How To Clean Period Underwear & Other Important Upkeep Details

Anyone who menstruates knows that it’s a messy process. There are sneak-attack leaks, shifted pads, and ill-fitting or underperforming tampons that all result in stained underwear. (Or worse: a stained mattress!) But unlike so many of us who sacrificed many undergarments and sheets on the altar of our periods growing up, our tweens and teens are lucky — period panties now exist.

And we’re not talking about those ratty “period underwear” you’ve held onto for decades. You know, the once-favorite panties ruined by your flow and now delegated as your perfunctory period panties. They already have stains anyway, right? Actual period panties are absorbent underwear made for wearing on your period in addition to or in place of pads, tampons, or menstrual cups.

Until you try period underwear, you’ll have tons of questions about them. Do they feel like you’re sitting on a used pad all day? Will they… stink? And, perhaps most importantly, are they easy to care for? You’re a creature of habit, after all, and the idea of adding to your already complicated laundry routine is just too overwhelming to consider.

The truth: It’s pretty easy to care for period underwear. Here’s what you should know, whether you’re buying some for your tween or adding them to your own undergarments drawer.

How many period panties should you have?

While they’re still perfectly useful if you only commit to buying one pair (after all, they’re a little pricier than regular underwear), you’ll get the most freedom from starting with a pack of three to four. The less laundry one has to do while dealing with period pain, the better!

When should you change your panties?

“Our absorbency levels range from lightest (1 regular tampon worth of flow) to Super (5 regular tampons worth of flow)…,” Thinx, maker of one of the most well-known period panties, states on their website. We recommend trying Thinx period-absorbing underwear for the first time at home so you can see how they best work for your ~flow~. If you feel damp or notice your flow spreading to the seams, it may be time to change into a new pair.”

For a three- to four-panty rotation, you’ll want to wear your period panties until you start to feel like they’re no longer absorbing your flow. If a pair of panties can hold about 1-5 tampons worth of blood, it’s safe to assume you’ll need to change them every 4-12 hours, depending on how heavy your flow is each day.

How do you wash period panties?

Check your period panties’ instruction label for brand-specific care. However, the following method should work for most period underwear.

Once you feel like it’s time to change your panties, you can machine wash or hand wash. If you’re hand washing:

  • Thoroughly rinse the used pair by squeezing under running water.
  • You’ll know they’re clean when you wring them out and the water is clean.
  • Use a mild detergent to wash and rinse them again.
  • Air dry.

If you clean your period underwear in the washing machine:

  • Make sure you choose a cold-wash setting — hot temperatures can adversely affect the underwear’s “technology.”
  • Many period underwear brands recommend putting them in a garment bag for extra protection and/or washing on the delicate cycle.
  • Don’t use fabric softener or bleach; they can break down the underwear’s fibers.
  • Line dry or lay flat to air dry.

Tips for the Squeamish

  1. Take them off in the shower.
  2. Try the “grape squashing” method with your feet and the shower flow to rinse out the bulk of the blood.
  3. Wear tampons on heavy days, so you’re not going through several panties in a day.
  4. Once you know you like period panties, invest in a bulk supply. That way, you can rinse them quickly and stash them in a plastic, ventilated basket until the end of your period when you can launder them altogether.

Can you really not put your period panties in the dryer?

Period underwear is expensive, so your best course of action is to follow the manufacturer’s care instructions. But anecdotally, it’s fine.

In fact, Knix’s website says drying their underwear is fine. “Good news: Period underwear can go in your dryer,” posts Knix. “Just make sure to keep the heat on low so you don’t overheat fabrics, which may cause your underwear to lose its elasticity.”

So, ultimately, it’s a matter of making sure you pay attention to your underwear’s brand-specific laundering details — and deciding how careful you want to be with these period MVPs.

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