Zero waste periods: the pros and cons of menstrual underwear (+ 6 brands to consider)
There are three main product types when it comes to having a zero waste period: menstrual cups, reusable pads, and period underwear. I’ve tried all three. I was a very early adopter of the menstrual cup, buying my first one back in 2003, but I was a definite latecomer to the period pants idea – I only got my first pair a couple of years ago.
Today I wanted to answer some questions about period underwear: do they work, how do you look after them, and what are the pros and cons compared to other products.
This post contains affiliate links. You can read more about what this means at the bottom of the post.
If you’re just after a recommendation, I use and am very happy with Modibodi (this is an Australian site, or try Modibodi UK).
I’ve listed some good alternative brands at the end of the post, if you like to shop around.
Period underwear: how does it work
Period pants are reusable and leak-proof underwear which replaces the need for single-use period products (as well as incontinence products).
The gusset is made of layers of materials that resist stains, wick moisture and absorb liquid. It’s built into the underwear in a way that isn’t particularly noticeable – period underwear looks like regular underwear. You might be able to feel that the fabric is slightly thicker when holding a pair, but when you’re wearing them, you truly can’t feel a thing.
Most brands have products with varying absorbency to accommodate different flows. In the Modibodi range, I have light-moderate (absorbancy is 10ml which is 1-2 tampons or 2 teaspoons), moderate-heavy (absorbancy is 15ml, the equivalent of 2-3 tampons or 3 teaspoons) and the heavy-overnight (absorbancy is 20ml, the equivalent of 3-4 tampons or 4 teaspoons) range.
Other brands make even more absorbent options.
Compared to my overnight pad, the overnight pants are much thinner and far more comfortable.
How long you can wear them will depend on your flow, but in most cases they can last 8-10 hours and up to 24 hours (should you want to wear the same underwear for that long).
What does menstrual underwear feel like to wear?
The thing that really got me over the line to being a fan is how comfortable they are. I can only talk about Modibodi as its the only brand that I’ve ever worn, but they are super comfortable. The fabric is soft, the elastic doesn’t dig in, there’s no weird plastic crackling noises or awkward pad sensation – and there’s nothing to slip out of place.
They absorb moisture really well, and don’t feel wet or sticky. Because the gussets are black (even if you choose a light fabric or pattern) they don’t look much different when used to when they were clean, and they don’t stain.
(In comparison a lot of pads are white. Black is a good design choice, in my opinion.)
How do you look after period underwear?
Easy! They are machine washable, and you just pop them in the washing machine. Most brands suggest using a cold cycle. (I’ve also on occasion put my Modibodi pairs in the 30°C cycle and they were fine, but fabrics do tend to last longer when you follow the instructions.)
Prior to washing (and ideally as soon as possible after you’ve finished wearing them) just rinse them with cold water until the water runs clear. No need to soak, hurrah!
I tend to rinse and then pop in the washing machine ready to go (which is how sometimes they end up on a 30°C cycle.) I always line dry everything, so they go on the line. Dryers shorten the lifespan of your clothing.
How long does period underwear last?
You can expect your period underwear – if looked after properly – to last two to three years. I’m always one to push these things as far as possible, and two years in my original pairs are still fine and working well.
How many pairs do I need?
That depends if you’d like to use them on their own, or in conjunction with pads or a menstrual cup. I use a menstrual cup, so I use the menstrual underwear for when I’m expecting my period to start and I’m going to be far from home, for nights and for exercise (in conjunction with my cup – I have a heavy flow and it can fill up and leak) and on the last day or two.
I started out with two pairs along with my cup, and it did mean needing to launder them mid-cycle. If you’d like to use in conjunction with a cup, you can manage with two pairs but three or four would be better.
If you’d like to use them on their own, it’s going to depend on how often you’d like to launder them. I think you could get buy with five pairs if you’re organised, but you might prefer more. You can always use a pad if you get caught out with no clean laundry.
Pros and cons to menstrual underwear
Things I love about period underwear:
- Compared with menstrual cups and pads, period underwear is the most fuss-free and straightforward option. Super easy to use, no skills required, and there’s nothing to go wrong.
