Cheap Sanitary Products
Save money on tampons, pads & reusable sanitary products
The so-called 'tampon tax' may have been abolished, but many will still spend £1,000s on period-related products over the years. So we've tips and tricks to help you save, including freebies and reusable options. Plus if you're in financial trouble and struggling to afford these basic necessities, we show where to go for help.
How much do periods cost?
Because most consider disposable sanitary products an essential regular purchase, and they're often bought as part of a supermarket shop, they're an under-the-radar expense. But that doesn't mean it's not worth saving where you can – over the years the cost can rack up.
We've crunched the numbers and our back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that, based on current prices, you could spend up to £66 a year and £2,625 over the course of your life on pricey branded pads. Yet shift to the cheapest own-brand alternative and it could cost just £210 – a huge £2,415 saving.
According to experts, someone who has periods will...
- Have up to 480 periods in their lifetime. The NHS says that between the ages of 12 and 52, a woman who doesn't have kids will have about 480 periods. The figure will be less for those who have pregnancies though, and plenty of other factors affect this too, such as the age you reach puberty and the menopause, and what contraceptives you use.
- Buy 22 tampons or pads each month. The Absorbent Hygiene Products Manufacturers Association (AHPMA) estimates you'll use an average of 22 tampons or pads each month you have a period.
So a quick bit of multiplication suggests:
A woman (who doesn't have kids) will use about 10,500 sanitary products in her lifetime.
That's a very rough average of course – some estimates are higher, there are a number of reasons it may be less – but it gives us an idea so we can work out how much you can save.
|Always Infinity normal sanitary pads (12-pack)||£3 (Boots)||25p||£2,625|
|Tampax Pearl Compak regular tampons (18-pack)||£3 (Boots)||17p||£1,785|
|Asda regular applicator tampons (20-pack)||80p (Asda)||4p||£420|
|Tesco Essentials sanitary towels (10-pack)||23p (Tesco)||2p||£210|
|Prices checked on 4 January 2021. (1) Based on an estimated 10,500 sanitary products per lifetime|
Of course, it's likely you won't buy the same product your entire life, and prices do change. But these figures give an idea of how the cost of periods can seriously rack up over time.
And it's not just sanitary products...
The cost of periods isn't limited to tampons and pads. In 2015, a survey claimed the average spend is over £18,000 in a lifetime on 'period-related' products. This includes other expenses such as painkillers, replacement underwear and toiletries – and even magazines and chocolate.
See cheap alternatives to branded painkillers below, for more ways to cut costs.
The so-called 'tampon tax' was abolished across the UK on 1 January 2021, with a zero rate of VAT now applying to sanitary products – down from the previous 5%. But as VAT is a business tax, retailers don't necessarily have to pass savings on to consumers. See our Tampon tax abolished across the UK MSE News story for full details.
Some supermarkets (including Co-op, Morrisons, Tesco and Waitrose) had already cut the price of sanitary products by 5% and effectively paid the 'tampon tax' for customers, as many argued these products shouldn't be taxed as they're not luxury items. So depending where you shop, you won't necessarily see a decrease in the normal cost you pay. But we've spotted a few prices have dropped already, eg, Always Infinity pads were £3.15 at Boots, and are now £3.
Yet you should use our tips below to help find the cheapest price overall and save money on tampons, pads, reusables and more.
How to get cheap or free sanitary products
If you buy disposable tampons and pads, there are some simple ways to save.
Downshift from branded to own-brand products
Many MoneySavers report finding little difference between branded tampons and towels (eg, Always, Bodyform, Tampax) and supermarket own-brands. So don't just go with the flow (sorry) – you can save a fair whack if you shift down a brand. Our Forumites say own-branded sanitary products can be just as good as branded ones, if not better:
Boots' own non-applicator tampons are far more absorbent than Tampax.
I use Tesco own-brand non-applicator tampons and they're absolutely fine!
This can save serious cash. For example, buy a pack of Tampax Pearl regular applicator tampons at Asda, and you can pay up to 17p a tampon. Yet Asda Protect regular applicator tampons work out at just 4p each.
Of course, different products suit different people, but next time you shop for tampons or towels, consider opting for own-brand. If you can't tell the difference, then why pay more?
See our full lifetime cost of sanitary products calculations above for an idea of how much you could save by buying non-branded. And for more on how to use this principle to save on all kinds of groceries, see our Downshift Challenge guide.
Use a sanitary product comparison site to see where's cheapest (yes, really)
Find out which store sells the cheapest sanitary products with a shopping comparison tool – there's even one just for sanitary products.
