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 won’t 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 regular times. We owe it to women to discuss 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.

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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, you won’t be able to put pads or tampons in it. Read about the two-bucket system, and latrines.
  • Hand Washing: It is essential 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 floodwater.

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, so 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 leaks.

Check on Amazon

Option 1: Tampons

The primary benefit of using tampons is that they are no contact: you can get ones with applicators and apply them without touching yourself.

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


  • Easy to use
  • Can be inserted with applicator


  • 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 years’ 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 recommend stockpiling more tampons as a SHTF barter item, though.


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. If you live somewhere humid, tampons can also get ruined when they absorb moisture from the air. So, it is essential that you put your tampons in a waterproof container. A sealed Mylar bag will work. A dry bag will work if you aren’t worried about humidity. Keep your tampons on an upper-level floor if you live in a flood-prone area.

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

Disposal Methods

In emergencies, the best way to dispose of tampons is in the trash or a pit latrine. Or, if you are 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.

You could bury the tampons if SHTF and standard rules go out the window. 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.

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 they 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. Moisture from humid air can destroy pads. You’ll want to stockpile about 1 year’s worth of pads for emergency preparedness.


  • Easy to use
  • Little risk of getting hands dirty


  • 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 that 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 ordinary 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 popular over the past few years, mainly because they are better for the environment and save money in the long run.

There are plenty of brands that make cute pads with prints on them. You can also easily make your own pads from 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 regular 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 an SHTF disaster, I expect most women will start doing this. 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.


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


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

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

Option 4: Menstrual Cups or Discs

Full disclosure: I’m a HUGE advocate of menstrual cups. I’ve been using them for nearly 20 years now and love them. Since a menstrual cup lasts about 5 years, I’m only on my fourth cup. That means I’ve only spent around $100 for 20 years of menstruating. There are menstrual discs for women with prolapse issues or who can’t use cups for other reasons. 

I’ve used menstrual cups while traveling overseas to 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 to insert the cup. Make sure you have lots of clean water, soap, and antibacterial hand gel stockpiled!


  • 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


  • 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. I want to deal with how to insert, empty, and clean a menstrual cup when you don’t have running water.

Before inserting or reinserting a menstrual cup, you must wash your hands. In a pinch, you could use hand sanitizer. But you 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 beside 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 water into the cup and clean it. 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. Ensure 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 know this isn’t exactly Disaster Prep, but it is about being resourceful, solving problems, and mental/emotional resilience

    Re: 9 yr-old granddaughter. I am a 31-year veteran teacher and admin. Many schools no longer have lockers, so it is tricky to maintain a stash at school. Please let your granddaughter (and all young girls) know that in a pinch, she can ask virtually any female staff member for a pad and if they don’t have one handy, they will help her locate one. The secretaries in the front office are especially good resources for this sort of thing. Let her know that we are all “sisters” in this together!

    Furthermore, I took a quick survey at a recent high school staff meeting. Out of 64 male and female staff members, 60 had a least a couple of “supplies” in their desks and the other four all knew where to get some quickly. Plus, the “I have a couple of pads in my desk” team included the (young, cute) male football coach and the “grumpy” 60-something (male) math teacher. There were many comments about periods are a fact of life; respect for their wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters; and not wanting concerns about this inferring with a girl’s ability to focus and learn.

    One other thing, before my daughters started their periods, presented each one with a cute make-up type bag, a few red or black panties, and a pack of the nicely decorated “teen” pads. Now, I am cost conscience (cheap) and do not splurge on basics like tampons and pads (except for wings). However, having a special kit in preparation for their eventual period has been a positive lasting memory for both of my daughters.

    • Thanks for the comment. My daughter got an “emergency kit” to keep in her backpack before she got her period. And then we made a plan about how to discreetly take items to the bathroom. No one should be ashamed of their periods but, unfortunately, 12 year old boys will still say stupid things so might as well avoid it!

    • Strips of cloth would be your best bet. Otherwise, you’d have to learn how to turn plant matter into cloth, or make cloth from animal hides, wool, etc.

  2. Note that disposable tampons and pads don’t even have to be dropped in water to get ruined – we live in a rather humid area and I ended up having to toss the last of my feminine hygiene couponing stash because the humidity had ruined them.

    Same goes for disposable diapers.

    For those with prolapse issues, regular menstrual cups like Diva don’t work well, if at all. Menstrual discs, on the other hand, are fantastic.

  3. I currently use MOSTLY reusable cloth pads but keep a small stash of the disposable stuff in case my cycle is heavy or lasts longer than my reusable stash will last …. at least till I can get then into the wash (I can hand wash but that takes a while with a large number and I like to put them in the machine to sanitize them between cycles if I can)

  4. kotex will not allow a wound to clot. they will just keep absorbing blood until saturated and the wound will continue to bleed

  5. I know some little about this topic. I had 5 sisters. When the periods came, dad and I spent a lot of time cutting wood needlessly, fixing things and just staying out of the house. I know there can be toxic affects to some of these items and I believe it is with what is inserted. Our granddaughter is 9 yrs. old and is “maturing” quickly. The cup seems like the go to answer. We have her 24-7 so this is a concern when the shtf. Kotex’s can be used as a temorary wound covering, as well.

    • Haha — that’s funny about your dad and five girls. 🙂 Pads are usually the way to go with younger girls and cups when they get older. There are also lots of cool period panties and whatnot you can get now. Btw, if your granddaughter goes to school, make sure she has an “emergency bag” in her school locker or backpack (a few pads, change of underwear and pants) in case she gets her period during school. It’s tough enough without the embarrassemtn of having to ask the teacher for a pad. Also, teach her the trick of tying a sweater/hoodie around her waist to hide blood stains until she gets home.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

    • 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! 🙂


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