By Nomi Englard Schaffer, Yoetzet Halacha
The status of stains found on feminine hygiene pads (sanitary napkins, panty liners) is complex and depends on many factors (not all of which are discussed here). Therefore, in practice, a woman should check with her rabbi as to his position on the matter. The purpose of this article is to explain the underlying issues.
Before beginning, it must be remembered that if a woman experiences a hargashah (sensation of bleeding), a red discharge renders her niddah. A flow of blood (as opposed to spotting) certainly renders her niddah – even if she sees blood only on pads. If she has neither hargashah, nor a flow, the discharge is categorized as a ketem (stain).
The rabbis decreed that a ketem renders a woman niddah, but only if it meets certain conditions. One condition is that the garment or object on which the stain appears must be susceptible to tumah (ritual impurity).
The mishna states that utensils or garments made from seven materials – cloth, sacking, wood, leather, bone, metal and earthenware – are susceptible to tumah. We will now address specific examples relevant to feminine hygiene. These examples are all subject to debate among contemporary halachic authorities. In practice, a halachic question should always be asked.
1. Cotton that is in its raw form and not yet woven is not susceptible to tumah. Therefore, if a woman uses unwoven strands of cotton to absorb feminine discharge, she might not become niddah. However, there is debate among contemporary poskim as to whether one should be stringent on this point in practice.
2. Most authorities agree that paper is not susceptible to tumah. However, if the paper is made into a k'li (vessel), it may become susceptible to tumah. The Rambam rules that a receptacle made from paper, or some other material not normally suscpetible to tumah, can become tamei (ritually impure) if it is durable. But if the item will last only for a short time, it is not susceptible to tumah. The last point is of particular importance when discussing feminine hygiene pads, since they are by nature disposable.
3. Toilet paper or tissues are a subcategory of paper. Although Rav Moshe Feinstein is stringent regarding a paper k'li, he maintains that thin paper used for hygiene purposes is not susceptible to tumah because it is unlike paper, is not a k'li, and is not durable. There are some who disagree with this point (Hazon Ish).
4. Many feminine hygiene pads are made either entirely or partially from synthetic material. Cloth can become tamei only if it is made from natural plant or animal fibers. However, some definitions of natural fibers would include materials indirectly derived from plants
Even if a feminine hygiene pad is not susceptible to impurity, there might be reason to treat a stain on such a pad as problematic. Because the pad is positioned at the vaginal opening, it seems almost certain that any discharge comes from inside the body. The Chatam Sofer suggested that a stain on clothing worn adjacent to the body, such as underwear, should be treated more stringently than a stain found on outer clothing. However, many poskim (Hazon Ish, R' Ovadiah Yosef) reject this position and maintain that there is no distinction.
According to most poskim, a stain on a colored feminine hygiene pad would not render a woman niddah. Many women find black pantyliners very helpful; however they are not always easy to find. Updated information on the availablility of black pantyliners is posted here .