- There’s no special maintenance either – no boiling or soaking. Anything that can go in the washing machine is a win with me.
- Reusable menstrual products are much cheaper over their lifetime than buying disposable products every month. For extra savings, I like that period underwear is a 2-in-1 option – a period product and underwear, too. With pads and cups you still need to provide your own underwear.
Things I like less about period underwear:
- If you’re a dedicated minimalist, you might prefer the simplicity of a single menstrual cup rather than more stuff in your underwear drawer. This was why I originally resisted buying more pairs of menstrual underwear. But they are just so comfortable, I’ve decided they can have space in my drawer.
- They are not plastic-free: all brands have polyester and/or other plastics in the gusset lining to make them waterproof. Because it’s a reusable product that I find useful I’m happy to compromise, but if you’re strictly plastic-free these might not be for you.
- A silicone menstrual cup can last 5 to 10 years, whereas menstrual underwear lasts 2 to 3 years. So you’ll have to replace it more frequently.
Different period pants brands (and why you might choose one over another):
Period pants are a product that are becoming increasingly more mainstream, and I’m sure there will be more companies popping up over the years. I’ve not listed every company, but those with a notable point of difference to other brands.
AWWA (New Zealand) – A small range of undies with a couple of organic cotton options, and period proof swimwear. Sizes from XXS – 6XL. Ships worldwide.
Flux Undies (UK) – A few different styles made from Tencel fabric (all in black). Ships worldwide.
Knix (Canada) – a good range of colours (with some patterned fabric) and styles. Fabric is polyester. Ships worldwide.
Modibodi (Australia) – a large range of styles and colours, including a range of activewear, maternity wear and swimwear. Their range is made from bamboo fabric. Most of their underwear uses merino wool in the gusset layer, but they have a smaller vegan range.
Modibodi (UK) – a large range of styles and colours, including a range of activewear, maternity wear and swimwear. Their range is made from bamboo fabric. Most of their underwear uses merino wool in the gusset layer, but they have a small vegan range.
Thinx (USA) – a very popular American brand with a great range of styles and colours. Thinx offers a large vegan range; they also have some organic cotton products. Ships worldwide.
WUKA (UK) – have a small range made using sustainable fabrics. Their low flow and heavy flow underwear (only available in black) uses carbon neutral Lenzing modal fabric, and their medium flow underwear (in black and grey) is certified organic cotton. Ships worldwide.
Now I’d love to hear from you! If you have any experiences – good or bad – with particular brands or products we’d love for you to share. Any great brands I’ve missed off the list? Any questions about how they work? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts below!
This post contains some affiliate links. What this means is, if you click through a link and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products and brands who are committed to sustainability and quality, because my priority is always you, the reader.
Fabulous article, thank you! I hadn’t taken period underwear seriously, because all of the early things I saw suggested they needed handwashing, which would be a right faff. But now I have taken the plunge and ordered a grial pair.
Thanks Emma and glad you found it useful. Yes, machine washable is a BIG win!
Thank you for the insight!
I have considered buying a pair of period undies but precisely the “cons” you mentioned above are too heavy for me to switch from the menstrual cup or my cloth pads. So far i’m happy with those alternatives rather than the period underwear :)
There is definitely a balance between trying to reduce wste and buying things that we will use and will help us reduce our waste and NOT BUYING ALL THE THINGS that might ever be useful. For me, I have a very heavy flow and my cup can fill up (and leak) overnight. I have a night pad but these are much more leakproof. I’ve had to get up at 3am and shower and change all the bedding more than once on my heaviest days prior to investing in these. If I had a light flow I’d probably just stick to my menstrual cup, but these have been such a saving grace. No more 3am emergencies!
I tried and tried with a menstrual cup but it never felt comfortable so I love the period undies. I have modibodi, Toms, Bonds and one other supermarket brand. Modibodi are by far the best!
Ah, I’m so glad you’ve found they work for you. I’ve read quite a few comments from people who couldn’t get on with the cups over the years, so it’s great that there are other options. Hurrah for reusables in all forms!
