What kind of menstrual product did women use during the 15th Century in South Korea?
“Gaejim” is a piece of cloth folded over many times or a menstrual pad made of many layers sewn together. It was often made with cotton or old linen clothing that had become softer over the years and were cut into pieces. There are not many documents about gaejim due to the custom of not speaking openly about menstruation. Depending on the region, gaejim were hung for Korean shamanistic rituals or used as a talisman wishing for a son.
The menstrual product widely used today that is most similar to gaejim is cloth menstrual pads (reusable menstrual pads). There are actual places that sell menstrual pads made of only cotton with no waterproof cloth just like the cotton gaejim. Of course, today’s cloth menstrual pads are much more convenient to use than the gaejim from the past, but the basic concept of washing the cloth absorbed with menstrual blood has not changed.
Characteristics : Recommended for menstrual pain
After a few years had passed since I started my period, my mom introduced me to a new culture one day as she took pity on me for barely being able to move due to pain that lasted two to three days every month. It was cloth menstrual pads. Using cloth menstrual pads instead ofat home significantly reduced my menstrual pain. I’m not sure if it’s because I had less exposure to the harmful chemicals of disposable menstrual pads just like naturalists claim or if it's due to some other factors.
I had the worst menstrual pain when using only disposable menstrual pads. The pain reduced when intermittently using cloth menstrual pads and it was mostly gone when using only cloth menstrual pads, but the pain came back when using tampons. Because of this experience, I often recommend people with severe menstrual pain to use cloth menstrual pads oras well as seeing a doctor.
Convenience : For both nature and I
Apart from avoiding the uncertainties and having no hazardous substances in them or reducing menstrual pain, there are many benefits to cloth menstrual pads. They are not difficult to use and can be used for a long time which is great for your wallet.
❤️ Easy to use
All you have to do is place the pad on your underwear and snap the buttons on the wings to secure it in place. When changing your pad, store the used pad by rolling it inwards and resealing it with the buttons. It can be easily used and replaced even by first-time users. It’s very similar to using disposable menstrual pads but there is no discomfort with the wing part folding or rolling since it’s not adhesive.
❤️ Natural texture
It has a similar texture to underwear since it’s made of cloth. There is barely any friction or the itchiness that some people experience when using disposable menstrual pads and it has relatively better ventilation.
❤️ Reduces cost
If you can afford the initial cost, cloth menstrual pads cost the least among menstrual products. The initial cost is several times the cost of disposable menstrual pads based on the cost for one menstrual cycle, but reusable pads can last at least two years and are much more affordable (including the cost of washing them) than disposable pads in the long term. Some people use the pads for over 10 years depending on the material and washing method. It is relatively affordable even among reusable menstrual products. Also, the initial cost itself is stable and predictable since you do not need to try different products to find the right one for you like menstrual cups.
Discomfort : The cumbersome process of being natural
Actually, cloth menstrual pads weren't for me. Being natural means you have to give up a lot of the convenience. Cloth menstrual pads can also be very cumbersome and a hassle. It also has low absorbency, and the experience isn't always great.
💔 Difficult to keep in place
Cloth menstrual pads can move forward or backward since it does not stick to the underwear but are secured in place by snapping the buttons on the wings. The pad can sometimes move backward and position itself towards your butt when you run, move around a lot, or wear tight bottoms. It really brought my dysphoria to its peak since I had to be careful when moving a lot, as well as the issues with the capacity and washing. Because of that, I had to be conscious that “I am menstruating and I am using menstrual pads” all the time. This is why I don’t recommend cloth menstrual pads to transgender people.
💔 Low capacity
The absorbency of the menstrual blood for cloth menstrual pads is similar to or slightly less than disposable menstrual pads. The capacity can further decrease depending on how you wash and manage them. I'm not very good at managing the pads and I had to frequently change pads at night as I could sense my blood flow, since I have heavy periods.
💔 Dampness and stiffness
Cloth menstrual pads feel natural on the skin and are well-ventilated compared to disposable menstrual pads made of pulp. But just like the disposable menstrual pads, they feel damp once it’s filled with blood and don’t prevent that feeling when blood clots are released. The capacity of the pads reduces once used for a long time due to multiple washes and wear, and they no longer feel natural as the cloth becomes stiff over time. Only vinegar can prevent stiffness since using fabric softeners can lower the pad’s function.
💔 Cumbersome to wash
Rinsing and spin-dry can be done by using a washing machine but there’s still more to do. I couldn't use cloth menstrual pads at all when I lived in a place without a washing machine. Even when I lived at my parent’s house with a washing machine and plenty of space, I didn’t like pre-washing the pads every day. I ended up rolling up the pads after using them and placing them in a basket. After my period ended, I rinsed out the blood half-heartedly with water, soaked them in water with a light detergent overnight, immediately put them in the washing machine to wash in cold water, and then ran the hot washing course. This was less work but also reduced the lifespan of the menstrual pads.
Cloth menstrual pads = No Carcinogens?
One of 10 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are highly harmful were detected even in cloth menstrual pads.
The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety of Korea evaluated that the amount of VOCs detected in products including disposable and cloth menstrual pads is very low and not harmful to the body, but this result was contrary to the public belief that “there are no harmful chemicals in cloth menstrual pads unlike disposable menstrual pads.” Cloth menstrual pads are not completely made of cloth only, as they are products with waterproof layers, so they go through the process of coating waterproof cloth with ingredients such as polyurethane.
The Korean Women’s Environmental Network which raised the issue of carcinogens in menstrual pads presented a study that boil washing cloth menstrual pads removes 99% of VOCs. But the laundering conditions in this study are not realistic. The pads were tested for VOCs by hand washing the pads three times with purified water, boiling them for an hour, then hand washing them again two times with purified water, and drying them for 11 hours in a drier at 80 degrees.
In conclusion, it is correct that boiling can reduce VOCs but how long you have to wash them is unclear. The washing method recommended by each manufacturer greatly differs from the above test and the method also varies between manufacturers. Company H recommends boiling the pads for 5 to 10 minutes after washing them, Company N recommends boiling for up to 2 minutes, and Company W recommends using the power-saving boil mode of washing machines even if cloth menstrual pads use the same waterproof cloth coated with polyurethane.