How many cloth pads you’ll need depends on your flow, how often you want to change pads and how often you need to wash them. But as a guide, a decent cloth pad stash for a 5 day period (without needing to wash pads until the end of the period) should be about 20-25 pads. With a breakdown of something like (for a “normal” flow):
- 5 pantyliners
- 5 light pads
- 10 regular pads
- 5 heavy/night pads
When buying pads it’s tempting to just look for the cheapest option. Sometimes (as with anything) you can get what you pay for. (See also, why do cloth pads cost so much)
Some fabrics (bamboo velour for example) are more expensive than others. Hand-dyed fabrics add extra cost. Fabrics imported from overseas can be more expensive. Licensed prints and custom printed fabrics can be more expensive. If pads are cut from the fabric in a way that centers the print nicely this can waste a lot of fabric and thus cost more. Some pad shapes are much harder to sew and take longer, so these will be higher priced than pads with more simple shapes. Longer pads use more fabric and take more time, so they will cost more. So there can be a lot of variations in what it costs to make a pad, which might not seem obvious just looking at it.
While it might seem really expensive to buy cloth pads when they cost $10 or more each, don’t forget that with careful use, your pads may last more than 5 years. So if you compare that to the cost of disposable pads, you’ll end up saving money in the long run. If you’re on a budget, try buying 1 or 2 pads a month and building up your stash.
When looking at cloth pads to buy, look at the fabrics used. Pads made from cotton flannel with cotton terry or even flannel cores will be cheaper to make and thus cheaper to buy – 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. So cost alone is only one aspect you should look at, it might be better value overall to spend a bit extra and buy pads that are made from better quality fabrics that you will find work better for you.
It may not end up being cost effective if you buy pads that end up not being absorbent enough, or leakproof enough for you, and you have to replace them.
Remember that most cloth pads are sewn up by people in their houses, not made in bulk by large factories. So part of what you are paying for is a decent hourly rate for the padmaker’s time to sew up the pad, as well as their experience, fabrics and other costs involved in making pads.
It has become a common practice among a lot of padmakers to charge at least $1 per inch for a standard pad – so a 10″ (25cm) pad would cost around $10. Fancier fabrics and other factors can increase the price of pads. Padmakers just starting out often charge less to reflect their lack of experience and to help them build up a reputation.
If you are looking for the cheapest options when buying pads, you can look for “destashing” – which is where people sell off their unwanted cloth pads, many of which have been tried on but not used during a period, or may have been used only once.
Crunching the numbers
The average menstruation is between 3-7 days per month (let’s average that at 5 days) from around age 13 to age 51 (38 years). So that’s around 60 bleeding days a year (2,280 days over their menstruating life). Disposable regular pads can cost anywhere between about 20c and 40c each (so let’s take an average of 30c ea), Tampons are around the same too. If you use an average of 5 pads/tampons a day for a 5 day period, that’s around 25 pads a month ($7.50) or 300 a year ($90). Over 5 years that equates to about $450 and 1,500 pads/tampons (plus their packaging) thrown away. That is this many:
Over the 38 years you menstruate for, that is 7x that amount! 11,400 pads/tampons thrown away!!!
If you buy the cloth pads as recommended above, depending on length and fabrics, you’ll pay around $6ea for a liner ($30), $8ea for lights ($40), $10ea for regulars ($100) and $12ea for nights ($60). A stash of 25 pads at total of $230. $220 saving compared to 5 years of disposables ($450).
You’re also using 25 pads in 5 years, compared to 1,500 pads in 5 years! If you use cloth pads over your menstruating life, then compared to 11,400 disposable pads/tampons thrown away, you’ll likely be throwing away only 175 pads. If those cloth pads go on to live another few years (which if cared for properly, they should), you’re saving even more!