Generally speaking you’ll have different absorbency needs on different days of your period. Often you start out just needing a light pad or pantyliner while your period gets started, then you’ll have heavy flow, then a regular flow and back to light flow.
There is nothing wrong with wearing heavy pads all through your period, and if you can change regularly then a regular pad may work for heavy days – but you might like to buy a range of absorbencies to wear on different days of your period. Lighter absorbency pads will dry quicker, and very thick pads may be harder to thoroughly clean.
One VERY IMPORTANT thing to be aware of is that there is unfortunately no industry standard for cloth pad absorbency. So pads from one seller to the next may be drastically different in absorbency. Not all padmakers use the same absorbent fabrics, nor the same thicknesses or the same amount of layers. What one padmaker considers to be “regular” absorbency may be what others consider “light”. So you do need to be careful with what you buy, because you don’t want to get pads that are less absorbent than you expect.
Always look at the product listings to see what core fabric is listed and if they have specified how many layers of it they have used. Just saying it’s a “regular” pad isn’t helpful, because different padmakers have different opinions on how much absorbency “regular” is. My recommendation is not to buy from sellers who are not fully disclosing this information, because otherwise you’re buying products without knowing this important information.
While there is no actual industry standard everyone uses, there is a widely-used standard that many padmakers do follow and recommend. This is:
- “Light” – This should have a core layer of 1 layer of bamboo fleece/hemp fleece/zorb/cotton terry. Or 2-3 layers flannel
- “Regular” – This should have a core layer of 1 layer zorb. Or 2 layers bamboo fleece/hemp fleece/cotton terry. Or 4-6 layers of flannel.
- “Heavy” – This should have a core layer of 2 layers zorb. or 3 layers bamboo fleece/hemp fleece/cotton terry. Or 6-8 layers of flannel.
So check this layering guide against any pads you are looking to buy and see how their layers compare.
“Pantyliners” or “Liners” are also a product that have no set standard definition. Some padmakers sell liners that are intended for everyday discharge and can be anything from just 2 layers of flannel with no core. Some padmakers have a light absorbency core in their pantyliners and would be suitable for light menstrual flow. So when buying pantyliners be aware of this difference in what a pantyliner might be and check the product listing description.
Different types of fibre have different levels of absorbency. The absorbency of common core fabrics can be ranked from highest absorbency to lowest as: zorb, bamboo, hemp, cotton. Fabrics weights are measured by “gsm”, so the higher the gsm number, the more fibres in that fabric and the more absorbent it will be.
How often you change them
This will again help you work out what absorbency you need. While you are supposed to change pads around every 4 hours for cleanliness, that may not always be what people do, some will want to change more often, some will change pads less frequently. If you like to have a fresh pad on all the time, you can probably go for a lighter absorbency pad but you’ll need a lot more pads. If you are stuck at work or school for long hours without being able to change pads, you may want to wear heavier pads so that you have enough overall absorbency to last a longer time, even if your flow is light to regular.
Waterproofing or not
Some pads have no waterproofing in them at all and contain just natural fibres. These pads will soak through if the core fabric is not absorbent enough for your flow. Some pads have a waterproofing or water-resistant layer in them that can help stop the pad leaking straight through.
Whether you want or need a waterproofed pad comes down to personal preference. Also it can depend on how much you flow, how your flow behaves and what your lifestyle is. If your flow is heavy, “gushy” or soaks through a small area of the pad, then you may need the extra security of PUL to give you longer wear time on your pads. If your flow spreads out over the pad surface and your flow is light to regular, then you may not need PUL or fleece as you may have longer before the pad soaks through. If you are unable to change pads regularly then you may like to use PUL pads just in case.
There are 3 main choices with waterproofing in cloth pads. PUL, Synthetic Fleece and Natural Wool.
- PUL is a “PolyUrethane Laminate”, and in laymans terms this is a thin plastic layer bonded to a layer of fabric. In the industry this is considered to be a completely leakproof but “breathable” fabric. So it should not be as hot and sweaty as a standard plastic like you’d find in disposable pads. This fabric can be included inside the pad with another fabric as the pad backing (“hidden layer”), or it may be used as the backing of the pad. This fabric is very thin, so allows for a thin and leakproof pad.
- Synthetic fleeces such as “polarfleece”, “microfleece”, “anti-pill fleece*” and “Windpro fleece” can be used as a leak-resistant backing material. These are not leakproof like PUL is, but they can offer a degree of leak-resistance if the core fabric is absorbent enough. Windpro fleece that has been treated with the DWR coating can be as leak-resistant as PUL, however this coating can eventually wash out. While some claim that fleece backing is more breathable and less sweaty than PUL, it’s worth noting that a DWR coating on the fleece does reduce breathability, and the fluffy nature of fleece fabrics does trap warm air, which can itself lead to the pad feeling hot. Fleece backed pads will generally be thicker than PUL pads.
- Natural wool fabric is rarely used as a pad backing, but can offer a natural alternative to a synthetic fleece fabric. This wool fabric is generally machine washable and offers some leak-resistance. As the pads are unable to be lanolised as you can do with other woolen fabrics to increase their water-resistance, it’s not really possible to make a completely leakproof pad with wool.
(The term “anti-pill fleece” is often used by padmakers and fabric sellers in a way to describe a particular form of water-resistant fleece suitable for pad backing. However this is not technically correct as the term “anti-pill” means the fabric won’t get “pills” forming – pills being those little balls of fluff that appear on some fabrics with wear. Many fleece fabrics are anti-pill, even ones that are thin and not leak-resistant. While a fabric labelled as an antipill fleece may be a thick leak resistant fabric, “anti-pill” alone is not a definition or classification of any type of leak resistance, thickness or quality.