerves even further: What if I felt like I was in a wet bathing suit? Would it ruin my clothes? Would it feel like a diaper?

Reusable Menstrual Products: Menstrual Cups and Period Panties

I did my research to quell any anxiety I was feeling over this new endeavor and decided to give the new Saalt soft cup a try. Plus I wanted to compare the Thinx undies I already owned and the new Rael period panties

Saalt Menstrual Cups

Saalt appealed to me because of their ethos to be sustainable and environmentally friendly spoke to me. On top of that, they give back 2% of their revenues to promote period education in developing nations.

They are also one of the few (if only) 100% USA made silicone menstrual cups currently produced.

hand holding Saalt menstrual cup product box
Use code TOG15 to save 15% on your Saalt cup!

I chose the Saalt Soft Duo Pack so I would have two size options during my cycle that I could test. This seemed to be the most cost-effective way to try something made with medical-grade silicone, was chemical and toxin-free and would offer up to 12 hours of protection. 

Thinx Period Panties

As far as period panties go, Thinx is definitely the most popular brand on the market today and for good reason. They have a powerful mission to give back and educate as well as take away the stigma and shame of periods. They also have the most variety in styles making the selection pretty appealing.

However, they only have a small organic cotton selection and more recently, there was a problematic discovery of a group of chemicals called PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) which is linked to infertility and cancer was in its fabric. But because of a lack of regulation in menstruation products, companies are not required to list every ingredient in any of their products.

Obviously, this has cause for concern and Thinx has addressed it saying they would “move swiftly to remove them.” All this to say, it gave me another reason to try a different period panty, one that was more sustainable, healthy and had an organic option.

Rael Organic Cotton Underwear

Rael fit the bill. Still, a relatively small company based in Los Angeles, they have a wide line of period products from tampons to liners and even period panties–all made with organic cotton. Their panties are made with 95% organic cotton, the remaining 5% is the spandex which is only in the waistband.

a black pair of Rael period panties

They also give back to their community and have partnered with Happy Period, a local charity that supports homeless, low-income and/or living in poverty women while giving them access to period products. While they only have one style of period panties, their ethos was enough to convince me to try them out.

How to Use Reusable Menstrual Products During Your Menstrual Cycle

This is a recap on what my monthly cycle typically entails. Every day of our periods are different, and I felt it was helpful to use both the menstrual cup and period panties!

DAY 1

I don’t know about you but the first day of my cycle isn’t terribly heavy. If anything, I feel more bloated, tired and have a general sense of malaise. My period itself is fairly light and so I started out with what I already knew worked: Thinx.

I was never once self-conscious when I wore them and they are pretty comfortable. They’re a little on the thicker side which can definitely feel like a bathing bottom if worn under jeans or shorts. Thinx claims you can wear their panties for up to twelve hours and because my period is so light on the first day, I never felt damp or a panicked need to change them throughout the day. Also, they hold in any odor, which is another plus.

As far as care goes, Thinx says that throwing them in the delicates cycle in the washer is fine, but I preferred to be a little gentler with them since I wanted them to last. At the end of the day, I took them off, hand-washed them with a mild detergent and let them soak while I was in the shower. I rang them out and hung them up to air-dry overnight. I put on a fresh pair and went to bed.

DAY 2

My second day was when things started getting interesting. The bloat slightly settles and I have more energy, but after having two kids, let me tell you–my periods are much heavier and on the second day, it’s like the flood gates opened.

I changed out of my Thinx panty that I wore overnight and reached for the regular-sized Saalt soft cup which is supposed to hold 3-4 tampons worth and can be left in for up to twelve hours. I opted for the “regular” as opposed to the “small” since I had two vaginal births. To be even more cautious, I grabbed my first pair of Rael panties, and like Thinx, they too can also be worn for up to twelve hours.

saalt cup is hidden inside of a purse showing its discreetness

The Rael panties felt much tighter than the Thinx but they also weren’t as thick. It made me wonder if they would actually work. The nice thing about the thinner fabric, though, was that they didn’t feel bulky under a pair of jeans. They actually felt like regular underwear, albeit a little bit more snug. It made me wonder if they were tight because I had extra water weight or because they were made to fit more snug.

Either way, their fit wasn’t uncomfortable but it was noticeable. Inserting the Saalt Cup wasn’t difficult and I did really appreciate how soft the medical-grade silicone was.

Throughout the day, I didn’t feel the cup but I knew that it wouldn’t last twelve hours with me. After about three hours, I decided to remove and empty the cup. It was definitely full but I was so pleasantly surprised to notice that there was absolutely no leakage which meant that my Rael undies stayed completely dry.

hand holding up a Saalt menstrual cup with the product box in background

Removing the menstrual cup wasn’t terrible but it honestly is not my favorite thing to do. I think it’s important to be aware that yes, your fingers will get bloody.

My bathroom sink is directly in front of the toilet which makes it very convenient and easy to wash my hands as well as the cup with warm water and soap before reinserting it. But the idea of having to do this in a public restroom didn’t feel realistic for me. Timed correctly, though, I wouldn’t have to do that in public.

