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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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For Ladies Only: Greening Your Menstrual Cycle

I thought about that title for a while, hopefully not offending anyone by excluding you gentlemen while still making the subject clear enough!  Gentlemen, hold your ears and close your eyes… That is, unless you are interested in passing on this info to your wives and girlfriends!

I received a wonderful question from Emily a few weeks ago:

One thing that I’ve been wondering about is how you deal with menstrual issues…. Assuming that you have periods, do you use/have you considered cloth pads, menstrual cups, or anything else along that vein?  Even if you, personally, don’t use these types of products, they may still be worth a mention as fairly healthy and environmentally-conscious alternatives to typical tampons and pads.

Thank you for asking Emily!

For Your Flow

I have tried just about everything.  Here are the results of years of experiments:

Organic Cotton Tampons

These are great if you are not yet ready for a big switch, but you are ready to get the toxins out of your body.  Conventionally grown cotton is FULL of pesticides, and you just don’t want those in your body.  And I know this sounds crazy, but when I switched to organic, my cramps got better – it was the weirdest thing!

My favorite is Natracare – they come in several sizes, and were the first ones readily available here in the US.  Seventh Generation makes them now as well, though I haven’t tried them.  I go applicator free, because I can’t stand wasting the paper.  I just wash my hands before and after.

Chemical-Free or Chlorine-Free Pads

I am not really a pad person, because it seems like so much product that goes to waste.  Also they don’t work all that well for me (organic or no) – I never have found one that protects well enough, even with wings!  But I have tried these once or twice in a pinch. Again, Natracare makes plastic-free, chemical-free pads from plant cellulose.  Seventh Generation makes a chlorine-free pad – but it does contain silicone.

Handmade Cloth Pads

I’m sure at one point or another, we have all used a cloth in an emergency, haven’t we?  There are loads of instructions for how to make good ones yourself online, but the principle is the same:

Purchased Cloth Pads

You can buy those same cloth pads if you don’t like or don’t have time to sew.  Here are some good places to purchase them:

Reusable Cups

This is my method of choice.  Love, love, love them!  So nice.  They can last up to 12 hours without needing to be removed, so there is no need to change it at work.  They last at least a year – if you keep it regularly cleaned you can probably make it last quite a bit longer.  I’ve used my Diva Cup for about 2 years now, and LOVE it.

I’ve only used the Diva Cup.  It comes in 2 sizes, based on your age and whether or not you’ve given birth (basically, our muscles tend to get a little less elastic and our hips get a little bigger).  I am well over 30 and started out using the smaller one because I hadn’t had children, but I just bought my second cup in the larger size and like it better.  It’s not a whole lot different, but it is more comfortable actually.

You can also try The Keeper – I’ve heard good things but have not tried it.

For The Cleaning

I received an email recently asking how to remove stains from cloth pads and clothing – thanks to Jean for asking this question!

On Clothing

Matt’s mother is a nurse, and taught me the most amazing trick a few years ago.  Being a nurse, she has had to clean up her fair share of blood on clothing.  The trick?

  • If it’s a little bit, dampen a cloth with straight hydrogen peroxide and dab it on the clothing.  You’ll still be able to wear the clothing.
  • If it’s a lot, poor straight hydrogen peroxide on the spot and leave it for several hours.  It doesn’t matter if it’s color or white fabric, this works on both types, and I have never found a fabric that this ruined.

You can buy hydrogen peroxide in any pharmacy, in the first aid section.  It’s usually in a dark brown bottle.  Or you can buy it in a health food store in the non-chlorine bleach section – it’s exactly the same thing!  There might be a slight variation in the percentage of hydrogen peroxide in each – don’t worry about the difference, I use both interchangeably.

For Reusable Pads

Wash them in hot water, with detergent and 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide.  If you left them sitting out for a while, soak them in a bowl full of hydrogen peroxide mixed with water (1:6).

For Reusable Cups

Clean each time you change it (at least twice per day), and just use warm water and mild hand soap.  After your cycle, wash and rinse the cup, and then submerge it in a pan of boiling water for 20 minutes to sterilize it.  Then store it in a clean place – the Diva Cup comes with a little pouch you can store it in.

