One afternoon when I was in fourth grade, the girls were taken to watch a menstrual video, pads and tampons. It was there that my public education about menstruation began and ended, a secret discussion that the boys could not have been aware of. From that moment on, it was ingrained in us that it was somehow awkward to get a cycle.
No, of course, and some of us at WIRED have talked at length about our cycles and habits. Long before pads and tampons were available, people simply bled in their clothes or used homemade flannel towels if the currents were particularly strong. Women often stuffed rags, which were then washed and used later (hence the phrase “be on the rag”).
There are now periodic underwear, menstrual cups, reusable pads, tampons without an applicator for less waste and even subscription services to deliver products to your door every month. We tested a bunch of new products to find the best budget and environmentally friendly alternative methods, as well as ones that just made this time of month more convenient. These are our favorites.
Updated January 2022: We’ve added more periodic underwear and menstrual cups that we like. We also added more information and updated prices everywhere.
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Senior Editor-in-Chief Adrienne So and reviewer Louryn Strampe also tested and contributed to this guide.
Periodic underwear (and training underwear)
It may be scary to give up the menstrual products you’re used to, but menstrual underwear is a great place to start if you want to change your routine – I almost gave up tampons altogether and had no leaks. It absorbs blood without feeling damp, and should not transfer it to your clothes if you wear the right level of absorption. You can also wear them for mild incontinence, regular discharge, postpartum hemorrhage or to absorb sweat. There are even waterproof thongs and cute, lace options.
Most periodic underwear is not cheap, but you can save money in the long run by not having to stock up on so many tampons or pads. Start with a pair to see what styles you like; in the end you can get enough to last your entire cycle. Underwear for the period was assessed for absorption levels. Some brands indicate this with teaspoons of liquid or compare it to the number of tampons they replace; we marked them here.
Our favorite couple
Of all the underwear for the period in my dresser drawer, I first reach for Knix ($ 23- $ 38). Nylon pairs are as silky smooth and cool as if you were wearing elegant skirts and not getting stuck anywhere. If you prefer cotton, the brand has some. Even super-absorbent couples don’t feel fat – they don’t even feel like a pad. I wear Dream Shorts ($ 38) in bed regularly, even when I don’t have a cycle.
The brand has four levels of absorption: light (1 teaspoon), medium (3 teaspoons), high (4-6 teaspoons depending on the style) and super (8 teaspoons). There is also a postpartum collection and sets for the teenage period.
The best budget pairs
All of Period Company’s standard underwear costs just $ 12 (boxers are $ 22 and Sleeper Shorts are $ 24). For this price you can wear your whole week without spending almost as much as for some other brands on this list.
I tried the heavy-duty versions, which contain nine tampons of liquid value, which are the thickest of all the pairs I’ve tried. They don’t feel weird, but wearing them under tight clothes will probably make you uncomfortable (and look a little funny). I love them for sleeping during my hard days. There is a sports line that has the same absorbent capacity, but is made of a more stretchy, moisture-wicking material to take into account sweat. There are also light versions made with one layer less absorbency and which are therefore thinner everywhere, and Juniors.
More brands we like
Now I have tried many lingerie from different periods and I am sure there is something for everyone.
- Modibodi ($ 19- $ 45) there are the most styles and levels of absorption from the brands I have tried. From Super Light (from half to full pad), moderately heavy (2-3 pads), to Maxi 24 hours (10 pads) and levels in between, you can find exactly what you need for each day of your cycle. There are also removable, pregnant, swimsuit and active options.
- Salt ($ 29 – $ 39) the underwear is made from three bottles of recycled water after use. It offers only two levels of absorption, Light (1-2 light pads) and Regular to High (2-3 plain pads), but the styles are cute with mesh and lace options. I recommend using other brands for your heavier days.
- Bambody ($ 12- $ 19) there are also only two levels of absorption – impermeable (for staining or super bright days) and absorbent (2 tampons) – but this is one of the more affordable options, along with Period Company above.
- Proof ($ 25- $ 43) there are more basic styles with four levels of absorption: light (1 tampon), moderate (3 tampons), heavy (4 tampons) and super heavy (5 tampons).
