Let’s get this out of the way: I’m going to say “vagina” a lot in this post. Also “cervix” and “menstrual cycle” and “period.” Prepare yourselves!
In a natural healing group on Facebook, the question was posed: What’s a crunchy thing you do that gets the strongest reaction from people? I thought about a lot of things… I barely go to the doctor, I don’t wear a bra, I don’t shave my legs, I don’t use shampoo… AHA! I’ve got it!
I don’t use tampons. Or disposable maxi pads.
- are expensive (~$3,000 over your lifetime, more if you buy organic)
- are bad for the environment (lots of waste and lots of pollution from manufacturing)
- are produced with harsh chemicals
- can cause yeast/bacterial infections
- (tampons) deplete the vagina’s natural fluids and bacteria
- (tampons) can contain mold (link)
Overall, disposable menstrual products are a drag. In my experience, tampons are uncomfortable and make everything dry. Pads feel like you’re wearing a diaper, and sometimes they flip around and you’ve got adhesive and plastic sticking to places you’d rather it not be sticking. Plus, the ones that are more plastic just make you all sweaty and gross.
What can you use instead?
I personally use a menstrual cup (Lunette) and washable organic cotton pads (Party In My Pants).
I use these for many reasons…
- Less waste (one cup will last years, and when you’re ready to discard you can simply burn it without producing any harmful chemicals or gases; pads are made from biodegradable cloth)
- Better periods (sounds crazy but it’s true; I don’t get menstrual cramps anymore since switching, and my periods are over quicker)
- Less money (after an initial investment, I have no monthly costs associated with my period – I’m paid up for at least FIVE YEARS)
- Safer (no drying out of the vaginal fluids, no chemicals in sensitive areas, no stupid fragrances)
- Easier (I really believe this is easier than fussing with packaging, wrapping, discreetly tossing, etc.)
- Less space (cup in the medicine cabinet, five pads in my underwear drawer, TA DAAAAAAAAA)
WTF is a menstrual cup?
A menstrual cup is a silicone cup that you insert into the vagina, which catches the blood. You can wear it for extended periods of time, I usually change mine twice per day on average days and maybe three on heavy days. No risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome from leaving it in for 12 hours (a risk from tampons). There are a variety of ways you can fold and insert, and there are YouTube videos and diagrams all over the internet about it. To remove, simply pinch the bottom, pull it out, dump, rinse (or wipe with tissue if in a public restroom), and reinsert. One of the biggest complaints I see about people who don’t want to try this is that they wouldn’t be able to change it in a public restroom. I swear, you can change it in the morning and when you’re home in the evening and never need to worry about it in the middle of the day (unless you have a very heavy flow, in which case you can wipe with a tissue until you can get to rinse it again).
It’s not as gross as it sounds, I swear.
People also worry that it would be a crazy mess to deal with. Not true. There’s a learning curve and your first couple cycles might be a little messy while you figure out your particular groove for insertion and removal, but once you’ve got it, you’ll never look back. I have never had a nasty spill while changing it, ever.
(Update, 2019: One SINGLE time I dropped it in a toilet. I threw it away and got a new one because it was ill fitting anyway — still less waste than tampons).
One thing I need to warn you about is that your cervix (the little opening at the bottom of your uterus that opens up when you have a baby, and through which your menstrual blood travels) MOVES AROUND. A LOT. So you’ll need to get familiar with your anatomy to make sure the cup is positioned correctly in relation to the cervix. It does no good to put the cup up high when the cervix is being sneaky down low. There is a whole world to discover in there.
Yup, reusable pads. I own five organic cotton liners from Party in my Pants.
The things I hear about when people are questioning washable pads is usually around the gross-factor of throwing something with blood on it into the laundry. Do you wash them in a special load? No. Do you pre-soak them? You can, but I don’t. Are they smelly? No. I promise.
The way I look at it is: If you get blood on your underwear, do you throw them away or do you wash them? Wash ’em. I seriously throw my pads in with the rest of the laundry and that’s the end of it. Granted, I don’t usually have a lot going on with them since they are just there as a backup for the cup, but even if I had a heavy flow on the pads I would just wash them with everything else. They even fold up for easy carrying! You could do an initial soak with vinegar water to pre-wash them but it’s not necessary. You can learn more on the PIMP page linked above!
I am by no means an expert on reusable menstrual gear but I would be happy to answer your questions or help you find the answers you seek!
22 thoughts on “Ditch it: Tampons”
Caitln, I think you covered this pretty well. 🙂 When I made the change I only knew of the Keeper, which is made from gum rubber. I loved it! It was guaranteed for 10 years, ten years later it still looked brand new, but I no longer needed it. I made the switch back around 2000 after I began to experience a reaction to tampons. The doctor narrowed it down to an allergic reaction to the pesticides in the tampon materials. I never could wear pads as I broke out in huge welts from them.
Yikes, welts!? No fun at all. There are so many cups out there… Diva Cup, MoonCup, Lunette, and probably five more brands. Each is a little different 🙂 I seriously love it and would never go back!
I never did, but as of December I no longer need it. Still have it just in case.
I’ve used the Diva Cup for several years, and I totally LOVE it! But I’m on my 3rd one because, well… um… let’s just say that the easily distracted among us have problems with things like boiling something for 30 minutes to disinfect it. Yup, I sent 2, count ’em, TWO diva cups up in flames! You’d think once would have been enough, but no.
So now, when I’m done with it for the month I just set some water to boiling, then I TURN IT OFF and THEN (and only then), drop the diva cup in and let it sit for at least 30 minutes. So far, no disasters with this method! Oy!
