5 Alternative Menstrual Products to Tampons and Pads

For those who menstruate, period products are an unavoidable, and costly, monthly expense. According to the Office on Women's Health, periods can last three to seven days per month—from age 12 to 52. Between birth control, tampons, sanitary pads, pain killers, heating pads, and other necessities, you could easily spend more than $18,000 on period products throughout your life, according to a Huffington Post report.

With thousands of dollars on the line—you may wonder if it's time to explore alternatives to tampons and pads. The feminine hygiene products business is worth $6.2 billion in the United States alone—so it's easy to see why companies are so eager to push new options. If you're struggling to figure out which new period products are best—keep reading.

Menstrual cups

Menstrual cups are a popular alternative to tampons and pads. With the right care, you may reuse menstrual cups from six months to ten years. These reusable feminine hygiene products are more than eco-friendly; menstrual cups may also save you more money over time.

One of the biggest downsides to menstrual cups is the hefty $25 to $40 upfront cost—and you may not find the correct size right away. Even with a few of the wrong purchases, though, you may still save money.

Depending on how much you spend on disposable tampons or sanitary pads every month, you could break-even faster than you may expect—and if you buy a menstrual cup that lasts for several years, you could save hundreds of dollars.

Although you may wear a menstrual cup for up to twelve hours—the product may be tough to insert or remove. Also, it may be messier than using a tampon or sanitary pad. Your body may not tolerate a menstrual cup, either—and it may cause vaginal irritation.

Menstrual discs

Another newer alternative to tampons and sanitary pads is menstrual discs. This disposable period product has been getting attention for a few good reasons. You may get twelve glorious hours of leak-free period protection—and you can wear it while having penetrative sex. Some manufacturers also claim the product may cut back on period cramps.

Depending on the brand, a menstrual disc may absorb up to five or six teaspoons of blood—which is equal to about five regular or three super tampons. This makes them appropriate for those with a heavy flow—but you may still prefer to change them more often.

One of the biggest downsides of menstrual discs is the cost. Although they are more absorbent than tampons—you may spend more money on a month's supply.

The other con is most menstrual discs are disposable—which means you may not cut down on monthly waste. If you prefer a reusable option, you may want to compare menstrual cup options. There are some—like the Intima Ziggy Cup, for example—with a design that is a lot like a disc.

Period underwear

Period underwear—a.k.a. menstrual underwear or period panties—is another period product to replace tampons and sanitary pads. This earth-friendly option is washable and reusable. It feels like regular underwear—while still being absorbent. Some brands also say they can control moisture and period odors.

One of the biggest advantages of period underwear is the ability to save money. Although it won't last for several years—like some menstrual cup brands—you can keep it as long as any other type of underwear. For example, Thinx says you may use their product for up to two years.

The downside is you may need to buy more than one pair to last your entire cycle without daily washes. You can expect to pay between $25 to $40 per pair, depending on the brand.

Another perk is sustainability. If reducing waste is important to you, you may consider switching to period underwear. Each pair may absorb two to four tampons of blood—which means a lot fewer tampons or sanitary pads going into the landfill every month. Period underwear may be less convenient than tampons, though. If you're traveling, you may prefer the ease of disposable products.

Period underwear also offers gender-neutral options—like period boy shorts or period boxer briefs. These products may cause less body dysphoria for gender non-conforming or transgender folks.

Reusable cloth pads

Reusable cloth pads are another sustainable period product. These pads—which may come in more than one piece—work like disposable sanitary pads. The biggest differences are you may snap them into place—along with the ability to wash and reuse them.

There are different sized reusable cloth pads—depending on your flow—and you should expect to change them every two to six hours. Some folks may even use them as back-up protection for tampons. These period products may be more breathable and flexible than disposable sanitary pads—but you still won't be able to swim with them.

Although one of the biggest advantages may be the ability to save money over time, you may need to buy a bunch to get started—which could be costly. For example, one pack of three may not be enough to get you through your cycle and could cost almost $40.

Another perk is skipping the waste of tampons and disposable sanitary pads. While they won't last as long as one of the more durable menstrual cups—you will still prevent more period products from going into the landfill.

Menstrual sponges

Menstrual sponges—a.k.a. sea sponges or sanitary sponges—are another eco-friendly alternative to tampons and sanitary pads. You may reuse these products for six to twelve months—and they have become more popular among folks looking to cut back on waste.

The problem is, menstrual sponges aren't federally-regulated—or a top pick among medical professionals. In fact, some gynecologists urge those who menstruate to avoid them. Menstrual sponges may have unwanted particles—like yeast, mold, sand, and grit. These period products may also have bacteria that could cause toxic shock syndrome.

If you're eager to find a more sustainable period product, there are much safer options to choose from. You may avoid waste with other products on this list—including menstrual cups, period underwear, or reusable cloth pads.

The best alternative menstrual product to tampons and pads

There are plenty of reasons to explore alternatives to tampons and pads. Whether you want to save money, create less waste, or try something new—there is no shortage of new period products. The problem is, some feminine care products may be too expensive to experiment with—or continue using long-term.

Luckily, new legislation has made it more affordable. Thanks to the CARES Act, you now have more ways to spend money in your health savings account (HSA) or your flexible spending account (FSA). The new law allows you to use money from either account to pay for menstrual products.

Since your money goes into both accounts pre-tax, you're getting a discount for every dollar you spend on menstrual products. This may offer more wiggle room in your budget to explore new period products—and see which one you want to include in your monthly menstruation routine.

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Kate Dore

Kate Dore is a Nashville-based personal finance writer and Candidate for Certified Financial Planner™ Certification. She teaches financial literacy with Junior Achievement and writes for Lifehacker, Business Insider, Investopedia, and Credit Karma. You can follow her on Twitter at @KateDore.

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