With the menstrual cup, I only needed light back-up protection, so I figured that testing the waters with cloth would be fairly safe. A friend who swore by cloth pads pointed me in the direction of Homestead Emporium, a family-owned and operated business that makes cloth products for the entire family — everything from cloth pads and diapers to washcloths and “dundies,” the cutest handmade underwear you’ll ever see.
Since I only use my cloth pads for back-up, I can’t really speak to how well these pads work when used exclusively for monthly flow — so I asked Pieternella Willard, founder of Homestead Emporium, to tell us a bit more cloth pads and answer all of those questions you may have wondered about but never dared to ask.
Pieternella Willard: I know it’s hard for some to believe, but I really do love this business! I’ve always loved sewing, and I’ve always had a great passion for fabrics, especially fabrics that just make you feel good, so this business is a great fit for me. I always tell my kids that I may have never dreamed about becoming a cloth pad maker when I was growing up, but this business has provided me the luxury of doing a lot of what I love: being creative, working with my hands, running a business, and best of all, being home to watch them grow up and to homeschool.
I first started out almost 8 years ago when our youngest — our twins — were 4 years of age and I needed to bring in some sort of income to continue staying home with them. I worked part time out of the home with the elderly as a nurse’s aid, and when that was no longer a viable option, I worked as a waitress so my husband and I could swap child and home care. By the time we had 5 children, however, this wasn’t feasible any longer, and working from home became the ideal. I just had yet to figure out exactly how I would work from home.
With five young children and only one income, I needed to be frugal, so I made the switch to cloth pads that I created from an old flannel nightgown. I started with cloth pantyliners for daily wear, and a few online friends became curious about them and asked if I could make them some, too. From that small start, I began working out trades with others, purchasing larger quantities of fabrics, and moved into organic fabrics. The business kept growing bit by bit to where it is today, almost eight years later. Last year we shipped out over 7,000 pads world wide, all sewn right here in our home and dyed right here, too. I can’t help but be passionate about it. To know women all around the world are using our products every month — some every day — just makes me smile!
Why did you first switch to cloth pads, and why do most of your customers switch to them?
To be honest, when I first heard about cloth menstrual pads, my thoughts were, “Gross! How disgusting!” Then, I heard about them again, and again, and being the curious and ever-researching person that I am, I realized that rather than judge them, perhaps I should look into the reasons why women would even use them. Once I began to research and read about the chemicals used in disposable pads and some of the serious health concerns related to those chemicals, I gave cloth pads a second thought.
Since I had an issue with light incontinence — having five children, including twins, can do that to you! — I figured I could at least give cloth pantyliners a try. I cut up an old flannel night gown into a shape I felt would be comfortable, zigzagged the edges on my sewing machine, and used a tiny safety pin to secure it to my undies. I had my first cloth liners.
And you know what happened then? I loved the feeling of wearing cloth so much better then plastic with glue, that when my cycle came along and I had to use a disposable pad, I couldn’t even stand it! Suddenly, the thought of washing cloth pads didn’t seem so disgusting when compared to how cloth felt next to my skin versus plastic. I had also battled yeast infections for years and noticed I didn’t have issues while using the cloth liners, yet when I used the plastic/paper products, suddenly I found myself with the same problems again.
I was well on my way to deciding to make the complete switch when my eldest daughter — who was almost 13 at the time — started her monthly. Then I really began to research in earnest. I had suffered from endometriosis between two miscarriages, and when I realized disposable pads could have contributed to this, I just couldn’t stand the thought of my girls using disposables. I had four girls to consider, and I decided right then and there that, if at all possible, I was going to show them that there was an alternative to disposable products.
Since then, I’ve never looked back. This week celebrated the third of my four girls beginning her cycle, and it was such an easy thing for her because she’s grown up in a home full of pads. I gave her the choice between disposables or cloth after sharing all of my research, and she was completely set on cloth. We’re now working on a nice stash just for her!
How comparable are cloth pads to disposable ones in terms of absorbency, and how often do they have to be changed?
Personally, I feel they are very comparable. I tell my customers that the 9.5-inch regular-flow selection is very similar in size and absorbency to the mainstream sizes found on the market.
Most women find they change their pads each time they use the bathroom. Of course, if their flow is very heavy, then, just as with disposables, they may find they need to change their pads more often; if their flow is lighter, they may need to change it less. It really is very dependent on each woman’s needs and flow.
