For a long time it felt like there were only two options when it came to periods: pads or tampons. More sustainable options such as menstrual cups have risen in popularity over the last couple of decades, but period pants – reusable underwear with a built-in absorbent core – are the innovation that’s really getting people talking. They’re a great choice for those who find it difficult to insert tampons or menstrual cups, and offer a more discreet and tailored fit for anyone who finds sanitary towels move about, leak or show through clothes.
What are period pants?
Period pants are reusable underwear you can wear while you’re menstruating without using any other sanitary product. They look just like any other pair of knickers from the outside, but they come with an absorbent gusset that soaks up any blood and keeps it away from your skin. Period pants are slightly thicker than ordinary knickers but feel the same. If you follow the instructions, they will stop your period soaking through to your clothes and keep you feeling fresh.
How often do I need to change them?
You can choose pants with different absorbencies, depending on whether your flow is light or heavy. Most of the products on the market will hold at least the same amount of blood as 2 tampons so they don’t need to be changed as often as traditional sanitary products. Some can hold up to 20ml of blood – that’s the equivalent of 4 tampons’ worth – while those designed for a lighter flow may absorb as little as 5ml.
There are also options available on the market like Modibodi’s Maxi-24 hour range, which can hold as much as 50ml or 10 teaspoons of blood. These really come into their own overnight during the heaviest times in your cycle.
When it comes to changing your period pants, it is a good idea to put on a fresh pair in the morning and then another at night before you go to sleep. On days when your flow is particularly heavy, you may want to change your underwear more often but each pair should keep you comfortable for several hours.
But don’t they feel wet and sticky?
Because of the way the inner core wicks away moisture, your period pants should feel dry against your skin while you’re wearing them. If they start to feel damp, that is a good indicator that it is time to change them. You can get discreet wet bags to put used pairs in until you get home, which is ideal if you need to change your knickers while you are out and about.
What are they made from?
Period pants are made from absorbent materials and usually include several layers. Exactly what your underwear is made from will depend on the product you choose but popular materials are cotton, bamboo and merino wool as they are natural, breathable and antibacterial.
Modibodi’s products for heavy flow are made up of three layers. The top level is made from merino wool, which wicks away any moisture and helps keep you feeling dry and comfortable. Quick-drying microfibre makes up the middle layer(s), absorbing the blood and holding it there until you get a chance to wash your underwear. The bottom layer is waterproof to make sure the knickers are leakproof and won’t stain your clothes.
How many pairs do I need?
Buying period pants is a long-term investment and you may want to start out buying just one or two pairs at first to see how they feel and whether they suit your flow. If you decide you want to switch to fully using period pants each menstrual cycle, seven pairs should be enough to see you through a standard 4 to 5 day period.
If you typically have long cycles or your bleeding is unpredictable, you may want to get more pairs so you always know you will have one to hand when you need it, or plan a wash day in the middle of your cycle. Some people choose to wear period pants all the time instead of regular knickers so they never get caught out.
Are there any other times they can be used?
The lower absorbency options are great for spotting and can be a real blessing if you have irregular periods. Products designed for heavy flow can also be used by new mums to cope with postpartum bleeding: in fact the soft fabrics may feel more comfortable than a disposable sanitary towel, especially after the first few days.
Modibodi’s products can also be used by people suffering from mild incontinence and pelvic floor weakness. Stress incontinence – leaking a small amount of urine after coughing, sneezing, laughing or lifting something heavy – is a common problem, especially after childbirth, and wearing absorbent underwear can take away the fear of experiencing an unexpected leak while out in public.
I’m concerned about hygiene, should I be?
One of the most common worries people have about period pants is that they might not be hygienic, or that they might smell unpleasant. But antimicrobial technology is woven into the fabric of the knickers to stop bacteria and germs building up.
Unlike disposable sanitary towels, where some blood will often stay sitting on the surface of the pad, period pants will fully absorb the moisture. The manufacturers of period pants have put a lot of energy into designing products that help eliminate any unpleasant odour. But if you’re still concerned about smell, make sure you change them regularly on days where your flow is heavy, and wash them promptly.
Why should I choose reusable period products?
One of the big attractions of reusable period products is the environmental benefits. Most disposable sanitary towels and tampons are made up mostly of plastic and can take up to 500 years to fully break down. They cause even more damage to the planet if they’re flushed down the toilet instead of being thrown away.
