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‘I Switched From Disposable To Reusable Cotton Pads—Here’s What Happened’

I don’t know about you, but news of giant trash islands in the Pacific and plastic particles in our tap water have left me feeling pretty darn guilty about the quantity of waste that I generate. So, little by little, I’ve made the obvious changes like shifting to reusable glass food containers and shopping bags and making sure I recycle things the right way—and I thought I was doing a pretty good job.

Then I heard a crazy stat: An estimated 20 billion disposable pads and tampons are thrown away every year in North America alone, with the average woman going through about 17,000 in her lifetime. Cue more guilt.

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But what could I do? I mean, I need to use something when Aunt Flow comes to town, and I’m honestly pretty intimidated by the Diva Cup (though one of our editors swears by it). So I did a little research and finally settled on what I thought was the least scary (and the prettiest) option out there: the hannahpad—a line of reusable, fragrance-free cloth pads made with organic cotton that apparently last 3 to 6 years if you take good care of them.

When I reached out to the company and told them I wanted to write about my experience using the pads, they agreed to send me the One Week Set, plus a carrying case, drying hanger, and probiotic soap (shown below). I felt sort of ready to commit—at least for one cycle. Here’s what happened when I did.



The trouble with reusable pads—you can’t throw them away after you use them. Obviously. But it’s still annoying and initially kind of gross. Luckily, hannahpad offers a carrying case (that can be easily wiped down) to transport them in. But still, it was awkward, and whenever a co-worker said hello to me in the hallway I had to suppress the impulse to respond, “Hi Jen, I’m toting a bundle of soiled sanitary napkins in my purse, so things are a little weird right now, but I hope you’re well. How was lunch?”

Also, washing was them was a b*tch. During my first go-around with the hannahpad, I foolishly saved up all of my used pads and tossed them into the washing machine at once. Mistake. After 3 rounds they still weren’t clean and I was having serious guilt about the amount of water I was wasting. When I emailed someone at the company, she told me hand washing with unscented castile soap or a detergent like Seventh Generation was best (or at least pre-soaking before you toss them into the machine). When I gave it another go and really worked that soap into the pad by hand, I found that most of the stains came out without a problem—and I got a really great arm workout process.


The fact that you can’t throw reusable pads away is also (sort of) great because it means you never run out of them—so even if my period caught me by surprise and came a little early one month, I’d never be stranded without supplies. And I don’t know about you, but I never freakin’ keep track of my cycle, so it was nice to know I’d never have to create a makeshift pad out of toilet paper while I ran to the store for some tampons. (Don’t even judge me, you’ve been there.)


Ladies, I even wore them with yoga pants—and while, yes, you could see the clear outline of my full-coverage granny panties, you could not see any trace of the hannahpad. In fact, these reusable pads were thinner than most disposable pads I’ve used, while still being quite absorbent. The snap button on the pad’s wings ensured that it stayed in place well too.


I discovered the Super Ultra Overnight hannahpad. Nothing’s getting past this baby. Just look at it! I mean, I’m a nearly 6-foot tall woman and this thing is the size of my torso. It did not fail. Normally, I have to double up with a pad and a tampon overnight during my heaviest days to avoid staining my pajamas or bed sheets, so I was skeptical that hannahpad could handle the job, but she sure did. (Just please, pleasedon’t wear this one with yoga pants.)


Not to give you TMI, but after my period week, my bathroom trash is usually pretty loaded with used pads and tampons—a visual reminder of all the waste I’m creating. And because I wrap them up in a wad of toilet paper before I dispose of them, they generate even more waste. So it was nice to have that not happen for a change.

And yes, even though I was using water to wash them, I’m convinced that because I was washing them by hand in a bucket, I wasn’t using an excessive amount. (Except for that first time when I used the equivalent of a small lake.)


Reusable pads are one of those “practice makes less gross” type of things. On my second month, I learned to wash my used pads every night (as opposed to saving them up), which meant stains took less time to come out; and I was far less self-conscious about the pads leaking because I knew they actually worked. I can see how someone who’s motivated could make them a part of their routine.


While these won’t be my sole form of period protection, I’m certainly going to use them to supplement my normal disposable pad and tampon use. They’re a great way to ensure I’m never stranded without supplies, and they just work really well. I think every woman could benefit from having at least a few at her disposal—but order a sample pad from the company to make sure you can handle the upkeep before investing in a complete set.

At the same time, I’m realistic enough to know that when I’m traveling or experiencing one of those extraordinarily hectic phases of life, having to hand wash my pads nightly might just trigger a psychotic break. And on those days, I’ll opt for natural, fragrance-free disposable pads (like these) and tampons (like these).

It’s all about balance, after all. As health- and environmentally conscious consumers, we often feel like we have to dive into something 100% to make it worth it. But the truth is, improving your habits in any way still counts—and ensures that you won’t lose your mind in the process.

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