They look and feel just like normal knickers and leggings but does washable period underwear - and even period leggings and period swimwear really work? We found out

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Given I’m 46 and that the average age for  menopause  is 51 in the UK, I still have six years (60 periods!) left. As a mum of three girls, aged 13, 11 and four, I’m keen to set a good example to my daughters and show them having a period is no big deal – just pull on your period pants (or period panties if you’re in the US) and go. Period and pee-proof pants have boomed in the past few years and the offering has broadened into workout wear such as legging sand shorts (period pants for dogs are also a thing). As a keen swimmer, who hits the pool at least three times a week, period pants for swimming appeal to me too.

In a lifetime the average ‘person who menstruates’ (the preferred term for many brands to acknowledge that trans-men often still menstruate too) uses more than 11,000 disposable period products. In fact, the  Women’s Environmental Network  estimates that there are around  nine plastic applicators and 23 sanitary pads for every kilometre of a beach in the UK . Lovely. They make their way there by being flushed down toilets or via landfill. If every person aimed for a plastic-free period, just think of the difference that’d make to our sandy shores.

According to figures from Mintel, 15 per cent of menstruating women chose environmentally friendly period products in 2020. Brands such as Thinx , Modibodi  and WUKA  are leading the way in reusable period products, their ethos not only being great for the environment but good for the psyche too. They are all size-inclusive and promote body positivity – vital given that impressionable teen girls struggling with using tampons or chunky pads are among their customers. Even supermarkets such as Sainsbury's  and Tesco , and high street stores such as M&S , Next  and John Lewis  are stocking period pants now too by brands such as Modibodi  and Love Luna .

I switched from conventional period products to washable period pants last year, both for ease and to become more environmentally-friendly. After testing one pair, I then invested in another four. By opting for reusable period products, I liked the fact I’d save money long-term too.

On heavy days, I like to change my period pants for a fresh pair halfway through the day, as otherwise the pants can feel slightly weighed down with fluid (although they’ve never leaked). Also, I do worry they might start to smell if left full of menstrual blood for too long. In fact, many brands have built-in odour control properties, so there’s no need to fret.  If you’re new to period pants, FYI even the coloured pants tend to have black gussets, so they don’t look too stained after use.

How do you wash period pants?

Rinse after use, then mostly either machine wash on a cool cycle or handwash them (see each brand for individual instructions). Never use fabric conditioner, which can make them less effective and don’t tumble dry or leave them to dry on a radiator. Some people like to rinse them out in the shower, before washing them properly or store them up in a separate laundry bag before doing a batch wash.

How long do they last?

Some brands such as WUKA  say their period pants last two years, depending on the length of your cycle and how well you look after them, other brands say they last for many years.

Are period pants good for girls when they start their period?

Yes, they’re ideal – no faff, no cringeworthy trips to the loo at school clutching a tell-tale bag and a great way to ‘normalise’ periods for newbies. Many brands such as  Thinx  and  Cheeky Pants  come in tiny sizes that would fit pre-teens.

Do period pants leak?

It’s strangely liberating to be in the middle of a heavy period and put on nothing but a pair of pants, but for new users there can be a fear of leaking. Until you know which period pants suit your flow, you might want to try them at home a few times before going out in them. Some users prefer to wear period pants as well as their usual brand of pad or tampon on heavy days. Certain brands such as Thinx also sell special Sleep Shorts , £39.84 but many period pants are effective all through the night, when it's advised not to wear a tampon due to concern over toxic shock syndrome when tampons are left in for several hours. Choose the right flow for you – Thinx Super Hiphugger pants , £27.88, work all night for me. Some brands including Thinx even have a Find Your Flow quick quiz .

Can you use period pants for swimming?

Incredibly, yes! As someone who swims several times a week, this almost seems too good to be true, but I road-tested Modibodi Recycled Hi-Waist Bikini Briefs,  £31.50 and found they really worked. After having three kids, I honestly thought my bikini days were over, but the high-waist of these was flattering enough for me to venture out in public in them. Not on the street obvs… only in my local pool.

Period pants for 'leaks'

If trampolining is strictly off-limits for you, thanks to a weak pelvic floor, bear in mind that many period pants such as Modibody market themselves are pee-proof too – a far sexier solution for urinary incontinence than wearing incontinence pads. If you’ve recently given birth, some brands such as Modibodi and Thinx have styles suitable for the postpartum phase to replace those brick-style sanitary pads they routinely dish out in hospitals. We tested Thinx Super HipHugger (see below) which is one of three styles (five pairs) in the Thinx Postpartum Set , £117.91. You could also try the high waisted Modibodi Postpartum Control Brief , £30, with built-in tummy control and back support.

