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Monday, March 16, 2015

A Review of Natural Sponge Tampons- A Frugal and Healthy Tampon Alternative (And Comparison to Mooncup)

 photo IMG_0142_zpshknt1n2t.jpgI was contacted by a representative of the Sea Sponge Company who wanted to send me a package of Sea Clouds™ natural sponge tampons to review on my blog. I'd first heard about using sea sponges as an alternative to tampons many, many years back on a blog I read, but never thought much of it. Then I switched to using cloth pads, and then finally made the switch to using the Moon Cup menstrual cup. Since I was very happy with my Moon Cup, I wasn't looking for anything new to try, since I have the attitude of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" but since they offered it to me free to review, I figured why not just give it a try and see what I think...

Well, I'm glad I tried it out, and now I'm happy to share with you what I think about it.

Men readers- you can happily skip this post, since, you know, I'll be talking about womanly stuff...

I got the moderate flow starter kit, which came with three size sponges- one for light, one regular, and one super- plus a cotton bag. (It now comes with a mesh drying bag as well, but it was sent to me a few months ago, when they didn't include the mesh drying bag in the kit.) On their website it shows that this starter kit costs $24. Compare that to the Moon Cup which costs $30 on iherb.
Ok, it does seem like a lot, considering a package of tampons costs only a couple of bucks....
However, since tampons get thrown out and both sea sponges and menstrual cups are reusable, it actually does save money to use the reusable menstrual products.


Ok, while I do want to talk about the money aspect, I probably should first explain what exactly a natural sponge tampon is.

A sea sponge is an immobile multicellular organism that lives in the ocean that can be harvested and is very absorbent.
Natural sponge tampons are pieces of sea sponge which are inserted like a tampon, then removed, rinsed, and reinserted until it starts falling apart, usually after a few months' use.

If you're not comfortable with your body, these are a no no for you, since they don't have applicators. However if you are comfortable with your body they're great.

They come with a handy dandy set of instructions.


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In short, to use them, before the first time, you want to sterilize it by soaking it for an hour with a bit of vinegar, baking soda, tea tree oil, colloidal silver, or hydrogen peroxide. Then you insert them, rinse between use, then remove. Their website has an FAQ with all the relevant information.

So what are the benefits of these sea sponge tampons, and how do they compare to both tampons and the Mooncup/menstrual cups?

Well, first of all, they're reusable... until a point. While tampons need to be thrown out immediately and have a one time use, sea sponge tampons can be reused, but not nearly as long as menstrual cups. One time for tampons vs a few months for sea sponge tampons vs a few years for menstrual cups. However, when you do need to throw out the sea sponge, it is biodegradable, unlike tampons and menstrual cups.

Tampons create a risk for toxic shock syndrome, but both sea sponge tampons and menstrual cups don't have the risk for TSS.

Tampons contain a whole bunch of synthetic chemicals in them, which aren't good for your body, and also draw out more blood, which ends up making periods both longer and more painful. Since switching away from disposable pads and tampons to cloth pads, menstrual cups, and now sea sponge tampons, I no longer have cramping with my period- and the few times I felt like being lazy and did use disposables, the cramping returned with a vengeance only to disappear the second I switched back to natural- so I see a direct correlation between the cramping and chemical filled menstrual products; this isn't just hearsay.

Tampons, natural sponge tampons, and menstrual cups all cannot be worn after childbirth, so I wasn't able to use any of them until after my period returned postpartum... which is annoying, because the menstrual cup and natural sponge tampons are so much more comfortable and convenient than pads...

After Anneliese was born, I got a Mooncup menstrual cup and I loved it- I couldn't feel it while it was in, it didn't leak, and it was super convenient- I even went camping with it... But to be honest, my body must have changed somewhat after Rose's birth, because while my Mooncup isn't exactly uncomfortable, and it still works well, I still feel it, almost constantly. Let me clarify that it wasn't uncomfortable at all, I just always have a sensation that it's there. Which is annoying.