You can also sterilize with rubbing alcohol to avoid the burning issue 🙂
I’ve used a Mooncup for probably about a decade now and it is great. No horrible removing a tampon that’s a bit..dry. The main reason I started using them though was to save so much going to landfill. I steralise mine with sterilising fluid that’s usually used for baby bottles- no chance of burning it! Still looks good as new 🙂
More recently I have started using reusable pads…so much less..sweaty! I just chuck them in the laundry too. I agree that they are so much easier than disposable stuff!
I think when you start to think a certain way, you find yourself in a little pocket of people who think the same way. I never expected all these comments about others using cups too!
I seriously love the cotton pads… so much more comfortable.
I’m so jealous of your use of menstrual cup! (I seem to be very jealous of you lately!) I bought a menstrual cup – can’t remember which one – a couple of months ago but it was just too small 😦 Even though I bought it following the guidelines, I guess my cervix is too long. I was really disheartened because I hate disposables for 2 reasons, 1) they are bad for the planet and 2) the pads give me this horrible burn and itch on day 3/4 of my period. Thankfully though I didn’t give up and bought reusable cloth pads from New Moon Pads in Canada and while I haven’t used them for a full cycle yet, I can tell I’m going to love them! Hopefully in the future I’ll pluck up the courage to try a menstrual cup again, this time in the right size!
Oh no, I am sorry you had a bad experience! From what I understand, every brand is a little different with regard to sizing. I am sure you can find one that works for you. Good luck! 🙂
You know, you’ve piqued my interest! What about swimming? can you wear a cup swimming and it will protect well enough that you won’t have leaks? I am seriously considering getting one since I use tampons always and I hate putting those chemicals into my body!
Yep, swimming, sleeping, exercise… it’s all good. I seriously love the thing!
I use the Diva cup and I have to say that it simplifies things as well as saves money. Two months of tampons is the same price. The only thing I would caution women on is that you up your chances of BV (bacterial vaginosis) so disinfection on a regular basis as well as washing your hands before and after you change it is essential. (You would think that you would never have to say this but I’ve seen plenty in my medical career that would make you squirm.) Some women have hesitation in using one because they think it will be hard to place or uncomfortable to wear. It’s just so easy it’s unreal. The other thing I like about it is that you never have the uncomfortable situation of having to leave a used feminine product in the trash can while visiting someone’s house. I always hated that and this eliminates awkward situations.
That’s true about being at someone’s house! I didn’t even think about that. I didn’t know about the increased risk of BV but I’m always crazy about washing my hands before I handle the cup, and I sterilize it too to keep things clean. Thank you for your input!! 🙂
I’m cutting out more and more unnecessary junk and spending in my life these days. This is one thing I’ve been doing research on lately, and I think you’ve just convinced me. I’ve never really had a problem with tampons until recently, it seems. I’m starting to always feel irritated/dry/itchy down there when I use them now. After I use what I have left, I think I’m gonna give the cup a try. Your comments on its ease of use has helped. I was worried that insertion would be tricky. Thanks!
There is definitely a learning curve, but stick with it for a couple cycles and you’ll love it! There are youtube videos of different ways to fold it for insertion, try a couple and see what works for you. And you can practice inserting and removing while you’re not on your period so there’s no sense of impending mess. 🙂
I just got a Diva cup and love it! I think it has the least ick-factor of any products I’ve used (including disposable pads and tampons).
I’ve been off of disposable products for years now, and I too noticed that my cycles were markedly shorter (4-5 days instead of 7) and lighter. Makes you wonder what’s in the disposable stuff. Ugh.
Yeah, I think there’s some shady stuff in there 😦
Thanks again for the inspiration! I just ordered my first cup and 4 cotton pads, and I was glad to find out there is a German company called MeLuna which is offering cheaper cups not made from silicone but from another tested material (usually used for baby products, so it should be really safe). But I’m not happy about the fact that the pads are insanely expensive over here, the original lunapads cost at least twice as much as they do on your continent … *shocked* I ordered cheaper pads from a somewhat hippie inspired homepage, but still I spent the pad budget of over a year. They better be freaking awesome >.< If this sewing machine wasn't broken I'd give the DIY version a try.
Hi! I just discovered your blog and am (as always) thrilled to find another like-minded soul.
I’ve been using the Keeper and homemade cotton pads for years now, and wouldn’t ever go back to using disposables.
However, during my first days I’ve never been able to go for 12 hours without changing. My flow gets so heavy, I have to change as often as every two to three hours. On my first nights, I wear both the Keeper and a cotton pad with a cotton liner. And I still wake up during the night because I have to change.
So that’s how things are when you’ve got a really heavy flow. Even so, that’s way better than having to depend on those horrid disposables. Leaky, sticky, sweaty… no thanks. Not for me.
Yikes!! My flow used to be much much heavier than it is now. I would have to go through the super absorbent tampons at an alarming rate. The pill made the flow more manageable, and I was worried it would go back to the heavy crazy way it was before when I went off birth control, but it has been great using the cup and cloth pads. I’m lucky I guess. That sucks that your flow is so heavy! 😦 Have you tried any herbs or anything to help regulate the flow to a more manageable level, or are you just programmed for a heavy flow?
I figure I’m just programmed for a heavy flow. It doesn’t bother me all that much, and I don’t get anaemic or anything, so I’m fine with it. It’s a little inconvenient to have to change that often during the first days, but that’s only two days, so it really isn’t too bad.
I am very pleased to not have to spend any money on disposables though! 😀
Yeah I bet you save a lot more than the average woman!