Here are a few convincing arguments why you should change to cloth pads from your usual sanitary napkins.
This year, when a friend and I started a blog about social issues that narrated the trials and tribulations using a first person narrative, the first story I worked on was an investigation into how women deal with menstruation in slums. Of the several women I interviewed, only one used disposable napkins. All the others used cloth, and some even claimed that cloth was more comfortable.
I had my first period when I was 12. Whisper was available in the bulky rectangular pads you might remember from advertisements (where they poured blue ink on it) shown on television. Those were uncomfortable, yes, but I think most of my discomfort stemmed from the fact that I was conditioned to believe that the whole concept of menstruating was painful. Oh, you started chumming? Oh, you poor thing. There, there. Here, have some chocolate, it’ll make you feel better.
I’ve heard stories from my mother about the times she used cloth, and every time she would insist that ‘it wasn’t that bad’, I would say ‘yuck, that sounds totally disgusting’. I’ve since changed my attitude towards cloth pads completely, and here’s why I think cloth pads are a much better choice in the long run:
Environment-friendly and sustainable
I had never really considered the environmental impact of throwing out 4-5 pads per day for the five bloody days of menstrual gore. Until I read an article about menstrual waste.
The article quoted shocking statistics from Down to Earth magazine, estimating the amount of menstrual waste generated by India to be around 9,000 tons a month. The worst part about this kind of waste is, almost 90% of the pad is made of plastic (not taking into account the plastic it is wrapped in and the plastic we use to dispose of the pads). This is despite the fact that only 12% of Indian menstruating women use disposable pads. It is believed that more and more women are switching to disposable pads, which means that the amount of plastic we are contributing to landfills is just growing exponentially.
Cloth pads are definitely more comfortable than disposables. It didn’t take me a single day to get used to them. It’s just like wearing underwear. I bought only one pad to begin with because I just wanted to try it out. The website I bought it from said that cloth pads are less smelly because the smell actually emanates from menstrual blood being mixed with plastic. After using cloth pads for three months, I must say, that this might be true.
There are times when I’ve stained clothes by incorrectly positioning disposable pads. In the past few months that I’ve used cloth pads, I haven’t stained my clothes even once.
Another advantage of a cloth pad with nickel buttons is that you can move it from one underwear to another, and readjust it as many times as needed. There are times when I’ve stained clothes by incorrectly positioning disposable pads. In the past few months that I’ve used cloth pads, I haven’t stained my clothes even once. They do not leak, soak more than disposables and there’s less dampness. In the interest of full disclosure, the cloth pads I bought have a layer of plastic in them that prevents leakage.
Till I decided to switch to cloth, I had not given the issue of ‘where-does-it-go-after-you-put-it-in-the-bin’ a single thought. For all I knew, the period fairy made it disappear. The fact is, once we dispose of the pads, they become a part of the household waste that is segregated by waste collectors. These waste pickers sift through the garbage without any protective gear and come into contact with ‘disease-causing microorganisms E coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus, HIV and pathogens that cause hepatitis and tetanus.’
Cheaper than disposables
The soft, comfortable Whisper Ultras cost Rs. 80 for seven or eight pads. While the cloth pads cost Rs 250-300, they can be reused for up to five years. So, in the long run, they are cheaper.
Breaking menstrual taboos
I actually enjoy telling everyone about my switch to cloth pads, so once I put up a picture of washed cloth pads as my Whatsapp profile picture. While my cousin thought they were ‘pretty’ and ‘colourful’, one of my friends said ‘there was no reason to put that up as my profile picture’ and that ‘they were definitely not pretty’.
Embarrassment about the menstrual cycle is so deeply ingrained in our consciousness, that you whisper about it, you find euphemisms for it, you blush when you ask the chemist for sanitary napkins. Many women I know believe that ‘it’s not taboo, it’s private’, and that ‘there’s no reason to discuss it out loud’. The fact is, it is a taboo in many households, where girls are asked to live in seclusion for those five days and are taught to feel embarrassed about this normal, monthly bodily function. When I dry my washed cloth pads out in the open, under the sun, I feel like I’m contributing towards breaking the don’t-talk-about-it rule.
While I swear by cloth pads now and find the disposables completely odious and uncomfortable, I must admit that it is not always convenient to use cloth pads. While I was traveling back home from the UK, for example, I had to use disposables, because I couldn’t bear the thought of carrying used cloth pads in my cabin luggage for more than 12 hours.
“But how can you bear the thought of washing them?” Honestly, the first time I did it, it was slightly revolting. But then I thought, why is this so disgusting? I mean, we wash our own bums, don’t we?
When I tell people about this cloth pad switch, after the horrified yucks and ews, some women ask, “But how can you bear the thought of washing them?” Honestly, the first time I did it, it was slightly revolting. But then I thought, why is this so disgusting? I mean, we wash our own bums, don’t we? It’s not pleasant, but it has to be done. Why don’t we just assign a number to menstrual fluid? Say, numbers one and two are wee wee and poo poo, three, I hear, is ejaculation, and four is menstrual fluid. The reason it is so disgusting is that we want to pretend there’s no such thing. We haven’t completely accepted the fact that once a month, our red flowers bloom (as Cersei Lannister so eloquently puts it) for four-five days. Once we come to terms with the fact that menstrual blood isn’t as revolting as we’ve been told it is, we can get rid of all the period taboos and just menstruate in peace.
Cover image courtesy: Hygiene and You
This article first appeared on Women’s Web on June 7, 2015