The reality of the tampon shortage is sinking in at checkout counters and in bathrooms across the country. Supply chain issues and inflation have teamed up to make an already complicated time of the month increasingly stressful.
You’ve probably noticed the roughly 10% price jump on your favorite tampons. Maybe your go-to brand is sold out all together and you’ve had to resort to a different variety. Or, perhaps you’ve driven from store to store in search of what you need. Even worse, if you’ve taken a peek at online tampon prices, you might have gasped along with the rest of us. Many products are unavailable online, too.
The price hike on tampons — when you can actually find them — is even more frustrating considering the so-called “pink tax.” The term refers to the markup on products marketed to women compared to similar items marketed to men. This includes hair care products, shaving cream, razors and deodorant, among other products used by men and women.
So, what can you do to see yourself through the tampon shortage? We’ve done the research on alternatives to tampons and came up with a robust list.
Some options, like the menstrual cup, have been around for a while and can save you up to $100 a year even in non-shortage times. Others, like period underwear, are relatively new and while an investment up front, they can be worth it for long-term savings.
5 Tampon Alternatives
We rounded up five alternatives to tampons and found the best cost-saving options, so check out this list for ideas to see you through the tampon shortage. You might actually opt to stay with the new product and continue to save money.
1. The Menstrual Cup
A menstrual cup is a reusable bell-shaped cup, typically made of rubber or silicone. While the cup seems to be catching on fast, some versions of this period hack have been available since the 1930s.
Easily ordered from Amazon or directly from companies like Saalt, Lena, Intimina, Super Jennie, and Moon Cup, these eco-friendly cups could completely change your period experience. When properly maintained, most cups last for 10 years.
Plus, with prices ranging between $20 and $40, they are a cost effective alternative to tampons. We did the math, so you don’t have to.
A 36-count box of Tampax brand tampons is currently selling on Amazon for $30. According to the FDA, tampons should be replaced every four to eight hours so that’s three to six tampons in a 24-hour period. Say a period lasts (on average) four days. That’s 12 to 24 tampons.
By month three, you will have saved between $10 and $20 with the menstrual cup. If you change tampons more often or have a longer period, your savings kick in earlier. Multiply those savings over 10 years and, well, you can clearly see why the cup is cost effective.
2. The Menstrual Disc
The menstrual disc is a saucer-shaped disc usually made from silicone. While smaller than its cup cousin, the disc is no less mighty. In fact it has an even higher capacity and a few other characteristics that can make it a more flexible choice for some women. And you guessed it, it’s also reusable.
Since these little saucers are reusable, they are an excellent cost effective alternative to tampons. We noticed that compared to the cup, the recommendation for disc replacement is far shorter, some in as little as two to three years. Still, a cost saving alternative to tampons.
3. Period Underwear
Period underwear looks like normal bikinis, boxers or boy shorts but feature a built-in pad. After some rinsing, they can be laundered with the rest of your clothes.
This alternative to tampons might appeal to pad wearers who want a reusable option but aren’t interested in inserting cups or discs.
Per pair, period undies are $12 to $38 from companies such as Knix, Thinx, TomboyX, and Period. We also found this highly rated Innersy 3-pack for $21.99 direct from the company or $25.99 from Amazon.
Since you’ll likely need multiple pairs for each period day, period underwear is on the pricey side but the investment may be worth it over time.
4. Cloth Pads
Cloth pads are reusable menstrual pads made from natural fibers such as cotton, bamboo and hemp. They often come in bold colors or lively prints, adding some lightheartedness to an otherwise not so enjoyable time for many women.
This alternative to tampons is great for people with sensitive skin since reusable pads are made without chemicals or synthetic fabrics.
5. Disposable Pads
Ah, the old standby where many of us started our period journeys. Disposable pads are typically made from synthetic or semi-synthetic fibers.
Available in a wide range of sizes with characteristics like ultra-thin, maxi, overnight, scented or unscented, wings or wingless and anti-bunch — disposable pad prices are as varied as the options.
Packs of 32- to 48-count can be found for between $7 and $10, making disposable pads the most cost effective alternative to tampons in the short term.
Which Tampon Alternative Is Right For You?
A few handy quizzes can help set you on the right path and some of the considerations will be how much money you want to spend, your individual preferences and what is most convenient for your lifestyle.
Put a Cup In It offers product comparisons and this useful quiz to help you identify the right cup for you. Period Nirvana has some easy to read charts comparing menstrual disc versus menstrual cup and offers a quiz to help you find the perfect cup or disc for you.
With any tampon alternative you use to get you through the shortage, read the directions and be sure to properly care for reusable products.
Even after the shortage is resolved, we might not go back to costly tampons because we love to save money on menstrual products. Period.
What You Need to Know About Tampon Alternatives
Here are three things you should know before buying tampon alternatives.
1. Tampon Alternatives are (Mostly) Cost Effective
Even without a shortage driving up the cost of tampons, most alternative menstrual products are cost effective right out of the gate, while others require an investment up front but pay off over time.
But especially right now, the most popular alternatives are sure to save you money. This is not only because of the cost of tampons, but also due to the possibility you might have to drive to two or three stores to find them. With gas prices on the rise, you want to avoid that and do what you can to save money on gas.
2. Tampon Alternatives are Safe
Some alternatives function similarly to tampons (if you use tampons, you get what we mean) but are made from medical grade plastic, rubber or silicone. And some function like pads, but are washable and consequently, reusable.
While most of us have been using tampons for years, it might surprise you that alternatives can actually be safer because they are less likely to harbor bacteria. When used and maintained as directed, they are a safe and healthy choice.
3. Tampon Alternatives are Environmentally Friendly
It’s always nice to know that in addition to saving money, you’re helping reduce waste. Most alternative menstrual products are reusable which makes them not only a smart choice for your wallet, but also for the earth.
Although some reusable alternatives are made with plastic, they can last up to 10 years. So, instead of throwing away three to four menstrual products a day made with materials that can contain up to 90% plastic, which takes years to break down, you’re reusing one product (or a handful of products) with far less environmental impact.
Contributor Veronica Matthews writes on lifestyle topics from North Carolina.