What Do You Use?

Similar Posts:

26 comments to For Ladies Only: Greening Your Menstrual Cycle

  • I’ve used both a Keeper and DivaCup in the past decade. After about a year’s break from the DivaCup, I bought a new one several months ago and have been trying it again. Unfortunately, slippage continues to be a problem (which is why I quit using it the first time around, after trying for about a year). I’ve tried the various problem-solving techniques discussed online, to no avail. It’s not the little bit of leaking that bothers me with the slippage, it’s the discomfort. So I’m back to using tampons & cloth liners. I prefer the OB-shape and style of tampons, but my grocery store now carries organic cotton tampons (with cardboard applicators, blech) so I’ll give those a try. We’ll see how they compare in comfort to the OB (which I really wish was organic cotton). The cloth pads are Lunapads and I like them okay. I live in a hot climate, so the cloth liners will likely be put into hibernation once it starts heating up here — that’s just too much bulk & heat in the crotch area in the summer!!

  • thanks for this – very important. Another quandary is that of baby nappies. How to combine hygiene, effectiveness, cost and environmental sustainability??????

  • isis

    I’ve used the diva cup for 6 months with reusable cloth pads only occassionally at night. i will never go back, and my boyfriend and I just want believe something so wasteful as disposable tampons or pads were ever invented! this, after having had No idea what so ever that there even was another option just 6 months ago

  • Personally a cup for 12 hours except on the lightest of days would never work for me. They must not fit me the same because both my diva and moon cup leak.

    I wrote about my experiences here:
    http://fimby.tougas.net/moon-cup-cloth-pads

    I use cups with purchased handmade cloth pads for back up. I’ve had no problems cleaning the pads. I soak in cold water and hand scrub a bit before I throw them in the laundry. I use cold water and my own laundry soap for washing also and the pads come clean every time. Hydrogen Peroxide works great for stains that won’t come out.

    http://fimby.tougas.net/homemade_laundry_soap

    For hiking and backpacking I use the cup with a natracare pad but I’m trying to figure out to eliminate paper menstrual products all together but this last situation is difficult. If someone has a strategy that works (for serious outdoors) I’d love to hear it.

  • I am well into my 40s so my flow has declined and since I basically just spot I love the cloth pads. I rinse them in cold water and a mild hand soap after use. After they dry I put them into a mesh bag and wash with the rest of the laundry. I will never go back to disposable.

  • I use cloth pads that I made with a few friends. About 5 years ago we got together and had a big sewing party to turn out 100 or so cloth pads.

    One thing you didn’t mention is sea sponge, which is another tampon-like alternative that can be washed and reused.

  • meg

    I love, love, love the Diva Cup. Awesome, works great (after a tiny bit of getting the hang of it!)

  • Christina

    I used the Keeper for many years and started having leakage problems after my preschooler was born. I switched to natural sea sponge and that’s working very well, and plenty of cloth pads here as well.

    Regarding hydrogen peroxide for washing – this would be great except you can only buy it in smallish bottles so it’s lots of plastic and magnified shipping costs as well because you’re transporting so much liquid. A product like OxiClean, which is sodium percarbonate (hydrogen peroxide and soda ash, in a dry solid) might be more ecological – I see them sold in 3.5 pound plastic buckets, which would be equivalent to many of those brown plastic bottles of peroxide and save lots of plastic! You could probably buy a larger quantity through a chemical supplier instead…

    I just finished up a cardboard box of Biz (probably had it for five years just for treating our menstrual pads) and I thought that was also dry hydrogen peroxide product, but I can’t find online confirmation. I’ll have to look next time I’m at the store, since I obviously need to replace it – I like the box better than the plastic bucket for the environment. Looks like you can buy much larger jugs of liquid peroxide online, which would save on plastic as well…

  • LOVE my diva cup! I’m got mine while in my twenties, and opted for the smaller size (1). I have not had kids. I’ve kept it into my thirties, it still works fine. Amazing to think I’ve been using it for seven years!

