How to save money on sanitary products
Buying sanitary products every month can add up to over £100 a year! We've hunted out the cheapest products on the market to help you save some cash.
Buying sanitary products is a completely unavoidable monthly expense, so having to fork out for pricey pads and tampons seems pretty unfair - and don't even get us started on the tampon tax!
With research suggesting women spend on average £128 a year on their periods (that's £11 per period), taking just a few small steps could save you quite a lot of money.
Of course, everyone experiences periods differently, and what might work as a cheap solution for some, won't work for someone else.
We've priced up five different sanitary protection methods here, so no matter what you prefer to use, you'll find a way to save some money.
What’s on this page?
How much do periods cost?
Different numbers often get thrown around when it comes to calculating the cost of periods.
Labour MP Danielle Rowley recently stated that periods cost women as much as £500 a year! This seems like an extravagant amount, but it actually includes things like pain relief and new underwear, plus comforts like chocolate and magazines.
Of course we can't ignore the extra costs that often come with periods, but if we strip it down to the basics the figure is much less.
It's estimated that women spend £4,800 in their lifetime on periods, using around 10,500 products (22 products per cycle). This works out at around £128 a year, or £11 a month.
What is the tampon tax?
The tampon tax has been in the news quite a lot recently, but many still don't know exactly what it is.
VAT on sanitary products is currently charged at 5% - meaning you essentially pay a 5% tax on any you buy.
Under EU law, this is currently the lowest VAT can be, but the European Commission is committed to abolishing VAT on sanitary products in the near future.
Although the UK government has already legislated to get rid of the tax, because of Brexit complications, the end of the tampon tax won't be introduced until 2022 at the latest.
Some shops, including Tesco, Waitrose, Morrisons and the Co-op have slashed prices on sanitary products by 5% to combat the tampon tax - but which products are actually the cheapest?
Cheapest sanitary pads
We'll start off with one of the most common forms of protection - sanitary pads.
If you avoid the bigger names (Always, we're looking at you), and stick with supermarket own brands instead, you can save a substantial amount.
Most people can't notice the difference when switching to own brands, but if you prefer to stick with what you know, the cheapest branded packs we've found are these Always Sensitive Normal Ultra Sanitary Towels and these Bodyform Ultra Normal Sanitary Towels, both for 95p each (6p per pad).
If you want the cheapest possible option, the table below ranks the top five cheapest packs out there. Note that these prices don't take into account any special offers, so look out for any discounts that could get you an even better deal!
Cheapest sanitary pads
|Product*||Price**||Price per pad|
|Sainsbury's Maxi Towels x 10||25p||2.5p|
|ASDA Protect Ultra Normal Sanitary Towels without wings x16||55p||3.4p|
|Tesco Ultra Regular Non-wing Sanitary Towels x18||66p||3.6p|
|Morrisons Normal Ultra Towels without wings x16||66p||4.1p|
|Boots Liberelle Ultra Towels Duo Normal x32||£1.40||4.4p|
*Regular flow products
**Prices correct as of July 2018.
Tampons are often a slightly more expensive option than pads, but for some they're a necessity or a much more comfortable option.
However, our table reveals that if you know where to look, you can get them for pretty much the same price as pads.
Again, if you want to stick with a known brand, these Tampax Compak Pearl Regular Applicator Tampons come in at £3 (or 8p per tampon).
However, the packs listed below will get you the best deal. Just note that all these packs contain non applicator tampons - although the applicator versions still work out cheaper than the big brands.
|Product*||Price**||Price per tampon|
|ASDA Protect Super Non Applicator Tampons x32||75p||2.3p|
|Tesco Non Applicator Super Plus Tampons x24||95p||4p|
|Sainsbury's Tampons Non Applicator Regular x16||70p||4.4p|
|Morrisons Non Applicator Super Plus x16||71p||4.4p|
|Boots Liberelle Non Applicator Tampons Super x24||£1.10||4.6p|
*Regular flow products
**Prices correct as of July 2018.
Cheapest menstrual cups
Although menstrual cups have been around for years, many women don't really know what they are or how they work. The Mooncup is arguably the most well known, and was one of the first menstrual cups on the market, but now there's loads of brands and options for you to choose from.
Essentially they're just a soft silicone cup that you insert much like you would a tampon. However, rather than absorbing the blood like a tampon would, they collect it instead.
They last for at least a few years (as long as you clean and look after them properly), and can hold twice as much blood as tampons can. Plus, they can be worn for at least eight hours, so it's perfectly ok to sleep in them - and swim in them too!
If you're environmentally conscious, then menstrual cups get rid of a lot of waste - plastic tampon applicators can take 100 years to degrade, and many end up in our oceans.
Most brands offer two different sizes, so you can choose the one which best suits your menstrual flow and body type.
We've picked out the four of the most popular and ranked them by cost for you.
Cheapest menstrual cups
|Product||Wear for up to||Holds (tampons absorb 6-19ml)||Price|
|Ruby Cup from The Cup Effect||12 hours||30ml||£22|
Cheapest reusable sanitary pads
Reusable sanitary pads are pretty straightforward - they're just the same as sanitary pads except you wash and rewear them.
They're a great option if you want to save some money and save the environment, but they do take more effort. You'll have to keep on top of your washing for a start!