DAYS 3-5

Over the next few days, I got into a good groove of emptying my Saalt cup about as often as I would have changed a tampon–three to four times a day. There was still no leakage on day 3 which is typically my heaviest day.

a woman demonstrating how to prep a menstrual cup by squeezing it

So to spice things up a bit, I decided not to use the menstrual cup on the 4th day and solely use my period panties to see just how absorbent they were. This was definitely much more tedious since I anticipated changing the panties several times a day, washing, soaking and hanging them up to dry.

I wasn’t wrong.

As far as absorbency goes, I felt that Rael was the clear winner. My Thinx let me down not only with leakage but also with the lack of moisture-wicking. I could tell when it was time to change out of the Thinx because they were definitely wet.

Once I put on the Rael panties, I felt much more confident.

Perhaps the tighter fit had something to do with it–everything was just held in. On top of that, I actually felt dry and instead of having to change out of the Rael after first going to the restroom, I could wait a few more hours between changes. The thinner fabric was like magic. It kept me dry, didn’t feel like a diaper and prevented leaks.

After the fourth day, I decided to go back to my original method of using both the Saalt and a pair of period undies and it felt like a relief.

woman holding up a blue menstrual cup

Because I was nearing the end of my cycle, I switched to the smaller sized Saalt which was perfect. It felt exactly the same but held less, which coincided with how much I was bleeding.

I think if I had used the Saalt by itself on my heavier days, it would have been fine but my paranoia would have gotten the best of me. Combining the two eased any anxiety I had and I highly recommend it.

DAY 6 (My LAST day!)

The last day of my period is my favorite for obvious reasons. I made it to the end! I’m not bleeding heavily anymore! The bloat is gone! I didn’t feel I needed to use the Saalt on this day so I opted for just using the Rael undies and they worked like a charm. I could actually wear them for the full twelve hours before putting on another pair after my shower before bed. 

Is it possible to continue using reusable period products?

It’s absolutely possible with what’s on the market right now!

In fact, overall, I have to say, I think I accomplished my goal of having a waste-free period! I used and reused only what I needed and never had to pick up anything single-use.

woman wearing blue tank top is holding her hair up with text for feminine products

I am an enormous fan of the Saalt cup and love what they stand for. No complaints or criticisms over their products! I am so happy I found a menstrual cup that worked so well for me.

Also, I definitely prefer the Rael panties and will continue to use them while forgoing my original Thinx. In the future, I do hope that Rael comes out with more styles and colors of their undies.

They are making their mark in the industry and finding their footing but they are doing an excellent job so far. With these pioneers in the feminine hygiene industry to guide us, I feel like we are all due for an evolution.

The fact that menstrual products haven’t changed much since they first came on the market shows there’s still work to be done. But as the world changes to accommodate for a more environmentally sound space, the little we try to do our part makes an enormous impact.

And it can start with something as simple as changing the way you take care of your monthly periods.

Are you currently using reusable menstrual products like Saalt, Thinx, or Rael? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!

xo, tanya

P.S. If you’re looking for more ways to reduce waste, you can check out these shoes made from recycled plastic and 10 ways to embrace a greener lifestyle. Also, shopping for nontoxic feminine products is easier than you think!

Don’t forget to use TOG15 to save your 15% on your Saalt menstrual cup!


SOURCES

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/feminine-hygiene-product-market-size-worth-usd-33-78-billion-by-2025-grand-view-research-inc–859748505.html

https://digital.hbs.edu/platform-rctom/submission/the-ecological-impact-of-feminine-hygiene-products/

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/09/how-tampons-pads-became-unsustainable-story-of-plastic/#close

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/surprising-origins-kotex-pads-180964466/

https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-the-tampon

https://www.popsci.com/menstrual-cups-history-period-care/

https://patents.google.com/patent/CN88204564U/en?oq=menstruation+undergarment+-disposable

https://www.racked.com/2016/1/5/10708976/period-underwear-technology

https://www.popsci.com/story/health/pfas-period-underwear-toxic-chemicals/

By Tanya

Tanya is a passionate writer with a sixth sense in discovering the next big thing. She has written for Pregnancy & Newborn and has also been featured by Momfilter, A Cup of Jo and Glamour. When she’s not poring over her latest farmers market bounty or reorganizing her closet into a capsule wardrobe, you can find her with a book and a glass of wine on her front porch with her dog and family in Atlanta, Georgia.

4 Comments

  1. Reply

    Hannah

    Yes! Totally had leaking problem with Thinx too and so I’m really glad to hear about Rael because I wasn’t sure if all period panties were just going to be the same. Thanks for the review!

    1. Reply

      Lisa

      Awesome Hannah! So glad this was helpful!

  2. Reply

    Kari

    I can’t wait to try Rael. Thank you so much for such a detailed review.

    1. Reply

      Lisa

      Awesome! Let me know what you think! xo, Lisa

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