    I object a bit to your advice to use a mild soap to wash in between changings. What is the point? The vagina is NOT sterile. Further, the menses that you are washing off are present in the vagina, so it’s not like you risk introducing something odd.

    Soap can alter the pH of the vagina, causing some women to develop opportunistic yeast infections. If I’m outdoors or in a bathroom with stalls, I just empty it and re-insert. If I’m in a toilet that has a sink handy, I rinse with warm water. I’ve never had a problem with this.

    There’s also the Moon Cup (http://www.mooncup.co.uk/), a silicon cup. They are similar to the Diva Cup in materials. The Keeper is made from latex, which some folks have a sensitivity to. (and you do not want to be breaking out in a rash there!)

    Glad to see this topic being openly discussed! :) Cheers!

  • Christina

    I never rinsed my cup with anything but cold water in between insertions, but I did wash it with mild soap and hot water in between cycles, before storing it for the month.

  • Christina

    Catmint, there have been studies done on diapering and the environment; I’m sure you can find them online. My oldest is 14, so my research happened a long time ago, but my preschooler is still wearing diapers at night. My recollection is that disposable diapers are the worst: non-renewable materials, lots of energy in production and packaging, transportation to stores for each individual diaper, end-of-cycle residing in landfills. Service cloth diapers are next, because they are hyper-washed with lots of chemicals and boiling water and high-heat dried every time to prevent cross-contamination, and every diaper use has a transportation cost as well. Cloth diapers that you purchase and maintain at home have the least impact, since you only have a transportation cost once for each diaper no matter how much you use it, plus you can wash them as sustainably as you’re comfortable with, line dry them, etc. Plus the cloth can be repurposed at the end of it’s diaper life, as rags, quilt filler, etc. rather than landfilled.

    There’s a technique called elimination communication being used by lots of parents, from infancy, to reduce the use of diapers at all.

  • I LOVE my divacup, but I also had some time getting used to it… had some issues with leaking and spontaneous “pop” openings (seriously weirdest feeling EVER). after a few suggestions from my post, it’s been working quite well.

    some days I can go 12 hours, some days I just change it several times. I also bought the diva wash, BUT of course mild soap would be fine. I use an old toothbrush specifically for this purpose to scrub it each night and at the end of the cycle I BOIL IT. (when no one is around to ask “what’s cooking?? lol).

    I do know there are two sizes of Diva Cups… and wonder when I should switch…. will my body magically change after 30??? (also Diva Cup now recommends replacing your cup every year…. i don’t really buy into the whole “safety” explanation for this one).

    I wrote a few posts on cloth diapers a while back catmint if you’re interested :)

  • Lee

    i’m not going to comment much on the menstrual products, because i’m one of those ‘horrible’ conventional pad users. yes, i know they’re bad, but my 2 kids under 5 pretty much use up all my ‘green’ energy. i do eventually intend on making cloth pads, when i get a chance.
    however, i cloth diaper, and i like to think i’ve gone with the easiest solution that lets both me and my husband change diapers: we use cloth prefolds, with a plastic (vinyl) or waterproof fabric cover.
    some of the diapers were sourced second hand, but even if we had bought new, the whole set would have cost less than $500 canadian, and is lasting/has lasted us through two children. add to that the only ‘extra work’ is a load of laundry every 2 days…
    it might not work for everyone, but it certainly works for us!

  • My teenage daughter and I made the switch to the Diva cup last year and haven’t looked back. We both use cloth pads for back-up in case of leakage. It’s kind of funny, she was evidently talking to some of her girlfriends about her Diva cup and they thought it was gross. That is, until a bunch of them went on a mission trip to New Orleans last summer. Her friends packed boxes of tampons ‘just in case’ and all she had was her tiny Diva tucked in a corner. Now, when you are allowed only one suitcase, which do you think was better? Also, she could be out all day working and not have to worry about taking anything with her. I guess a few changed their tunes.

