Are Reusable Sanitary Pads Hygienic?
Being a fan of washable pads for several years now, I was convinced the rest of the world was catching up with me. Society is becoming so aware of its environmental impact and the benefits of healthy living that surely most people had heard of reusable period products. Perhaps they even knew someone who was using them.
But there is still a surprising perception of reusable menstrual products as being ‘gross’ or backwards, despite the complete lack of evidence to support the safety of their disposable counterparts.
So let’s break it down to the facts.
When you’re wearing them
Some disposables might be made from breathable cotton, but that ominous ‘blue gel core’ isn’t. In fact you’ll have a difficult time finding out what exactly it does contain since the nappy and menstrual pad companies who use it refer to it simply as ‘super-absorbent gel’ and are not legally obliged to go into more detail than that.
The adhesive strip on the back of a disposable pad isn’t made from cotton either and it isn’t particularly breathable. And then there’s the ‘scented’ ones.
But I digress. With a washable pad, the options for breathability are endless. Cotton, hemp, terry cloth, wool, flannel and bamboo fleece are all popular natural choices which allow air to flow freely and cause virtually no build-up of moisture or odour compared to disposables.
Of course, many reusable pads on the market include synthetic fabrics which may not be so breathable, so it is important to check the materials contained in your pads of choice before buying.
When you’re transporting them
When you wear disposables, the worst case scenario is finding yourself changing pads in a bathroom that has no bin. This means wrapping your used pad in tissue and carrying it on your person until the opportunity to discreetly bin it appears. With oxygen getting at that pad in your pocket or handbag, it immediately starts to smell, and suddenly finding a bin becomes the most important objective in your life.
With reusables, there’s the option of a wet bag or purse, a dedicated and discreet solution when out and about. With one of these in your bag, the only thing you need access to is water to soak your pad. Bottled will do if the restroom has no sink. Many reusable pads also fold up tightly into themselves, meaning there is no oxygen getting to your pad. This means no odour and, more importantly, less opportunity for bacteria to grow.
When you’re finished with them
Disposables get chucked in the bin. End of story, right?
Not so much. There’s a reason there are specialised bins in most public restrooms for disposing of menstrual products. Unless you have one of these sealed bins in your bathroom, and a dedicated company in your area to empty it for you, your bathroom is likely exposed to a monumental build-up of bacteria at least once each month, not to mention the odour and the amount of tissue used to ‘camouflage’ that bin full of red-stained pads. This then gets tossed into landfill in most cases, where the bacteria is released back to anyone who comes into contact with your rubbish or landfill site.
Conversely, reusable pads are either immediately washed or are soaked and sealed whilst waiting for washday. Whether using a wet bag or a sealed bucket, oxygen cannot get at the pads in the same way as if it was exposed to the air in an open bin, and bacteria cannot grow. Of course, if using the bucket option, water must be changed daily for this to be fully effective.
It takes a little while for some users to get used to the idea of seeing their used pads again on wash day. This is understandable, since ideas about periods being ‘dirty’ or taboo run deep and are hard to shake. But there will be no more need for contact with your used washables than there would be with disposables when it’s time to empty the bathroom bin (and with less odour!). I’ve gone five years now without having to touch my stained reusables. I simply empty the water carefully from my bucket and tip the pads directly into the washing machine. Hanging your pads to dry in the sun also kills bacteria if you are concerned about build-up.
Of course, the overall hygiene of your reusables routine does rely somewhat on proper care and washing according to the manufacturer’s instructions, but even if your washing routine slips a few times, reusable pads are no less hygienic than disposables, with the facts seeming to lean strongly in favour of reusables when all things are considered.