I’ve been using a Lunette cup for about 2 years and I wear the Modibodi undies daily – I have light bladder weakness. Having the peace of mind of always being protected is so nice – before I got them I used fabric pads – not ideal for leaks! I tried the Toms brand available at the supermarket recently – it does the job but I noticed a slight crinkle sound that doesn’t happen with Modibodi. But I love that supermarkets are starting to stock re-useable brands!!! The other nice thing with Modibodi is their customer service – I had two pairs develop a hole in the gusset with about 5 months. The staff advised that some people have a natural difference in acidity that wears out the wool quicker. They suggested I try the vegan range and sent me two free pairs! They are still going strong, must be about 6 months by now. Recommend trying them for yourself. I’ll be offering my daughter the choice to try these in a year or so – I’m hoping it will make managing her period at school much much easier than I experienced!!!
Oh thanks for sharing this, Alice – it’s so good to hear different opinions and perspectives. I agree with you about these types of products being in the supermarket and main high street chemists these days – it’s such a great shift in the right direction. And great to hear that Modibodi was so helpful!
Thanks for this- I felt a bit at sea choosing my first pair which is why I held off for a while and ended up impulse buying one from Holland and Barrett in the UK. These were the Flux ones with a lace top and I really like them. Very comfortable but secure. The next pair I bought were Wuka ones and I personally find that the elastic is too tight for the size (you can see them digging in slightly even on the model in the picture). Basically unless you have a very small stomach/slim hips I don’t think you’ll find them comfy. I still wear them in a pinch but have to turn the elastic down and wouldn’t keep them on overnight. Again, this is my personal experience and if you are a different shape it might be fine, I just thought I’d say as it might help someone from making my mistake.
Oh this is so helpful Lara, thanks so much for sharing your experience. (I just scrolled up to the picture to have a look!) Stuff like this is really hard to find until you make a purchase – and no-one likes to buy stuff that they can’t use.
Great post! It is so awesome that there are so many “zero waste” period options now, from period undies to menstrual cups to reusable pads :) Thanks for sharing!
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Thank you Jenna – and yes, I agree! :)
i used cloth pads for years, then cups, tried natural sponges as well, and fairly late in the game got some menstrual pants. in my experience, there is a case to be made for having some of each, possibly.
periods vary so much from person to person, and also vary tremendously over a person’s life. if we are to get serious about moving away from disposables, we need to raise our kids with them and expose our friends to the concept of non-disposable period products as ‘normal’ instead of ‘alternative’. and the more of us who raise our kids with this concept, and share our experiences trouble-shooting and learning to use cups, etc, the more familiar and comfortable an option reusables become. i am happy that i have used all of the above options, and all have come in handy for me at various times. but to many, they are so unfamiliar that there is no serious consideration of using them.
my personal favourite is the cup, and i’d suggest having multiple cups, if finances permit. i used a range from the tiniest to the largest capacities to deal with my endless days of spotting and my excessive flow days. trying different types (or researching well before making the expensive purchase) is advisable; i love the super soft cups, and require short-body cups with no poke-y bits, but others require or prefer firmer cups or longer-body models. vive la difference.
but even with cups, many of us require back-up in the form of pads or liners, or like to use something different at times, so having some cloth pads/liners or these period pants is a brilliant and necessary option. i really liked the less bulky and very secure fit and feeling of the period pants option, myself. for post-partum or post-surgery use, a combination of the pants and cloth pads can work very well. i think the period knickers have a simplicity of use and comfort factor that make them appealing to teens, too.
i’d like to include a mention of the washable, reusable ‘wet bags’ that many companies offer—frequently they are sold by cloth diapering companies, and independent vendors on etsy, etc, offer them in an array of sizes and fabric choices. having a couple of these to carry spare or used pads/knickers in is so helpful. it makes it possible to go anywhere in confidence that you can change protection as needed without a literal bloody mess. no need for the plastic zip-bags if you have these.
finally, i found that cold water washing and line-drying period pants made a big difference in their longevity and continued comfort, whatever the washing instructions may say!
