Washable menstrual products are making a comeback in the form of cloth pads, reusable menstrual cups, and sea sponges. This is another example of the cycles of tradition that exist – all these products were around 100 years ago. We have ended our madness and fascination with disposable, convenient, and fast, and are moving towards reconnection with our bodies, our lives, our communities.
Pads, variously known as napkins, surfboards, rags, towels, and cloths.
It is not just the chemicals from bleaching or from attempts to increase the absorbency of the material, that are toxic to our bodies and the environment, pads usually contain a plastic layer, and adhesive as well.
Washable pads offer women a positive, healthier, and ecologically sound alternative to traditional disposable menstrual pads. They are soft, absorbent and comfortable to wear. Since one of the reasons to use non-disposables as opposed to disposables is to avoid exposure to toxic chemicals, it is important to choose washable pads made from organic fabric if you can. Different manufacturers use different organic fabrics, with the most popular being chambray cotton, hemp, linen, jersey and wool.
In one form or another, tampons have been around for thousands of years. The traditional tampon works by expanding inside the vagina to absorb blood flow and prevent leaks. Tampons are typically made of cotton or a rayon/cotton blend. Most come with an applicator made of plastic or cardboard.
Tampons of any kind remove up to 35 percent of healthy vaginal secretions.
The use of conventional tampons has some personal and health effects. Most current tampons are rayon and rayon/cotton blends, which have been chlorine bleached and contain dioxins and furans. Rayon tampons also carry with them a greater risk of toxic shock syndrome. Tampon use is also associated with an increased risk of vaginal dryness and vaginal ulcers, especially with the more absorbent tampons.
Most tampons come with a plastic or cardboard applicator. Despite all the entreaties of manufacturers and building managers, these applicators continue to be flushed down toilets in alarming numbers. Not only are these a problem for sewage treatment plants they also end up in the ocean and washed up on the beach.
Enviro- and health-friendly tampons are made of non-GMO, organic cotton, hemp or other fibre that is grown without the use of herbicides, pesticides, are free of dioxin and furan residues, and are chlorine free.
The menstrual cup is a type of cup or barrier worn internally like a tampon but collects menstrual fluid rather than absorbing it. Cups are reusable, and will typically hold 30 ml of fluid, which is roughly one third of the average total produced each menstrual cycle. It is recommended that the cup is emptied every 6-12 hours. The frequency is an individual decision based on the volume of fluid released, and each woman is different. Correctly inserted the cup is comfortable but it may take a little practice to find the angle and position that is right for your body.
There are two main kinds of menstrual cups currently available. The most common kind is the bell-shaped cup made of latex rubber or silicone. These cups tend to last approximately 10 years depending on how they are cleaned and stored. The second kind of menstrual cup is more like a contraceptive diaphragm. This product is designed for single use only.
Originally cups made from rubber were too hard but today rubber cups are soft and have a feel like the baby bottle teats that are made from rubber.
The cup forms a light seal with the vaginal walls allowing the menstrual fluid to pass into the cup without leakage or odour. Its use does not interfere with the healthy vaginal environment, and its use has not been associated with toxic shock syndrome. Some women find, due to anatomical differences caused from childbirth, that there can be a very slight leakage. If this is the case, women can use a light cotton pad on their heaviest days.
Menstrual cups can be emptied, rinsed or wiped and then reinserted. They can be cleaned by washing with soap and water and by boiling in water for 20 minutes after each cycle.
There are more than 4500 varieties of sea sponges. They are plant-like animals growing in colonies on the ocean floor. The softest ones are the Atlantic and Mediterranean Silks. Harvesting sea sponges can have a disastrous ecological impact. For these reasons the use of sea sponges as menstrual products cannot be endorsed.