For most people who have periods, tampons are still the go-to option to tackle that time of the month. But there are several alternatives to choose from if you’re looking to move away from single-use products.
It’s easy to see why the tampon has been so popular since its conception in 1931. Tampons are accessible for many, they come in a range of sizes and absorbencies, and they get the job done without much mess.
However, over the years, feminine hygiene products have come a long way, and there are countless options outside of tampons.
These alternatives are not only more cost-effective and ultimately better for the environment, but they may also offer better protection and a more comfortable experience. So, if you’re ready to ditch your tampons, keep reading to find something that could work for you.
As the name suggests, tampon alternatives are feminine hygiene products that are used in place of tampons. As mentioned, these options can be more eco-friendly, more natural, and are becoming increasingly popular.
Tampon alternatives include reusable cloth pads, menstrual cups, menstrual discs, period underwear, and even menstruation sea sponges. Each product has its pros and cons, and it might take some trial and error to decide which one works best for you.
But in the end, you’ll discover a whole new way of experiencing your period. Maybe you’ll find that you prefer menstrual cups or maybe period panties are more your speed. Either way, it’s worth exploring.
To make our product selections, we did extensive online research and read customer reviews. We also reached out to several experts, including gynecologists, to get their input and recommendations.
Additionally, when recommending brands, we made sure they adhere to industry best practices and that the products aren’t potentially harmful.
- Price: $20–$40
- Hours of protection: 6–12
- Absorbency: 1 ounce of liquid, roughly twice the capacity of a tampon
- Pro: can last up to 10 years with proper care
- Con: manual dexterity required
Menstrual cups are small, flexible, sometimes collapsible funnel-shaped containers that are usually made from latex, silicone, or rubber. These cups are folded and tucked inside the vagina to collect period fluid.
According to Felice Gersh, MD, an OB-GYN and the founder and director of the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine, cups can typically hold more fluid than other methods, including tampons.
And depending on your flow, you may be able to keep your cup in for up to 12 hours.
“Changing and cleaning menstrual cups can be done every 12 hours, far longer than most can go with tampons,” Gersh says. “Consequently, many women feel menstrual cups provide more freedom and convenience.”
Gersh notes that menstrual cups produce less odor and reduce vaginal infections for some.
As for downsides, Alexis May Kimble, DO, a board certified urogynecologist at The Kimble Center, mentions that cups require a bit of manual dexterity in order to remove and insert. They can also be messy and involve the ability to handle menstrual fluid during these changes.
- Price: $15–$50 per pair
- Hours of protection: up to 12
- Absorbency: anywhere from two to ten times the amount of a regular tampon
- Pro: comfortable and stylish
- Con: not disposable, requires laundering
Period underwear looks and feels like regular underwear but there’s a special absorbent layer. Period panties are usually comfortable, and the built-in layer helps prevent blood from seeping through.
Beyond leaks, Kimble says they are better for the environment and can also result in cost savings in the long run.
“They also come in a variety of styles that can be adjusted and worn during different times of the menstrual cycle and during different activities for improved comfort and convenience,” she says.
Period undies can be worn on days when you’re experiencing a heavy flow, or even overnight — they can hold up to three times the amount of a regular tampon.
As for the cons, upfront costs might be high. They’re typically more expensive than regular underwear. And just like regular underwear, you’ll likely require multiple pairs, because you’ll need to wash them after each use.
- Price: $14–$50
- Hours of protection: up to 12
- Absorbency: roughly 5 or 6 teaspoons of fluid
- Pro: works well during intercourse
- Con: can be messy
Menstrual discs are like menstrual cups in the way that they’re both inserted into the vagina to collect period fluid. Menstrual discs allow the user to have less messy intercourse during periods, Kimble says.
They are available in reusable and one-time use options. The reusable option is better for the environment and saves money in the long term.
Like menstrual cups, menstrual discs can be messy to insert and remove. There’s a learning curve to finding the right fit and how to insert and remove the disc.
If inserted properly, your menstrual disc should sit higher up near your cervix, which should offer a more comfortable fit when compared with a tampon. This also provides a better seal to prevent leaks.
- Price: $10-$40
- Hours of protection: 4-8 hours
- Absorbency: About the same as a regular pad
- Pro: better for the environment
- Con: requires washing and may not feel as comfortable
Much like disposable pads, these reusable pads are available in different sizes to accommodate your flow. And just like disposable pads, you’ll want to change your reusable pad when it starts feeling heavy, wet, or uncomfortable.
Depending on your flow, you should get around 4 to 8 hours of protection from your reusable pad, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
If you opt for a super-absorbent option, you’ll likely get a few extra hours of protection. But you should aim to change your pad at least daily.
Kimble says these reusable cloth pads may not be as comfortable as some of the other alternatives on this list. She explained that, like disposable pads, these pads can also shift around throughout the day, which may leave you feeling a bit self-conscious.
When it comes to cleaning your reusable pad, it’s best to follow the instructions provided in the package. But just like your period underwear, you should be able to toss your pads in the laundry.
