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Periods and the Apocalypse: How to Deal with Feminine Hygiene during Disasters

Despite all of the progress we’ve made, menstruation is still a very taboo subject.  So taboo that it often gets overlooked – even in situations where it is of dire concern.  For example, the FEMA and Red Cross disaster supplies lists don’t mention menstruation anywhere.  Instead, they gloss over the issue by writing you should stockpile “sanitation and personal hygiene items.”

A giant stockpile of tampons isn’t going to do you much good if you have to evacuate your home.  Likewise, if your home gets flooded, those tampons will be ruined.

Then what?

It should go without saying that getting your period during a disaster could be very different than in normal times.  We owe it to women to talk about hygiene options during disasters so they can be prepared.

The main options you have for periods during an emergency are: tampons, pads, reusable pads, and menstrual cups.

Here’s what you need to know about each option for disaster preparedness.

Key Points of Emergency Hygiene for Women:

  • Disposal Method: Think about how you will dispose of hygiene items. If you plan on using a composting toilet during emergencies, for example, you won’t be able to put pads or tampons in it.  Read about camping toilets, composting toilets, the two-bucket system, and latrines.
  • Hand Washing: It is important to have clean hands when changing hygiene items. Read about how to wash your hands without running water.
  • Storage: How will your hygiene items withstand flooding? Tampons and pads should be kept safe from flood water.

Best Emergency Hygiene Option for Women

Stockpiling pads or tampons is okay, but they take up a lot of space and will eventually run out.

I’d highly recommend stockpiling some tampons or pads, but also buying a couple menstrual cups. They can be used for over 5 years each, which means you wouldn’t have to worry about hygiene items for a long time.

Ideally, you test out the menstrual cup before an emergency hits so you can get used to using it.  I’ve tried just two brands of menstrual cups.  They were pretty similar, but I still preferred my Diva Cup.  It retains its shape better and never leaked.

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Option 1: Tampons

The major benefit of using tampons is that they are no-contact: you can get ones with applicators and apply them without having to touch yourself.

In a situation where there’s no running water (and everything around you may be tainted by sewage and other waste), this is a huge plus.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Can be inserted with applicator

Cons

  • Will need a lot of them
  • Take up lots of space
  • Are ruined if they get wet
  • Need to change them often
  • Risk of toxic shock if worn too long

How Many Tampons to Stockpile?

There’s no recommended amount of tampons to stockpile.  However, I’d say you should stockpile around one year’s worth.

The only issue is that you will eventually run out.

I’ve seen supermarkets get stripped bare for 3-day blizzards.  Imagine how long it would take to get sanitary supplies if a longer-term disaster like a big earthquake occurred.

You could try stockpiling huge amounts of tampons, like 3 year’s worth.  However, I don’t think having more than a year’s worth of tampons makes much sense.

f a disaster does end up lasting longer, you’d probably end up changing location – and you won’t be lugging around tons of tampons when you do!

Some people do recommend stockpiling more tampons as a SHTF barter item though.

Storage

Remember that tampons will get ruined if they get wet. This is especially important if you live in a flood zone or area that gets hit by hurricanes.  Keep your tampons on an upper level floor.  Or, invest in some dry bags for storing them in.

In a Go Bag or Bug Out Bag, ideally you should keep tampons in a waterproof bag or dry sack. At the very least keep them in zip baggies.

Disposal Methods

In emergency situations, the best way to dispose of tampons is in the trash or a pit latrine.  Or, if you using the twin-bucket system, you can put tampons in the poo bucket.

Most tampons do have some synthetic fibers in them.  These will not compost.  So, if you are going off-grid and want to use a compost toilet, then you should only use 100% cotton or all-natural tampons.

Never put tampons in a camping toilet.  They will clog the drain tube and make a nasty mess.

If SHTF and normal rules go out the window, then you could bury the tampons.  However, this isn’t something you’d want to do in less-serious times.  Animals like stray dogs will dig them up and make a mess.  Plus, eating tampons can cause serious harm to animals.  As one women who lives in India said in a forum, you don’t want to know that the stray dog poop looks!

Disposal Overview:

  • Bury: No, except if SHTF
  • Wag bag: Yes
  • Composting toilets: Only if 100% cotton
  • Camping toilets: No
  • Twin-Bucket System: In poo bucket
  • Pit Latrines: Yes
  • Trash: Yes

Option 2: Pads

For emergency hygiene, pads are pretty similar to tampons.  The only issue is that they tend to be bulkier, so will take up even more room in your disaster supplies stockpile or Go Bag.

Like with tampons, take steps to keep your pads dry.  Flood water or even a fall in a creek will destroy your pads.  You’ll want to stockpile about 1 year’s worth of pads for emergency preparedness.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Little risk of getting hands dirty

Cons

  • Will need a lot of them
  • Take up lots of space
  • Are ruined if they get wet
  • Disposal can be tricky
  • Need to change them often
  • May leak, especially when active

Disposal Methods

Pads have a plastic backing which will take virtually forever to break down.  Because of this, you can’t put them in a composting toilet.

They also aren’t supposed to go in normal latrines, RV dump stations, or camping toilets.  The best option is to put used pads in the trash.  You could bury the pads but, like with tampons, you risk having animals dig them up.

