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Buying Cloth Pads – Fabrics

If you haven’t tried cloth pads before, it can be difficult to know what fabrics cloth pads are made from and which are best for you.  This guide will hopefully help you a bit.

Some fabrics are more expensive than others.  Fancy printed cottons and hand-dyed fabrics add extra cost to pads.  When looking at cloth pads to buy, look at the fabrics used. Pads made from cotton flannel with cotton terry cores will be cheaper to make, but they may not be as absorbent as pads made with a bamboo fleece core. A pad with a minky or bamboo velour top will be more expensive but they may feel nicer and be more suitable for a heavy flow. Pads without waterproofing might be cheaper but may not be as effective for you.

Topper Fabrics
These are the fabrics that go against your skin.  You have a choice of synthetics (minky, suedecloth, wicking jersey etc.) and naturals (“woven” cottons, flannel, cotton jersey, bamboo velour etc.).  Some fabrics come in a range of prints and colours, some are plain.  Some are soft and some are smooth.  It’s best to try out some different fabrics to see how they work for you and see which ones you like best.  You want something that feels nice against your skin, doesn’t make you feel sweaty, absorbs and/or wicks the blood away to the core – and you may want something that looks nice too!  Some tips:

  • Some people find synthetic toppers to be more “sweaty” feeling in hot weather/climates
  • Synthetic fabrics generally don’t stain
  • Synthetics wick the blood down into the core and can look and feel dry on top, whereas natural fabrics are absorbent and will hold some blood on the surface of the pad
  • The wicking ability of synthetics works better for a regular or heavy flow.  Light flow may just stay on the top of the pad and not wick through.
  • Smoother fabrics (like “woven” cotton and standard dressmaking cottons) can feel cooler to wear but may also feel “wetter”
  • Textured fabrics (like velour and minky) can work best for heavy/gushy flow because they grab the flow and trap it in their greater surface area
  • Natural fabric toppers can add some absorbency to the pad.  Thicker toppers like bamboo velour and cotton sherpa add more absorbency.
  • Flannel fabric can get worn looking sooner than other topper options, especially when using stain removers.
  • Jersey fabric can feel softer than a flat/woven cotton.

(Cotton fabric commonly used as pad toppers and backings can be called “woven”, “flat”, “quilters”, “printed” as well as other names, and this refers to the standard cotton fabrics that you’d find in things like dresses, quilts and such.  Which is different to a “knit” or “jersey” that is commonly used for making tshirts)

Core fabrics
These are fabrics that provide the main absorbency of the pad.  Generally these are a strip of highly absorbent fabric down the center of the pad.  There are natural and synthetic choices here too, and you may prefer one over the other for environmental reasons.

  • Cotton, Bamboo and Hemp are used in a “terry” (loopy fabric) or “fleece” (fluffy) fabric as a natural pad core.
  • “Zorb” and microfibre/microterry are synthetic core options (Zorb is a synthetic/cellulose blend)
  • “Bamboo” and “hemp” fleece or terry fabrics are actually a blend, commonly with cotton.  So a “bamboo fleece” is usually about 75% bamboo and 15% cotton.
  •  The absorbency of common core fabrics can be ranked from highest 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.
  • Pads with cores made of just flannel will need many more layers to achieve the same level of absorbency as pads made with a bamboo core.  These extra layers can make washing/drying more difficult and can make the pad thicker.
  • “Batting” is a fabric used for making quilts and should never be used as a pad core, as it lacks the durability in frequent washing.  Other pad core choices are designed to last through heavy washing routines.

Backing fabrics
These are the fabrics that touch your underpants.  Backing fabrics can be just about anything, but ideally you want something that won’t be slippery in your underpants.

Some pads are made with a patterned fabric as the topper with a plain fleece backing, some pads are made with a plain topper fabric and a pattered fabric backing – it depends on the padmaker and the fabrics they are using.

Some pads can be backed in the waterproof PUL fabric (some people find this slippery, some don’t – it depends on the brand of PUL and the underwear you’re wearing).  Some pads have “hidden PUL” where the pul layer is behind a backing of cotton or other fabric.  Some pads are backed with synthetic fleece fabric, which provides some leak-resistance as well as a good grippy fabric in the underpants.  The thicker fabrics like fleece do add extra thickness to the pads.  (See here for more on waterproofing fabrics)