Thinx: best brand for choice

We tried: Thinx Super Hi-Waist , £27.88

With every possible style from thongs and leotards, to leggings and cycle shorts with built-in protection, many of Thinx’s period pants come in 11 sizes from XXS for teens up to 4X and five colours, so there’s something for everyone. The brand features a vast range of body and skin types in its advertising and its GiveRise! programme tackles period shame and poverty and promotes puberty education fighting for access to free period products in schools, jails and public toilets.

Absorbency: Very heavy flow. Unusually hold five regular tampons’ worth of fluid (45ml). Most brands hold a maximum of four.
Sizes: XXS to 4X.
Care: Cold machine wash, avoid fabric softener or bleach or ironing. 
NB: Postage to the UK from the US costs a hefty £10.60 if you're buying directly from Thinx and if sending them back from the UK you have to cover postage. Boots stock one style, Thinx Brief Super Black , £17.95 in S, M and L while and Asos has a wider range of Thinx  with 17 styles.  
Bottom line: Pricier than some brands, but beautifully soft fabric and a huge range of styles and sizes.

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We also tried: Thinx Cotton Boy Short , £30.27

Absorbency: Super absorbency, hold five regular tampons’ worth of fluid (45ml).
Sizes: XS to 4X.
Care: Cold machine wash, avoid fabric softener or bleach or ironing. 
NB: Postage to the UK from the US costs a hefty £10.60 and if sending them back from the UK you have to cover postage. 
Bottom line: Our tester said they were super comfy to wear, especially with dresses or skirts because you feel a little more secure and protected. She didn’t have that gross feeling you’d get when you’ve been wearing a pad for far too long. In fact, just felt like a super comfy pair of knickers. She even forgot she was on her period at times. Really absorbent, felt dry to wear and no leaks or smells too.

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We also tried: Thinx Hiphugger , £23.70

Absorbency: Moderate absorbency, hold three regular tampons’ worth of fluid (45ml).
Sizes: XS to 4X.
Care: Cold machine wash, avoid fabric softener or bleach or ironing. 
NB: Postage to the UK from the US costs a hefty £10.60 and if sending them back from the UK you have to cover postage, but these also available on Asos.
Bottom line: Our tester said they look and feel like regular pants, the lace band at the top makes them surprisingly attractive. They were comfortable and she didn't notice the absorbency pad at all. However, in hindsight going for moderate was not a wise choice. After two hours, they seemed full and they were on the verge of leaking. Her advice? If you're getting through multiple tampons a day then opt for the super absorbency and save moderate for the last day of your period.

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Modibodi: best brand for sexy styles

We tried: Modibodi Sensual Hi-Waist Bikini , £24

Modibodi is a cool Australian company ‘designed by real people with real leaky bodies’. The brand hit the headlines in 2020 for its ground-breaking video advert featuring real menstrual blood, showing a woman washing her period pants in the shower, with the tagline, ‘The new way to period.’ Their innovative video is matched by an ultra-stylish, vast product range with more than 15 different styles, ranging from Thongs and the Cheeky collection (high-waist, high-leg, smooth finish) to Boylegs and Boyshorts. Modibodi Sensual Hi-Waist Bikini pants were so comfy and flattering, our 40-plus, size 12-14 tester didn’t want to take them off.

Absorbency: Heavy flow, 3-4 tampons’ worth (20ml).
Sizes: 8-26. 
Care: Rinse after use, then use a cold, gentle machine wash. Hang to dry and don’t use fabric softeners or stain removers.
NB: Pricier than many brands.
Bottom line: A quality brand with a brilliant ethos and imaginative range of colours (including leopard-print and hot pink).

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We also tried: Modibodi Classic Full Brief , £25

Absorbency: Heavy overnight absorbency, 3-4 tampons’ worth (20ml).
Sizes: XS-5XL 
Care:
Rinse after use, then use a cold, gentle machine wash. Hang to dry and don’t use fabric softeners or stain removers.
NB: 
Pricier than many brands.
Bottom line:
 Our tester used these pants overnight, a time when she found pads super uncomfortable and graduated to day use. These are the 'biggest knickers' she has and she uses them for peak flow with no leaks. The pad feels reassuringly 'thick'. Recommended for people who are nervous about dipping their toe into the period pant pond, as they make your feel super secure.