Unless it is a truly SHTF situation and you’ve stopped caring about animal welfare, never bury pads.

Disposal Overview:

  • Bury: No, except if SHTF
  • Wag bag: Yes
  • Composting toilets: No
  • Camping toilets: No
  • Twin-Bucket System: No
  • Pit Latrines: Yes
  • Trash: Yes

Option 3: Reusable Pads

Reusable pads have gotten really popular over the past few years, particularly because they are better for the environment and save money in the long run.

There are plenty of brands which make cute pads with prints on them.  You can also easily make your own pads out of absorbent materials like flannel.

The obvious downside of reusable pads is that they must be cleaned.  To use them, ideally you rinse them out when changing.  Then you put the rinsed pad in with your normal laundry.

When on-the-go, this can be problematic since you won’t have anywhere to rinse the pad.  You’ll need to keep the bloody pad in a baggie until you get a chance to clean it.   Thus, pads are not recommended for Bug Out Bags.

Going the reusable route isn’t as gross as it seems though.  In a SHTF disaster, I expect this is what most women will start doing. By planning ahead, at least you can have some comfortable pads on hand instead of making them out of whatever rags happen to be around.

Pros

  • Reusable
  • Take up little space
  • Save money
  • More comfortable than disposables
  • No need to dispose of them

Cons

  • Have to be cleaned
  • Can be messy
  • Not suitable for bugging out

There are a lot of brands which make reusable pads now, such as Wegreeco and LunaPads. (Amazon Links)

Option 4: Menstrual Cups

Full disclosure: I’m a HUGE advocate of menstrual cups.  I’ve been using them for 15 years now and love them.  Since a menstrual cup lasts about 5 years, I’m only on my third cup.  That means I’ve only spent around $70 for 15 years of menstruating.  Actually, it’s more like 20 years because my current cup is still fairly new.

I’ve used menstrual cups while traveling overseas to some very remote areas and backpacking in the wilderness.  If a major emergency were to strike, I wouldn’t have to worry about my period.

Admittedly, using a menstrual cup can take some getting used to.  However, once you get used to it, you’ll wonder why you ever bothered with pads or tampons.  I had to use pads for a while after having an emergency C-section and felt like I was wearing a gross diaper.

The only potential issue with menstrual cups for emergency planning is that you need clean hands for inserting the cup.  Definitely make sure you have lots of clean water, soap, and antibacterial hand gel stockpiled!

Pros

  • Reusable
  • Only need to be emptied every 6-12 hours
  • Lightweight
  • Take up virtually no space in backpack
  • Won’t get destroyed by water
  • Easy to sterilize
  • No waste to dispose of
  • Can be emptied in many ways

Cons

  • A bit of a learning curve
  • Must be able to wash hands
  • “Hands-on”

How to Use Menstrual Cups in Off-Grid Situations (TMI Alert!)

I won’t get into the details about how to insert a menstrual cup.  You can read about that on any of the manufacturer’s websites.   What I do want to deal with is how to insert, empty, and clean a menstrual cup when you don’t have running water.

Before inserting or reinserting a menstrual cup, you need to wash your hands.  In a pinch, you could just use hand sanitizer. But you obviously want your hands to be clean so you don’t risk getting an infection.

*Don’t put hand sanitizer on your actual menstrual cup.  You don’t want alcohol residue getting inside of you.  Plus, the alcohol will degrade the silicon that menstrual cups are made of.

Blood from the cup can be emptied virtually anywhere: a compost toilet, pit latrine, wag bag, a camping toilet, buried, the poo bucket of the twin-bucket system…

Ideally, you wash the menstrual cup with soap and water each time you empty it.  When I’m backpacking, I don’t do this every time.  Instead, I keep a bottle of clean, filtered water next to me.  I remove the cup with one hand and dump the blood into the cat hole or latrine.  Then I use my other hand to pour some water into the cup and rinse it clean.  You can also use a bit of toilet paper to wipe the cup.

I know thru-hiker women who have gone over 5 days without thoroughly washing their menstrual cups.  So long as you are wiping it down at each emptying, you shouldn’t have a problem. However, do clean it thoroughly whenever you get a chance.  Make sure it is stored in a breathable cloth bag when not in use so mildew doesn’t start growing on it.

Women, we’d love to hear your input on this in the comments section below!

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  1. I absolutely agree on the menstrual cup I just learned about this product last year… I’ll never go back …. the $ I’ve saved is well worth it along with the convenience… definitely one I’m my bug out bag…. also thank you for addressing this issue I wish people would get over their squeamishness and realize it’s a normal body process and I would hope preppers Will realize the necessity to remember the products needed for their family members the help pack for … also one thing I’ve added to my pack is non toxic all natural baby wipes that in an emergency I can use to clean my cup and hands also compact tablet towels that I can add water to to expand and clean with

    Reply
    • I’m still surprised how many people haven’t heard about menstrual cups. But, that just goes to show how taboo talking about periods is! Thanks for the comment and tips about the wipes! 🙂

      Reply
  2. I bought my first pair of Thinx period panties. They are spendy, but work great! As my budget allows, I plan on buying more of these for sure.

    Reply

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