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How do you clean reusable sanitary pads?

Once you have made the decision to try reusable period products, the next hurdle is understanding how to clean cloth sanitary pads and if you haven't done this before, it can appear a little bit daunting. 

The best way to clean reusable sanitary pads is:

  1. Rinse in cold water
  2. Store in a wetbag or bucket
  3. Soak heavily stained pads in water with salt or stain remover
  4. Wash on a decent length wash cycle at no more than 30c
  5. Air dry

If you have used tampons and disposable pads since puberty this is a big step. The planet will thank you, as will your wallet and your vulva!

I field Customers questions daily through our live chat, here I'll answer some of our top questions about washing and storing reusable pads:

Shop reusable pads kits

I have 11 yrs of experience - good and bad - that I would love to share.

And I guarantee by the end you will be excited for your next period and feel confident in how to care for your pads.

"All disposable pads have caused me irritation my whole life. I was only ever taught that disposable was my only option.

I have only used them once and I am never going back.

The only problem that I have with my purchase it that I didn't know about them sooner.

If these products were talked about at school I would have suffered a lot less. Thank you team cheeky" Jane Dec 2021 Trustpilot

Do I need to prewash reusable pads?

No, you don't need to prewash reusable pads.  They can be worn as soon as they drop through your postbox.  However they will gain absorbency over the first 3 to 4 washes so will get more and more absorbent.

When you receive your pads, popper them into your pants as you would have stuck a disposable in and go about your business!  The patterned side goes towards your pants and plain side towards your body. We recommend a tight fitting pair of pants with a bit of lycra to keep everything snug and close.

How to clean reusable sanitary pads - hint and tips from Kirstin

Do you have to rinse reusable pads?

No, you don't HAVE to rinse reusable pads, however doing so will remove most of the menstrual blood or urine making them less likely to stain or smell so we do recommend it.  When you are ready for a fresh pad, make the switch, then rinse your used pad in the sink with cold water to prevent staining.

If you're using it for period blood, keep going until the water runs mostly clear.

I find this quite satisfying. TMI?

You can now dry store or wet pail until you are ready to wash them. 

How to store reusable pads

To store reusable pads, after rinsing your pads in cold water you can store them in any of our storage boxes with no water, which is called 'dry-pailing'. 

Our mini strucket is perfect for rinsing then draining and using as a dry pail.

The storage options are wetbags or our soaking box / mini strucket for dry storage, and for wet pailing our soaking box or mini strucket. I use a combination of all of these!

We also have a range of wet bags that can be hung on a hook or door handle for easy dry pailing. When you are ready to wash them, unzip and throw into the machine as a whole.

How to clean reusable sanitary pads - dry pailing

If you know you have a wash going on that day the washing machine is the easiest place for them to hang out once rinsed!

How do you get stains out of reusable pads?

To get stains out of reusable pads:

  • soak the pad in cold water
  • don't use hot water as this will 'set' the stain
  • drain first into the sink, or toilet if you prefer 
  • open the washing machine door
  • pop them straight in the machine
  • wash at 30c maximum in bio or non-bio laundry detergent & a scoopful of stain remover

You can soak reusable pads in a number of solutions:

  • tea tree essential oil - perfect with its anti fungal, anti microbial qualities
  • salt - age old blood remover
  • stain remover - napisan, vanish, anything oxi action but NO bleach (our favourite!)
  • large spoonful of washing detergent


How to use reusable sanitary pads - wet pailing

If you have a wash going on most days our soaking box is a great size for you and has a pop top perfect for dropping a pad through.

If you wash less often or have more than one person using cotton pads our mini strucket has a bit more space for soaking 2-3 days worth of pads.

No touching required!

Our mesh bag fits inside the mucky box to make it even easier to avoid touching anything damp.

Soak your cloth sanitary pads in a Strucket

Can you put reusable pads in the washing machine?

Yes!  You can put reusable pads in the washing machine and wash all period products at 30c degrees max with bio powder and a spoonful of oxi action stain remover (vanish, napisan, mio fresh etc).  Blood is a protein, like egg and will 'set' at high temperatures, (think scrambled egg) and this can cause a stain.

The pads will need a long wash (over an hour) in a machine that is around 4/5th full, this will allow time and room to agitate the pads, washing them on their own won't give them enough agitation so the wash will need to be bulked out. If you have rinsed effectively, there will be very little bodily fluid left on your pads and they are fine to go in with your everyday washing and the rest of the families clothes!

