Incontinence Pads vs. Menstrual Pads
Incontinence pads and menstrual pads have similar appearances. They both come with an adhesive strip to attach to underwear to protect against leaks and typically cost the same amount of money at the store. It may be tempting to substitute one for the other during an emergency when it's all you have available, but in actuality, the products are designed for different purposes. Take a look at the difference between menstrual pads vs. incontinence pads to better understand which one aligns with your needs.
What's the Difference Between Incontinence Pads and Menstrual Pads?
The biggest differences between incontinence and menstrual pads can be broken down into five categories: form, function, absorbency, odor control, and leak protection.
Incontinence pads and menstrual pads are both made of a similar soft, absorbent fabric, but their form can vary. Incontinence pads are designed to hold more liquid and contain a core made from super absorbent polymers. Menstrual pads aren't intended to hold large amounts of liquid, meaning they typically don't contain this extra absorbent core.
The two pads also contain different distribution layers. Menstrual pads feature a more open design to account for thicker liquids, such as menstrual blood and vaginal discharge. Incontinence pads come with a multilayer design, with a special top sheet that dries quicker than the rest of the pad. It draws liquid into the subsequent layers until it reaches the core.
This top sheet also reduces how much moisture your skin comes into contact with to reduce irritation and skin rashes. Because of this layered design, incontinence pads promote healthier skin care, while menstrual pads typically don't have that ability.
Another difference between incontinence pads vs. period pads is their function. Incontinence pads are designed to capture large amounts of liquid quickly, meaning they lock away rapid urine flow as soon as it happens. The purpose of menstrual pads is to gradually absorb liquids because period blood and other menstrual fluids tend to build up over time. Each type of pad comes with its own unique absorbency features to accommodate these functions.
Women generally produce more urine than menstrual blood. Some women may experience heavy menstrual bleeding, but on average, the blood loss for a period that lasts 4 to 5 days is only around 2 to 3 tablespoons. Urination happens multiple times throughout the day and is usually triggered when the bladder contains around 200 to 350 milliliters of urine. This equates to approximately 13 to 23 tablespoons of urine each time. When a bladder leak occurs, more urine is likely to escape than menstrual blood during a period because more of it is produced daily.
Menstrual blood also leaves the body more slowly than urine does, which means a period pad wouldn't be able to absorb the rapid flow of urine quickly enough. And when the urine does get absorbed, a menstrual pad isn't equipped to hold that much liquid. Incontinence pads are designed to absorb more and serve as better protection for bladder leaks. The amount of urine an incontinence pad can hold differs based on the product chosen.
Odor control is a concern for both menstruation and incontinence. When comparing menstrual pads vs. incontinence pads, they offer different methods for fighting odors. Some menstrual pads contain an added fragrance or deodorant to mask odors. However, most period pad manufacturers also offer unscented pads with no odor control benefits because many women are sensitive to synthetic fragrances.
Incontinence pads tend to be better at masking odors because their absorbent cores shield unpleasant scents associated with urine. The top sheet in incontinence pads can also help with odor control. Because the top sheet dries quickly, it keeps the surrounding skin dry and eliminates bacterial growth that worsens body odor.
Incontinence pads and menstrual pads both offer leak protection technology to spare your clothing from staining or getting wet, but how they prevent leaks differs. For example, some maxi pads come with wings on the sides that fold underneath your undergarments and stay in place with adhesive strips. These wings are meant to prevent the pad from bunching or shifting so menstrual fluid doesn't leak out along the sides.
Because urine is thinner than blood, the wings aren't enough to prevent leakage. Incontinence pads may come with leg guards that run along each side. These elastic ridges allow the pad to fit snugly against the body and trap urine in the pad so it absorbs into the layers rather than leaking out.
Can You Use Incontinence Pads for Periods?
Incontinence pads can be used for periods, but they may not be able to fully absorb the thicker blood and fluids produced by menstruation. Depending on the pad's absorbency level, incontinence products can potentially be used to handle a lighter menstrual flow or serve as a substitute for panty liners to absorb spotting between periods and other vaginal discharge. You could also try using incontinence protective underwear, which is a pad alternative. These are disposable garments that fit like panties and can typically hold more body fluids than pads.
Can You Use Menstrual Pads for Incontinence?
Sanitary menstrual pads don't usually have the adequate leakage barriers or absorbency levels needed to capture and hold urine. They also don't have the top sheets found on incontinence pads, which prevent a buildup of moisture that can cause odors and skin irritation. However, a menstrual pad can be used during an emergency for a short period of time when needed.
Which One Is Right for You?
Your specific needs will determine when to use menstrual pads vs. incontinence pads. Menstrual pads may be the better option if you need protection for a regular monthly period and experience zero to minimal bladder leaks or other incontinence issues.
Incontinence pads are better equipped to handle regular urine leakage or bladder control issues due to any type of urinary incontinence. They also offer more protection against odor control if that's a concern for you. Incontinence pads can be helpful in masking odors during periods with a light flow.
While incontinence pads are a comfortable, discreet solution for bladder leakage, disposable incontinence briefs are even more absorbent and offer further protection. Disposable briefs come in various colors and sizes to align with personal preferences and enhance comfort. These may be a suitable option if you experience frequent leakage during periods when using maxi pads, have bowel incontinence, or find it difficult to change or dispose of menstrual products quickly.