Monday, February 16, 2009

Eco-find: Naturally Hip cloth menstrual pads

Most people know about the cloth versus disposable nappy debate. But how many of you have thought about cloth menstrual pads? Not me, I have to admit. But now that I've looked into it a little, I'm going to give it a try. Here's why:
  • In the US alone, 7 million tampons and 12 billion pads are sent to landfill every year - not to mention the packaging each disposable comes in. If I never buy disposables again for the rest of my life, that's going to make a significant waste reduction.
  • It's cheaper
  • No nasty, chemical-laden plastics against your skin. I imagine it just feels nicer, and you're less likely to have irritation issues 'down there'. Some women's privates react to the chemicals and they mistake the problem for 'just that time of the month'.
  • It can help reduce period pain, and it commonly makes periods shorter and lighter.
  • Support the little (and eco-friendly) guys - most cloth pads are made by self-employed, work-from-home women.
  • Many cloth pads are made from natural materials, which means you won't be supporting the production of plastics and chemicals, which adds to pollution.
I spoke to the lovely Lindsay of Naturally Hip, who makes cloth pads both gorgeous and functional.

Tell us about yourself and what you make.

My name is Lindsay. I live in Burlington, Ontario, in Canada, with my wonderful husband and two adorable children ages 6 months and 2 and a half years. Naturally Hip is my line of handmade cloth menstrual pads and wet bags. I am a one-woman show. Everything I create is made by me from start to finish (right up to dropping it in the mailbox)! Down the road I would love to expand my business to include nursing pads and cloth baby items as well.

Tell us a bit about the cloth versus disposable pad debate.

Disposable hygiene products have become so mainstream in the last few decades that we forget they haven’t existed for long! Cloth pads have come a long way, but have been around for ages. There are lots of opinions but the key issues of the debate are health benefits, cost, environmental impact, and comfort.

The absorbent material in disposable pads and tampons is bleached with the chemical dioxin, a known carcinogen. Research suggests that continuous exposure to this chemical can lead to increased chance of cervical and ovarian cancer. Unbleached pads are available, but are more expensive and still end up in the landfill. Many women report irritation caused by disposable products which disappears after making the switch to cloth (I hear this over and over). Some even experience shorter and less painful periods!

There is definitely an initial investment with cloth pads. However, since they’re made to last several years, the cost is quite a bit lower in the long run. I calculated it out a little while back and the savings were close to 50%!

Every disposable product ends up in a landfill – and women go through thousands in a lifetime – while cloth pads can be washed and used over and over. There is a small increase in water consumption for washing cloth pads, but the environmental impact is less overall. Sanitary waste in landfill sites is also a valid concern.

Cloth pads are wonderfully soft and comfortable - like your favorite flannel pajamas! There is just no comparison with the sticky, plasticky feeling of disposable ones.

What's the difference between cloth and disposable pads in terms of absorption, convenience and ease of use?

Like disposable pads, cloth pads are available in all different levels of absorbency. They typically have an absorbent core of natural fibers such as cotton or bamboo with a soft fabric top layer. Disposable products have a combination of cotton batting and absorbent gel inside and often have a perforated plastic top sheet.

Although the convenience of disposable products seems hard to beat, using cloth pads is pretty simple too! Away from home they can be carried in a wet bag (a washable pouch with waterproof lining) or zipper-seal plastic bag. They are easy to wash and dry, and - maybe the best part - they’re always there when you need them!

Cloth and disposable pads are worn the same way. While disposable pads have a sticky plastic backing, cloth pads with wings fasten with a simple snap or other closure (wingless pads stay in place nicely when worn with close-fitting cotton underwear). After use, cloth pads are rinsed or soaked until wash day. From there, they go right in the washing machine and usually through the dryer too. The process takes no longer than wrapping and throwing away each disposable pad and taking out the garbage.

How many pads do you recommend to start?

This is a tough question since everyone’s body is different. I usually suggest starting with a couple of pantyliners, some daytime pads and a couple of larger pads for overnight, and go from there. The ideal collection for you depends on how frequently you do laundry, the length of your period, absorbency needs, your body size, etc.

