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I love reusing old clothing and cloth to make new useful items. And the tutorial below is the perfect way of getting more wear out of old towels and other cloth. Plus – I’ve made a free template in a new design so that it is even easier to make your own. Here is how to make Cloth Reusable Sanitary Pads.
Whilst clearing out a lot of clothes, I discovered lots of cloth that could be upcycled to make new useful things. However, when I came across some old dribble bibs of E’s I decided that these would be perfect for reusing as the base for another project – reusable cloth sanitary pads.
*This post has been updated – it was first published in May 2019
Reusable Sanitary Pads – How To Make And Use Them
Reusable sanitary pads are not a new concept. My mother used to use her own homemade pads instead of sanitary towels back in the 70s. In fact, not too long ago this is what all women did. They learnt how to make cloth pads at home. Tampons hadn’t been invented and neither had disposables. Society had a much more ‘make do and mend’ approach to most things. And this included sanitary wear. So worn out old sheets and towels were cut up to be used as period pads amongst a lot of other uses.
We have all become too used to disposables. And the plastic within them and in the packaging is really too much for the planet to cope with. In a bid to reduce my plastic usage (and the size of my scrap bag!) I decided to make some for myself. After all, some of the chemicals and chlorine in some of the disposables cannot be good for us, and I am often quite sensitive skinned anyway.
They are a brilliant zero waste way of using up some of the cloth and towels that we would normally throw away to landfill.
Reusable Sanitary Pads – should you buy them?
There are a lot of pads out there on Amazon and eBay. Some are quite cheap, and you may think “Why learn how to make reusable menstrual pads when you can buy them?”.
You can never be totally sure what has gone into making the cheaper pads. You don’t know the chemicals used or what is in the core material if this is hidden away. They may have been made unethically in a sweat shop in the Far East.
The whole point of being able to make your own DIY menstrual pads is that you are in charge of what goes into the make. I would go for all cotton, or natural fibres, with just a layer of waterproof fabric in the base. (See further down how to make cloth pads with PUL) But it is up to you what to use. Also, you can try out different patterns to find out what works best for you.
Where To Buy Pads If You Decide Reusable Pads DIY Is Not For You
Some pads are made from reliable sustainable sources, such as these here at Ethical Superstore. But you usually find that this extra accountability to nature comes at a cost. Some of the pads can cost up to £8-9 per pad. If you work out that you might need a few each month this works out very costly indeed.
So if you can make your own DIY cloth pads, it totally makes sense. Plus, if you are anything like me you will have a mound of fabric ready to upcycle, plus a scrap bag with quite a few pieces of suitable pretty fabric scraps for covers.
You Can Pick A Size, Thickness And Shape That Works Best For You
I found whilst researching which cloth pad pattern to use that there are just so many reusable sanitary pad patterns and sizes out there!
How to make pads to suit you?
Most guides I have read advise you to use a reusable pad close to the shape of the disposable pad that has been your favourite. If you are just starting out and learning how to make your own pads then why not use my incredibly easy free template below?
And once you get more proficient and want to try some DIY period pad patterns that may suit your flow more, there are cloth pad patterns for DIY reusable pads that look like angels, some look like Russian dolls, and some are called ‘back-bleeders’. There are even ones with removable sections to add extra core pads. You can get them in all thicknesses for the lightest of days to the heaviest of post partum bleeding.
All of this is another great reason for making your own DIY pads. Only you know your own flow and pattern of bleeding. And it could cost you a fortune going through all the bought pads finding out which size is best for you.
So How Do You Make Reusable Sanitary Pads?
Amongst the fabrics I found amongst the clothes of E I wished to upcycle were fleece, flannel, cotton and jersey. All these were cotton types, so perfectly suitable for pad making. I found some waterproof bibs that could be used as a waterproof layer and even found some bamboo inners from some reusable nappies!
The first time I made sanitary pads I used the outline of one of my usual disposable pads as a guide, but actually the wing design was rather fiddly, so I have made my own template that is a squarer design. This is even easier to sew up!
You Will Need
- A sanitary pad template of your choosing – here is my very easy Reusable Sanitary Pad Template
- Fabric for the top, core and backing to the pad, see below for suggestions.
- Buttons, kam-snaps or press studs to attach the pad around your panties when in use.
- An Iron
- Sewing machine, matching thread and pins.
How To Make Cloth Pads By Hand
You can use this tutorial to hand sew your pads, but a machine does give a sturdier result.
What Fabric Is The Best Material For Reusable Sanitary Pads?
A lot of questions ask what fabric to use for reusable pads. For the topping material, which goes against the skin, suggestions of the best fabric to choose for cloth pads include 100% cotton, jersey, cotton flannel or cotton fleece.
For the backing fabric that goes against your knickers, suggestions include using the same fabric as the topping, but I like using a pretty cotton print.
How To Make Reusable Pads Leak Proof
You also may want to use a water proof layer such as PUL fabric or waterproof nylon as a pad liner when making your own reusable menstrual pads. Yes, this is plastic, but as this is not thrown away but reused it is still much more eco friendly than disposable pads
As for the core to the pad , this will consist of several layers of fabric. See the next section.
