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Are reusable menstrual products safe?

Reusable period products work out cheaper in the long run and are great for the environment. Read on to know how to safely use them.
A menstrual cup with some cloth pads.
Reusable period products include menstrual cups, period underwear, cloth pads and menstrual discs. Image courtesy: Freepik
Anjuri Nayar Singh Published: 2 Jul 2024, 03:06 pm IST
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Are you so used to use-and-throw sanitary pads for menstrual health and hygiene management that the thought of switching to reusable period products scares you?  The global menstrual hygiene product market has grown by leaps and bounds, diversifying into menstrual cups, period underwear, reusable pads, and even reusable tampons that are more friendly for the environment, skin and pocket. But women who are accustomed to traditional period products always have the question on mind: “Are reusable period products safe and hygienic?” Let us tell you the pros and cons of using reusable menstrual products!

What are reusable period products?

There are many reusable period products such as menstrual cups, period panties as well as sanitary pads. While cloth pads work can be washed and used, they also come in different sizes with different levels of absorbency. These offer great comfort and are affordable as well, but they are not as popular as their disposable counterparts. According to a study published in the BMC Women’s Health in 2023, it was seen that 37 percent of the survey participants had used a reusable product during their last period. Out of these, 24 percent of the respondents used period underwear, 17 percent had tried the menstrual cup, and 5 percent used reusable pads. It was also seen that 11 percent had tried using a reusable product in the past.

Types of reusable period products

There are several reusable period products available today.

1. Menstrual cup

This is a rather small, but extremely flexible cup-like structure that can be inserted into the vagina. This cup collects the blood and can be emptied. These are made from medical-grade silicone and are safe to use. “Menstrual cups can be used by sexually inactive individuals, including virgins. Do consult healthcare providers if there are concerns about suitability,” says gynaecologist Suruchi Desai

2. Period underwear

This underwear is made of moisture-wicking fabric. Blood gets trapped in these types of fibre. There is no need to wear a pad or a panty liner when you are using period underwear. These can be thoroughly washed and reused after each use.

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3. Reusable pads

These are much like sanitary napkins, but are reusable and made up of three layers. A reusable pad has a top sheet with a middle absorbent layer beneath it, made up of cotton, polyester and other absorbent fabrics. At the bottom, there is a leak-proof layer made from polyurethane laminate (PUL) at the bottom.

4. Menstrual disc

Much like cups, a menstrual disc also collects blood. It goes much deeper than the menstrual cup.

Benefits of using reusable menstrual products

1. Environment friendly

According to the United Nations data and Simmons National Consumer Survey (NHCS), 57.43 million women in the US used sanitary pads and napkins in the year 2020. An average woman uses 350 packs of plastic sanitary pads in her life. A disposable sanitary pad takes up to 800 years to decompose, states this study, published in the journal Sustainability. However, reusable period products are made from environment-friendly materials and cut down the number of used tampons and pads that reach landfills.

2. Healthier to use

If you know how to use reusable period products in the right way, these turn out to be healthier than disposable ones. A study, published in Plos One, suggests that as long as these reusable menstrual products are used in the right way, and for the right duration, they come with low health risks. It was reported that there was 23.8 per cent less skin irritation after three months of using reusable products, as compared to 72.8 per cent with a disposable pad.

A flower with a sanitary napkin
Reusable period products are cheaper in the long run and have less chances of infection than disposable sanitary napkins and tampons. Image courtesy: Freepik

3. Cheaper

Reusable period products are a one-time investment. While they may be more expensive to buy at first, the fact that they are reusable makes them a more economical option. A study, published in Cureus, states that the purchase cost as well as waste from a menstrual cup, over 10 years, is a small fraction compared to disposable pads and tampons. It comes to roughly 5 per cent of the cost.

4. Hold more volume

The deal with many reusable period products is that they can often hold more volume, and need to be changed less frequently than pads. With a menstrual cup, you can wait up to 12 hours, but not more, before you change it. But if you are using a disposable pad or a tampon, this time gets reduced to 4 hours.

What is the right way to use reusable period products?

Reusable menstrual products are great if they are used in the right manner. Therefore, it is essential to know how exactly to use a product, how long to use it for, and how to keep it clean. “Ensure that menstrual pads, cups, and reusable underwear are kept clean and, where applicable, sterilized. This helps prevent the growth of bacteria that could lead to infections,” says Dr Desai.

1. Menstrual cups

Make sure to wash your hands as well as the menstrual cup well before use. Apply water or even a lubricant on the rim of the cup. Fold the cup in half, and insert it into your vagina. You need to insert it till it is a few inches below your cervix. Rotate the cup. When it comes to menstrual cups, it is important to note that they must not be worn for more than 12 hours. To remove the cup, again wash your hands, and use your index finger and thumb to fill the stem of the cup. Pinch the base as this will release the seal. Wash the cup and clean it well before reinserting.

2. Period underwear

Using period underwear is not very different from using a disposable one. These are great for days when you have a heavy flow. Just make sure you get the right fit, not too tight, not too loose. Make sure to follow the instructions well when it comes to washing this underwear. Don’t wear the same underwear, without washing, it for more than a day, even if you have a low flow. Make sure to scrub the gusset, as well as the rest of the underwear. Put it in the machine for a gentle cycle, and air dry.

3. Reusable pads

A reusable pad would be placed in the same way, on your underwear, as you would a disposable pad. There would be Velcro or clips to fasten it. Make sure your underwear is the right size and fits well. Loose underwear can lead to a leak. Once you are done, soak the pad, or rinse it well, and toss it in the machine. Place it in direct sunlight to dry out. Once it is completely dry, you may store it.

4. Menstrual disc

While using a menstrual disc, make sure to wash your hands well. Bring both sides of the disc together, so that it looks like a tampon. Insert it so that it covers your cervix. Push it past the pelvic bone. To take it out, use your index finger, insert it into your vagina, hook the rim, and pull it out. You are exerting your pelvic muscles, this will help it come out faster. A menstrual disc should not be worn for more than 12 hours.

How to keep reusable menstrual products clean?

Cleaning these products well is a must Wondering how to wash menstrual cups and reusable pads? “Wash reusable pads, cups, and underwear with mild soap and warm water after each use. For menstrual cups, sterilize by boiling them in a menstrual cup sterilizer according to the manufacturer’s instructions,” says Dr Desai.

It must also be noted that reusable period products need to be dried well. “Dry all reusable menstrual products thoroughly before use. Damp or improperly dried items can foster bacterial growth, increasing the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) and other infections,” says Dr Desai, adding, “Store reusable menstrual products in a clean, dry place to avoid contamination. Use breathable pouches or containers to keep them free from dust and moisture.”

An underwear with some flower petals on top
Reusable period products need to be cleaned, sterilised and stored properly. Image courtesy: Freepik

Risks of using reusable period products

Most reusable period products are safe. However, if not used in the right manner, they have some potential risks as well. Not using the right lubricant while inserting the cup or disc can lead to irritation. It can also lead to an infection if not changed at the right time, or not washed properly. Toxic shock syndrome, a fatal bacterial infection, can also be caused by reusable products, especially a tampon and  menstrual cup, states this study, published in the Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases and Medical Microbiology.

Summary

There are so many reusable period products available in the market today such as menstrual cups, menstrual discs, reusable period underwear, and cloth pads. While these are a safe and affordable option, they need to be used in the right way, for the right amount of time and washed in the right manner to avoid any complications.

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About the Author

Anjuri Nayar Singh has over 12 years of experience in writing for various topics including lifestyle, films, television and OTT. She also writes on art and culture, education and human interest stories. ...Read More

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