Approximately 20 pads/tampons per month, equating to 240 per year which over the average lifespan of a menstruating female (approximately 40 years worth of periods) gives us the grand total of 9,600 feminine hygiene products used during one woman’s lifetime.
Switching to reusable menstrual or incontinence pads is another action that reduces disposable products filling up our landfills.
This week, we learn about Melissa Pardoe of Spoiled Sew Rotten from Bracebridge Ontario, who took a love for sewing and a passion to make a difference and decided to make reusable pads.
Spoiled Sew Rotten provides women with reusable cloth menstrual pads and the laundry/storage bags needed to use them. Each pad provides a specific amount of absorbency and features a water resistant fabric backing. If the right absorbency is chosen for the woman’s needs at that time, there should be no leaks to worry about, all while decreasing the amount of sanitary products in landfills.
A few months ago I decided to start making and selling cloth pads, since I had had success sewing them up for myself for a month. At first I was unsure which platform was the best to suit my needs, since I know cloth pads are not widely used or even known to most women. I eventually settled on Etsy, figuring that since they are all hand made by myself, it would work best. You can find my shop at www.etsy.com/ca/shop/SpoiledSewRotten. I have sold some to colleagues at work and continue to offer information to anyone who asks about them. I also plan to sell them at craft shows and other vendor events to spread the word locally. Many women need to hear about and discover cloth pads many times before deciding to try them for themselves. I also have a Facebook page where I explain cloth pads, link articles, post demo pictures and promote sales and pads that are in the shop. I love having the ability to interact with the women who are interested in trying cloth pads or have bought some and let me know how well they work for them.
I think there are many benefits to selling products using Etsy. First, I’m able to sell to people all over the world. I really love this fact, that I’m helping women in so many countries to be more environmentally conscious. Also, I can reach a lot more women who are looking for hand made products. People who search on Etsy either know exactly what they want and will hopefully find my product, or will stumble upon it and learn out of curiosity. Etsy also gets rid of overhead costs from a brick and mortar shop so I can keep my prices lower.
I definitely see a growing number of people becoming interested in reusable products. People are using beeswax wrappers instead of cellophane, bamboo toothbrushes, refillable container grocery stores and of course more and more women are becoming curious about cloth pads and using them. There’s a period of adjustment sometimes with these products: hesitation, curiosity, research and finally use. Society has become so used to things being easy, quick and disposable that in order to switch to reusable products, even at a small level, it takes some adjusting. I remember when I mentioned my products to a work colleague and her response was “that’s a thing?” and looked horrified. My hope is to educate friends, family and the general community about the fact the an alternative to disposable sanitary pads is out there. I have already sold pads to a few friends who discovered it was for them.
I’ve really developed a passion for this small company and each product I make. It all started with health problems. I developed menstrual symptoms that I now have a diagnosis for which caused me to use many disposable products, much more than a typical woman does. Since I had already cloth diapered my daughter, I knew there were more eco friendly options out there and just thinking about the amount of trash I alone was creating started to sicken me. I decided to try looking on Etsy, since the larger cloth pad companies’ products were a bit pricey for me. I ended up looking around at many companies’ shops since almost every maker has a different design and ended up ordering from a shop in Edmonton. After using them for two months I was hooked and decided to make my own. I was already a decent seamstress so I was able to make them easily and found that I really enjoyed the whole process. It was then that I decided to sell them myself, and Spoiled Sew Rotten began.
I’m a busy mom and part time nurse, although I’ve always made time to sew up different things. I find myself trying to decrease the amount of waste me and my family creates. It began with not wanting to buy boat loads of diapers for my second child and have them end up in landfills. Cloth diapers then led to cloth training underwear which became the doorway to cloth pads. Sometimes by making a small change in your life, it slowly spreads and grows into other areas. You get exposed to other ways you can change your life for the better. Sometimes, as in my case, changing your own lifestyle gives you an opportunity to change others’ as well. I absolutely love helping other people and am growing more passionate about spreading the word on cloth pads.
I would say there are four main benefits to using reusable pads. First, the money saving factor. I averaged out the cost of one cycle and then multiplied it to span five years, since most cloth pads last at least this long if properly cared for. I then priced out an average “stash” a woman might acquire and reuse during this time. I discovered there was a savings of $700! And that was just a conservative guess. If someone used more disposables than I supposed, but was able to wash and reuse the pads to make up for it, they would save more. Also, there are Facebook groups where you can sell used pads, if they are in good condition. The second benefit is that many women find that when they switch to cloth pads, their flow reduces noticeably. Some women chalk this up to not being able to tell as easily how much is being absorbed into the pad, while others claim disposables have certain chemicals that promote bleeding in order to get more sales. I am not saying either are true, only that many of the women I have talked with on Facebook (myself included) have found this to be the case. Third, cloth pads breathe a lot more than the disposables which is great for sensitive skin; they also don’t “crinkle” or stick to sensitive areas. Cloth pads usually are held in place with plastic snaps that fasten around the underwear, much like a disposable does. Finally, one cloth pad if used for five years in a rotation of other cloth pads would replace approximately 120 disposable products. Considering 20-30 pads is not uncommon for a woman to have, that’s a lot of trash avoided.
