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Whilst clearing out a lot of clothes, I discovered lots of cloth that could be upcycled to make new useful things. Such as reusable kitchen roll and rag rugs. 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 sanitary pads.
Reusable Sanitary Pads – How To Make And Use Them
Reusable sanitary pads are not a new concept. My mother used to use cloth instead of sanitary towels. In fact, not too long ago this is what all women did. 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.
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 make when you can buy’? But you can never be totally sure what has gone into making the cheaper pads, the chemicals used or the core material if this is hidden away. They may have been made in a sweat shop in the Far East.
The whole point of being able to make your own 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. But it is up to you what to use. Also, you can try out different patterns to find out what works best 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 them, 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 pattern to use that there are just so many patterns and sizes out there! Most guides I have read advise you to use a pattern close to the shape of the disposable pad that has been your favourite. But there are patterns 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.
Which is another great reason for making your own. 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!
You Will Need
- A sanitary pad template of your choosing – I chose one closest in size to my favoured disposable
- 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. You can hand sew these, but a machine does give a sturdier result.
What Fabrics To Choose?
For the topping material, which goes against the skin, suggestions include cotton, cotton flannel or cotton fleece.
For the backing fabric that goes against your knickers, suggestions include using the same fabric as the topping, but you also may want to use a waterproof layer such as PUL or waterproof nylon.
As for the core to the pad , this will consist of several layers of fabric. See the next section.
How Many Layers to Choose?
Again this falls down to the type of materials you are using, its absorbency, and the absorbency that you need in a pad. This table gives you a guide to roughly how many layers you need for each core pad, depending on the heaviness of flow.
So Lets Make Some Reusable Sanitary Pads!
I used a template around the same size as my favoured disposable.
Using the core template, I pinned and cut the core pad fabrics from some old bibs of E’s. The squares will be up cycled into makeup remover pads, and the scraps may go onto making a rag rug or as stuffing for other projects.
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.
But you could also 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.
I pinned the finished core pad to the reverse side of the topper fabric, then using the edge of the presser foot as a guide I sewed all the way around the pad to secure it to the topper.
Then again using the presser foot as a sewing guide I sewed 2 more sets of stitches as consecutively smaller rings. These secure the pad well, 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, shown below as the space between the two red pins on the bottom wing.
The seam allowance needs to be reduced to about 4-5mm all the way around.
So I did this, and also clipped into the curves.
Then it is time to turn the pad through the small gap left in one wing. 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 iron to remove any creases and sharpen the edges. 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 and have a little bit of a production line. I cut several pads at once, and made them all together. It is so much quicker doing it this way.
How Do You Clean Them?
Some people have shied away from reusable 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.
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 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.
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 pads as an adjunct to a menstrual cup.
Do you think that reusable sanitary pads could fit into your regime? I would love to know your thoughts. Contact me by commenting below. Or find me on social media.
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