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Cloth Menstrual Pads, v.2

April 13, 2010

More than five years ago, when I was 7 months pregnant with my youngest daughter, a group of friends and I got together and had a big sewing party to make dozens of cloth menstrual pads.  I had never even used one before, but had used cloth diapers on my two older children, cloth wipes on my middle child and had an interest in using reusable menstrual products for myself.  One of my friend’s sisters had recently had a scare with toxic shock syndrome from the use of tampons and that was really the impetus to organizing the sewing session and getting them finished.

Cloth Menstrual Pads, v.1

These have served me well for the past five years.  However, I find myself needing to make a new batch and though they have been functional and long-lasting, there were issues that bothered me about the design.  Some of the issues were simply annoying and some affected function.  The list of things that I wanted to change:

  • I used plastic sew-on snaps as closures.  These cracked after a few years, with meant that I had no way to fasten the liner or I had to use a safety-pin, or I could have sewn on new snaps, which I never got around to doing.
  • We chose velcro as the fastening method to secure the pad(s) to the liner.  The velcro gets full of lint and strings after many washings, which decreases its holding ability.
  • We didn’t include any type of water-proof layers.
  • Some of the thicker pads take a very long time to dry.

With these in mind, I looked for a different pattern.  I found this tutorial for a circle pad.  These were a bit time-consuming to make, but they addressed all my issues and I was able to use fabrics I had on hand, with the exception of flannel, which I purchased on sale.  I mostly followed the tutorial, but I did the circle pad holder slightly different.  I’ll give a brief description from start to finish below.

First, this is what the finished pads looked like:

Cloth menstrual pads, v.2

They are comprised of these parts:  a circular holder (with a water-proof layer), flannel strips which are folded into long rectangles and inserted under the felt strips on the circular holder and fleece strips which are sandwiched in the center of the flannel strip to discourage wicking.  One excellent advantage with this method is that you can control the thickness of your pad for light or heavy flow days by having different lengths of flannel.  For very light days, I cut the flannel about 6-7″ long, and for night-time or heavy flow pads, the flannel is 30″+ and I cut lengths in between those two for medium days.

7.5" wide flannel strips

I started by cutting flannel strips 7.5″ wide by however long I wanted, from 6″ to 30″.  I ended up with 17 strips of varying length.  This will give me 17 pads.

Serged edge on flannel strips

Next, I used my serger to make a short, close rolled hem serged edge around all four edges of each flannel strip.

Circles for pad holder

Then, using the template provided in the tutorial, I cut out 14 circles from cotton fabric (not flannel, though flannel would be just fine).  Two circles will be used for each pad holder, giving me a total of 7 pad holders.

Water-proof layer for pad holder

The tutorial calls for using one layer of PUL.  I didn’t have PUL on hand and if I remember correctly, it’s a little pricey.  A water-proof material I did have on hand was an old shower curtain.  So, I cut out seven circles, also using the template in the tutorial.  One of these is used in each pad holder.

Waterproof layer sandwiched between two cotton layers

Nearly finished pad holders

This step is where I differed from the tutorial.  The tutorial suggested pinning the three layers (two cotton, one PUL) together, stitching and leaving a gap, then turning right side out and top-stitching.  For an item that is mostly functional and doesn’t need to be so finished-looking this seemed like a lot of extra work to me, so I just sandwiched the water-proof layer between the cotton layers and sewed completely around the circumference of the circle, using a 1/4″ seam allowance.

Using template, mark snap and felt strap placement

Pin the 1/2" x 3.5" felt straps onto the spots specifed by the template markings

Sew the short ends of the straps as close to their edges as possible

The final step for the pad holder is hand-sewing metal snaps onto the spots that were marked on the template.  Unless you like hand-sewing a lot, make sure you place the snaps correctly.  One  snap goes onto the side with the straps and one goes on the direct opposite edge, but on the side that doesn’t have the straps.  Make sure to have one female snap and one male snap.  I didn’t take these steps seriously and had to sew one snap on three times to get it right.  I don’t particularly like hand-sewing, so I got it right each time after that!

Completed circle pad holders

Cut out 3" x 7.5" rectangles of polar fleece, one for each flannel strip. In my case this was 17.

