Your questions about reusable feminine pads and liners, answered

Updated: Mar 25

How many feminine care products have you used over the years?

Me, I have no idea. And I think that’s a problem. 😬

Of course I don’t have the exact number, or even an estimate. (I can try.) But I’m pretty sure it’s a considerable amount.

Just thinking about the waste I’ve generated is making me feel rather faint. I should’ve gone reusable a long time ago, but it’s only now that I’m taking a hard, thoughtful look at the prospect.

Sorry I’m late.

Are you on the fence about reusable feminine care products, such as cloth liners and cloth pads, too? Here’s what Kay, the brains behind The Tinkerbox, has to say to those of us who are still unsure. Established in Singapore in 2018, The Tinkerbox creates and sells reusable products such as cloth liners, cloth pads, snack bags, coffee cup straps and pouches, and face masks, just to name a few.

The Tinkerbox
They're pretty and comfy

“I tell them that it usually feels like the scariest thing, because you’re essentially jumping into an unknown, and an unknown that has a significant social risk – embarrassment,” she states.

“It’s one of those things where people can describe their experiences, but until you do it yourself, it will be scary. And usually once you do, you’ll be like, ‘Oh, that wasn’t so bad.’

“I liken it to my LASIK surgery. The doctor said, ‘You’ll black out for about 10 seconds,’ and that 10-second period seemed like forever. But on the second eye it was easy peasy, because I knew what to expect.

“I also encourage them to start small, that they don’t need to think that they must swap everything out immediately and make a change overnight,” she continues.

“It’s perfectly reasonable to use cloth when you’re at home, and disposables when you’re out – or that you might want to ramp up to using cloth full time when you’re comfortable with your own body, and the duration between changes that are unique to you.”

Not set in stone

So don’t worry if you feel iffy about reusable feminine care products. It does feel like a big switch, especially if you’ve been using disposable your entire life.

But Kay is here to the rescue. She shares and answers six of the concerns she’s encountered about reusable feminine care products so far, in the hopes that it might help clear things up.

Are your concerns listed below?

#1 Will it smell?

“With disposable pads, my bin smelled bad with the used pads and liners in them. The smell is from anaerobic bacterial activity (due to lack of oxygen), because the pad is plastic and therefore not very breathable, despite my bin being an open bin with no lid. You’ll find the same smell if you seal a used pad in an airtight container,” Kay observes.

“With cloth pads, what I’ve realised is that even if you don’t wash them immediately, making sure that there is sufficient air circulation means you will avoid any smells. This is because the air dries up the pad, and once it’s dry, bacterial activity goes down.

“It’s kind of like stinky armpits – it’s a result of the naturally occurring bacteria feeding on the proteins in sweat. The smell is the by-product.”

#2 Is it difficult to get rid of stains?

“I’m proud to say that my two-year-old pads are largely stain-free. The most important thing is to wash them ASAP, as the haemoglobin in blood binds to the cotton fibres as it dries. It’s not impossible to remove stains, but it might require more work or there might be a shadow of a stain left. A stain doesn’t mean that the pad is dirty; it’s sort of like a pigment that ‘dyes’ the fabric.

“My pads and liners have a pretty printed side and an unbleached cotton side. I’ve designed the unbleached cotton side to be the side that touches your skin, because I think that unbleached is kinder. This cotton is also extremely soft and smooth.

“Unbleached cotton is very forgiving when it comes to stains, as blood stains tend to fade to a light brown or yellow, which is close to the colour of unbleached cotton.”

The Tinkerbox reusable feminine cloth pads and liners
Wash them immediately to keep them looking pristine

#3 How do I bring my used pads home?

“Because blood is viscous (unlike water), it doesn’t flow out of your pad. What could happen is that some blood might rub off, which is why some people use wet bags, which have a waterproof material lining the bag,” she points out.

“I’m quite low maintenance in that I tend to use whatever I have, and I have been using a cloth drawstring pouch or those free airline care pack zippered pouches. I started using a wet bag on my travels when I washed my pads overnight, and they hadn’t dried fully before needing to be on the road again. That’s when the wet bag came in handy.”

#4 How long can I wear one before I need to change it?

“How long between pad changes largely depends on your individual flow. ‘Heavy’ or ‘moderate’ are quite qualitative descriptors, and ‘heavy’ might mean once every two hours for me, and once every three hours for someone else.

“The most important thing is to understand your body and monitor your flow. Not many people know that even for disposable pads, you need to change your pad after about four hours of wear because of bacterial activity.”

#5 It’s so inconvenient to have to wash!