- Pure Rosy ($ 29 – $ 32) offers only three styles and one level of absorption (up to 2 light tampons), but they are cute and have some lacy accents – the company says more options are coming in the spring of 2022. The company is working with the DARE Women’s Foundation to provide its lingerie for young Tanzanian girls, as well as food and water for needy communities.
- Bark ($ 30) there is only one style and level of absorption, so hopefully the company will expand. But if you buy the balm for the warming period mentioned below, and you want to try some underwear, they are nice.
- Proof of the Adidas period shorts ($ 45) and Tights ($ 65) are expensive, but are made with built-in antique linen. The brand recommends wearing them in addition to a tampon, pad or cup for extra protection, especially if you’re going to be in the gym or training for a while, but I’ve found that it absorbs enough without anything else. The cycling shorts ($ 45) I tried are still available from Nordstrom, at least for now (not available on the Adidas website).
Swabs and pads require frequent changes and are not great for the environment – they are made for disposal after a few hours. However, menstrual cups are long-lasting reusable silicone cups that retain blood and prevent leaks. Buy it once and it should last for several years. There is a learning curve, so give it a try on the days when you’re home, and you may have to try a few before you find your perfect one.
To use a menstrual cup, you will need to fold it (there are many different ways to do this) and place it in your vagina. Feel around to make sure it fully unfolds and creates a seal. When you’re ready to take it out, pinch the base of the cup slightly to break the seal – it’s a weird feeling, but don’t worry, it shouldn’t feel ripped. Depending on your flow, most menstrual cups can last 12 hours, so you can spend a full day without having to empty it in a public bathroom. Put a cup in this is a great resource to help you determine which cup may be best. YouTuber RawBeautyKristi also offers some good tips on your menstrual cup experience.
Our favorite cup
I appreciate and see the pros in all the glasses I’ve tried for this guide, but I’ve always preferred other options. It doesn’t hurt, but I seemed to be very aware that I was using one until I tried Lily Cup. When he came in, I forgot he was there. I even slept comfortably in it.
The secret is in its shape and size. It is angled, thinner and softer than most standard cups, so it folds smaller and feels more natural. If you have never used a glass or like me you have not found a favorite, try this. Like most cups available, there is one for those who have not given birth vaginally and those who have.
If you don’t like Lily Cup or need more options, MeLuna is popular in the category. There are several sizes, levels of hardness and types of stems to choose from and the company offers useful tips for finding the right shape.
Kits are also available, including one that comes with a cup disinfectant ($ 56). Most people just boil them to disinfect, but if you live somewhere like a dorm where you don’t want to boil your menstrual cup in the shared kitchen, that’s a good idea.
Menstrual discs that we like
I think most people will like Lily, but there is no one-size-fits-all product when it comes to periods. There are other options that we also like, and most are cheaper.
- IN Nixit Disc ($ 42) is a shallower type of cup, but otherwise works the same way. WIRED reviewer Louryn Strampe tests it and says it’s a good option if you don’t like the feeling of sucking after removing traditional menstrual cups. Menstrual discs go back into the vagina, which means you can still have penetrating sex while using them.
- Flex discs ($ 11 for 8) and Soft Drives ($ 11 for 14) are disposable versions of the Nixit Disc above and several of us at WIRED have tried them. If you hate regular menstrual cups but have never tried a disc, you can start here and then take Nixit if you decide you want a reusable option – Flex also has a reusable version ($ 35) that we haven’t tried . They also work for sex without confusion.
For some reason, the thought of a reusable pad seemed a little harder to wrap around my head than periodic underwear, but they’re basically the same thing. WIRED Senior Editor-in-Chief Adrienne So tests the following and says that they are all well made and even quite sweet. Their wings snap around your underwear instead of sticking, and depending on what you buy, there may be small pockets for extra inserts.
The idea of wearing a bloody pad is a little weird. But you can either use them when you’re at home or choose a special carrying case – our favorite pads, GladRags, have a few options to try. For home storage, you may want to take a small sealed basket where you can soak the pad in cold water and either wash it completely at the end of the day, or at least rinse it enough so that it can stand until you are ready to laundry a lot of laundry.