There is definitely a yuck factor involved with these products. I am always very sensitive to this when I write on my Facebook page about information regarding pads. Some women don’t like talking or reading about it, some women are very open and don’t mind talking about it publicly. I provide gentle information, but if someone is not comfortable with the act of cleaning a pad, they will never be able to fully embrace this reusable product. It’s as easy as cleaning a leak on underwear, sometimes easier. Every woman will have a different way of doing things depending on her lifestyle and personal flow trends. Personally, the use of a wet/dry bag is very handy on the go. These are special bags that use a very water resistant fabric called PUL (polyurethane laminate) to hold damp pads that have been soiled or rinsed. One pocket is zippered and used to hold clean pads, the other zippered pocket holds the wet or dirty ones. Personally I find that rinsing them out as soon as possible helps to keep away stains and odour. Upon arriving home, you can add them to a larger wet bag until washing day. I usually advise my customers to wash soiled pads within 2-3 days of soiling, to extend the life of the pads. Wet fabric tends to deteriorate slowly over time.
Are there any special laundry or care instructions with your pads? How do you recommend washing the pads?
The best thing you can do for pads is to rinse as soon as possible in cold water or some women choose to soak them for a few hours to lift the stain. I promote the use of a stain stick like Buncha Farmer’s to erase the stain quickly and easily. Whatever you use, whether it is a stain stick or detergent later in the wash, it must be low residue and as free from fragrance and dyes as possible. Either a smaller amount of detergent or an extra rinse cycle will benefit greatly. Residue buildup can decrease a pads absorbency effectiveness and will result in the pad’s needing to be “stripped” which basically means soaking the pads with washing soda and is a natural chemical process to get rid of built up oil, detergent and other barriers to absorbency that accumulate over time. In fact, even though I use new fabric and wash once before sewing, I advise my customers that a few washes may be needed before pads are at their most absorbent and softest. Pads can easily be thrown in the dryer with other laundry loads, although no fabric softeners or dryer sheets, as they drastically decrease the ability to absorb. Letting damp pads dry in direct sunlight helps to get rid of stains.
It’s amazing how many different pad designs there are, and yes, even for different flows. There are pads for front bleeders that have a larger area in the front, back bleeders have a larger flared area in the rear and some are flared in both areas. There are different shapes including oval, rectangular and even novelty shapes like cats and Christmas trees. It’s up to the shop owner which designs to offer, and there are so many I doubt any shop has all of them! I currently sell rounded pads that closely resemble disposables, and also a longer version called the Titan which I bought from a pattern designer that features a larger flare at the back. There are also different lengths from 5 inches up to 23 or more inches! I have chosen to make 7 inches up to 15.5 inches.
To answer this question, I have to explain the three layers of a cloth pad. The fabric that touches the skin is called the topper, and is usually cotton, jersey, flannel, minky or velour. The fabric depends on the individual, some women find certain ones to be too hot or others to absorb quicker or clean easier. There are also a variety of prints you can get, from dogs to zombies and Mickey Mouse to Marilyn Monroe. The layer that touches the underwear is called the backing fabric. This is usually fleece, microfleece (which is thinner), flannel or sometimes a fabric bonded to PUL for added peace of mind. PUL is sometimes what cloth sandwich baggies are made of, for people that need a visual reference. It’s very thin and when bonded to a fabric it becomes a hidden layer inside the pad to keep moisture inside. The inner layer is called the core and the options in here are endless: cotton, flannel, cotton quilt batting, bamboo, bamboo quilt batting, Zorb (a fabric made from “tangled cellulose fibers from bamboo, cotton, viscose and poly micro fiber,” as stated on their website), cotton, microfibre, old t-shirts…basically anything that absorbs well and isn’t extremely thick. I currently use either cotton batting, cotton/bamboo batting or Zorb, depending on what absorbency I’m sewing up. Then there are the plastic snaps that allow the wings to wrap around the underwear and stay in place. These are just simple snaps used in everyday items. Some people think that because they are cloth, it means they’ll be bulky or uncomfortable, but they are surprisingly comfortable and some are quite thin and trim.
This depends on her individual flow and how many times she chose to change her pad in a given day. Some women change at the slightest damp feeling while others are ok leaving the same one on for 3-4 hours or more. Since they are fabric, they could be left unchanged for a whole 12 hours if the flow was very light or simply there just as back up. I would say a typical woman might need 5 light flow, 6 regular flow, 7 heavy flow and four overnight flow pads as a minimum, but again it depends on her body and preferences. Also, if you can’t do the laundry too often, you would need more pads than other women. The more pads you have, the less each pad would be used in each cycle and the longer it would last. I hope I’ve done a good job explaining and providing information on cloth pads. There is a lot more information out there and I encourage any women who are curious to visit my Facebook page, Etsy shop or send me a message from either of them, cheers!
Note: Sew Spoiled Rotten also make incontinence pads