Specialist sanitary product comparison site and app Sanitary Saver (developed by ex-MSE team member Adam) breaks down the cost of tampons and pads from Asda, Boots, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury's, Superdrug, Tesco and Waitrose.
It lists every sanitary product sold by these shops, and you can sort them in order of total cost, or cost per tampon or pad. So you can see if you can save by switching product AND the store you buy it from.
Look out for FREE samples & coupons
Big brands often give out free samples, usually when they have a new product they want to promote. Snap them up when they're available, and use them to supplement your stock of sanitary products.
For example, Bodyform recently offered 200,000 free samples of its pads as well as two 50p off coupons, which has now ended.
We'll list these freebies when we spot 'em on our Supermarket Coupons page, alongside other coupons available for sanitary products and personal hygiene. Although it's generally cheaper to go unbranded, coupons can be a good way to save if you're keen to stick to a particular brand.
Use a free period-tracker app to avoid spending loads buying last-minute
There are a number of free smartphone apps to help you track your cycle, and predict when your next period is due.
This can help you plan ahead and save, by ensuring you have your preferred sanitary products ready in the cupboard, rather than having to rush out and buy at a higher price from the nearest shop.
The apps below are all well-rated on Google Play and Apple's App Store, and many have been tried and tested by MoneySavers. Which you choose is up to you – you may simply prefer the look of an app, or its extra features.
It's also worth noting that if you have a fitness tracker such as a Fitbit, many already include period-tracking in their apps.
Look for cheap alternatives to branded painkillers
Many need to take painkillers to combat period pains (sadly yet another monthly cost). But don't assume you need to go for branded meds, or those marketed specifically for period pain.
It's often possible to save by shunning branded products and opting for a generic (unbranded or own-brand) equivalent. It's the 'active' ingredient that matters – the rest is largely irrelevant (unless you've certain allergies), though liquid capsules work quicker and some taste different. See our Cheap Medicines guide for full info.
You can buy own-brand ibuprofen for as little as 45p (for a box of 16 at Waitrose), but be mindful that there are different types of ibuprofen, and some can be pricier than others – usually those marketed as fast-acting.
"Some types of ibuprofen, such as ibuprofen sodium or ibuprofen lysine, do begin to provide pain relief quicker than ibuprofen acid as they may be absorbed more quickly."
If you're not sure, use the industry insiders' trick and check the product licence number (eg, PL 10000/1000). If you spot two with the same number, even if the packaging is worlds apart, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society says it means it's the same product – that's the same active ingredient AND the same formulation.
If in any doubt though, always ask the pharmacist for help.
Painkillers aren't the only thing that can help with period pain. The NHS has a number of other recommendations:
- Exercise. You may not feel like exercising during a painful period, but keeping active can reduce pain – try some gentle swimming, walking or cycling.
- Heat. Putting a heat pad or hot water bottle (wrapped in a tea towel) on your tummy may help reduce pain.
- Warm bath or shower. This can relieve pain and help you relax.
- Massage. Light, circular massage around your lower abdomen may also help reduce pain.
- Relaxation techniques. Relaxing activities, such as yoga or pilates, may help distract you from feelings of pain and discomfort.
- Transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation (TENS). A TENS machine is a small battery-operated device that delivers a mild electrical current to your tummy, which can help reduce pain.
- Stop smoking. Smoking is thought to increase the risk of period pain. See the NHS's stop smoking services for help quitting.
If you're having severe pain that can't be managed by painkillers and the methods above, you should visit your GP. See the NHS's advice on period pain for more info.
Reusable sanitary products
Some avoid using disposable pads and tampons altogether, and find reusable alternatives more comfortable and absorbent. These products are often designed to be as discreet and/or stylish as possible.
The principle behind them is similar to reusable baby nappies – they can be seriously MoneySaving, and there are environmental benefits too. Forumites say if you've kids and have already got used to using (and washing) reusable nappies, this isn't much of a stretch.
How should I decide which one to use?
There are plenty of reusable options out there, so the trick is to find out which ones work best for you. Some MoneySavers say using a combination of the below can be best.
I have used a Mooncup and reusable pads for years. Much more eco-friendly, cheaper and, for those who have very heavy periods, much more reliable together than disposables.
Menstrual cups (£10-£20 each, can last several years)
Made from medical-grade silicone, menstrual cups are inserted like a tampon, but collect fluid rather than absorbing it. There are different sizes to choose from, based on your age and whether you've had children.
One of the best known is Mooncup*, which says it can hold around 30ml of fluid (tampons hold 6-18ml depending on size). Mooncup says if you follow its instructions for cleaning and storage, the cup can last for "years and years".
