An afternoon then I went to fourth grade, the girls were taken away to watch a video about menstruation, bandages and tampons. That was about where my public education about menstruation began and ended – a secret discussion that boys could not be familiar with. From that moment on, it was ingrained in us that it is somehow embarrassing to have menstruation.
Of course it is not, and some of us at WIRED talked at length about our menstrual flow and habits. Long before bandages and tampons were available, people simply soaked in their clothes or used homemade flannel cloths if the flow was particularly strong. Women often stuffed cloths, which were then washed and reused later (hence the phrase “being on the cloth”).
Now there are period lingerie, menstrual cups, recyclable pads, tampons without applicator for less waste and even subscription services to get products delivered to your door every month. We tested a lot of new products to find the best budget and environmentally friendly alternative methods, as well as those that just made that time of month more comfortable. These are our favorites.
Updated January 2022: We’ve added more period lingerie and menstrual cups we like. We have also added more information and updated prices throughout.
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Senior associate editor Adrienne So and reviewer Louryn Strampe also tested and contributed to this guide.
Table of Contents
Period underwear (and training underpants)
It can be scary to drop the menstrual products you are used to, but menstrual underwear is a good place to start if you want to change your routine – I have pretty much completely given up tampons and have not had a leak. It absorbs blood without feeling damp and it should not transfer it to your clothes if you have the right level of absorption on. You can also wear them for slight incontinence, regular discharge, bleeding after childbirth or to absorb sweat. There are even leak-proof thongs and cute, blonde options.
Most period underwear is not cheap, but you can save money in the long run by not having to have as many tampons or pads. Start out with a few to see what styles you like; eventually you can get enough to last your entire cycle. Period underwear is rated for absorption levels. Some brands list these by teaspoons of liquid or compare it to the number of tampons they replace; we have listed them here.
Our favorite couple
Of all the period lingerie in my dresser drawer, I first reach Knix ($ 23- $ 38). The nylon pairs are so silky soft and cool, as if you have smart discs on, and they do not dig in anywhere. If you prefer cotton, the brand has them too. Even the super-absorbent pairs do not feel thick – they do not even feel like a pillow. I wear Dream Shorts ($ 38) to bed regularly, even when I’m not menstruating.
The brand has four absorption levels: Light (1 teaspoon), Medium (3 teaspoons), High (4-6 teaspoons depending on style) and Super (8 teaspoons). There is also a postpartum collection and teenage period sets.
The best budget pairs
All Period Company’s standard underwear costs only $ 12 (the boxes are $ 22 and Sleeper Shorts are $ 24). For that price, you can outfit your entire week without spending nearly as much as for some other brands on this list.
I tried the versions with heavy absorbency that hold liquid to the value of nine tampons, which are the thickest of all the pairs I tried. They do not feel strange, but if you wear them under tight clothing, it will probably be uncomfortable (and look a little funny). I love them to sleep in my heavy days. There is a Sporty line that has the same absorbency, but is made of more stretchy, moisture-transporting fabric to also take into account sweat. There are also Light versions made of a layer of less absorbency, and which are therefore thinner all around, and Juniors.
More brands we like
I have now tried a wealth of different period lingerie and am convinced that there is something for everyone.
- Modibodi ($ 19- $ 45) have most styles and absorption levels of the brands I tried. From Super Light (half to a full tampon), Moderate-Heavy (2-3 tampons), to Maxi 24 hours (10 tampons), and levels in between, you can find exactly what you need every day of your period. It also has detachable, pregnant, swimsuits and active options.
- Saalt ($ 29- $ 39) underwear is made from three recycled water bottles. It offers only two levels of absorbency, light (1-2 light tampons) and Regular to High (2-3 regular tampons), but the styles are cute with mesh and lace options. I recommend using other brands for your heavier days.
- Bambody ($ 12- $ 19) also has only two absorption levels – Leakproof (for spotting 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) has more basic styles with four levels of absorption: Light (1 tampon), Moderate (3 tampons), Heavy (4 tampons) and Super Heavy (5 tampons).
