Cloth pads are a better choice for the environment than single-use disposable pads. Particularly if you are also washing them with minimal impact. But there definitely are some cloth pads that will have less impact on the earth than others.
Cloth pads made from all organic fabrics are obviously more eco-friendly than pads made with synthetics and standard fabric dying techniques. Synthetic fabrics can help us make cloth pads that function effectively, but they do have an environmental cost. Even our lovely coloured cotton fabrics do have a hefty environmental impact.
So if the environment is an important concern for you, here are some points to consider.
The manufacture of normal printed/dyed cottons is quite bad for the environment – from the fact that cotton crops need a lot of water and pesticides, to the bleaching and dying process where often the waste water is allowed to run off into waterways. So if you still want colourful fabrics, “low impact” dyed organic cottons are a much better choice to standard dyed fabrics, however they do therefore cost more.
- Cotton crops require a lot of pesticides and water, so are a less eco-friendly fabric than hemp.
- “Bamboo” fabrics are made using a solvent process that can be bad for the environment. However the plant itself is fast growing and does not have the same impact as cotton crops. So whether this fabric is overall better or worse than cotton is debated.
- Hemp crops are very eco-friendly, as they don’t require as much water or pesticides as cotton, grow quickly and produce a strong durable fabric, however they are not as soft as cotton or bamboo fabrics.
- Zorb is a fabric made from both synthetic and cellulose fibres, so is not as eco-friendly as natural fleeces.
- Wool is a more eco-friendly leakproofing fabric than synthetic fleeces or PUL (but may not be as effective)
- Minky, Suedecloth and other synthetics are not as eco-friendly (and can contribute to microfibre contamination of the waterways)
Eco-friendly Pad Styles
If you need synthetic waterproofing in pads so that your pads can be effective for you, there are still ways you can reduce the environmental impact of your cloth pad use. By choosing an adjustable pad style, you can choose pads that require less washing of the synthetic fabrics. Which means that there is less of the synthetic fabric in your stash and it is washed less (reducing the contamination of the waterways)
- “Ai2” or “Base & Insert” style pads have a non-absorbent pad base that can have a PUL layer inside – they have absorbent inserts that sit on top, allowing you to change the inserts while leaving the base pad on. The one base may last you the same time as you would use several AiO pads.
- “Pocket” style pads can be made from just natural fibres and you can add a PUL waterproofing insert only when needed. If you choose this style you may also be able to reuse the PUL insert when you change the pocket pad for another.
- AiO Pads styles that have PUL strips down the centre of the pad rather than through the whole body of the pad are using less PUL in their manufacture.
Microfibre contamination in Waterways
Synthetic fabrics like minky and the fleeces used to back cloth pads are responsible for HUGE amounts of microfibre contamination in our waterways. For example, each time a synthetic fleece jacket is washed, up to 250,000 of these microscopic fibres are shed and end up in the washing water. 85% of the human-made waste that washes up onto the shorelines is comprised of these microfibres and it is estimated that 1/3 of the fish we eat is contaminated with them. Learn more Here & Here, Here and Here.
- Higher quality fleeces like Windpro may loose less fibres than lower quality fleeces.
- PUL (being a laminated fabric and also not fluffy) is likely to loose less fibres than fleece.
- Bamboo velour is a better option to minky in regards to shedding of synthetic fibres.
Washing Cloth Pads
Cloth pads washed in a washing machine in a small load, and dried in a tumble dryer will have more environmental impact than washing in a full load and line drying. If you’re wanting to reduce the environmental impact from washing your pads:
- Wash pads in loads of laundry with other items to make a full load
- Rinse pads out by putting them on the floor of the shower and stomp on them as you shower to rinse them out without using extra water
- Use all soaking/rinsing water on the garden (as a bonus it is said to be a good fertiliser!)
- Dry your pads on a clothesline, clothes airer or otherwise dry them in the fresh air with sunlight rather than a tumble dryer
- Using laundry detergents that are grey water friendly and diverting washing water into the garden is a more ecological.
- “Soapnuts” can be used as an eco-friendly laundry detergent substitute. Washing with soapnuts can also help soften hemp fabrics.
- If you need wash more pads because they are not waterproofed, then the overall environmental impact of the pads may be less if you choose waterproofed pads that you can wear for longer.