But the eco-credentials of period pants aren’t the only reason they might be the right choice for you. Although the initial cost of buying your period pants will be higher than buying your normal stash of disposable pads or tampons, once you have invested in a set, you can use each pair again and again.
Another big plus point for period pants is that they are very discreet. As they look just like normal knickers, no one needs to know you’re wearing them unless you choose to tell them.
Choose your size and style wisely, and period pants shouldn’t be visible through your clothing.
The absorbent, breathable and natural materials used to make period pants will help keep your vagina healthy by allowing air and moisture to pass through. Some disposable sanitary products can upset the natural pH levels and cause irritation, increasing the risk of developing an infection like thrush.
Wearing period pants also means you don’t have to worry about toxic shock syndrome, a rare but dangerous bacterial infection associated with tampon use.
What styles can I get and how do they fit?
Modibodi’s period pants are available in a range of styles and absorbency levels. Some people may choose to get a variety of different types, while others may choose to get several pairs of the same product to see them through their menstrual cycle.
- Bikini – You can choose between the classic, vegan and seamfree bikini. It has a high leg and sits snugly on the hip.
- Hi-waist bikini – This bikini style has a higher waist with a lace waistband which sits below the belly button. It is a high leg style which sits on the hip.
- French cut – This style is cut higher on the leg than the bikini styles and sits above the hip. With a lace design at the sides, the French cut looks more like a pair of posh undies than a period product.
- Full brief – Available in classic, vegan and seamfree, the full brief offers plenty of support and front to back protection. This style is high-waisted and has a low leg finish. The seamfree version means you don’t have to worry about a visible panty line.
- Boyleg – This style comes in classic, seamfree and sensual. It sits just above the hips and low on the legs and has a low-rise waist. It’s designed to be a feminine version of men’s underwear.
- Boyshort– Similar to men’s boxer shorts, the boyshort is comfortable and offers extra coverage of the bottom and thighs.
- Thong – If you normally prefer to wear thongs, you still can but you might want to stay away from this style on days when your flow is heavy. This sits on the hip and the thong style means you won’t have to worry about your panty line showing through your clothes.
- Brief – This style offers full coverage of the bottom but has a lower waist than the full brief. A classic design, it sits on the hip and won’t ride up.
How do I pick the right absorbency levels?
As well as choosing what you want your underwear to look like, you can also pick how absorbent you want it to be.
- Moisture wicking – This is the lowest absorbency underwear Modibodi makes and is designed to cope with hot, sweaty days rather than offer protection during your period. These pants are an alternative to wearing a panty liner and help keep you dry and sweat-free, even when you’ve been doing a high intensity workout.
- Super light – This absorbency level is great for the very end of your period when your flow is trailing off or if you experience discharge or spotting. It can absorb 5ml of blood, which is the equivalent of one tampon.
- Light-moderate – These pants can hold 10ml or 2 teaspoons of blood – around the same protection you’d get from two tampons. They can be used alone on days when your flow is lighter or some people wear them as backup alongside other sanitary products on days where their bleeding is heavy.
- Moderate-heavy – Wearing moderate-heavy pants will see you through most days of your period. They can absorb 15ml of blood – around 2-3 tampons – so your pants won’t need changing as often as those with a lighter absorbency. They are also suitable for light bladder leaks.
- Heavy-overnight – If your flow is heavy or you know you’re not going to be able to change your pants all day, this absorbency level is for you. It will absorb an impressive 20ml of blood, which is the same as four teaspoons. It will also last you as long as wearing 3-4 tampons. These pants are ideal for offering night-time protection as they should cope until morning before you need to change them.
- Maxi-24 hours – The powerhouse of period pants, the maxi-24 hours knickers will cope with even the heaviest day of your menstrual cycle. It is also a good choice for people who want to wear the same pair of pants for up to 24 hours at a time.
As well as the standard Modibodi range, there is a line designed especially for pre-teens and teenagers called RED. With a range of fun, colourful designs, they are made to fit well on younger bodies with sizes available for smaller and slimmer frames from the age of eight up to 16. The RED period pants come in both boyshort and hipster bikini styles.
What are they like to wear, really?
MFM writer Gemma tried 3 of Modibodi’s styles in a range of absorbencies and started out feeling sceptical. “I’ll admit I wasn’t sure these would be right for me: I’ve always hated the feel of pads – disposable and reusable – and I expected period underwear to feel similar, like keeping your wet bikini on after a swim. But the moisture-wicking really does work to keep everything feeling dry and fresh. These are so much more pleasant to use than a disposable sanitary towel.”