How did you start making cloth pads?

I discovered cloth pads while researching cloth diapering options for my first child. It was intriguing to me (though of course not a new idea by any means!) and curiosity took over. I drafted some patterns and started trying out various designs and materials. A few months later I started selling them online and Naturally Hip was born.

What aspects of your business are eco-friendly, other than the obvious?

Behind the scenes I try to be as green as possible. I reduce waste by using every last scrap of fabric – my 2-year old crafts beside me gluing teeny fabric scraps to paper - and by using recyclable and reusable packaging materials. I buy fabric locally and in bulk, walk to the mailbox whenever possible, and compost dryer lint from pre-washing fabrics. Being a stay-at-home mom saves a lot in gas consumption too - I commute on foot to my downstairs studio!

What's your best eco-tip (besides switching to cloth)?

Reduce! In everything I do or buy, I first try to think “how can this be more earth friendly?” For example, cutting down on the amount of plastic we use and throw away, buying products with less packaging, purchasing used items at second-hand stores, conserving energy, composting. In addition to helping the earth, we’re often saving money too!

Thanks so much, Lindsay, for the informative and thought-provoking responses. I really love finding people running businesses who have the same concern for the environment that I do. I love that her first eco-tip was 'reduce!' because I really think that's the key. We can recycle absolutely everything and still be doing bad things for the environment because the initial high consumption is still there. I won't be buying my cloth pads from anywhere else, because I think it's important to support like-minded people. Plus, after reading my previous blog posts about the Bushfire Appeal, Lindsay has decided to donate some of her items to the Oz Bushfire Appeal shop. So kind of her.

Visit the Naturally Hip online shop


Yvonne said...

wow that is so interesting! awesome that ur trying it cuz it seems like a big change. i wonder though..... would it be hard to wash the stains out? or i guess maybe it's not even important...???
the patterns are so pretty though.

Stepstotheleft said...

If it's not too weird, let us know how it goes.

I was just wondering the other day where you stood on the cloth vs disposable nappy debate.

David said...

Something that can help a great deal with bacteria and overall hygiene is the bathroom bidet spray from It is so refreshing and convenient for general use and can be installed without a plumber. Will pay for itself many times over is toilet paper savings = and great for the environment.

Heidi and Seek said...

Yvonne - From what I hear, some get stains, but generally they're okay if you take care of them properly. Plus if they're made from dark fabric you probably wouldn't tell the difference.

Steps - Sure, I will.

About the nappies, I had good intentions about going cloth, or those modern cloth ones with the snaps at the sides. But after Ellie was born I was just too buggered to add washing cloth to my to-do list when even the dishes weren't getting done. We found 100% biodegradable disposables and used them until they discontinued. Now we get the next best thing available. I wish I had the time and patience to switch but I don't at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I have only just switched to non-disposable myself. I made some cloth pads from recycled fleece, flannelette and some PUL scraps I had left over from nappy making. Very quick and easy to make and surprisingly soft.

Re the stains. You simply soak in a small container of water until you are ready to wash them all. All the marks come out in the water even before you wash.

It amazes me how grossed out women are at the mention of reuseable menstrual products. I was myself when I initaily head about them a while back. I guess it is the same as many single use and disposable products....tissues, pads, nappies, napkins, plastic bags. The disposable products become so easy and common that we forget the non-disposable versions ever existed.


Naturally Hip said...

Thanks so much, Hayley, for the wonderful feature!

I love that you are helping get the word out there about cloth pads.

Lindsay :)

Sygnet Creations said...

This is a very interesting post. I myself have never thought of using or even reusing pads. Thank for the insight into this wonderful shop. She uses such pretty fabrics. Like stepstotheleft mentioned I would love to know how it goes.

hayley said...

Tricia - That's great. I'm not too worried about stains because I'm the only one that's going to see them, but it matters to some people. I wish I knew about cloth pads sooner!

Lindsay - You're very welcome. Keep up the great work!

Sygnet - I'm glad I brought your attention to it. I wish someone had brought it to mine a bit earlier!