To manage your periods, most people who have them have grown accustomed to relying on the two most popular options: lining your underwear with a pad or inserting a tampon.
It’s a tale as old as time.
But as everything around us changes so rapidly, why not the way we endure often uncomfortable and inevitable cycles?
With so many creative new innovations out there—there are more alternatives to traditional pads and tampons than ever—you might want to consider some of them. Not only are many of these products more comfortable, they’re also better for the environment and easier on your wallet.
Here are five period products you can use besides pads and tampons.
1. Period Underwear
Period underwear is just like the normal underwear you wear — except they’re made with extra layers and special fabrics in the crotch area to absorb menstrual blood and prevent it from seeping through.
Intended to replace or supplement disposable period products like pads and tampons, period underwear are washable and reusable, which means they’re more sustainable and cost-effective.
Here are some quick answers to common questions:
- Can you wear period underwear if you have a heavy flow? Yes! While some people use period underwear during lighter flow days or as backup during heavier flow days, you can typically find heavy, medium or light flow absorbance versions of most period underwear to accommodate you.
- Can you wear period underwear for 8+ hours? That depends on the type of period underwear you wear and the flow of your cycle where you are in your cycle — but it’s very likely you can. Naturally, it’s easier for a pair to last you all day if you have a lighter flow or supplement it with a pad or tampon.
- How often do you have to wash period underwear? Once after every use. (Be sure to follow washing instructions!)
- How does period underwear actually work? Period underwear’s absorbent material holds one to two tampons’ worth of menstrual flow. There’s a moisture barrier to keep you comfortable throughout the day, plus a layer designed to prevent leaks or staining. Some brands also say they can control period odors.
- How long does period underwear last? Some brands say up to two years, while others say one. How long your period underwear will last depends on how often they are used and how they are cared for.If you take care of your period underwear by following rhe manufacturer’s instructions, this will save you money and keep more waste out of landfills.
These are some brands to consider as you research:
2. Menstrual Cups
Menstrual cups are a period product that can definitely last several years.
Made from flexible, medical-grade hypoallergenic silicone (or sometimes just rubber), menstrual cups are small funnel-shaped cups you insert into your vagina to catch and collect blood and fluid.
For people who can navigate these sometimes tricky cups, this is one of the best alternatives to pads and tampons. They’re environmentally friendly, cost-effective, durable, plus they provide leak-proof security.
They also have the capacity to hold a lot more menstrual flow than tampons, so wearing one for 8+ hours shouldn’t be a problem. (As long as you insert it properly!)
Because vaginal canals can vary due to uterus tilt, length, width and cervix position and depth, it might be difficult to find the right cup fit.
But you don’t have to go through it alone — your gynecologist can always help! Together, you’ll find the right fit based on:
- Cup capacity
- Flow level (light, moderate or heavy)
- Length of cervix
- Durability and flexibility of the cup
- Strength of pelvic floor muscles
- Width of the vaginal canal (for example, have you given birth?)
When you’re ready to choose your menstrual cup, there are tons of popular options to consider:
- Diva Cup
- Lunette Menstrual Cup
- Blossom Menstrual Cup
- Moon Cup
- The Flex Company
- Keeper Cup
Here’s one more thing to keep in mind: Menstrual cups may not be the best alternative to pads and tampons for anyone who’s uncomfortable with seeing and touching their blood and tissue.
3. Menstrual Discs
Menstrual discs are similar to a menstrual cup, in that you need to insert and remove it with your fingers. While there’s also a bit of a learning curve with this period product alternative, it has a lot of plus sides — like you can wear them for up to 12 hours!
Also leak-proof, flexible and hypoallergenic, one difference compared to the menstrual cup is that discs are smaller in size.
Whereas most cups sit in your vagina below your cervix and extend into your canal, a disc fits back into your vaginal fornix, which is where your vaginal canal meets your cervix.
Besides other benefits this hygiene product shares with menstrual cups, wearing a disc may also reduce dryness and menstrual cramps. Plus, unlike most options, you can even keep it in during sex to reduce any mess (but remember it won’t protect you against pregnancy or STDs). And in case you’re wondering, your partner won’t feel it because of its position at the base of your cervix.
They’re available in disposable and reusable options. For reusable menstrual discs, check out:
4. Reusable Cloth Pads
If you’re looking for a sustainable twist on an old classic, reusable cloth pads could be the right tampon alternative for you.
Typically, most single-use pads come with “wings,” or flexible, sticky material that sticks to your underwear to hold the pad in place. For reusable cloth ones, all you have to do is secure it to the crotch of your underwear with a clasp.
Just like disposable pads, cloth pads absorb menstrual fluid externally. Though sometimes, the absorbent part of the pad is removable. Whether it is or isn’t, the material typically consists of cotton, synthetic fabrics or charcoal-based material. Compared to the combination of wood pulp and superabsorbent polymer and other materials used in disposable pads, it’s safe to say cloth pads are, well… safer.
Depending on the brand you buy, they might be constructed differently. Sometimes cloth pads consist of a single piece of fabric that snaps into your underwear, while others come in two parts: it’s a washable holder that snaps around the crotch piece of your underwear, and it comes with an absorbent pad insert you can wash and reuse.
Before you shop for cloth pads, here’s one last thing to note:
Just like you find the right size and absorbance level in single-use pads, you can also purchase reusable pads that accommodate your body and flow. But because it is cloth, after all, aim to change them when they begin to feel full, wet and/or uncomfortable. (Usually every four to eight hours.)
5. Free Bleeding
Free bleeding is when you have a period but don’t collect your flow. That means you don’t wear any tampons, menstrual cups, pads, discs or period underwear. Or you wear period-proof clothing and don’t insert anything.
In addition to being an alternative period product, free bleeding is also a movement that has been around for centuries — although, it didn’t start out as a choice. In modern times, it aims to tackle both the stigma around menstruation and the high financial cost many women can’t afford. Plus, it highlights the environmental harm caused by the waste generated by menstrual products.
It’s not for everyone — in fact, it’s not a preferred option for most people with periods. Taking on this lifestyle means understanding the risks, not to mention deciding how you’ll bleed in safe environments without soaking through to furniture.
Even if you decide to free bleed toward the end of your period and not the whole cycle, it’s still an available option to help your body menstruate comfortably and safely.
Meet Dr. Savita Ginde
Dr. Savita Ginde is an advocate and thought leader for reproductive health and served as Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains for over 13 years. And, until very recently, she served as the Chief Healthcare Officer for STRIDE Community Health Center where she oversaw all of STRIDE’s healthcare services and led their COVID-19 vaccination efforts.