MoneySavers also recommend Diva Cup and Luna Cup. Don't just buy direct though – check prices elsewhere to ensure you get the best price. Menstrual cups can be found at a number of retailers, including Amazon*, Boots*, Feel Unique, Holland & Barrett* and Superdrug.
If you're new to menstrual cups, it's worth checking out Mooncup's guide to How to use your Mooncup, which includes handy pictures and a video.
Mooncups are great! Had mine for over a year, it's really comfortable and 100% reliable (more than I can say for tampons!).
Reusable sanitary pads (£2-£10 each, last up to five years)
These look similar to disposable pads but can be washed and reused. They're made from a variety of materials (eg, organic cotton, microfibre, bamboo) and usually have poppers to keep them in place on your underwear.
They're sold on Amazon* and a number of specialist websites – Forumites recommend Cheeky Wipes, Earthwise Girls, Honour Your Flow and Wee Notions. And if you're handy with a needle and thread, some MoneySavers even make their own – you can find patterns online, eg, at Sewing Bee Fabrics.
Would wholeheartedly recommend reusable pads to everyone who menstruates. So much easier, don't need to run out to the local shop if you start unexpectedly, and so much better for the environment.
Cloth pads are so much more comfortable than disposables! No more nappy rash-type irritation.
Menstrual underwear (£10-£35 each, last as long as regular underwear) – now available from Sainsbury's
Also known as 'period pants', these look just like regular underwear, but have hidden protection to prevent leaks. Although some are marketed as only offering "extra protection" on top of regular sanitary products, others say they can be used on their own.
It used to be trickier to find this reusable option in the UK, as many of the specialist sites that sell them are based overseas. But you can now buy Love Luna period knickers from the Sainsbury's Tu website for £10-£12, as part of its clothing range – a decent price.
Struggling to afford sanitary products? How to get help
Sadly, many struggle to afford basic sanitary products each month. So-called 'period poverty' is a reality for many – but if you're affected, there are places that can help:
Try a foodbank – for sanitary products and other toiletries too
Foodbanks don't just offer food – they give out toiletries too, including sanitary products. To get help from most foodbanks, you need to be referred (though this isn't the case with some independent foodbanks). You can typically get referred by a doctor, health visitor, school or social worker. If you're not sure who to talk to, try asking Citizens Advice.
You'll likely be asked some questions about your income and why you need to use the foodbank. This ensures the food, sanitary products and other items go to the people who need them most. Common reasons for referrals include redundancy, receiving an unexpected bill or a delay in benefit payments.
At uni? Try your student union for free tampons etc
Free sanitary products for schools in England, Wales and Scotland
Scotland was the first to introduce free sanitary products in schools and colleges, as well as a number of other places such as libraries and leisure centres.
Now primary and secondary schools and colleges in England can also order a range of products (such as tampons, sanitary pads and menstrual cups), and make them available for those that need them. Though it's been reported just under 40% have placed orders since the scheme was launched in January 2020.
If you're unsure what your school's doing or if it will be ordering the products, speak to staff to check. See the Schools and colleges across England to start offering free sanitary products MSE News story for full details.
The Welsh Government says it's also allocated funding to ensure students can access free sanitary products in primary and secondary schools.
In Scotland? Some can get free sanitary products via libraries and leisure centres too
Following a pilot scheme in Aberdeen, the Scottish Government pledged to provide £500,000 to charity FareShare, so those in Scotland who need them can get free sanitary products – see the Scotland to provide free sanitary items MSE News story for full info.
In 2018, the Scottish Government also introduced a scheme to offer free sanitary products in Scottish schools, colleges and universities, and is now rolling it out to libraries and leisure centres.
You CAN'T usually get free sanitary products from the NHS
The NHS told us it doesn't offer free sanitary products to those struggling to afford them, and you can't be prescribed them on the NHS either.
However, after a call from the British Medical Association, the NHS announced in 2019 that it would start providing free sanitary products for those being cared for in its hospitals.
Want to help? Donate sanitary products to those in need
If you want to (and can afford to), you can donate sanitary products to your local foodbank, which will ensure they go to people who need them. The Trussell Trust has a list of non-food items its foodbanks usually need most, though it's always worth checking with your local foodbank first to see what specific items it needs.
You can also donate sanitary products in a number of Boots stores, as part of its partnership with The Hygiene Bank, which provides toiletries to those in need. There's a similar initiative in selected Superdrug stores, where you can donate products via Beauty Banks.
Clever ways to calculate your finances