With the rainbow array of cloth pads available today, compatibility with underwear styles is an important factor to consider. Most pad makers list the lengths and widths of their pads so the buyer has an idea of sizing. However, if the buyer is new to cloth pads, this information not be initially helpful because cloth and disposable pads fit differently. Furthermore, the buyer may not even be thinking of underwear compatibility at the outset. Because cloth pads are normally not returnable especially after being "tried on," we feel that underwear compatibility is an important issue to address early on so our customers will have the best experience with cloth pads.
Cloth pad lengths are fairly straightforward. In the past, we've recommended customers measure their current disposable of choice and try cloth pads in similar lengths. However, because cloth pads are usually not as thin as disposables, some customers found they were more comfortable in a longer length pad. Additionally pad length preference does not always equate to a woman's dress size. We've had very petite women favor longer pads and plus-sized women prefer shorter pads. Different cloth pad styles also affect comfort; just because a customer prefers a 9" pad in "xyz": brand does not mean they will find a 9" pad by a different maker equally as comfortable. These variations are why we recommend that our new customers purchase a "Try It Set" so they can get a feel for all sizes before making a large purchase.
Cloth pad widths are less straightforward than lengths to a new user. Just as in pad lengths, associating all smaller width pads with petite women isn't always a correct assumption. Pad width depends highly on the style of underwear being worn. With the vast assortment of underwear styles available, crotch widths between styles may vary a lot. For example, the width of a size 5 brief may be wider than the width of a size 8 bikini. In order to find a more accurate width size for your pads, we suggest you first take a measurement of the narrowest part of the crotch of your underwear. To that measurement, add 1/4" for thinner, shorter pads such as minis or pantyliners that do not require additional inserts. This measurement also works well for most pads with very tapered wing styles. Add 3/8" to 1/2" for pads of average lengths (9"-10") that are thicker and/or use inserts, or have a fuller wing style such as our Heavenly or Venture Pads. Add 1/2" to 3/4" for longer length pads (12"+) that are thicker than regular pads and/or use additional inserts. Note that pads made with knit material such as hemp fleece are more forgiving if you err in width choice.
Pad makers talk a lot about wearing underwear that fit properly to ensure your cloth pads don't shift, twirl or bunch up, but what exactly does that mean? Proper fit has everything to do with elastic quality and location in both the waist and and leg. I've pictured some underwear above that are not compatible with cloth pads at all and will use them as a reference. The waist elastic is important because cloth pads have more weight than disposables and the "pretty" elastic lace is worthless in keeping your pad from sagging between your legs. Cloth pads need to touch skin in order to function properly - a pad that sags even half an inch can be the difference between leak or no leak. The heavier the pad, the stronger the waist elastic needs to be. The leg elastic must also be snug and of adequate thickness to support the pad's placement and weight. A heavier thicker pad will require the same of the elastic that is supporting it. The underwear shown are of the "no line" variety and thus have no elastic in the leg holes. Instead, a narrow line of elastic is placed down the center line of the crotch and runs up the back of the underwear. This design gives a cloth pad no support at the edges to keep the pad cupped around your intimate parts. Instead, it reverses the cup which allows the edges of your pad to droop. The end result is a pad that shirts, bunches, twirls and leaks. Finally, the material content of underwear choice is also important. Cloth pads rely on a tacky surface to adhere to. Siateen/poly type underwear fail cloth pads - even if the elastic is good. Those materials are just too slippery. Cotton is always your best bet.
If your pad shifts, bunches, twirls, or leaks, it is generally for one and sometimes two reasons. Either the width of the pad isn't right for the width of underwear and/or the underwear does not fit properly as described above. Underwear fit is the first place to start troubleshooting as its often the main culprit to improper pad fit. First, ensure all elastic is supporting your pad and that the underwear fits you properly as well. If all is good there, then examine pad width.
A pad that is too narrow for your underwear tends to bunch up on both ends leaving you a wadded pad in the center. Another way to tell if your pad is too narrow is to check how your underwear lay when they are on your body with the pad installed. If you find your underwear are crimped, or not laying flat either near the front or at the back, and readjusting the pad does not help, the pad is not wide enough.
A pad that is too wide for your underwear migrates either forward or back when worn and can even twirl around especially during exercise. Another way to tell if your pad is too wide is to check how much pad wings or edges droop beneath your underwear when they are on your body with the pad installed. If you find a good portion of your pad hanging out of your underwear either near the front or at the back, and readjusting the pad does not help, the pad is too wide.
Pad lengths can sometimes factor in to stability issues as well. Shorter pads have less wing contact with underwear while longer pads have more wing contact. If you cannot get your shorter pads to stay put and you've assessed that your underwear are compatible and your pad is correct in width, a longer pad in the same style often solves the problem.
Note that it isn't abnormal to have to adjust your pad occasionally especially after strenuous activity. it is abnormal to have to adjust your pad every hour.
The Bottom Line
Underwear style has a major impact on the fit, comfort and functionality of cloth pads, either negatively or positively. In our experience, the majority of cloth pad issues are solved by choosing underwear that are compatible with your cloth pads. So, if you've found a pad you love but cannot quite get the right fit with your current underwear, chances are an "underwear upgrade" will solve the problem.