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Figuring out Fabrics

This can be another confusing aspect of cloth pads…. some talk about “OBV”, “SHOBF”, “PUL” …..  What fabrics are absorbent?  What will be waterproof?  what is best? Here is a little rundown…

Think about:

  • Softness (feeling nice against your skin)
  • Absorbency (how absorbent is it – some fabrics add extra absorbency)
  • Colour (dark colours to hide stains, light colours so you can see how much you flow)
  • Pattern (Do you want patterns for hiding stains and being fun)
  • Durability (How easily will it wear, some fabrics wear better than others)
  • Stain-ability (Will it stain, or can it hide stains)
  • Dryness (Some fabrics wick moisture away, and some can feel more dry when worn than others)

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So… lets look at fabrics as they relate to cloth pads:

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Natural fabrics Vs Synthetic fabrics
While mostly down to personal preference, there are differences in synthetics and naturals that impact the function of the pad as well as the comfort of wearing them.

Natural fibre fabrics – These are made from plant or animal fibres and they are more eco friendly. These are absorbent and are generally more breathable and can feel cooler/less sweaty than synthetics. They can be more likely to stain, and when used as tops on pads, can feel wetter than synthetics as they will hold some of the blood, however they can also feel cooler because they are less “sweaty” than synthetics.

Examples:  Cotton (terry, woven, jersey, sherpa, flannel), Hemp, Bamboo, Wool.

Synthetics – These generally don’t hold moisture (with the exception of microfibre/microterry and zorb), so when used as a top layer, they tend to allow the blood to wick through into the core, and stay relatively dry on top. Used as a backing they can create a layer to prevent the blood seeping through. Some synthetics work better at waterproofing than others. Synthetics can feel hot and sweaty if you are prone to getting sweaty in that region. Usually less likely to stain than natural fibres. Can feel very soft.

Examples: Polarfleece (including “Antipill”), Windpro, Microfleece, Suedecloth, Minkee, PUL, Microfibre, Zorb.

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Top Fabrics (“Toppers”)
The layer that goes against your skin, and the fabric you’ll most often see and feel. This is really up to personal preference and is often a trade off between fun prints or nicer feeling fabrics. Some people choose natural fabrics for a cooler feel, or organics for less chemicals, and some choose synthetics for their stain resistance and wicking ability.

Fabrics such as microfleece, minky and suedecloth can work well as a topper for a regular or heavier flow as the blood (or urine) will soak or “wick” through the fabric and into the absorbent core below, but the fabric won’t hold that moisture.  So the pad can feel dry on top, with the core of the pad holding the flow.  This effect isn’t as good for a light flow as there isn’t enough blood flow to soak through and it can sit on top of the pad more.

Highly textured fabrics, such as velour, terry, sherpa and minky have a thicker “pile” to the fabric, which gives it more surface area.  For a “gushy” flow, these fabrics can be very beneficial as they can help keep the blood from spreading too far (sometimes gushy flow leads to leaking off the sides of a pad), and they can feel less “wet” because the blood is trapped within the pile and can wick down into the core.

Explaining fabrics used as pad toppers
Flannel & Woven Cotton | Velour, Sherpa & Terry | Minky, Suedecloth & Fleece

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Absorbent Core Fabrics
This is what goes inside the pad to absorb the menstrual flow.  There are both natural and synthetic options available.  Generally speaking, natural fibre fabrics are absorbent and good for pad cores, although there are 2 main exceptions to this: “microterry/microfibre” – which is a fabric commonly used for cleaning cloths, and “Zorb” – which is a specialty fabric that is partially cellulose and part synthetic.

There is a lot to consider with the absorbent core of a pad – it needs to be able to absorb and hold onto the flow, and needs to be appropriate for the level of flow it needs to hold. Over the years people have tried different core fabrics and there are definitely fabrics that work well and have become the standard fabrics used – these are natural fleece/terry (cotton, bamboo or hemp) and zorb.  Using anything other than these is not recommended.

This topic is VERY important and there’s more detail than will fit in this summary, so check the links below for more info about absorbent fabrics.

More information on absorbent core fabrics
About Absorbent Fabrics | Core Fabric Options | Absorption Test | What NOT to use

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Waterproof Fabrics | Backing Fabrics
These provide waterproofing and/or the backing of the pad.  Some pads do not have any leak-resistance or waterproofing.  Whether you need it depends on your lifestyle and your menstrual flow (both heavyness and the way it flows).  You have 2 main options: “waterproof” where liquid will not penetrate through the fabric because there is a plastic coating on the fabric (fabrics such as PUL and Procare), or “Water Resistant” where it is possible for a high volume of liquid to penetrate through but when used in a pad, so long as the core is good enough then the blood shouldn’t leak through (Synthetic fleece or wool)

More information on leakproofing options
About Waterproofing | Waterproofing Options | “Antipill fleece” | Backing Fabrics