And this is why I really, really love natural sponge tampons- because when inserted properly, I can't feel it at all! Not one little bit! For this reason alone, I'm considering switching permanently to natural sponge tampons, even though it is more expensive in the long run than menstrual cups.
No leaking whatsoever either!

There are three different sized tampons that you use as needed- I was surprised at how absorbent they were, and the light and regular were more than enough for me- I didn't need the super at all.

And natural sponge tampons don't dry you out- even at the end of your period you can remove it easily, with no chill inducing discomfort you get from trying to remove a too dry tampon. (Oh my gosh, I got such chills even thinking about that!)

Natural sponge tampons can also be used as a contraceptive aid, ideally together with a natural or homemade spermicide (my Sea Cloud natural sponge tampons package came with a recipe for one made from aloe vera and lemon juice) but no studies have been done about its efficacy. But if you couple it with Taking Charge of Your Fertility's charting method, it should increase its efficacy.


So, now what about the negatives?

Because the natural sponge tampons can be pushed far in... you potentially can "lose" it in there, something that you can't do with a cup that sits far lower down. But baring down and squatting can help you find it again, and if that happens, just don't stick it as high in next time.

And cleaning it isn't so easy. While you're able to just dump out and wipe clean a menstrual cup before reinserting, sea sponge tampons need to be squeezed out, rinsed out, etc... before reinserting. While I can do this easily enough at home in my bathroom, when out and about it just doesn't seem feasible. On their website and in their instructions, they say that you can just bring along a water bottle and wash it over the toilet when out and about, but to be honest, the amount of water I found needed to rinse it out seems more than a water bottle would hold, but I'll admit I haven't tried it that way.
My gut instinct is that menstrual cups are better for people who are out of the house, and that natural sponge tampons are best for people who have access to private bathrooms, but hey, maybe I'm wrong.

I also don't like as much that you have to guess in advance what size tampon you'll need, and sterilize and carry around the one that you think will be necessary- its not a one size fits all the way a cup is. But, as I said before, if you use something too large- no harm done. It doesn't dry you out and isn't uncomfortable to remove the way tampons are.

I like that the Sea Cloud tampons come with a storage bag for the tampons, but I'll be honest, they didn't fit so well inside when dry- I had to really stick them in and shove them to fit it all in. And the bag isn't so small- so the little travel bag for the Moon Cup is much more convenient for carrying around in your pocketbook all the time, in case your period catches you unawares.

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My pack didn't come with a mesh bag, which is a negative, because it meant I had to find a convenient place to dry it after I finished using it, but I'm happy to hear that they currently do come with convenient mesh drying bags.

I also have to mention that it was hard to get them all the way, all the way clean after. Soaping it up very well and using very warm water helped, but until I figured that out, it was hard to get it feeling totally clean. Hydrogen peroxide probably would have been amazing, but it's not easy to find hydrogen peroxide where I live, so....


Oh- and just something important to mention- if you're worried about sustainability- these are sustainably harvested. The way these are harvested actually helps them grow better.
And as for morality... Well, as you've noticed, I'm not a vegan nor do I profess to be, and I have no moral issue using animal products. However, is this really an animal product? Well, while sponges are officially in the animalia kingdom, they are even less of an "animal" than an ant- as ants have a basic central nervous system and sponges have absolutely no central nervous system, so it doesn't "hurt" them when they're harvested.

Ok, now what? What is my recommendation?

Well, as I said, just for comfort reasons, I'm going with these over the Mooncup now, even though it means regular (even if every 6 or so months) expenses, since I'm a stay at home mom and not out of the house, but when I go out for many hours at a time I think I will use my Mooncup (and that is what I'll be keeping in my pocketbook as a backup). I've been a little "spoiled" and don't want to use anything but the sponge when I have my period, because if I can feel nothing when I have my period, I don't want to feel something!

And as for cost...

Well, as much as I appreciate the Sea Sponge Company's free review set of their Sea Clouds natural tampons... this is an extreme frugal blog, so I just have to say that I'm not sure they're the best option out there in terms of frugality. When mine eventually fall apart, I plan on buying larger sea sponges from ebay and cutting them to size... I think that probably will work out cheapest, but of course, that won't come with the instructions or carry bags, etc...