What do you think are some of the greatest misconceptions about cloth menstrual products, and what do you tell prospective customers who are interested in cloth but are hesitant to take the plunge?
Well, of course the same misconception I had — that cloth pads are gross! But I think that’s a totally fair misconception. Who wants to deal with their menstrual flow anymore then they need to? Most women simply don’t want to. But let’s face it: We have to deal with it one way or the other. We can either be comfortable in something as natural as a pair of cloth underwear, or we can worry about throwing away plastic and paper products and about the chemicals we’re placing in one of the most absorbent places in our bodies. We deserve better then paper and plastic. Bamboo velour is so luxurious in comparison! And with gorgeous hand-dyed colors, it’s enough to almost make you smile when it’s time for your cycle to begin!
If someone were interested in using cloth pads exclusively, what would you recommend for a starter kit? How many pads would they need, and what kinds would you recommend? What’s the lifespan of a cloth pad?
I usually tell my customers to begin by taking a look at our pad description page and deciding which pads they feel will best suit their needs. It’s really best to just try a few at first, even though it’s tempting to jump right into a full stash. Most women are accustomed to using the same size/style for their full cycle, but with cloth pads, a lot of women, including myself, find they like a real variety according to their flow days. Most women’s flow is not the same throughout their entire cycle; a lot of women have heavier days, and lighter days, and then regular flow days. This is why I’ve created such a huge array of pads. Most women easily have 3-5 different sizes and styles in their pad stash!
The lifespan of a cloth pad varies greatly according to how they are cared for and how often they are used. Cloth liners for daily use tend to last about 18 months to 2 years, depending on just how often they are used. Washing is hard on any cloth — pads or clothing — so if you have a small stash of just 3 liners, they’ll be washed a lot more then if you’ve got a larger stash that you’re able to rotate more often.
Menstrual pads that are used just once a month typically last longer – anywhere from 3-7 years, depending on how often each individual pad is being used and washed. Again, a larger stash with pads that are only being used 2-4 times per cycle will last longer then a small stash with pads needing to be washed daily and reused several times within a cycle. Some love a large stash for this reason, but not everyone can afford a huge stash, so I usually recommend women decide how often they want to — or are able to — wash their pads and multiply that by how many days they need to use them.
To start with, I usually recommend 3-6 pads per day, times the amount of days between washings. This usually adds up to about 9-12 pads — a couple being heavy-flow pads (11 inches or longer) for nighttime use, 6-9 being regular flow pads (9.5 inch), and 1-3 liner sizes for the very beginning of the cycle when the flow is light and when it’s just about over.
Let’s talk about the nitty gritty: You have a used pad. What’s next? How do you clean it? What if you’re away from home?
To wash, some women like to rinse them out first, while others simply toss them straight into the washer. Personally, I like to wash them with other like colors. Sometimes I’ll do an extra rinse cycle first, then a regular wash. Other times, I’ll rinse them on their own first — it really just depends on how busy I am. Since we’re a family of 7 — and usually have at least one extra child/teen living at our home — I’m doing laundry pretty much on a daily basis, so it’s really no big deal to just add in a few pads to a load of like colors. Any load I’m washing my underwear with, I’ll add pads to without hesitation.
As for how to wash them, it’s just the same as you would wash a load of like-colored towels, or really almost any laundry. Wash on warm, cold, or even hot, if you’re not concerned about colors running, and you can throw them in the dryer like anything else. Some find they prefer not to use fabric softener because of the chemicals and the belief that it can affect absorbency, but if you’re a fabric-softener lover, I personally haven’t noticed any ill effects.
If you’re away from home, most women use a small wet bag — a bag that’s waterproof on the inside and usually has a pretty print on the outside. It’s a great way to keep your soiled cloth pads discreet until you can get home and wash them.
Anything else you’d like to share about cloth pads?
To women everywhere who are nervous about giving them a try, but curious enough to wonder, just take the plunge! At least try just one liner — I usually recommend one of our 7-inch TinyLiners to start. You’ll most likely find they’re a lot more comfortable then you ever imagined. Once you try cloth, it’s really hard to go back to paper and plastic. Also, if you’re still not convinced, read reviews. You’ll most likely be surprised. A lot of women were just like you — nervous about that first step into the wonderful world of cloth. And from there, let me just say, “Welcome! We’re glad you joined us, and we know you’ll be here to stay!”
Images: Homestead Emporium