Are there any health risks associated with reusable-cloth menstrual pads? I recently read an article about cups, tampons and sponges, but was disappointed that the article didn’t touch on cloth pads. I currently use them but haven’t found much information on them from health professionals.
— asked by Marie
Reusable menstrual pads are well-tolerated and just fine. Never use a sea sponge. Ever.
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There are several studies looking at providing women with reusable menstrual cloths designed specifically for menstruation in countries where women have limited access to products for menstrual hygiene. The material is the same or similar to that used for cloth diapers. These menstrual cloths are generally safe to use and many women seem to like them. Anecdotally, over the years many patients of mine have reported using reusable cloth menstrual pads and have been very satisfied.
The biggest medical risk with any menstrual hygiene product that sits against your vulva is inadequate absorbency. If the cloth or pad is wet, it will irritate the skin. Irritation from the actual material itself does happen, but that is much less common. If you are not wet and don’t feel irritated then the reusable pad or cloth you are using is likely just fine.
Sea sponges should never be used. I know you didn’t ask this, but it is very important to not use them even though many online articles suggest they are a viable option. They contain dirt and debris (after all, they filter the ocean), so they put you at risk for an infection. They will also introduce large volumes of air into the vagina, and this is a key step in the genesis of toxic-shock syndrome (T.S.S.). This is a rare condition where a toxin produced by bacteria in the vagina enters the bloodstream and causes a serious illness. With modern tampons and menstrual cups the risk of menstrual-related T.S.S. is approximately 1 per 100,000 women a year. Cleaning these sea sponges appropriately for vaginal reuse also seems impossible.
Dr. Jen Gunter, Twitter’s resident gynecologist, is teaming up with our editors to answer your questions about all things women’s health. From what’s normal for your anatomy, to healthy sex, to clearing up the truth behind strange wellness claims, Dr. Gunter, who also writes a column called, The Cycle, promises to handle your questions with respect, forthrightness and honesty.