What about you? What menstrual products do you use? Have you ever heard of sea sponge tampons or used them? What did you think of them? If you've tried them and menstrual cups, which one do you prefer and why? And if you've used sea sponge tampons while out and about, how did the cleaning it with a water bottle work for you?

9 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review, Penny. It's all very interesting. The only concern I might have with your final suggestion of buying sea sponges online and cutting them to size is this- I would be concerned about using sea sponges that have not been confirmed as safe for internal use, like this one has. There may be miniscule particles in sea sponges that are acceptable for bodily cleansing, but perhaps not acceptable for feminine use inside the body. Just a thought!

    Regardless, I think that it is great you did this review. I feel like we still don't talk about feminine care products very much because of social stigma. I've seen helpful YouTube videos and a few reviews lately which I think is encouraging! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. As far as I know, there's no difference between sponges. Just wash them very well, and then sterilize them as mentioned...

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    2. Actually, I'm glad this was brought up, because it's an important point. Some sponges are not safe for internal use, because they can scratch the vagina. Other types simply aren't ideal because they're not as absorbent or smooth for gliding in and out. Of the variety of sponges that are safe, you as the user need to be VERY cautious to clean them before using for menstruation. Sea Clouds have the coral, sea shells, sea weed, and sand removed before they are sterilized and shaped for tampon use. If you buy sponges from any other source, you need to make sure coral and shells are not hidden inside of them, which could cut you.

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  2. Thank you so much for your post .Quite comprehensive, certainly food for thought.I am soon to not be menstruating any more ..I am in my menopausal years..But I found you honesty and frankness very very valuable.I also am not in the USA any more ( in western Sydney AU) .Hydrogen Peroxide is expensive here and only sold in maybe 3 ounce bottles at the chemist..its behind the counter you have to ask for it... and they ask you what your intentions are.I do enjoy your posts so much I learn a lot.. My income is about 20 percent of what it was in the USA so I am foraging, gardening and gleening for sure...Love to you!! Sally in Sydney

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    1. Wow! Why such control over hydrogen peroxide?? Can it be used to make illegal drugs or something? It's hard for me to imagine it being expensive and behind the counter, since I'm in the US where it's $1/quart in every drugstore and supermarket!

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  3. Why can't you use menstrual cups after birth? I first heard about them when pregnant with my 4th child and bought one for use after delivery.
    I had no tearing or stitches so my midwife allowed me to use the cup when the swelling subsided. I started using it one week after delivery. It was amazing! The postpartum bleeding finished at 5 1/2 weeks, as opposed to 8+ weeks I had waited after my other births.
    These sea sponges sound interesting. Do you know if they can be used by a young teenage girl or would it not insert properly because of the hymen?

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  4. Thanks for the detailed review! I have always been freaked out by the idea of putting a dead animal in my vagina--and the additional downside of needing to change sponges vs. emptying and reusing a cup also deters me, since I work outside the home and have to use a public restroom at work.

    I've been using reusable cups since 1997! I had a Keeper before my first pregnancy, then got a Diva Cup in postpartum size. Recently I decided to treat myself to a Sckoon Cup which is new on the market. They're all great products, but the design features of Sckoon Cup make it possibly the best--it'll take me a few more cycles to form a definite opinion, but so far I'm impressed with the comfort, and the holes around the rim are MUCH easier to clean than in my other cups.

    Here's my article with lots of info about reusable cups.

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  5. I have never heard of sponge tampons...how do you get it up there without an applicator? I don't like the ob tampons that don't come without an applicator, much more like putting a dry sock in your mouth...
    I feel that after childbirth my vagina is shorter...odd I know but tampons have the cringe effect of not going in all the way to the point where you can feel them sticking out. I will look into the sponge but possibly I will get a short mooncup.

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  6. I cannot, for the life of me, insert anything down there (well, except... ahem.... I mean, I did have 2 kids!), so for me the only way to go is menstrual pads. I use the commercial ones and I don't need that many (5-8 per month?). I would like to switch to reusable ones.

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