How Often Do I Need to Change My Tampon or Pad?

Feet of Women in Toilet Stalls
When to change your tampon. Jason Todd / Getty Images

Exactly how often you’ll need to change your tampons or pads during your period depends on the heaviness or lightness of your menstrual flow. Tampons or sanitary pads/napkins require changing as often as necessary to prevent them from getting over-soaked with menstrual blood. Once they become soaked they will not absorb any more menstrual blood and you will have a bit of a mess on your hands. And depending on where that happens it may be an embarrassing mess. But what about the days when your flow is lighter?

Know Your Flow

Likely the amount of your menstrual flow will vary each day during your period. Some days will be lighter and some days will be heavier.

It is a good idea to match your menstrual flow with the absorbency of your tampon or pad. This will also influence how often you need to change. Using a regular absorbency tampon or a light day sanitary napkin on a heavy flow day will have you in the bathroom constantly changing and at high risk of a messy accident. That’s not a good use of your time or your money!

Know The Limits

Because tampons and pads absorb your menstrual flow it is important that you change them regularly even if they are not soaked with blood. There are recommendations for how often you should change them.

"For how many hours can I leave on a sanitary pad?”

Since pads are worn externally there is no significant health risk if you leave it on longer than 6 hours. In fact, pads are a good option for overnight protection. With pads, it is even safe to use a thicker pad than needed for your flow so you have extra protection. The time limit for pads is mostly to avoid the odor generated from the blood and bacteria from your menstrual flow.

Sanitary pads: 4-6 hours

“For how many hours can I leave a tampon in?"

Like pads, tampons absorb your menstrual flow. Since tampons are worn internally, it is important to observe the 8-hour limit. By changing your tampon at least every 8 hours you will decrease your risk of developing a serious infection related to tampon use called TSS or toxic shock syndrome. Also, it is very important not to use a tampon that is more absorbent than needed. This is different than with pads where a little extra absorbency is a good thing. Too much absorbency in a tampon also increases your risk of developing TSS.

Tampons: 4-8 hours

Tip: Unsure how heavy your flow will be? Try using a panty liner with your tampon to avoid having to use a tampon with too much absorbency.

Interested in Longer Protection?

If you like using tampons but are looking for something that gives you longer protection, try using a menstrual cup. A menstrual cup is typically made of medical-grade silicone. It is designed to collect your menstrual flow not absorb it. Because the silicone cup is collecting rather than absorbing the menstrual flow it doesn't create the same risk of infection as a tampon. So, a menstrual cup can be left in place for up to 12 hours. That makes menstrual cups a good option for overnight protection. Menstrual cups come in different sizes.

Menstrual Cup: up to 12 hours

Depending on your flow you may need to change your menstrual cup more frequently but it can safely be left in place for 12 hours a time.

Lost Tampon?

When you put a tampon in it is always important to remember to remove it. The same is true for a menstrual cup. It is possible to forget to remove your tampon especially on the last day of your period when the bleeding is very light. A retained tampon will cause a really bad odor often accompanied by a brownish discharge. This can lead to a serious infection. If you develop these symptoms or have any other concerns about your period you should discuss them with your healthcare provider.

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