If there were another shutdown, would you have your feminine care squared away?
This is a question that’s come up fairly often lately, mostly in mom-prepper and homestead groups I’m in. It’s also one I’ve been meaning to cover here since before the pandemic. Time has a way of just running over me, so my apologies for not doing it till now.
Please note… This post is more of a rundown on cost and available options, for stocking up in the event of an emergency. It doesn’t cover the eco-friendliness of each option, a primer on cup insertion techniques, or a deep dive into each brand for each type of product. I’d like to do a deeper-dive post at a later time, to cover more. In the meantime, Wellness Mama has a good post on the eco-friendly aspect of the topic.
So, are you prepared if we have to hunker down again? Heck, are you prepared in the event of a financial emergency, or a natural disaster? Feminine products can get pricey, especially for ladies with heavy flow.
Stocking Up On Feminine Care
If you use disposables, such as pads, tampons, or menstrual discs, I’d love to talk you out of it! If I can’t change your mind, though, you’ll at least want to make sure you have a supply that’s going to last you. Personal care items and toiletries (toilet paper, feminine items, paper towels, etc) are expected to be in short supply this fall/winter. With this in mind, I’d suggest having at least a 6-month supply on hand to ride this thing out.
The cost of things makes it hard to stock up on a tight budget (I know!). But, what’s the cost of running out and being unable to replenish your supply, or having to pay more to do so? During shortages, prices often go up to re-balance the supply/demand aspect (notice how T.P. got more expensive this year?).
Even in good times, it’s advisable to sock away a few dollars here and there. $5 a week in a jar or savings account, over time, can make or break an emergency response. It can mean all the difference between being able to take advantage of a solid stock-up deal, or doing without necessities at crucial times.
Use this guide to help calculate the cost of a 6-month supply:
List the items you buy (tampons, pads, liners, douches, fem-wash, etc), with their associated costs, and calculate by how much product you use in a month. Then, multiply that by 6 to get your estimated total.
For example, say I use 1 box of 18-ct tampons, 1 box of 24-ct backup pads and 60 pantyliners a month. (I’m using my local Dollar Store prices here… your costs may be more or less, depending on your area, preferred store, and the products you use. Adjust accordingly.). My cost breakdown would look like this:
Almost $50 to be stocked on lady gear for half a year! It’s a lot to come by in a pinch. For many, at least where I’m from, this means buying 1-2 items each payday till your supply’s up. But, if that’s the only way to do it, it can still get done.
Alternatives to Disposable Feminine Care Products
There are alternatives to buying throwaway items. While the costs are higher upfront, they last so much longer and will actually save you over time. On average, items will last about 5-10 years. I’ve found they can last even longer, with proper care. Here’s a rundown of some available options:
With the exception of the Cincinnati-based Keeper brand, that uses rubber, these are made from medical-grade silicone. They generally come in 2 sizes: pre-pregnancy and post-pregnancy, though I’ve seen some in Small, Large, & X-Large. Each brand has their own take on the dimensions for the sizes they offer, so shop around and see what might be best for you. I use a pre-pregnancy size LadyCup, despite having given birth twice, and feel that women should consider their pelvic size and flow more so than whether or not they’ve given birth. We’re all different.
Using a cup requires a bit of a learning curve and a solid comfort level with your body. You will be getting up close and personal with your lady parts! Most cup users will tell you it isn’t so bad, once you figure out your technique, and that they’re actually more comfortable than tampons. In fact, you can even wear one when you’re simply expecting your period to show up. And a pantyliner or pad can be used as backup, if you’re worried about leaking.
These are similar to the plastic-y disposable pads available everywhere. Except they’re cloth…and MUCH more comfortable, in my opinion. Again, there are different brands and materials: cotton or organic cotton, bamboo cloth, charcoal-ed cloth, and absorbent French terry cloth are used most often. Most cloth pads have a PUL (polyurethane laminate) backing, to prevent leaking through. Yes, it’s a type of plastic and that’s not an ideal situation but it’s a case of pros and cons. Some women get by just fine with cloth pads that have no PUL backing.
