You've switched from bagged romaine to organic kale. You use natural toothpaste instead of Crest. And now, you've decided to switch from Playtex to handmade, eco-friendly, reusable menstrual cloths. Congratulations: You're now part of a burgeoning menstrual movement. Instead of sticking with the standard pads and tampons of yore, women are opting for more sustainable, reusable menstrual products like cups, sponges and cloths.
Indeed, demand for non-disposable menstrual products is so high that women are even selling and designing their own reusable menstrual cloths on Etsy — and like everything else on Etsy, they're homespun and adorable. From gothic purple and black pads to animal print cloths to unleash the menstrual beast within, the cloths aren't just quirky, but they also look more like lingerie than the sterile white cotton and rayon you typically associate with feminine hygiene products. They also come in varying sizes and thickness, depending on the heaviness of your flow.
Made of cotton or waterproof polyurethane laminate (PUL), menstrual cloth kits typically start at about $35, and shop owners say with proper care they can last up to five years. While the prospect of washing and rewashing menstrual pads might make some squeamish, sellers say they're perfectly hygienic, provided you gently wash them after each use in the sink, adding a bit of tea tree oil, gentle soap or hydrogen peroxide to keep them clean.
In addition to the environmental benefits, Etsy sellers claim that reusable cloths are safer than disposable rayon tampons (which have been known to cause dryness and irritation). They can also help save money: considering that the average woman will use up to 16,800 disposable pads and tampons during her lifetime, costing her nearly $2,000, reusable products might be the way to go.
Now that women are increasingly protesting the costs of tampons and pads with campaigns like Cosmopolitan's #NoTaxOnTampons, we decided to speak with five Etsy sellers who are taking part in the emerging sustainable menstrual revolution. Here's what they had to say about it.
Patty from TrojacekFarms
"I've been selling on Etsy for right at four years this month. Right now I have an anniversary sale. How it started out was my 14-year-old daughter had started her period and she kind of wanted to try something different ... so I put something together. I actually employ my daughter, she's in college right now. She does all of my cutting for me and I pay her, and she saves her money so she can pay for her college."
Jacquelyn from Powerful Mamas
"I'm a doula, and so many of my clients were interested in a natural alternative to tampons and pads. I work with a friend of mine, Laura, and she's been sewing for 25 years. She's very natural minded [which is a] little hard to find in our area. We're from Iowa, a suburb of Des Moines ... We met at book club, and the way I was introduced to [reusable menstrual pads] was that she gave me a set for my birthday. We just laughed because out of our group of friends, only the two of us would understand giving menstrual pads for our birthday."
"For me, to be honest, [making the cloths] was just an economical thing. I really, really like to save money. A lot of my clients are more inclined to being environmentally friendly, trying to use natural alternatives, but for me it was just coming down to [money]."
Becky from Crocheted4Angels
"I started crocheting about 15 years ago; my grandmother taught me. At first I just sold baby products, and I actually began getting customer requests for them so that's how I got into the reusable products. My sister who does photography is who introduced me to Etsy. And she said, 'You have buckets of this stuff, why don't you go to Etsy to sell your stuff?' One thing that is different about my store is I have the reusable inserts, and basically instead of having to reorder different sizes, the idea is to have one product with those. If you have a heavier flow, you can just add those inserts in it.
"[People don't realize] when washing [menstrual cloths] you can't use regular chemicals. People don't realize that sometimes when you buy them. It has to be non-chorine bleach."
Natalie from FemmeCloths
"The topic of menstruation [is] still a little taboo, but becoming more open. Women are realizing: 'OK, the disposable pads give me cysts, or rashes, or yeast infections.' I even had one woman who said she had cysts all over her body that disappeared after three months of switching to my cloth pads. The biggest problem with disposable pads is that they contain something called dioxin. Dioxins are a toxic chemical that is a byproduct of the paper bleaching process. It's linked to breast and uterine cancers, infertility, it's astounding." (Editor's note: According to the Food and Drug Administration, trace levels of dioxin in tampons and pads are so minor that "no risk to health would be expected from these trace amounts." There is no conclusive evidence that using tampons is linked to breast and uterine cancers.)
"You have this lovely cotton that's soft, breathable. I had a friend describe it as 'a spa for your vagina.'"
Jenn from Cozy Folk
"[Making cloths is] my full-time job. I have a studio downtown and my partner helps me with work and it's really taken off ... Using reusable pads is a really great way to cut down on your waste. For me personally I think they are more comfortable, and tampons can dry out your moisture. It's just so much nicer to have something soft and pretty. For me it's also political, to do something that's body positive for yourself — and not just supporting these massive companies to profit off of me every month."