Just stick to 30 degrees for this one or two washes a month and add NO FABRIC SOFTENER as it will coat the fibres of the pads and stop them absorbing.

If I haven't convinced you yet to pop your sons uniform in with them, then an old bath towel or bed sheet will do!

What temperature do you wash reusable sanitary pads?

Reusable sanitary pads should be washed at 30c if they're being used for period blood.  Any hotter will 'set' the bloodstain.  If they're being used for pee, they should be washed at 40c with bio detergent to remove the smell of urine.

Why do my cloth pads smell of ammonia?

Your cloth pads may smell of ammonia due to a build up of urine (you will recognise the smell).  To remove it, soak overnight in bicarbonate of soda which breaks down the uric acid which is causing the smell.  Then rinse well in cold water and wash on 40 degrees,  using bio powder. This will ensure it is washed away as the bio powder enzymes will break down any remaining ammonia.

How to wash reusable incontinence pads

"Wee pads! Absolutely delighted with the bamboo pads - so soft. Coughing or laughing can really catch you out in later years! Rather than incontinence pads, I prefer to call them laughter protection " Trudy, June 2021 Trustpilot 

How to dry reusable sanitary pads

To dry reusable sanitary pads it's best to air dry them!   'Socktopus' pegged drying hangers can be left near but not touching a radiator, in your airing cupboard, on a window handle in winter sunshine or proudly flying out on the line for the neighbours to admire!

You can pick them up in most hardware / home shops, IKEA, even in the poundshop!

How to dry reusable sanitary and incontinence pads

Alternatively, you can dry them on the washing line or a clothes horse, near but not touching direct heat and avoid tumble drying to prolong the life of the waterproof layers.

How to use reusable sanitary pads when on holiday

To use reusable sanitary pads when on holiday, or out for the day, at work, or at school, just fold the pads up as you would a disposable and popper it closed, store unrinsed in a wetbag ready to deal with when you get home!

Easy Peasy! And so discreet, no rustling wrappers, no need for a bin just a pretty little make up sized bag.

To use reusable pads for a few days on holiday, rinse in the sink or stomp on them in the shower and give a quick scrub with soap or your shower gel, hang to dry in your room or off your tents guy ropes and give them a proper machine wash when you get home.

If you are only gone overnight, pop them straight into a wetbag, saving the rinsing and soaking until you are home.

Trouble shooting smells and stains

Don't panic if you slip up, I have made most if not all the mistakes over the years and most can be salvaged - 

  • Broken the NO fabric softener rule
  • forgotten about a used pad in a wetbag
  • left them soaking for too long
  • put them away for the month still damp
  • washed too hot
  • slipped one into the tumble dryer
  • dried them on a radiator
  • worn too long til I leaked
  • not washed for long enough
  • not rinsed then had smells
  • worn the wrong way up!

MOST if not all of these are fine as a one off as long as you head straight back to a good routine, even fabric softener needs a few washes to build up and can be removed with a few washes with detergent.

How to get smells out of reusable pads?

To get smells out of reusable pads, rinse until clear, then wash in bio detergent on a decent length wash.  It's important to note: 

  • don't leave them for more than 6 hours before rinsing clear
  • don't soak for too long before washing
  • don't have a short wash cycle
  • make sure they are fully dry before storing away

For pee smells, soak in bicarbonate of soda overnight to break down the uric acid, then wash on your machines longest wash with some stain remover.

You risk them leaking if they have a fabric softener build up or if they have delaminated from too many trips in a tumble dryer in error, laying on radiators or accidental hot washes, so stick to the basic routine to prolong the life of your pads!

We hope you've enjoyed our Cheeky guide on how to wash reusable sanitary pads and one of the hurdles is a bit easier to jump! 

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As always, if you're unsure of what you need to make the switch, please do drop the team a line or use the online chat function. The team all use the products themselves and just LOVE to chat pee poo and periods, all day long, nothing is TMI and we all love to overshare based on our own experiences...




About the Author:  Kirstin Scriven is part of the Customer Experience team at Cheeky Wipes, which since 2008 has been selling the original reusable wipes kit. She is mum to 3 and loves cloth nappies, the forest, the sea and the hills!

Along with the rest of our crack team, she spends most days talking about poo, pee and periods and loves a chance to overshare. The business was recognised with a Queens Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development in 2021, celebrating their hard work over the last 13 years.