Leaking is a concern many women have when considering whether or not to buy cloth pads. It’s generally assumed you’ll bleed all through a few layers of cloth. My personal experience is that they actually hold more and are less likely to leak than disposable pads. I bought 2 sets earlier this year, one multi-sized set & one pantyliner set, to replace a set I made a decade ago…and they’re amazing! Let’s just say that, when I cold-rinse them (a pre-wash thing), I’m still always surprised at their capacity.
I actually don’t know much about these. They came out after I done settled on what works for me. Seems to me that, if you’re out and about or wearing pants, changing these several times a day may become an issue. Or maybe I just have a hangup about that kind of thing.
As with the other options, there are several brands that offer their own sizes and price points. These can fully replace pads and tampons or act as backup to your current protocol. I’ve seen reviews that go either way. What works for one lady may not work for another. It’s important she know her body and understand its nuances, especially her cycles, when deciding on lady gear.
If you use these, know someone who does, or otherwise know more about them, please feel free to have your say in the comments.
Feminine Product Care
The main caveat on reusable lady gear is that you have to clean and dry them well to keep them in good condition. For most, this isn’t a problem. For some, it might not be worth the extra time or they just don’t want to bother with it.
For cloth pads and period panties:
These should be rinsed thoroughly in cold water (until the water runs clear) BEFORE washing with soap and warm/hot water or tossing in the washer. This will ensure they’re fully clean and help keep smells from setting into the fabric from leftover blood. Both can be air-dried and I think that’s the recommendation for the panties (along with hand-washing). However, with the clothies, I find a tumble in the dryer can ensure they’re good and dry for storing till the next month. I tend not to put our “skivvies” on the line anyway.
With menstrual cups:
This process is quicker. Rinse ‘em out, soap ‘em up, rinse warm/hot, and air dry before storing. However, I have heard that certain types of soap (generally the more commercial, chemical-laden ones) can break down the material over time. My personal solution is to use an unscented liquid castile soap with no essential oils added. I don’t always use my cup and feel this, with the soap I use, is why it’s still near-new after all these years.
Cost Breakdown for Menstrual Alternatives
Prices do vary, depending on product, how many in a set, etc. For cups, the general range is $30-45. I got mine on eBay (brand new…don’t EVER buy used lady gear!) 10 years ago for about $25. Back then, the LadyCup went for $40, so it was a deal.
The range for cloth pads is about $9 to as much as $40+ for a “full” set. They can be bought one pad at a time or as a multi-pack. Buying singles can be cheaper, but one is sometimes as cheap as a comparable set of three. The sets I bought were $24 for the multi-pack and $12 for the pantyliner set (currently, they’re going for $26 and $13, respectively). With the free shipping, I spent $36. Added to the $25 spent on my cup, I spent the same as 8 months or so worth of disposable product and have enough lady gear to last me till menopause! I’m turning 40 this fall so these may, legit, be the last items I’ll ever need to purchase.
The range for period panties runs roughly $10-44/pair. This can vary a bit, depending on if you buy a set or singles, which brand you buy, etc. Consider, though, that you may need 2-4 (or more) a day if you’re using them as your primary period product, multiplied by how many you’d need to keep the rotation going. That’s a lot of $$ upfront, in my opinion. If it’s an option you’re into, it might be worth it. Personally, my frugal ass would give them a hard pass.
Are you stocked up on your feminine items? Do you, or a loved one, use alternatives for your period? What’s your experience/opinions on them? Did I miss an option you’d like to see listed (maybe in the next post on this topic)? Feel free to leave a comment below.
*I was going to include sea sponges to the reusables list but ran across sources questioning their safety. Some accounts suggest they may include silica (glass? I should hope not!), are dirty (contributing to TSS and other infections), introduce too much oxygen into the vagina (messing with its natural environment), and so on. If you know more about these, feel free to comment!