It’s a common misconception that tampons are better and hold more blood than their reusable counterparts, says Kim Rosas, an expert in the reusable period care space, from Period Nirvana.
“It will, of course, depend on which alternative you choose, but most internally worn reusables, such as menstrual cups and discs, hold anywhere from two to five times more than a regular absorbency tampon. This is because they collect period blood rather than absorb it,” Rosas says.
Reusable pads and period underwear also hold amounts similar to disposable pads, and like with buying tampons or pads, you will want to look for the absorbency level that matches your needs.
Our experts agree that most alternatives work as well, if not better than tampons. But you need to make sure you have the right size and fit. The right menstrual cup or disc will be leak-free and entirely comfortable, but there can be a learning curve when you’re first starting out.
“Most users who switch would say that their experience with a cup or disc has been better than with tampons, this has a lot to do with how comfortable they are. The right product should be completely undetectable in your body. It’s easier than ever to find your perfect fit [now] with the wide selection of sizes, shapes, lengths, and firmness of cups and discs,” Rosas adds.
It may be a good idea to wear a backup liner or leakproof period underwear with your cup or disc until you’re through that learning phase when leaks are the most likely.
If you exclusively use cloth pads or period underwear, these will require washing. But the comfort is usually worth the additional time.
Switching your feminine hygiene product is a personal choice and the reasons for switching will vary from person to person.
Some individuals might make the decision to switch because they want a healthier option for themselves, while others may switch because they’re trying to reduce waste by going with a reusable alternative.
Another reason someone may consider switching is because of the dramatic difference in how much a tampon or pad can hold compared with a menstrual cup or another alternative.
Tampon alternatives are fairly safe, if not safer than tampons.
Kimble explains that menstrual products — except for period underwear — are classified as medical devices. This means they’re registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
However, tampons have been found to contain harmful chemicals that aren’t always required to be disclosed on the label.
“Tampon alternatives are generally safe with the benefit of being made from medical grade materials, like silicone or polymers. For this reason, options like silicone menstrual cups and period underwear may prevent exposure to chemicals that are sometimes found in tampons and other feminine products,” she says.
That said, it’s important to follow application and care instructions for each tampon alternative to ensure safe use and good hygiene. Additionally, the use of pads and period underwear “can reduce the risk of toxic shock syndrome as compared to others for obvious reasons,” according to Kimble.
When it comes to choosing the best tampon alternative for you, there are a few things you’ll want to consider. If you’ve always used tampons and you’d like to stick with an “internal option,” Rosas suggests looking into a menstrual cup or menstrual disc.
Cups and discs are both worn inside the vagina. Rosas says menstrual cups tend to be a bit easier to use but more finicky to find the right fit. If you’re super squeamish about touching blood, cups are usually less messy. Discs can be more hands-on to insert and remove but have a shorter learning curve.
“Choosing a cup can be confusing when switching from tampons. It’s a common mistake to simply buy a cup from the pharmacy. You’ll want to do a bit of research into a few things, including your cervix height. Then you can find the option that is most likely to fit on your first try,” Rosas says.
Rosas suggests taking a quiz to help you find your fit. The Period Nirvana quiz asks you relevant questions and gives you a few options that match your needs.
However, if you’re intimidated by the idea of inserting a cup or disc, you could try period panties. Period underwear is great if you have a light flow. Reusable pads are good if your flow is heavier and you’re not quite ready to try a cup.
“All of the available options are good ones. You’ll want to decide what fits your lifestyle and body the best,” Rosas says.
What’s the best tampon alternative for me?
The right alternative for you depends on what you’re looking for and what you’re comfortable with.
Sara Twogood, a medical expert for Flo and OB-GYN at Cedars Sinai Medical Group, suggests asking yourself the following questions:
- How important is a reusable product to me?
- How comfortable am I putting something into my vagina (and troubleshooting issues that come up)?
- How heavy is my flow?
- Do I have access to private, clean bathrooms throughout the day?
- Do I have easy access to a washing machine, or do I feel comfortable washing period products by hand?
What’s the safest product to use for periods?
The tampon alternatives mention above are all quite safe. Gersh says the risk of toxic shock syndrome is very low. And they do not increase the risk for a vaginal infection compared with tampons.
That said, it’s important to follow application and care instructions for each tampon alternative to ensure safe use and good hygiene.
Is anything as effective as using a tampon?
Tampon alternatives can actually be more effective than tampons.
If you’ve been thinking about switching out your tampons for one of the available alternatives, there’s no time like the present.
According to our experts, tampon alternatives are not only safe and approved by the FDA, but they can also be more comfortable, better for the environment, and even allow for less messy period sex.
But before switching, it’s helpful to talk with your gynecologist to determine the best alternative for you.
Stephanie Barnes is a front-end/iOS engineer and freelance writer whose work has been featured on The Huffington Post, MindBodyGreen, and more. She’s passionate about all things health and wellness — especially as it affects minority communities, technology, and spree-worthy television.