How Often to Change Tampons or Pads During Your Period

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Do you wonder how often you should change your pads or tampons during your menstrual period? The type of product you use and how heavy your flow is will make the difference in how long it is wise or safe to wear it before changing it. Concerns about toxic shock syndrome determine how often to change tampons.

Woman holding a tampon in her hand
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Change Tampons Every 3 to 5 Hours

If you use tampons during your periods, aim for wearing a tampon that is saturated and needs changing every three to five hours. Make sure you change them at least every four to eight hours to help prevent a rare but potentially fatal disease called toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

You should always use the lowest absorbency tampon necessary for the amount of menstrual flow you are experiencing on each day of your period. Using super-absorbency tampons on the lightest day of your period potentially puts you at risk for TSS.

Those most at risk for TSS include people under 30, particularly teenagers. While you might think you are saving yourself a tampon change by wearing one that is more absorbent, in reality, you are increasing your risk of this deadly condition.

Think of needing to change your tampon in the morning, then again by lunch, again at dinner, and then before bed. Before going to school or work, take along an extra two or three tampons so you have them available when needed.

If you are starting to see leaks, you might need a higher absorbency tampon or consider a disc or cup as they hold more volume than a tampon.

But even if you don't see any leaks, you need to change your tampon every six to eight hours for safety. If your tampon isn't saturated by that time, you should think of switching to a lower-absorbency tampon.

Don't believe it if someone tells you that only certain types of tampons put you at risk for TSS. That just isn't true. It doesn't matter if the tampon is made of the purest cotton or rayon—all tampons could potentially put you at risk for toxic shock syndrome if not used properly.

How Often to Change Pads

During your periods, pads or sanitary napkins should be changed as often as necessary to prevent the pad from becoming soaked with menstrual flow. You will learn to know how long you feel comfortable before you change pads during your periods.

In the case of pads, you decide what works best for you, since there isn't the risk of toxic shock syndrome. You can wear a pad overnight or for six hours or more during the day. If you have a heavy flow, you will need to change it more often and bring along supplies when you are away from home.

You may find that the pad develops an odor after several hours, so you may want to change it for that reason. A starting point may be to change your pads every four to five hours. I would add that You may also find that pads can cause dermatitis (skin irritation) on the vulva and if this happens, you may want to switch brands, or consider a different period product.

Toxic Shock Syndrome Symptoms

Toxic shock syndrome related to menses (mTSS) is a rare but potentially fatal disease caused by one of two different types of bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus or group A Streptococcus. These bacteria are normally found colonizing the vagina, and they can grow out of control when a tampon is in place for too long.

All people who menstruate should know the symptoms of mTSS. This information is especially important for teenagers. Typically symptoms will occur within three days of the start of menses. The most common signs and symptoms of TSS include:

  • Fever with or without chills
  • Fast heart rate
  • Low blood pressure, which sometimes causes a feeling of dizziness or lightheadedness upon standing after sitting
  • Skin changes that look like a sunburn, or redness of the tissue inside the mouth, eyes, or vagina

Other less common symptoms of TSS may include vomiting, diarrhea, and muscle aches.

If you experience any of these symptoms during your period, seek medical care by calling 911 immediately. TSS is a rapidly progressing disease that can have devastating consequences if left untreated.

TSS Prevention

Fortunately, there are some preventive steps you can take during your period to help prevent TSS:

  • The biggest step you can take to prevent TSS is to always change tampons every four to eight hours.
  • Using the proper tampon absorbency for your menstrual flow is also an important way to help prevent TSS. This means using higher-absorbency tampons only on your heaviest days of menstruation. On your lighter days, use tampons with lower absorbency.
  • You may be able to significantly lower your risk of getting TSS by alternating tampons and pads during your period; use tampons only during the day and pads at night, for example.
  • Only use tampons during menstruation. If you need extra protection at other times during the month, mini pads are your best option.

A Word From Verywell

Knowing how often to change your feminine hygiene products can keep you safer and feeling fresher during your period. Choose a tampon with the least absorbency needed to be effective for three to five hours, and be sure to change it frequently whether it is saturated or not.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Office on Women's Health. Your menstrual cycle.

  2. Office on Women's Health. Pads and other ways to take care of your period.

  3. Nonfoux L, Chiaruzzi M, Badiou C, et al. Impact of currently marketed tampons and menstrual cups on Staphylococcus aureus growth and toxic shock syndrome toxin 1 production. In Vitro. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2018;84(12):e00351-18. doi:10.1128/AEM.00351-18

  4. TeensHealth from Nemours. Toxic shock syndrome.

Additional Reading

By Tracee Cornforth
Tracee Cornforth is a freelance writer who covers menstruation, menstrual disorders, and other women's health issues.