To assemble the pads, take one fleece rectangle and fold a flannel strip around it like this:

Fold the flannel around the fleece rectangle

You will end up with a flannel rectangle that is a little more than 3″ wide, 7.5″ long and the thickness will vary depending on how long the flannel strip was.  Insert this flannel rectangle under the felt straps on the pad.

Finished circle pad

Washing is easy.  I add them to our family cloth bucket, but if you have a child that is in cloth diapers, you can also add to the diaper pail, or you can have a bucket to put them in and at the end of your cycle wash them on their own.  I use hot water, a mild detergent (Bio-Kleen laundry powder) and white vinegar in the rinse cycle.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to sew your own, I encourage you to check out Etsy. There are hundreds of listings for quality handmade sets, though they are pricey when you purchase them.

If you don’t like using pads, but are looking for a more environmentally friend alternative to tampons, there are reusable cups.  The Diva Cup and the Keeper are two popular options.  Natural sea sponges are another option.  Cut to size, insert as you would a tampon and remove, rinse and dry as necessary.

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. April 13, 2010 6:54 pm

    Reusable items are certainly are great for health and environmental perspective! Just wondering whether or not you use these all throughout your period, or only at home or certain areas. Are they a pain to change in public washrooms or fairly simple? A lot of my girls are hesitant to use reusable products because they tend to be harder to manage when in public places.

    • April 14, 2010 2:27 pm

      Prexus-I just visited your blog and find it fascinating. Yes, I use them throughout and that’s all I used both at home and in public. I prefer to change them at home and I haven’t had a circumstance when that wasn’t possible, except traveling and for traveling I used disposable products. (I don’t work outside the home.) They are easy to change, though, so doing it in a public restroom if necessary isn’t difficult as long as one brings a bag/container to put the used one into. A small wet bag, which is a water-proof bag typically marketed to cloth diaper users, would be perfect for the purpose.

      • April 14, 2010 9:14 pm

        Thanks for your positive words about my blog :)

        That’s really neat to know how to manage the “holding” of it until it can be washed. I wonder whether or having to carry a bag/container around would be an inconvenience though. Certainly, most girls I know do carry a purse so I suppose it wouldn’t be all too bad for having a method of “safe keepings”. You mentioned the fact that you prefer to change them at home, do you mean they actually last long enough to go without changing when you’re going out? What’s your thought on absorbency on cloth pads versus disposables?

        I wonder if there’s a concern over the ‘holding’ of the product, even if using a waterproof bag or something, is there an odour that might emit from it as a result of a menstrually-saturated cloth? Maybe because I’m so used to the idea that pads/tampons often give off quite a smell once they’re disposed of, that I equate that to cloth pads, especially if you’re carrying it around for a period of time.

  2. April 15, 2010 8:35 am

    It can be just a small bag, even a ziplock sandwich bad would be suitable. Yes, they last several hours or more depending on rate of flow and thickness of pad. Cloth can be as absorbent as disposables, it basically comes down to a question of thickness. With many cloth pads, the thickness is variable as with disposables, so the woman has a lot of control over her choice of what thickness to wear.

    I don’t notice a foul odor, not right away anyway. It could be that the chemicals in pads and tampons exacerbate the odor, because I have certainly had this experience with cloth diapers versus disposable diapers. In my opinion, there isn’t a problem with odor if one is out for a few hours or even most of the day.

  3. September 29, 2010 12:41 pm

    cool post cloth pads are awesome. i’ve used them for just over a year now. i change mine at work if i have to. no issues. i just fold the pad inside itself & snap shut. there’s no ordour & i deal with it rinse & hand wash when i get home. usually they last longer than disposable ones i find except on my heavy day.

  4. VT-Mama permalink
    March 5, 2011 1:34 pm

    Thanks for the visual directions! I went to the “Adahy’s Cloth Pad Patterns” site but your viaual instructions were much clearer. When I get some done, I’ll share photos with you.

    Thanks again! :)

    • March 6, 2011 1:10 pm

      I’m so glad they were helpful. I’d love to see photos of yours after they are finished!

  5. May 16, 2012 3:26 pm

    How well does the shower curtain work as a waterproof layer? I’m thinking of making some for postpartum, and wondering if I should just suck it up and get some PUL or not. Thanks!

  6. Mia Rubberts permalink
    June 11, 2012 1:10 pm

    Thank you for an excellent tutorial. I too looked on the original site but found your directions much clearer.
    Just wondered…I’m thinking that sewing the fleece strip in the middle of the flannel would be very practical – can you see any reasons why this wouldn’t work?

