Menstruation is enough of a taboo subject on its own, but since I can’t leave well enough alone, I’m going to delve a little deeper into uncomfortable territory and talk about how to handle your Aunt Flo in Zero Waste style.
Yes, this means you will not be throwing away tampons and maxi pads. No, nobody has to know you’re doing this. Yes, this means you yourself will have to clean the item(s) you use to catch your menses. No, it doesn’t smell. Yes, I’m serious.
So let’s start by getting this out of the way first:
That’s so backwoods and primitive! UGH!
Now that that’s done, let’s continue. It’s very doable and many women even like it better once they find what works for them. You know, just like when they started dealing with this at puberty in the first place. You may not even realize that your beloved disposables have been irritating your most sacred of assets this whole time.
Just like in the drugstore, there are essentially two types of items employed here: instead of tampons we’ll be talking cups, and instead of disposable pads we’ll be talking reusable pads. I’ve had great success with either, and on heavy days I’ve used both just in case.
Let’s start with pads. You can make them or you can buy them. When I made my first set, I traced my favorite disposables and used that as a basis, but you can find many free or cheap patterns online. You can even go lo-fi no-sew and stick a folded felted wool or fleece scrap cloth into your knickers. It’s up to you. If you’re buying, you can find them in different weights and with or without wings just like with disposables. Luna Pads and GladRags are probably the most popular US brands and they both sell great starter kits, and of course you can find them on Etsy as well. Most are made of soft cotton or fleece with an absorbent terrycloth inside. Reusable pads don’t make you itch, crinkle, or smell like disposables can. And they obviously create less waste.
Care is relatively easy. Unless you never leave the house, you’ll also be wanting either two small carry bags or one with two compartments – one for fresh and one for used. When it’s time to change your pad, put the used one in the used compartment, and put the new one on yourself. The used pad can sit in its bag in your purse until you get home (Hush! I heard you say eww just then. It doesn’t smell and it doesn’t leak, I promise! And unless someone goes digging through your purse, like the door guy did that one time at a Damned show at Irving Plaza, nobody is ever going to know what’s in there. Boy was he surprised!!!) Once you get home, soak it for an hour in cold water. You may wish to add a little Borax or Oxyclean to the water, which can help make cleaning even easier. After the soak you can throw them in with the wash. Done and ready to use again! Just don’t let them soak for longer than, say, overnight. Once I completely forgot a couple languishing in a bassinet for a couple of days and let’s just say – science experiment! I did have to throw those out. You can let them dry out between the soak and the wash and it’ll work out fine.
Then there are menstrual cups. There’s no beating around the proverbial bush here – it’s a cup that you insert and, once suctioned properly, sits around your cervix without leaking and just hangs out and catches your blood until you’re ready to dump it into the toilet. Or into a jar to paint with. Whatever floats your boat. Even on your heaviest of days you will need to empty it probably twice, max, though some like to do it more often. If it is not inserted properly it can actually leak, but you should be able to get the hang of it pretty easy. Read the instructions which will show you several ways to fold and insert it comfortably. Most women recommend next gently grasping the bottom and rotating it 360 degrees so it can open completely and form a proper seal. Remember, you folded it up to get it in there. Lube in this case is a pretty bad idea. Lube in other cases, that’s another story.
Menstrual cups are generally made of a soft and foldable silicone or latex, come in two sizes, and these days there are so many to choose from it’s crazy! When I started you had the Diva Cup and the Luna Cup and that was about it. I’m a Diva Cup gal. Love it. Though I did have to trim down the little nub at the end to make it comfy for me. There are so many on the market now, I highly recommend checking out a guide like this one to see which one is best for you. As we all know, size matters.
Care is pretty easy here, too. As we all know, make sure your hands are clean before touching your naughty bits. Gently remove the cup by giving it a very light squeeze to break the seal and empty the contents. After each change, you should rinse it in cold water before re-insetion. Warm water could potentially set in stains. If you’re in a public restroom, just wipe it off with some toilet paper before reinsertion (we promise we won’t call you wasteful for this!) and wash it when you’re home. Or you could even bring a bottle of water in with you if you want and rinse it that way. Or just put it back in. You gotta do what you gotta do. Most companies will recommend boiling the cup for about 10 minutes once a month after your period is over to give it a good clean. Some women also like to soak it in a water / hydrogen peroxide mix for an hour once a month and swear it removes any potential stains or darkening. If the idea of the clear uncolored cups gaining a natural “patina,” let’s call it, bothers you, just go for a fun brightly colored one! Yay!
If you haven’t tried either I highly recommend giving it a shot. You may love it, and your nether region may love you. Plus, less waste is more awesome. Do you have a favorite cup or pad or tip for women new to this? Feel free to chime in below.