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We also tried: Modibodi Vegan Bikini,  £21.50

Modibodi is a cool Australian company ‘designed by real people with real leaky bodies’. The brand hit the headlines in 2020 for its ground-breaking video advert featuring real menstrual blood, showing a woman washing her period pants in the shower, with the tagline, ‘the new way to period.’ Their innovative video is matched by an ultra-stylish, vast product range with more than 15 different styles, ranging from Thongs and the Cheeky collection (high-waist, high-leg, smooth finish) to Boylegs and Boyshorts. Modibodi Sensual Hi-Waist Bikini pants were so comfy and flattering, our 40-plus, size 12-14 tester didn’t want to take them off. Why vegan? On their website it says that they are a high tech alternative to wool, the gusset padding used in their other styles.

Absorbency: Heavy flow, 3-4 tampons’ worth (20ml).
Sizes: 8-26. 
Care: Rinse after use, then use a cold, gentle machine wash. Hang to dry and don’t use fabric softeners or stain removers.
NB: Pricier than many brands.
Bottom line: Our tester tried the hot pink pair which she personally wasn't a fan of as they felt too much like regular pants. Although the padded part is black which makes it less weird. She tried these overnight and said that they felt less substantial than the Thinx overnighters, they did work a treat though, no leaks at all. But she wore them on day three of a heavy period and would be wary to have worn them on the earlier days.

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WUKA: best brand for the environment

We tried: WUKA Ultimate Lace High Waist Heavy Flow,  £23.99

WUKA stands for ‘Wake Up Kick Ass’ because the brand believes nothing should hold you back during your period. Their multi award-winning range of over 30 different period pants are made from sustainable fabrics and are fully carbon-neutral. WUKA makes regular donations to various charities to help end period poverty.

Absorbency: Four tampons’ worth (20ml).
Sizes: 4-26.
Care: Rinse after use, then machine wash at 30-40 degrees. 
NB: Use their side guide online to make sense of the confusing sizes listed.
Bottom line: More expensive than some brands, but stylish and built to last. Our tester explains that these feel almost like her trusty black Brazilian pants from M&S. She actually pulled them out to wear on an non-period day, just because they were so comfy! Her only complaint was the waistband, which dug a little when she experienced bloating at the peak of her during her period. But on the days either side, they were absolutely fine. She wore these to bed and under jeans and confirms no leaks.

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We also tried:  Wuka Perform Sports Shorts , £39.99

Absorbency: Heavy flow, 3-4 tampons’ worth (20ml)
Sizes: XS-3XL (6-20)
Care: Rinse after use, then use a cold, gentle machine wash. Hang to dry and don’t use fabric softeners or stain removers.
NB: Use their side guide online to make sense of the confusing sizes listed.
Bottom line: If you're used to wearing running shorts with built-in knickers, you'll be familiar with how these feel. We'd recommend sizing down – our tester normally wears a size 10 and ordered a medium and felt the pant section was a bit roomy at the sides. They are not flush to the body like the other period pants we tried. Nevertheless, they didn't leak or move around and our tester felt safe and secure.

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Cheeky Pants: best brand for teens and tweens

We tried: Feeling Sporty Low-rise Period Pants , £11.99

Brand founder Helen Rankin launched reusable wipes in 2004, then moved on to eco-certified period pants in 2018. Our teen tester found these simple, sporty-style period pants to be a great fit, “just the same as normal pants” and the low-rise cut is flattering on teen bodies.

Absorbency: Light-medium.
Sizes: 4-24.
Care: Either wash within 24 hours or cold soak for a couple of days, then machine wash at 30 degrees. See tips here.
NB: You can purchase period pant kits but the one we tested came with various unnecessary bits such as washable, intimate wipes and a Wetbag.
Bottom line: We’re not convinced by every product on the site, but love the style and quality of their period pants.

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M&S: best brand for comfort

We tried: High Absorbency Period High Leg Knickers , £12

M&S can always be trusted for comfy, basic underwear and their period pants range, in 16 different styles, ranging from polka dot Bikini Period Knickers to grey leopard print Full Brief Period Knickers can be counted on too.