  • I am a Diva Cup user and LOVE it! I have written about my learning curve in great detail at my blog if anyone is thinking about switching and wants the inside scoop.
    After a few months – http://www.cheaplikemeblog.com/2008/06/26/my-life-with-the-diva-cup/
    After a year – http://www.cheaplikemeblog.com/carbon/diva-cup-date-the-menstrual-cup-after-one-year/

    @renee @ FIMBY – I wonder for backpacking if you could use a cup with a small sea sponge either on top or below? I haven’t tried it, but it might provide some extra absorbency.

    @Lee – If you get some green energy for this change, I’d recommend a cup, as you can leave it for hours (if not 12 at some points in the cycle, it’s still a much more set-it-and-forget-it solution than other systems). Good luck!

    Diva Cup says: “At the end of each cycle The DivaCup should be washed and rinsed and then submerged in an open pan of boiling water (continuous rolling boil) for twenty (20) minutes. Do not leave the boiling pot unattended and use enough water so that the pan does not boil dry. Also, washing your DivaCup with The DivaWash or a pH balanced, unscented soap and warm water is a great way to keep it clean on a regular basis.” I’m sure the boiling is to sanitize the cup so bacteria don’t grow on it while it awaits your next cycle – eww.

  • T

    I wash my Diva Cup with Dr. Bronner’s castile soap. I was using liquid hand soap (scented!) to clean it at first. I quickly realized that was a bad idea! Yeast infections.

  • Good timing – I’m trying to switch over to cloth pads right now myself. My conventional made-of-plastic pads are just too uncomfortable to be dependent on for the rest of my life!

  • Aurea

    I know another awesome blog that would be especially pleased to have this post.

  • i’ve been a loyal diva cup girl for the past year (with homemade cloth liners as back-up). honestly, i didn’t think there was really that much of a learning curve; i was comfortable with it after my first full cycle. i guess it probably depends on your anatomy…

  • elizabeth

    I use the Diva Cup. I’ve had it for five years (maybe longer), I mostly love it, I am late 40s and still use the smaller size (had a c-section 12 years ago, but I’m tiny, 105 lbs). I don’t have a problem with leakage (I’m a raw vegan and my flow is pretty light) but I do occasionally feel it which I never did with tampons and it’s weird. So I usually only use it for 24 to 36 hours and then the smaller size cloth pads for the last day.

  • elizabeth

    Oh yeah, and I’ve never washed it with anything other than tap water and I’ve never sterilized it!

  • [...] Green Generation takes on Greening Your Menstrual Cycle in one of their latest articles.  The author surveys all the different types of alternative [...]

  • [...] Glad Rags or Luna Pads – instead of menstrual pads.  You can read more about greening your cycle here. [...]

  • I’ve used the same Diva Cup (size 2, I’ve had kids and am over 30) for about 4-5 years now, and love it. Brilliant. Best money I ever spent :-)

    I’ve totally ignored the whole “you should buy a new one every year” story from the company that sells them (Diva) – they never used to say that (there was no such statement from the company on their website when I bought my cup half a decade ago), and all I can think is they’re trying to increase their profits. There’s no reason why a product made from medical grade silicone should need replacing every year – and that’s my General Practitioner talking!

    As long as you scrub it then boil it thoroughly at the end of every cycle (I use an old clean toothbrush to scrub mine, paying careful attention to the itty bitty holes), there’s no reason why it can’t last a decade or more.

    I don’t wash mine in anything other than cold water when I empty and re-insert either, BTW. No need to. And I’ve had no problems with it at all.

    Normally I can go about 6 hours between emptying it, but can go longer as my period draws to an end, and it always goes a full 12 hours overnight with no problems or leakage.

    Overall, an awesome product, but lousy ethics from the company for trying to convince people the need to buy a new one every year – just my opinion, anyway.

  • [...] Ladies Only: Lunapad Giveaway! For all you ladies who are looking to green your cycle, and you didn’t win the DivaCup, I have a new one for you!  Lunapads was so excited by the [...]

  • [...] right?  I received many emails from women thanking me for bringing up the idea of greening our menstrual cycles.  It’s a shame to me that we don’t talk about these things more readily – [...]

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