How to Wear and Care for Cloth Pads
Wearing a cloth pad is almost the same as wearing disposable pads. The only difference is that a disposable pad has a sticky strip that you use to stick the pad to the fabric of your underpants, and sticks the wings together to keep them closed. With a cloth pad, the wings fasten together with a snap/button/velcro or other closure, and the fact your underpants are snug fitting and the backing of the pad being fabric, helps keep the pad in place.
Which way up?
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell which way up a pad should go, particularly when there is no standard fabric use. Cotton prints, fleece and even velour can be used as a top layer by some and as a backing by others. If there is stitching on top forming "channel lines", then this sewn surface is the top and goes against your skin. Some pad makers place a clothing tag for their business on their pads, which will usually be done on the back/underside which goes against your underpants. Unless the pad has waterproofing, it probably doesn't matter which way up you wear it, but if you are not sure, contact the pad maker and ask them which way up the pad should be worn.
Flared and longer ends
Some pads are wider and/or longer on one end. Generally pads are made so that extra length or width is at the back end to cover more of the buttocks, however some women like to wear the pads with the wider section at the front. Whichever way works best for you is the best way to wear them.
When to change pads
How long you can go before changing pads will depend on your flow and preference. Some women like to change their pads frequently to remain dry, other women are happy to leave the pads on longer. This of course will depend on how much you flow, and also the fabric the pad is made from can make it feel wet quickly or feel dry for longer. Many women change their pads when they go to the toilet, as this is not only most convenient, but pads can feel very cold and wet after the brief moment they have been away from the skin! Changing every 2-4 hours is about average for a moderate flow and a medium absorbency pad. You would change as often as you would do with a disposable pad. Pads without waterproofing should be checked for leaking through every so often until you are familiar with your flow and how well the pad performs. Simply look at the under side to check that the blood is not seeping through. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell when a pad needs to be changed, particularly if they are dark fabric, or synthetic topped which can feel dry even when the pad is quite full. One way to tell when the pad needs changing is to feel how heavy it is. Pads become heavier as they become more "full", so comparing how the pad feels in the centre, front or back (wherever you bleed most and least) can give an indication of how full the pad is. If in doubt - change! Because you're not paying for pads you use once and throw away, you can afford to treat yourself to a fresh pad more often ;)
Cloth Pads & Underpants
Different shaped underpants may have an effect on the way the pads snap around at the crotch. Sometimes wider gussetted underpants will gather ("bunch") in at the crotch when a pad is snapped around them. This generally does not affect the performance of the pad, and the underpants will flare back out to their normal shape at the ends of the pad. Often the gusset of the underpants curves/bunches/gathers slightly while being worn anyway, but you can't see it. Some pads have 2 snap settings to allow you to adjust the width to suit your needs. If a winged pad slides around in your underpants, it is usually due to the underpants being too loose, or the wings may be snapped too loosely for the crotch width of your underpants. Snug fitting cotton underpants are recommended for use with cloth pads (synthetic underpants can be too "slippery" for cloth pad use).
When you change pads, there are different methods to deal with washing the pad. Lifestyle as well as your blood's tendancy to stain can determine which method you find suits you best.
Cloth pads can generally be handwashed or machine washed, on hot, cold or warm setting. You should refer to the manufacturer's instructions on washing the pads however. Hot wash only if you have thoroughly rinsed the pads first, as hot water can set stains. Tumble drying pads is not recommended, as synthetic fibres (eg fleece or PUL) and snaps may be effected (also be careful of the snaps as they can become hot to touch). If you need to iron the pad (cotton can become wrinkled), do so on a low heat and iron only the cotton side (do not iron PUL or synthetic fabric), being careful not to touch the snaps with the iron.
You should not use fabric softeners or dryer sheets on cloth pads, as this can cause them to repel liquid (the last thing you want with a cloth pad!). A little baking soda rubbed onto fresh blood before washing can help remove stains, as can allowing them to hang to dry in the sunlight. If you have left the pads soaking too long and they have developed an odour, you can try re-washing them with a little disinfectant or essential oil, then allow them to hang to dry in the sunlight.