Eco-Saturday: Reusable Maxi-Pads, Part 1

I made eight pads for less than $4. That's about $116 less than they'd cost at the health-food store. Not bad for three hours' work.
I made eight pads for less than $4. That’s about $116 less than they’d cost at the health-food store. Not bad for three hours’ work.

Note: Male readers can feel free to skip this post if the subject matter is too icky. But if you contribute to your household income and live with any women of reproductive age, you might want to suck it up and keep reading, because this project can save $35 to $60 a year or more. That’s a lot of beer money going in the trash. You’re welcome.

Let’s face it: Maxi-pads suck. They’re expensive, contain petroleum products, are made in ginormous factories, have to be shipped hundreds of miles, aren’t really recyclable or compostable, contain weird chemicals, and may or may not increase your risk of yeast infections, depending on how often and how long you wear them. Applicator-free tampons are marginally better, but they have their own drawbacks.

Fortunately, an alternative exists: reusable cloth pads.

I’m not going to go out on a limb and say I’d trust the average cloth pad under, say, a wedding gown. And hippie though I am, I’m not willing to keep used pads in my purse all day until I can throw them in the laundry. But they’re great for backup with a tampon, easing your mind if your cycle is a bit wacky, or using while you putter around the house.

Several companies sell prefabbed cloth pads that are pretty well-designed and hold up pretty well. The down side? They cost about $10 to $15 each. If you hate sewing enough to pay someone else to do it for you, I can recommend Gladrags.

If you’re broke (or just cheap) and have access to a sewing machine, however, you can crank out eight regular-absorbency cloth pads for about 50 cents apiece. Directions are below the fold.

You’ll need:

1. Pad to use as a pattern. I used a cloth one, but a regular one will work; just make sure it’s the kind with wings.

2. Flannel. Buy whatever’s on sale. I got eight medium-sized pads out of a yard of flannel I found on clearance for $2 at Hancock Fabrics.*

3. Thread. Any color.

4. Sew-on Velcro. You need about an inch per pad, give or take.

5. Pinking shears. You can buy a decent pair for about $15 — roughly the price of one store-bought cloth pad.

Start by making your pattern.

Take the pad you’ve chosen as your model, lay it flat on a piece of paper, and trace around it three times. (If the wings don’t overlap by at least half an inch, extend them until they do.) Cut out the three pieces.

Eight pads. I folded the fabric in half so I could cut two pieces at once.
Eight pads. Protip: Fold the fabric in half to cut two pieces at once.

Leave the first piece — we’ll call it A — intact. Cut one for each pad.

Fold the second piece in half vertically, unfold it, and draw a line from top to bottom about 1/2 inch to the left of the fold. Cut down this line. Keep the bigger piece and toss the smaller one. This is pattern piece B. Cut two for each pad.

Cut the wings off the third piece. Draw a line 1/2 inch from the edge, all the way around it, and cut it out. This is pattern piece C. It will be your insert. Cut four for each pad.

To assemble:

Assemble with A on the bottom and two B pieces overlapping on the top.
Assemble with A on the bottom and two B pieces overlapping on the top.

Lay Piece A on your work surface, printed side down. Lay two B pieces on top of it, printed side up, so they completely cover A and overlap in the middle.

Sew all the way around the outside edge to create a pad that’s flat on one side and has a seam down the other side, forming a sort of envelope.

Take two C pieces and sew them together, printed sides out, to create an insert. Repeat this process with two more pieces.

Stack the inserts together and tuck them into the slit in the middle of the pad.

Velcro: the fabric of the '80s.
Anybody else remember David Letterman’s salute to Velcro, the fabric of the ’80s?

Cut a piece of Velcro about an inch long. Sew the hook side to the bottom of one of the wings. Sew the loop side to the top of the other wing so that they connect when you fold the wings around the bottom.

Trim about 1/8 inch around the edges with pinking shears.

Adjust the absorbency of your pads by adding or removing inserts. Wash your pads in hot water with a good laundry detergent.

Stay tuned; one of these weeks, I’ll post instructions for making overnight pads out of two washcloths and a strip of Velcro.


*Please don’t buy your fabric from Hobby Lobby. I’m boycotting the company and would rather my ideas didn’t boost its bottom line. Muchas danke.

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