Absorbency: Heavy flow.
Sizes: 6-28.
Care: Gentle wash cycle.
NB: Some reviewers online said the absorbent pad needed to go higher up the front.
Bottom line: Good quality, well-priced period pants, you can also rely on for ‘heavy’ days.

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Primark: best brand for budget

We tried: Black Period Mini Briefs, £6. In-store only

Love it or loathe it, Primark, is one of the UK’s biggest-selling clothing brands, despite not selling any products online. Their brilliant, 17-piece collection of period pants including mini, midi and hipster styles and two different flow types, deserves a huge cheer for price, comfort and fit. Our tester was so impressed she bought these in bulk.

Absorbency: Heavy flow (four tampons’ worth).
Sizes: 6-20
Care: Rinse with cold water after use, then machine wash cold.
NB: Can only be bought in-store.
Bottom line: Just as good as the premium brands but for only £6 - great value!

Sold in-store only.

Pantys: most 'normal-feeling' period pants

We tried: Pantys Hot Pant high-rise stretch-woven period briefs , £34

Pantys are clinically, gynecologically and dermatologically tested and support the five pillars of intimate health: vaginal pH, vaginal temperature, microflora, comfort, safety. Their technology is proven to kill 99 per cent of bacteria, means less infection and odours.

Absorbency: Heavy flow
Sizes: XS-3XL
Care: Either machine wash on delicate or hand wash, always using cold water. Do not use bleach or fabric softeners: it can damage the liner technology! Finally, dry naturally, do not use a tumble drier or iron.
NB: Taking good care of your panties, you can extend their lifecycle to last approximately two years or 60 washes. Sold on their own site as well as Selfridges.
Bottom line: Our tester said that out of all the period pants she tried, these felt like the most 'normal' pants, thanks to the sheer panels and the light weight nature. She found the pad part to be a little bit more solid but less 'nappy-like' than others. There were no issues with leakage or feeling damp, but her period that month was quite light. She wore them during the day and felt comfortable and barely noticed she wasn't wearing her usual knickers. However, she did find them a little bit 'rustly' in her HITT class and felt they would be more suited to a gentle Pilates or yoga class.

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Cocoro: best site for matching period 'lingerie'

We tried:  Tanga Moeri , £19.95

This women-founded brand (two architects, a philologist, and a graphic designer) is based in Barcelona and features a wide selection of stylish period pants and matching bras and bandeau tops.

Absorbency: Light-medium
Sizes: XS-XL
Care: You can wash them by hand or in the washing machine. You choose, just make sure you wash them inside out, use neutral soap and air dry. Wash below 30ºC. Never iron or tumble-dry.
NB: Free UK shipping. Size up. 
Bottom line: If like our tester you have light periods and prefer wearing thongs (or need to for a specific occasion or outfit) then this is definitely one for you. You barely notice you are wearing period pants and they absorb well. However, if you are on the more moderate to heavy flow we don't advise wearing this all day - but a few hours for a dinner shouldn't hurt!

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We also tried:  Classic Moeri Plus , £29.95

Absorbency: Medium-Heavy Flow
Sizes: XS-3XL
Care: You can wash them by hand or in the washing machine. You choose, just make sure you wash them inside out, use a neutral soap and air dry. Wash below 30ºC. Never iron or tumble-dry.
NB: Free UK shipping. Size up.
Bottom Line: Our other tester found these were slightly tight and not as as absorbent as she would have liked for a heavy flow, although the design with lace detailing stopped them feeling frumpy.

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Modibodi: The period and leak-proof exercise leggings

We tried:  Modibodi 7/8 Recycled Active Legging, £55

Absorbency: Medium-Heavy Flow
Sizes: XS-3XL
Care: Wash your Modibodi before wearing them for the first time. This will activate the technology in the gusset for maximum absorbency. Rinse in cool water immediately after wearing, until the water runs clear, do not soak and wash in a delicates bag less than 30°C.  Hold the fabric softener. This reduces the product’s function.
NB:
Bottom Line: These 7/8 recycled leggings look like an ordinary pair of workout bottoms, with no Modibodi branding, which is the discretion you want what you want when you are on your period. They even have mesh side pockets for your card or phone. If you experience urine leaks while exercising, these are a great alternative to pads. Our tester was aware of a vague visible gusset line at the back, but the style overall is based on seams so it looks like part of the design. They were extremely comfy to work out in. We found them true to size and a good snug fit and liked that they came in varying degrees of absorbency.

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