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Code Red: How to Deal with Period Leaks and Spotting

Tips for avoiding period leaks, managing spotting, and removing blood-based stains.

Surfing the crimson tide. Aunt Flo’s visit. Code Red. Whatever you call it, periods have a way of showing up unexpectedly. If you have a uterus, you probably have a story or two about a surprise attack from your period or an embarrassing leak. Whether you’re spotting from a new birth control method or just prone to heavy or irregular periods, these surprises can be frustrating—especially if they happen often.

When it comes to birth control and periods, it’s sort of a mixed bag. Some methods can help you regulate and lighten your period (or even skip periods altogether), while others can cause spotting or heavier periods.

Spotting, or bleeding between periods, can be pretty common when you first start using progestin-only methods like the shot, the implant, the progestin-only pill, or a hormonal IUD (all of these methods are available for free or at a low-cost at your nearest The Right Time health center — click here to find the one nearest you). The ParaGard IUD can make periods heavier or cramps more severe for some people. In general, negative changes to your period caused by a new birth control method—like spotting or heavier periods—will go away with time (usually in about three to six months).

Here are some tips and tricks to make sure you’re even more prepared for the unexpected when it comes to all things period related.

Step 1: Managing the Code Red

When it comes to dealing with your period, you can always opt for one of the typical “feminine hygiene products”—tampons or pads. Some folks prefer more eco-friendly and sustainable period supplies like reusable cloth pads or menstrual cups. Here are a few other options to help contain (and conceal) your period or spotting.

  • Wear black underwear. Ruining your favorite pair of white underwear is annoying and can get expensive. So if you’re worried about spotting but know it won’t be too heavy, go for black panties since they won’t stain (and maybe dark pants, to be safe). Keep in mind that this strategy won’t help much with heavy leaks, so it’s a good idea to have backup tampons or pads—just in case.

  • Try special period panties. New underwear for periods, like those made by Thinx, are specially designed to keep you clean, dry, and leak-proof during your Shark Week. There are different styles you can buy based on your flow, and the styles designed for lighter flows are perfect for spotting. Thinx underwear comes in black or beige in several different styles, ranging from hiphuggers to thongs. If you have a super heavy flow and worry about leaks, you can double up with period panties and a tampon or pad.

  • Go for panty liners. If you’re dealing with spotting or just a light day, panty liners can be your best friend. They’re so thin, you’ll barely feel them—so you can save your underwear without putting a tampon in or dealing with the diaper feeling of a full pad.

Step 2: Containing your flow in bed

Whether you’re getting it on or just trying to sleep, menstruating in bed can be a messy event. To help save your mattress and bedding (or your partner’s) from stains, try these tricks.

  • Put a towel down. Have an old towel that you don’t mind staining? Sleep on it when you’re worried about leaks—or if you’re getting it on—during your period. It’ll protect your mattress and bottom sheets and you can easily rinse/wash it in the morning.

  • Get protective sheets. Waterproof sheets or a protective pad can go discretely under your sheets to help save your mattress from hard-to-remove blood stains.

  • If you’re just sleeping. You can go to bed wearing a pad or tampon (as long as you change it every 8 hours) or use any of the other period supplies listed above.

  • Coming soon… A new product for mess-free period sex, called Flex, is about to hit the market. They’re currently taking pre-orders and will start shipping in September. The flexible disc can be inserted into your vagina to block the blood and prevent the mess. (Rumor has it that some women already use diaphragms for this, but Flex will be explicitly sold for that purpose.)

Step 3: Removing the stains

The best trick to getting a blood-based stain out: wash the item immediately in cold water. Here are some additional steps you can take to save your panties, sheets, or any other cloth items that fall victim to your period.

  1. As soon as possible, run a steady stream of cold water over the area. Seriously, cold water can work wonders on a fresh stain. (Avoid hot water, as that will set the stain.)

  2. Try using laundry detergent, dishwashing soap, or even hand soap while hand washing the item in cold water to tackle stubborn stains.

  3. If that doesn’t work, it may be time for oxygenated bleach or an enzymatic cleaner. Some people are nervous about using bleach, so here are some helpful tips. (Hint: make sure to use color-safe bleach on any non-white items.)

  4. If you’re still having trouble, here are a few other ideas for getting period stains out (including unseasoned meat tenderizer, saline solution, and baking soda).

Hopefully, these tips help save you from future period fiascoes or at least rescue some stained underwear. Have more tips for period leaks and spotting, or a secret trick for removing stains? Feel free to share in the comment section below!

Updated June 2019

Jill Eversole has a Master’s in Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley, where she focused on sexuality education and pregnancy prevention. Jill previously worked as a health educator and has completed extensive training on relationships, sexuality, and sexual health.

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