“Yes, that’s true. It is more inconvenient than simply discarding a used pad. But according to Auckland gynaecologist Dr Sylvia Rosevear, the average woman has 480 periods and uses 12,000 pads or tampons,” Kay maintains.

“Washing a pad or liner after use is a small inconvenience compared to the volume of waste produced by disposable feminine care. This inconvenience isn’t so inconvenient after a few washes. For liners, I might do a double wash – wash in the shower, dry, then wash in the machine when I next do a load of laundry. Sometimes it goes directly into the washing machine without an initial hand-wash.

“For pads, I soak them in water as soon as I get the chance to and wash out all the blood. Then it goes into the laundry. I like machine-washing my liners and pads because I’m more assured that all the detergent is washed out. But I will hand-wash when I’m travelling and haven’t another alternative.

“Everything I make is machine-washable for those who don’t have the time or patience to hand-wash (like me).”

#6 Is it a healthy choice?

“There are so many aspects to health. There are endocrinological disorders (such as endometriosis, which I suffer from) that are being researched to establish a link between disposable feminine care (which since the 1960s has had increasing amounts of plastic in them) and the disorder.

“If you’re using disposable feminine care, microplastics are constantly entering your body through the vagina because of friction. The process of creating disposable feminine care is also heavily chemical laden, with chlorine used to bleach the cellulose wood pulp (which is not naturally white) producing Dioxin and Trihalomethane – just two by-products of bleaching.”

Going over the fence

Kay’s products, for one, are all made up of carefully selected 100% cotton fabric – as well as other specialty waterproof fabric in the snack bags and cutlery pouches – and are sent to customers in recycled packaging. You can even choose from a range of attractive designs.

The Tinkerbox
Wherever it's possible to reduce waste, Kay does so

The aim is to help us go zero-waste in simple, doable and fun ways.

Kay tells us about the people she’s met who have chosen reusable feminine care products, and are amazed by them.

“I usually get comments like ‘It’s so comfortable and breathable,’ because my pads and liners are 100% cotton cloth (no PUL or waterproofing layer),” she relates.

“The biggest trade-off is between comfort or breathability and (the product being) leak-proof. But anyone who’s worn a pad – disposable or reusable – knows that a waterproof layer doesn’t guarantee no stains.

“More recently, people have been telling me that they experience rashes from using disposable pads. But when they switched over to mine, their skin has gotten much better. One customer ended up buying three lots of four to six liners from me, because their experience with them was so good.”

But don’t just take anyone’s word for it

Kay still advises us to do our research and actually see what works for us, as other factors beyond comfort and convenience might come into play.

“I’m a big proponent of knowledge. You need to know in order to make an informed decision – about your body, about the environment and your impact on it. If knowing everything, you still choose to go the disposable route, at least you know,” she stresses.

“Every product has its pros and cons. For example, a cloth pad with a PUL or plastic waterproof layer might reduce the incidence of staining, but it retains moisture and raises body temperature – which leads to increased bacterial activity. A cloth pad without such a layer means you need to actively monitor your flow more in order to mitigate stains and leaks, but probably will reduce yeast infections.

“A cloth pad made from microfleece might feel drier against your skin, but might also introduce microplastics into your body. Both reduce the volume of disposable waste, but it depends on the individual’s priorities and needs. If going to the bathroom as-and-when is tough, then perhaps a menstrual cup (I don’t carry these and I don’t use them either) is better suited. I’m always happy to have a discussion and point people in the right direction for their needs, even if it means that they don’t buy anything from me, because education is important.”

Here’s what she’s learnt herself.

“Switching from disposable liners to cloth was my 'aha moment' because in a week, I realised that the volume of my trash had drastically reduced,” Kay admits.

“I realised that because the Singapore waste removal system is so efficient, all of us don’t realise how much waste we generate. I try to reduce my waste footprint and I don’t even know how much waste I generate.

“The first step is insight – when you realise that it’s happening and you are part of the systemic problem,” she adds.

“Being mindful about not using single-use unnecessarily requires effort; but as with everything, it becomes second nature quickly. Our brains are just wired to be lazy (ahem: efficient) and take the shortest path to accomplishing a task. Some people see bringing my own containers for takeout as troublesome, but it’s easy for me; it's a non event. I’ve also started to love secondhand and swaps.”

So how about it? Ready to try reusable with us? 😊

For more on Kay and The Tinkerbox, click here. You’ll also love her Instagram.

Nana, The Tinkerbox
This post is dedicated to Kay's pet, Nana, who passed away recently. Nana was the reason why Kay started sewing, and she inspired Kay all throughout her journey with The Tinkerbox.