How Many Layers to Choose In The Cloth Pad Core?
Again this falls down to the type of materials you are using, their absorbency, and the absorbency that you personally need in your homemade pads. Depending on whether you have a light or heavy flow you may wish to make, this table gives you a guide to roughly how many layers of each fabric you need for each core pad.
I personally prefer making menstrual pads with several different absorbencies – some for light days and some for heavier days. I differentiate the absorbency by using different colour snaps so I can quickly distinguish which pad is which.
So Lets Find Out How To Make Reusable Sanitary Pads!
I used my easy template which is around the same length as my old disposables were.
Print the template as a PDF at actual size – and print two. The outer line is to be used for the main fabrics and plastic lining if you wish to have one, and the inner core layer is demarcated by the inner line.
Using the core template, I pinned and cut the core pad fabrics from some old bamboo nappy liners of my daughters.
Using a scrap piece of pretty cotton and an old muslin cloth of E’s, I cut out the topping and backing for the pad using the larger template.
I also cut a piece of backing plastic layer from an old bib of E’s
I overlocked around the edge of the core pad that I had cut. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t quite perfect, it is going to be hidden inside the finished pad.
Making The Core
The next step in how to make a reusable pad is to make a core for the pad. Below is a previous core that I have made from layers of cotton flannel.
But an alternative version of the core could be made like this. You could draw around the template onto a stack of core fabric. Then set your machine to a small zigzag stitch and work around the line.
Then cut just beyond the stitch line to get a core pad.
Sewing The Pad
I folded the topper fabric in half and pressed so I could see the midline fold, then pinned the finished core pad to the middle of the reverse side of the topper fabric.
Then I sewed down the fold line in the centre to secure the core pad to the topper fabric.
Next, using the presser foot as a sewing guide I sewed 3 more sets of stitches as consecutively larger rings around this central line. These secure the pad well, quilt the pad, and act as wicking for the bleeding into the pads.
Then it is time to assemble the outer pad. Place the topper and backing fabric right sides together.
At this point I put the layer of waterproof bib fabric on top of the base fabric, this ensures it is sandwiched between the core and the base.
Pinning it all together, I sewed a 1cm seam allowance all the way around the pad. Ensuring I left a gap of about 5 cm or 2 inches. Shown below as the space between the two red lines.
Note : The seam allowance has been reduced to about 4-5mm all around except for where the turning gap was.
Then it is time to turn the pad through the small gap. I find it easiest to push one end through first and gently tease the rest of the pad through. Push out all the corners with a knitting needle or other implement.
Then press with an warm iron to remove any creases and sharpen the edges. Not too hot if you have used PUL!
Tuck in the seam allowance of the gap area. And again using the presser foot of the sewing machine as a guide, sew a line of topstitching all the way around the pad a few mm from the edge. This neatens the edges as well as closing off the gap we used to turn the pad.
Finally, it is time to add some way of attaching the pad to your knickers. I love kam-snaps, as they are so easy to use and fit. But you could do button holes , or use metal poppers.
I make sure that the wings fit together before going through all the layers with a sharp instrument.
And you have a finished pad!
The trick, as with most things in sewing, is to batch cut pads. Have a little bit of a production line. I cut several at once, and make a whole load of diy reusable menstrual pads all together. It is so much quicker doing it this way.
How Do You Clean Them?
The whole idea of these is that they are washable sanitary pads. Some people have shied away from reusable sanitary pads as they do not want to think about the inevitable cleaning question. Yes, you are going to get some of these pads covered with blood. So there does need to be some procedures in place for cleaning them.
Actually, for some days, they will be hardly used. And you can throw them in with a normal wash to get them clean. But if there is a lot of blood on them you will need to either pre soak. Or pre rinse the towels to get most of the blood out before washing.
How To Wash Reusable Pads
You will need a bucket filled with cold water to soak. Hot water sets the stains so do use cold. You could add some lemon juice or cider vinegar to this soaking water to help with any odours. Some people swear by pre-soaking in salt. Others prefer peroxide. I have even heard some discussions about using nappisan, which is used for pre-soaking cloth nappies (diapers).
Once soaked, wring out and add to a dark wash on as hot a temperature as the material will take. (If there is a pul fabric or waterproof layer this may only be 40 degrees.) And hanging out to dry on the line on a sunny day is said to be a good way to get rid of stubborn stains.
Look after your reusable pads and they should last you for years!
So are reusable sanitary pads such a massive change to your routine?
At the end of the day, you are going to need to carry around a little wet bag, or bag lined in waterproof fabric in case you need to change. But this isn’t really a hardship. See here my tutorial on how to make such a pouch.
And yes they need a bit more aftercare, but what is that compared to saving the planet from plastic pollution?
I actually use my cloth menstrual pads as an adjunct to a menstrual cup.
Do you think that reusable sanitary pads could fit into your regime? I hope that you enjoyed this post on how to make cloth sanitary pads. Do you think that you will be making these for yourself?
I would love to know your thoughts. Contact me by commenting below. Or find me on social media.
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