The "Ick" FactorOne has to wonder where our ideas about what is "gross" came from - I mean for thousands of years there were NO disposable items. We washed and reused EVERYTHING: from dishes to diapers, including menstrual cloths.
It wasn't until about World War II that the concept of disposable menstrual products came into being. These early pads were born of the same cottony gauze concept that brought sterile bandages to the field for soldiers. Early on they were seen as a luxury item, one only the very rich could afford. I mean the idea at the time was "who on EARTH would want to throw something away every time it's used"?!
Now our thinking has gone so far in the other direction that when the salespeople who cut my fabrics are asking what I'm going to do with all that flannel and I tell them they often actually SHY AWAY from the BRAND NEW fabric. Like somehow what they are GOING to be used for soils the new fabric! Seriously!
But I won't preach, truth is that most of us, myself included, have developed a lower "ick" factor tolerance. We are squeamish about things we shouldn't be, and perhaps not about the things we should... okay, I said I wouldn't preach...
So what is Mama Cloth and Why and How do we use it?
For most of human history such cloth has been simply cotton or linen that is folded to the appropriate size and fastened or held in place with garments or ties. Once menses is ended the fabric is then washed and dried and saved for reuse. Now cloth options come with all kinds of new choices in terms of materials (cotton, bamboo, linen, wool, fleece, PUL, etc.), colors and prints (who says your period has to be boring?), and modern fasteners such as buttons, snaps, and velcro. They are often shaped to fit inside undergarments and to be more comfortable for the user.
Just like their disposable counterparts, most pads come in an array of absorbencies and sizes. MamaBear size options include: Intralabials, Dailywear Wingless, Dailywear, Small/Medium, Medium/Heavy, and Heavy/Overnight/Post Partum.
The most important factor in reusing cloth products and reducing the "ickiness" is cleanliness. You want to be able to get your cloth items completely clean. Understand that "cleanliness" doesn't necessarily mean without staining. Staining actually alters the color of the fibers, so an item may be stained and still be clean. If staining bothers you or cranks up your "ick-o-meter" you might try purchasing only cloths that are dark in color. Black, red, brown, navy, etc. will likely not show staining. Also high contrast prints have good stain-hiding power.
You also have to remember that the thicker an item is the more difficult it will be to get the center layers both completely clean and completely dry. Dryness is important to both the longevity of your pads and your personal health. We all know what happens when fabric sits damp for prolonged periods - molds, fungi, and bacteria all thrive in moisture. You do NOT want to put that against your privates ladies! That's why many Mama Cloth items are designed to stack or layer for use and come apart for washing. MamaBear LadyWear Cloths unfold completely to be only a few layers thick which makes them wash and dry completely and in a much shorter time. Other options have separate pieces that you use to create the absorbent layers, but then you have to keep track of more parts for your system, although they do allow you to customize absorbency to meet your needs.
Washing and Care of Mama Cloth
For Quick-Dry pads like MamaBear's you can wash them every evening or after each use & hang them over a warm vent or lay across a towel to dry in a VERY short time so you can reuse them. If you hand wash only you might want to run your pads through the dryer briefly at the end of each menstrual cycle to re-soften them for next month!
There are some Basic Laundry Rules that should be followed wih Mama Cloth:
NO: heavy perfumes or laundry soap, No fabric softeners! No sheets, no liquid, none added to your detergent. The added fabric softeners & the laundry soap cause the pads to become moisture repellent.
NO: Bleach! Bleach eats fabric & will wear out your pads fast. Instead try adding a little lemon juice to your wash (nature’s bleach) or dry your pads in the sun (nature’s most powerful bleacher). To keep them soft toss them in the dryer for a few minutes before or after line drying.
YES: Believe it or not the best laundry detergents to use on cloth menstrual pads are the cheapest! These typically have no additives, perfumes, or the like. My family uses SUN brand for our cloth pads & diapers.
YES: Strip your menstrual pads occasionally. (Typically once or twice a year is sufficient.) You can strip them by adding OxyClean, Petzyme, Pure White Distilled vinegar, or baking soda to the wash. Each of these has different properties and so rotating through a couple of them seems to work best.