She went on to say, “I had no leaks, even overnight (using the heavy-overnight pants) and I often forgot I was wearing them. When using the higher absorbency styles I didn’t need to change them during the day, but I think this would vary depending on how heavy your periods are. The pants are slightly thicker and studier than normal knickers, but the sizing was quite generous, and they reminded me of light shapewear. Overall, I was really impressed. I had all the same reservations as I’m sure most people do: can something that thin really work? Won’t they feel damp and horrible after a couple of hours? But I was happy to be proven wrong.
We also spoke to 12-year-old Sophie, who tried out Modibodi’s RED range. She found the pants were comfortable and simple to use. She particularly liked the fact they looked like normal knickers so no one could spot she was on her period when getting changed for PE at school. She said: “When I think my period is due to start, I wear my pants as normal knickers and then I know I’ll be fine and won’t have to worry about whether I have a sanitary towel with me. I do have to change them every few hours during my period though.”
Are they easy to take care of?
Looking after and cleaning period pants is one thing that puts people off. If you’re a bit squeamish, the appeal of disposable products is you can throw them away and never look at them again.
But washing reusable period pants is not as complicated as you might think. You do need to rinse your pants in cold water after use until the water runs clear. If you’re away from home, you’ll probably want to pop them into a waterproof wet bag until you can deal with them properly, but you do need to do this rinse promptly to keep them in good condition. Once they have been rinsed through, you can pop them in your washing machine but choose a cool and gentle cycle – around 30C – and don’t add any fabric conditioner or stain removers as this can make them less absorbent over time. “Doing a delicates wash is a bit of a faff and if anything would put me off using them, it’s this. But there are always things sat at the bottom of the washing basket that also need washing at 30 degrees, so I use this as an excuse to tick that job off my list once a month,” says Gemma.
To keep them looking their best, you might want to add them to a delicates bag for their protection. Once your washing machine has finished, leave your pants to dry naturally on the washing line or hung up in the house – don’t put them in the tumble dryer.
It is also recommended that you don’t leave your pants to soak after use as this can break down the fabric’s antimicrobial treatment. It also isn’t necessary: a simple rinse will be enough.
Once your period pants are dry, Modibodi recommends storing them in a laundry bag for their protection. This is because they are made from natural fibres, which can be appealing to little pests like silverfish which are often found in people’s homes.
Taking care of your period pants may seem like a faff at first when you’re used to disposable products. But, like with cloth nappies for babies, you’ll soon get into a regular routine and it will just become a normal part of your household laundry duties.
How long do they last?
If you look after your period pants properly, they should last at least two years and possibly longer, but obviously if you want them to last you a long time, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
A set of seven period pants is likely to set you back £100+ depending on which style you choose, but if you consider that, on average, we will have around 24 periods over two years, this works out at between £3.50 and £7.30 per menstrual cycle.
Estimates on the average cost of disposable sanitary products vary but period equality charity Bloody Good Period claims we typically spend £128 on items like pads, tampons and panty liners a year. This means that over a 2 year period, period pants do work out the more economical option.
Are there any other products?
Modibodi also sells period-friendly swimwear, which is a gamechanger if you love swimming but never really got on with wearing tampons. For those who love to workout, there is an active range which includes stretchy leggings which offer a moderate-heavy absorbency level and a snug and supportive fit.
The brand also has a maternity range, which includes briefs which sit comfortably underneath a baby bump, absorbing any discharge or small bladder leaks – a lifesaver in the final stages of pregnancy. The maternity range also includes a breastfeeding singlet with an absorbent lining around the breasts to absorb any milk leaks and prevent any telltale damp patches when you’re out and about and baby’s ready for a feed.
Ok, I’m in! Where can I buy them?
All styles tested and mentioned in this article are available at Modibodi. First-time customers can try one pair of Modibodi period pants for 60 days and if they’re not happy with how they work or decide they are not right for them, they will get their money back – minus the cost of shipping.
If you’re a new customer, use the code AFFNEWJULY for 12% off your purchase until the end of June.
Existing customers can get 10% off a purchase over £60 with the code AFFJULYEX. Maxi-24hrs absorbency pants are excluded from both offers, and there’s a limit of one use per person.
About the author
Catherine Ball is a freelance parenting and lifestyle journalist. She is also mum to four girls, aged between 3 and 12.