5 Tampon Alternatives to Get You Through the Tampon Shortage

illustration of period products

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Key Takeaways

  • Popular retailers and manufacturers including Procter & Gamble have acknowledged a tampon shortage in the United States. 
  • The shortage appears to be caused by supply chain and manufacturing issues, especially with materials like cotton and plastic, which were used in personal protective equipment and have been in high demand from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Experts say if tampons are not available to you, there are several other alternatives including pads, reusable underwear, menstrual cups and discs that can be used to absorb blood flow during a period. 

Many retail stores across the country, including Target, CVS and Walgreens are struggling to stock their shelves with tampons, affecting roughly 34 million people in the United States who use them.

That’s because there’s currently a tampon shortage, much like we’ve seen with other consumer goods like infant formula, diapers, and pet food

The shortages seem to stem from supply chain restrictions, especially on cotton and plastic. These materials have been in high demand since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic because they're essentail to creating personal protective equipment, Tamika Cross, MD, FACOG, board-certified OB-GYN and owner of Serenity Women’s Health & Med Spa in Pearland, Texas, told Verywell. 

"Manufacturers are running out of materials that make tampons like cotton and plastic," Cross said. "It’s pretty bad because if wearing tampons is something you’ve been comfortable with and have relied on, you may have limited options and [have difficulty] adjusting when it comes to doing different things like sports, swimming, and other activities."

Procter & Gamble (P&G), the makers of Tampax and Always products, told Verywell in a statement that they expect the shortage to be a "temporary situation."

"The Tampax team is producing tampons 24/7 to meet the increased demand for our products. We are working with our retail partners to maximize availability, which has significantly increased over the last several months," said P&G. 

While companies have said they are working hard to restock store shelves and increase tampon availability, there are other alternatives to tampons that you should be aware of.  

Tampon Alternatives To Consider 

There are several different options beyond tampons that can allow people to go about their normal life during a menstrual period, Julia Bennett, MPH, Director of Digital Education & Learning Strategy, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told Verywell. 

"They all function a little bit differently, but these are all things that you can use without getting blood all over your clothes or your sheets," Bennett added.

Disposable Pads 

Cost: $6-$30

Hours of protection: 4-6 

How much can it absorb: 5 to 15 milliliters of liquid 

When to change it: Every 4 to 8 hours 

Pads, sometimes called sanitary pads, are narrow pieces of material made up of rayon and polyester that can stick to your underwear. According to Bennett, some disposable pads have flaps or “wings” that can fold over on the sides of your underwear to prevent leaks and stains. Disposable pads also come in different sizes such as regular, medium or large depending on your menstrual flow. 

Reusable Cloth Pads

Cost: $13-$40

Hours of protection: 4-8 

How much can it absorb: Up to 16 milliliters of liquid 

When to change it: Every 2 to 6 hours 

Reusable cloth pads function very similarly to disposable pads. Just like one-time-use pads, you place them into your underwear and continue with your daily routine or activities. However, Bennett said once the pad fills up, you remove them, rinse them off, wash them, and reuse them instead of throwing them away.

Reusable pads come in different sizes depending on the brand. They are usually made with breathable cotton and are machine washable. 

Period Underwear/Panties

Cost: $15-$50

Hours of protection: Up to 12 

How much can it absorb: 25 to 71 milliliters of liquid  

When to change it: Every 10 to 12 hours

Period underwear or panties function like regular underwear, but consist of moisture-wicking material and fabric that can absorb blood and help keep moisture away from the skin. Bennett said period underwear can be worn alone or with other feminine hygiene products like tampons or menstrual cups and discs for extra protection and to prevent leaks or stains. 

Cross said it’s important to change and clean period underwear at least every 10 to 12 hours or more depending on your period flow.

Most period underwear brands can be washed in a washing machine with gentle laundry detergents and should be air-dried. Period underwear is also more environmentally friendly because it is reusable and can save people money over time, Cross added.  

Menstrual Cups

Cost: $20-$40 

Hours of protection: 6-12 

How much can it absorb: 1 ounce of liquid (roughly twice the amount of a super-absorbent tampon or pad)

When to change it: Every 10 to 12 hours 

Menstrual cups are typically shaped like little bells or bowls and are generally made of rubber, silicone or latex. The cup is inserted low into the vaginal canal.

Cross said instead of absorbing your flow like a pad or tampon would, menstrual cups catch and collect blood. Some cups are disposable while others can be emptied, washed with soap and water, and reused. 

Certain brands will have specific instructions on how to use a menstrual cup, but these are the general steps:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  2. Fold the menstrual cup in half, holding it in one hand with the rim facing up (as you would do with a tampon).
  3. Insert the cup into your vagina, sitting a few inches below your cervix. 
  4. Once the cup is in, rotate it. The cup should spring open to create a seal that can stop any leaking. 

Bennett said once the cup is inserted, people should not feel it. If you do feel it, the cup may have been inserted incorrectly. She added it may take some practice and skill-building to use a menstrual cup, just as it takes many people time to learn how to use a tampon.

For people with an intrauterine device (IUD), Bennett said menstrual cups may not be the best option. The cups can create suction in the vagina, and when the cup is removed, it’s possible to cause the IUD to shift out of place. 

Menstrual Discs

Cost: $14-$50

Hours of protection: Up to 12 

How much can it absorb: 25 to 30 milliliters of liquid 

When to change it: Every 10 to 12 hours 

While menstrual discs are very similar in function to menstrual cups, Bennett said discs are flatter and tend to sit higher up against the cervix. Like cups, discs are able to collect period blood and are often made out of plastic and silicone.

Cross said some discs are typically not reusable, but some can be washed and used again during an entire period.

To insert a menstrual disc:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  2. Squeeze or fold the sides of the disc together, almost making it into the shape of a tampon.
  3. Insert the pinched disc into your vagina at a vertical angle so it covers your cervix. 

According to Bennett and Cross, all of these different feminine hygiene products are completely safe to use and there are no major risks to be aware of. However, people should follow the directions on any products they purchase as some brands may have different instructions for use and wear. 

"The best period product to use for you is the one that works best for you in your life and lifestyle. There's no right or wrong answer," Bennett said. "It’s really just about figuring out what works best for you even though it might take some trial and error."

What This Means For You

Even though there is a nationwide tampon shortage, experts say there are several safe and environmentally-friendly alternatives including reusable pads, underwear, menstrual cups and discs that can absorb blood during your period. Choosing what feminine hygiene product to use will depend on your flow, lifestyle, and what you are most comfortable with. 

2 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. Statista Research Department. Usage of tampons in the U.S. 2020

  2. Klemeš JJ, Fan YV, Jiang P. The energy and environmental footprints of COVID-19 fighting measures – PPE, disinfection, supply chainsEnergy. 2020;211:118701. doi:10.1016/

By Alyssa Hui
Alyssa Hui is a St. Louis-based health and science news writer. She was the 2020 recipient of the Midwest Broadcast Journalists Association Jack Shelley Award.