Thanks so much for this most excellent comment! I’m intending on doing a post on menstrual cups at some point – there’s definitely a lot to say about these. I agree with different products for different people / at different life stages and potentially multiple products. I have my menstrual cup which I love, and one night pad, which I rarely use since I got the menstrual underwear, but it is quite old now anyways, and now the underwear. I love the idea of just having the cup and nothing else, from a minimalist/simplicity point-of-view, but my flow is a little too heavy and I need the extra protection. The underwear has been very helpful in this regard!
Glad we agree on the laundering!
Best thing I ever bought for my teenage daughters. Mainly because they take away the fear of leaks. Even for my daughter who has a heavy flow and couldn’t find a pad that worked – Modibodis are absolutely perfect. Also in case you’re wondering – there’s no smell until you take them off.
I agree with all of this Rebecca! Thanks for sharing your experience :)
Rebecca, this is what I was wondering about for my teenage daughter. She worries so much about leaks at school. She also frequently has leaks overnight – usually from the back of the pad when she is lying on her back. Do the period pants stop this?
Can confirm the ‘heavy’ ModiBodi have a gusset that extends right up to the butt elastic line – see the purple pair in this post? I found them to be like an adult nappy, but then again, I don’t wear pads, and don’t have heavy periods, so my preferences are merely that
I went for ModiBodi cause they were Aussie. Has some issues with the bamboo fabric pilling which I HATE. They replaced a pair, when I sent evidence, but over time, the others have too. They’re good for days I might have used a disposable panty liner..
I don’t love them though – I feel they make my ‘bits’ sweatier? And the antimicrobial component makes them smell faintly to me, in a way I don’t like. I am thankful I got a ‘nude’ pair for when I want to wear a light coloured thing but my body/cycle is less than entirely predictable!
Oh I just Love this post
I agree with all of this Rebecca! Thanks for sharing your experience Thank you.
I loved this article, is really useful. I bought the Tom period briefs and Luna period briefs and unfortunately both have slightly discoloured in the gusset after the first few days. Anyone else experienced this with their period wear? Also, any suggestions on how to get rid of them?
Nice article with useful information.
I have been using period underwear for a few years now and have tried almost every range with Modibodi. I must say period underwear was a life saver for me. I had switched from tampons and pads to menstrual cups a long time back, and even though a cup offered way better protection, because of my heavy flow it was not hassle free. The main reason which forced me to look for alternatives was extreme negative pressure I would feel while I emptying my bladder in the morning. Having endometriosis didn’t make things easier either, super heavy flow makes you want to just be in the washroom forever.
Modibodi has a nice range to choose from including the latest 24 hour absorption one, although if I am honest it obviously won’t last 24 hours if you have a heavy period. It lasts some 6 hours for me on my heaviest day, but definitely a good addition. I only wish they would improve their design. For one, if you try the bikini the elastic sits in a location where it digs into the skin. Secondly, I feel it is a more cheekier design which scares me of side leaks at times. And thirdly, probably because of my body one size is big and one is small, no perfect fit.
I recently started using Thinx as well and I was surprised at the comfort they provide as compared to my Modibodi briefs. Only downside, the gusset doesn’t go all the way to the back as it sits in Modibodi, so I am not confident enough to lie down in those. Still looking for the perfect period underwear
I started using modibodi and fabric pads before menopause, and have kept using them for light bladder leakage. I sew most of my own clothes to fit *my * body, so having the elastic go across instead of under my butt cheeks is a bit annoying and uncomfortable. I use fabric pads in normal undies during the day, and the modibodi work well for night. My granddaughter is getting to the age, so I have supplies ready to sew pads for her when she wants them, or to buy modibodi undies or a mix of course, …depending on her preferences.
I use awwa moderate flow and heavy flow and love them. So comfy. I wish you’d mentioned the work awwa is doing to help fight period poverty! Another great reason to choose them. And you can also see exactly where every part is from or produced in the product. Plus great plastic free packaging. And they have a 60 day guarantee of you don’t like them or got the wrong size!
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