At first glance, it makes sense from a sustainability point of view to switch from conventional tampons and pads to period panties. After all, these are washable and therefore reusable, which saves waste.

This is how period panties work

Period panties look like regular underwear, but with an absorbent pad sewn into them that absorbs liquid. They are usually made of cotton, but there is a liquid-impermeable membrane underneath the absorbent layer so that no menstrual blood can escape to the outside.

To ensure that the special insert does not deform, the period panties are often not washable at 60 degrees – this is necessary for underwear, however, to kill bacteria and fungi. For this reason, antibacterial biocides are added to the briefs.

According to the manufacturers, this antibacterial effect should last for up to two years – because the biocides are gradually lost during washing.

Period panties: When washing, the biocides end up in the environment

And therein lies the criticism of environmental experts. On the one hand, the biocides are potentially allergenic and harmful to health. On the other hand, the biocides end up in the waste water during washing and ultimately in the environment via the sewage treatment plants, where not all of these substances can be filtered. In the worst case, they can harm organisms and throw ecosystems out of balance.

The Hamburg manufacturer Mylily, for example, uses silver nitrate, as the dpa reports. The period panties from start-up Ooia contain silver chloride. The Swedish chemical agency KEMI has tested how quickly the latter ends up in the water during washing:  after just three washes at 40 degrees, more than half of the biocide had disappeared from seven out of 16 fabric samples.

Many experts therefore advise against the panties: “I don’t think biocide-treated menstrual underwear is sustainable. Biocides are intended to harm and kill living beings and can have undesirable side effects on health and the environment,” said biologist Susanne Smolka from the Pesticide Action Network association the news agency.

How do period panties affect health?

In addition, the biocides in period panties are often not labeled correctly, as the dpa reports – even though there is a labeling requirement for goods treated with biocides that contains information such as “antibacterial” or “odor protection”.

There is also a discussion as to whether period panties could be harmful to health. After all, the vagina also has a natural bacterial flora that could be disturbed by the substances. According to the Federal Environment Ministry, there is also a risk of allergic reactions and the development of resistance in pathogens.

“In general, you shouldn’t use textiles treated with biocides because it’s not absolutely necessary,” quoted the dpa as Marcus Gast, an expert on water-polluting substances at the Federal Environment Agency. If you are looking for a waste-saving alternative to pads and tampons, you should start with one Menstrual cup possibly served.

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