How Laundromats Combat Period Poverty and Period Stigma
Last updated: October 2022
A couple of weeks after I moved out of home, flush with the excitement of going to college, I faced an unexpected obstacle: blood stains.
I knew how to do my usual laundry, but my grandmother had always taken care of my soiled garments. She was a seamstress with several tried-and-true tricks to lift even the most stubborn stains.
So when I stood in my dormitory's laundry room, I felt alone. I scrubbed the red marks on my cotton shorts, wondering if my favorite pajamas were ruined.
I had a sliver-thin budget, and I worried about how I could afford to buy new pajamas when I had just emptied my savings to pay for my first semester of tuition.
Then, I heard a voice behind me: "Do you need a hand?
The upperclassman woman smiled at me and held out a small jar. The older student explained that her mother had taught her to make a paste to remove period stains.
A couple of weeks later, I visited that upperclassman's dorm room so she could teach me the recipe for the DIY stain remover.
In that laundry room, I found sisterhood and solidarity.
Laundromats and period poverty
Laundromats are important community hubs, especially for working-class women.
According to studies from the Coin Laundry Association, 60% of people who use laundromats are women. The median household income for those laundromat customers is $28,000.
Many of these working-class women who use laundromats also face some of the most severe impacts of period poverty. Period poverty refers to the financial inequality menstruating people experience when they can't afford adequate access to the services and products they need during their menstrual cycle.
Of the women whose income falls below the poverty wage, 20% report struggling to afford to buy pads or tampons every month. 67% of those impoverished women say that at least once a year, they have the money to buy the menstrual hygiene products they need.2
In 2013, the Free the Tampon Foundation surveyed a thousand women about their periods. 86% of these women had started their period unexpectedly in public without a tampon or pad. This study shows how easy it can be for a menstruating person to stain their linens or clothing if their period catches them off-guard.3
Laundry access is an important part of period hygiene. The majority of menstruating people have bled onto their underwear or bed linens.
Additionally, PMS can cause you to sweat more than usual during your period. This sweat and bloody discharge can end up on your clothing.
Wearing damp underwear for extended periods can lead to skin irritation or increase your risk of developing a yeast infection. Clean laundry is necessary for period hygiene since it can help you feel more comfortable and confident.
However, people who struggle with period poverty may not have regular access to tampons, pads, OR laundry facilities. In the United States, programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), food stamps, or WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) provide extra funding to people for their grocery shopping. But most of these programs do not cover the costs of pads, tampons, laundry detergent, or other laundry services.
Laundromats are a reliable option for people who would not otherwise have access to their laundry machines at home. Programs like the LaundryCares Foundation partner with laundromats across the United States to provide charitable services like free or reduced-price laundry tokens to community members in need.
For women living in period poverty, laundromats are a vital resource for clean clothing and healthy hygiene.
How do laundromats fight period stigma?
Communal laundry rooms and laundromats can be vulnerable places. Inevitably, if you regularly use a laundromat, you will likely see someone else's underwear. That underwear may even have blood stains.
Why are so many people anxious about the idea of someone seeing their panties? A common nightmare involves someone suddenly finding themselves in their underwear, standing in front of an audience.
Many people hide our underwear just like we hide the fact that we're on our period. These undergarments are close to our skin, and they are intimate.
It can be difficult to hide our bodies or insecurities when we are stripped of our undergarments.
A laundromat can normalize taboo topics like period stains. We often see neighbors folding their panties in a laundromat or laundry room.
We share a table with a neighbor folding their well-worn boxer shorts. In these laundry spaces, we see the everyday reality of stretched-out elastic waistbands, socks with holes, and blood-spotted sheets.
A decade after that upperclassman student helped me wash out the stains in my panties, and I was attending graduate school in a different state. My apartment was close to the nearby university, and many undergraduate students lived in the complex.
In my apartment's laundry room, I moved my damp clothes from the washer to an empty dryer. Something caught my eye. A young woman was hunched over the sink.
She was wearing a university t-shirt that read "Class of 2025," which meant she was a freshman. After she scrubbed at some fabric for several minutes, she groaned in frustration.
From where I stood at my dryer, I recognized the item in her hands: wet underwear with red blotches.
In a laundromat, we share the same washing machines. We share the same tables to fold our intimate garments. We share a sense of humanity.
Once, a woman shared more than her detergent in a laundry room with me. She shared some reassurance that my period is normal and I shouldn't be ashamed of my laundry or my body.
This time, I offered the young woman my jar of stain remover and asked her, "Do you need a hand?"
DIY stain remover
- Two tablespoons of baking soda
- Seven or eight tablespoons of dish soap
- Fifteen tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide
Add all ingredients to a glass jar. Combine the ingredients and stir to incorporate.
When doing laundry, dab a generous amount of the stain remover onto the stained area of your clothing or linens. Let the stain remover sit for at least fifteen minutes, then add the garment to the laundry machine. Wash and dry the garment as usual.
Do not shake the mixture vigorously (since the baking soda or peroxide might bubble up). Store the stain remover in a cool, dark location in your home, like inside a cabinet or a shelf in your closet.
Avoid using the stain remover on sensitive or dark fabrics that might be bleached by hydrogen peroxide. You might want to test a bit of the stain remover on a swatch of the fabric before adding it to your usual laundry routine.
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