    • June 11, 2012 8:28 pm

      Mia-I think that would be very practical. The little fleece strips are always being misplaced, so that would certainly help with that!

      • Mia Rubberts permalink
        June 12, 2012 2:34 am

        Thank you! I’m about to have a baby so I’ll be able to put the pads the ultimate test with postpartum flow lol!!

  7. Mia Rubberts permalink
    June 12, 2012 6:31 am

    I’m not sure how else to share pictures but I’m part of a charity that sews for various needs and I posted a picture of the pads I made according to your directions on there: http://lovinghands.freeforums.org/post123422.html#p123422
    Third post down.

    • June 12, 2012 10:11 am

      Mia-Yours look great! Thank you for taking the time to share the finished results with me. I appreciate knowing that my tutorial helped. Congratulations on your upcoming baby!

  8. Kassie permalink
    June 12, 2012 11:01 am

    I really want to make these! I’m going out to price PUL today and see where I can get it at a discount. I thought about the shower curtain idea, but decided against it since I am prone to infections. Not only is PUL waterproof, but it is also breathable, which is why it is often used for diaper covers and wet bags. Something to keep in mind, I think, if you need something breathable in those sensitive areas.

    I did have a question regarding the fleece, though. I would think you would want the fleece on top to wick away the moisture and keep yourself dry, and then the cotton or flannel underneath to absorb. Many cloth diapers layer it this way to keep baby’s butt dry. Is there something I’m missing? Some insight would be great.

    I love this idea and I’m looking forward to making some of these! I tend to have very painful and heavy periods, so I’m hoping this helps. I currently use a diva cup, but I also need a pad and liner because it leaks. Tampons always leaked for me too. At night, I don’t like to wear the diva cup, so thicker pads will definitely be nice. Thanks for sharing this!

    • June 12, 2012 1:09 pm

      Kassie-The original instructions that I modified suggested putting them in the inside to discourage wicking. This set is what my daughter uses, so I don’t have personal experience with this design, but I am sure that you could use it on top as well, especially if you sew it to the flannel, as suggested by Mia. I’m relatively sure that since the fleece parts get misplaced, my daughter doesn’t use them at all.

  9. Maia Hinderman permalink
    July 31, 2012 12:35 pm

    To help with wicking away moisture, but a more natural alternative you could get cotton velour or bamboo velour. Natural fleece will not wick and synthetic fleece can be irritating and it can get the stinks (a problem many CD mommas have experienced first hand). Currently working on pads like this and I bought some bamboo velour from kidsinthegarden.com to use as my top comfort/wicking/stay dry layer. I am planning on making my own sandwhich of different absorbent materials, but serged together to make an accordian style fold out fabric for fast drying.

  10. mindy permalink
    August 13, 2012 8:53 pm

    I followed your pattern, but I put a layer of PUL at the bottom of my stack of flannel and a nice soft piece of minkie on top. They came out beautiful! (I had to use the extra layer of PUL as well as 6 layers of flannel and a layer of fleece under the minkie and then 2 layers of cotton blend quilting fabric and a layer of 2mm PUL in the round part because I have an EXTREMELY heavy flow)

  11. Grace permalink
    July 8, 2013 8:32 pm

    Thank you for clarifying the original circular pad instructions. We are are working on a project to make a large quantity of these to send to the Sudan.

  12. Tiffany permalink
    November 9, 2013 6:03 pm

    Do you have problems with the unfinished edges fraying?

  13. Tiffany permalink
    November 9, 2013 7:02 pm

    I wonder if anyone has tried this pattern using bigger template for longer pads. The template says at least 8 inches…I need at least 10 inches. But wonder how that would work with the circle.

  14. mskirs permalink
    December 16, 2013 9:37 am

    I’m terrible at sewing, but I really want to give these a try. I bought a waterproof pad set for babies, and plan on using those for the circle part so I don’t have to do any sewing. I’m not sure how to get around having to sew on snaps or velcro, though. Any ideas? I also thought I’d try fabric glue for the strips that hold the pads in place. Any advice for stopping the pads from fraying, short of sewing the edges, would be appreciated. I’m a wreck on the sewing machine!

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  1. Gerber Premium Contoured Nursing Pads, Heavy Flow 24 ea

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