- Pure Rose Red ($ 29- $ 32) offers only three styles and an absorption level (up to 2 light tampons), but they are cute and have some lace accents – the company says that there will be more options in the spring of 2022. The company collaborates with DARE Women’s Foundation to supply its underwear to young Tanzanians girls, as well as food and water for communities in need.
- Cora ($ 30) has only one style and absorbency level, so I hope the company expands. But if you buy the warm-up balm mentioned below and would like to try on some underwear, they are fine.
- Adidas period safe Shorts ($ 45) and Tights ($ 65) are expensive, but they are made with built-in period clothing. The brand recommends wearing these in addition to a tampon, pillow or cup for extra protection, especially if you are going to the gym or working out for a while, but I found it absorbed enough without anything else. The cycling shorts ($ 45) I tried are still available from Nordstrom, at least for now (they are not available on the Adidas page).
Tampons and pads require frequent changes and are not good for the environment – they are made to be thrown out after a few hours. However, menstrual cups are recyclable, long-lasting silicone cups that hold blood and prevent leaks. Buy it once and it should last for several years. There is a learning curve, so try it on the days you are at home and you may need to try a few before you find the perfect one.
To use a menstrual cup, fold it (there are many different ways to do this) and insert it into your vagina. Feel around to make sure it unfolds completely and creates a seal. When you are ready to take it out, squeeze a little at the bottom of the cup to break the seal – it’s a strange feeling, but don’t worry, it should not feel like it’s being torn out. Depending on your flow, most menstrual cups can sit for 12 hours, so you can go an entire workday without having to empty it in a public bathroom. Put a cup in It is a great resource to help you decide which cup may be best. YouTuber RawBeautyKristi also gives some great tips on her experience using a menstrual cup.
Our favorite Cup
I appreciate and see the benefits in all the cups I have tried for this guide, but I have always preferred other options. They do not hurt, but it was as if I was very aware that I was using one until I tried the Lily Cup. When it was first in, I forgot it was there. I even slept comfortably in it.
The secret lies in its shape and size. It is angled, thinner and softer than most standard cups, so it folds less and feels more natural. If you’ve never used a cup, or like me, did not find one you loved, try this one. Like most cups available, there is one for those who have not given birth vaginally and those who have.
If the Lily Cup does not appeal to you or you need more options, MeLuna is popular in the category. There are several sizes, firmness levels and stem types to choose from, and the company offers helpful tips for finding the right fit.
There are also sets available, including one that comes with a steamer to clean the cup ($ 56). Most people cook them simply to clean them, but if you live somewhere like a college where you do not want to boil your menstrual cup in the communal kitchen, it is a good idea.
Menstrual discs we like
I think most people will like the Lily, but there is not a one-size-fits-all product when it comes to menstruation. There are several options available that we also like and most are cheaper.
- That Nixit Disk ($ 42) is a more shallow type of cup, but otherwise it works the same way. WIRED reviewer Louryn Strampe tested it and says it’s a good option if you do not like the suction sensation after removing traditional menstrual cups. Menstrual discs go further back in the vagina, which means you can still have penetrating sex while using them.
- Flex Disks ($ 11 for 8) and Softdiscs ($ 11 for 14) are one-time versions of Nixit Disc above, and a few 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 get Nixit if you decide on a reusable option – Flex also has a reusable version ($ 35) that we have not tried. These also work for sex without clutter.
For some reason, the idea of a reusable pillow seemed a little harder to wrap my head about than period underwear, but they are basically the same. WIRED senior associate editor Adrienne So tested the following and says they are all well made and even a little cute. Their wings click around your underwear instead of sticking, and depending on what you buy, there may be small pockets for extra posts
The idea of carrying around a used pillow is, uh, a little weird. But you can either use them when you are at home or choose a dedicated carrying case – our favorite pillows, GladRags, have a few options you can try. For storage at home, it may be a good idea to get a small sealed container where you can soak the pillow in cold water and either wash it completely at the end of the day, or at least rinse it enough so that it can sit until you is ready to do a lot of laundry.