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Which Sustainable Period Product Is Right For You?

Here’s everything you need to know about reusable, eco-friendly period products, from pads to panties to cups.
Which Sustainable Period Product Is Right For You?

When you first got your period, you probably used whatever product the women in your life already used. And after trying a bunch of options, you likely settled on one that worked best for you. As sustainable period supplies gain mainstream awareness, it's the perfect time to reconsider disposables and find the right reusable menstrual cup, pad or underwear for you.

On average, menstruators will have about 480 periods in their lifetime, using up to 15,000 tampons and pads. This creates 250 pounds of period waste that can take 800 years to decompose. So making the switch to eco-friendly period products can make a major impact. For instance, Toronto-based menstrual cup company Nixit estimates that it has diverted five million pounds of period products from landfills since its launch in 2019.

What’s the difference between conventional and sustainable period products?

Conventional period products often contain plastic and synthetic fibres. These go in the trash, break down into microplastics and pollute our water. And while organic cotton menstrual products are often biodegradable, they still create waste. Reusable period products have the smallest environmental footprint thanks to their long lifespan.

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Are reusable period products as effective as traditional options?

Reusable menstrual products are just as effective as disposable pads and tampons—and often they’re more absorbent. For instance, a menstrual cup can hold at least three times as much blood as a tampon or regular pad. And period underwear holds at least double the liquid than what a pantyliner can hold.

How do I choose the right sustainable period product for me?

“There’s no right or wrong answer for what product you should use. It’s a personal choice and comes down to what you’re comfortable with,” says Sabrina Baldini, a sex educator who works with The Period Purse, a charitable organization in Toronto that provides free menstrual products to people who need them. “It’s also important to know that certain products have a learning curve, especially those used intra-vaginally, like a menstrual cup.” Getting used to a reusable product might take some time and experimentation.

Even if you’ve already tried a sustainable product or two and gone back to disposables, it's worth trying again. In a small study, 91 percent of tampon users who tried menstrual cups for the first time reported that they would switch to the cup. Perhaps unsurprisingly, subjects reported growing more satisfied with the cup—in terms of insertion and comfort—the longer they had used it.

Baldini says that if you consistently have trouble inserting a menstrual cup or if it never quite feels comfortable, it could be worth trying a different brand or shape: “A disc sits differently on your cervix than a bell-shaped cup, for instance.” And if you prefer not to insert a cup or tampon into your vagina, cloth pads or period underwear might be a better choice.

What types of sustainable period products are available?

Menstrual cups

A red menstrual disk leans against a purple box printed with the word "nixit".
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Menstrual cups are made of soft medical-grade silicone and are inserted into the vagina, sitting beneath the cervix to catch blood. There are bell-shaped cups and disc-shaped cups, like the Nixit, above. Menstrual discs often hold more blood than bell-shaped cups and—unlike bell-shaped cups—can be used during sex. 

Plus, cups offer almost zero risk of toxic shock syndrome, which is about one in 100,000 for tampons. You can wear a menstrual cup for up to 12 hours, whereas you should remove tampons after eight hours or less.

Nixit Menstrual Cup, $54, nixit.ca

Reusable cloth pads

A dark green cloth menstrual pad from Aisle features a teal and yellow pattern of squiggly lines.
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Like cups, a cloth pad can typically hold more than three times the amount of liquid as a conventional pad or tampon, and most—like the Super Pad from Aisle—can be put in your regular wash after rinsing with cold water.              

Aisle Super Pad, $22, periodaisle.ca

Period underwear

A dark beige pair of underwear from Knix with a black gusset.

Period underwear is made for light to medium flow days or for wearing with a pad or cup on heavy flow days. It has an absorbent gusset that can typically hold around 15 mL of liquid and is machine washable.

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Leakproof Boyshort, $30, knix.ca

Reusable tampon applicators

A pale green rounded case reads "Green Umbrella". A purple plastic tampon applicator sits next to another pale green cylindric case.

Reusable tampon applicators can be used with non-applicator tampons. Made of medical-grade plastic or polymer, these handy period accessories can be washed easily with soap and water. In a pinch, like in a public washroom, it can be wiped with toilet paper and stored (it comes with a case) until you’re home.

Only Reusable Tampon Applicator (comes with 14 organic tampons), $55, getonly.ca

Are sustainable period products more expensive than traditional period products?

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Per purchase, reusable period supplies are more expensive than conventional products but since you need to buy them far less often, the cost per wear is minimal and they start saving you money after about one year, according to Harvard Health.

Are reusable menstrual supplies safe?

Cloth pads, menstrual cups, period underwear and reusable tampon applicators are all safe if you take care of them properly. “As long as you prioritize sanitation, you should be okay,” says Baldini. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and boil cups between menstrual cycles.

Basically, “you should have access to running water and soap,” says Baldini. While many of us have that privilege, it’s important to consider how you’re going to clean your supplies when travelling or even going for a hike. “Equip yourself with what you need: a bottle of water for your menstrual cup and hand sanitizer so you’re using clean hands,” says Baldini. And then go home and properly clean your products.

Products contained in this article have been selected by our editorial team. However, we may receive a commission when you click on the product link or purchase it.

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