Like normal pads, different reusable pads are available for light, medium and heavy flow in most cases.
We've done some shopping around and found that Precious Stars come out cheapest at £3.50 per pad or £20.50 for a pack of six (£3.42 per pad). You can buy pantyliners, moderate pads or overnight pads, depending on how heavy your flow is.
Cheeky Wipes are a popular supplier of reusable sanitary pads, creating them in a variety of different materials and for both day and night wear. You can buy the pads individually for £4.50, or buy a pack of five for £20.99 (£4.20 per pad) and a pack of 10 for £40.99 (£4.01 per pad).
Finally, Earthwise Girls sell washable pads for £4.50 each or £13.50 for a pack of three, which includes a pad donation to an orphaned girl in Kenya.
Admittedly you'll have to get a lot of wear out of a reusable sanitary pad for it work out the same value for money as normal pads, but the idea is if you buy in bulk, you won't need to replace your pads for another five years.
You could also try making your own if you know how to use a needle and thread. You'll need to head down to a fabric shop to get the material you need (including something waterproof) and Sewing Bee Fabrics have an easy-to-follow pattern you can use.
If you find you're a dab hand at it, you could even set up your own reusable sanitary towel business!
Cheapest period pants
Yes, you can now buy underwear with period protection built in! It's the dream.
Period pants (or menstrual underwear) contain hidden protection that stops leaks, and just like reusable sanitary pads they can be washed and worn again and again. However, always check the small print before you buy, as some only offer 'added protection' to wear alongside other sanitary products.
This is the case with Pretty Clever Pants - they have a waterproof panel which offers extra protection, but you'll still need to wear normal sanitary products. You can get a pack of two for £16.99.
Precious Stars sells pants for £16.28 each, and they come with a waterproof crotch panel with a removable insert - change the insert every 4-6 hours and you can wear the underwear all day long.
Period pants probably aren't your cheapest option, but if you want the extra security and peace of mind, you might want to consider them.
Top tips for saving money on sanitary products
Downshift to own brands
You've probably worked this out by now, but the number one thing you can do to save money on your period is downshifting to own brands.
Always and Bodyform might be your usual go-to, but most people report virtually no difference when they switch to supermarket own brands, and it could save you £30 a year!
If you're worried, you could even compromise by using the products you're most comfortable with when your flow is heaviest, and use the cheaper brands when it's lighter. You'll still be saving yourself cash in the long run!
Check price comparison sites
We've done a lot of the hard work for you here by pricing up the cheapest period products, but everyone has different requirements.
Perhaps you need pads with wings or tampons with applicators. Before you just go and buy the first pack you see, use a price comparison site to find your cheapest option.
Sanitary Saver is a price comparison site specifically for period products, but we did notice a couple of products were missing when we tried it.
You'll probably be better using a general grocery comparison app like MySupermarket to compare across all major retailers instead (including Boots and Superdrug!)
Use period tracking apps so you don't get caught out
If your period isn't exactly regular, or you're just a big forgetful, you can end up paying more to replace underwear and bedding that gets hit when you're caught out.
This kind of stuff is inevitable, but you could try using a period tracking app to stay on top of it.
For example, Clue not only tracks your period, but also your PMS and let's you know when you're likely to feel a certain way - like which days you're most likely to devour a tub of Ben & Jerry's.
Flo is a great option for those with irregular periods, using artificial intelligence to predict your cycle. However, both do come with a monthly subscription fee if you want to make use of all features.
Natural Cycles is the only app which has been certified as a form of contraception, and is apparently just as effective as the pill. It uses an oral thermometer to track your body's temperature (which changes throughout your menstrual cycle) and creates an accurate ovulation calendar based on its readings.
Again, you will have to pay a £5.99 monthly subscription fee (or £39.99 for the year).
Try your student union if you're struggling
If you're unable to afford sanitary products at all, then try your student union.
Many have committed to providing free sanitary products to students who can't afford them. Stirling, Middlesex, UEA, Lancaster and Sunderland students' unions are just a few who have expressed commitment to providing free products to students, but check directly with your SU for information.
Others might have also cut prices of sanitary products in SU shops, so make sure to check these yourself as they won't appear on price comparison apps.
The NUS has pledged to making sanitary products free for all female undergraduates, but this has yet to be implemented.
Where to donate sanitary products
If you follow our advice, you might be able to save yourself £30 a year on your sanitary products by downshifting brands - or even more if you go for a menstrual cup instead!
Don't forget that one in ten 14-21-year-olds can't afford any sanitary products at all, so if you're able to, why not take that money you save and use it to donate some sanitary products to those who need them?
Bloody Good Period are a charity who provide menstrual products to asylum seekers, refugees and those who can't afford them. You can either send a cash donation or buy a product off their Amazon wishlist which will get sent direct to their HQ - donate here.
Try checking with your local food bank whether they accept/need donations of sanitary products, or see whether your SU is organising a collection.
You can also buy boxes of 10 sanitary pads from Hey Girl for £3.25, and for each pack sold they'll donate a pack to girls and women in need.
Similarly, if you buy a menstrual cup from The Cup Effect for £22, they'll donate two cups to women or girls living on low incomes in East Africa or the UK.
Got any more tips and tricks for saving money on periods? Let us know!