Pantyliners (panty liners) are about the thickness of a folded facial tissue. The packaging will typically list "light days" as their intended purpose. This is usually the first day of your period. If your period is due tomorrow, you will want to wear a panty liner tonight to be safe, for example. But they are also intended for no-flow days. This is where your knowledge of your ovulation cycle becomes relevant. You can learn about your ovulation cycle here. Immediately after your period, your vagina continues to cleanse itself. If you don't douche, you will need a pantyliner to save the crotch of your underwear and to prevent odor. Also, during certain times of your ovulation cycle, you will have discharge that is similar to an egg white. This will cause moisture in your panties which can lead to odor. A panty liner will absorb that. If you wear tampons instead of pads, use a pantyliner as a back up for leaks. My preferred brand if odor is your concern is Carefree scented. If preserving your lingerie is your priority and odor isn't an issue, my preferred brand is Target Up and Up because of the price. If they are sold out, I buy Kotex.
Regular flow pads are intended for flow that is too heavy for a pantyliner but not heavy enough to flood a regular pad. These are typically days 1to 3 and 5 to 7. If you have a 3 or 4 day period, this is the first and last day.
Heavy or Super
These are typically longer and thicker than regular pads. They almost always come with "wings". They are most often needed in the middle of your period, when you may find blood clots. On your heavy flow days, you will need to change your pads more frequently that with regular pads. If you wear a regular pad to work. You can go 4-6 hours before changing it. But when wearing a heavy or super, you will need to wait no longer than 4 hours. You may not "fill" the pad but in and instant it can overflow or release odor.
This one is pretty much self explanatory. These pads are thicker, wider and longer. They almost always come with "wings". They are meant to protect you from spills as you toss and turn at night. Many women wait until they have a heavy flow to use these, but they can be used at any time during your period. The point is to prevent leaks at night.
The point of the wings is to provide leak protection on the sides of your panties. They are available on all flow pads except panty liners. Leaks can happen do to overflow or due to activity. If you remove your regular pad and find that the wings are saturated, you need to choose the heavy / super pad. If you are already using the heavy / super, then you need to change your pad more frequently. If you have already done both then the issue may be the size of your pad. Consider switching to a pad for plus sized women.
Plus Sized and Tween
Larger women have more to cover. So they need a wider pad. Think about it. When you were a tween using your first pad, you had to use your mothers. It probably felt like a pillow, even if it was an ultra-thin. That is because the pad was too big. There are now pads for tweens. The same is true for plus sized women. Can you imagine running out of pad and having to use a tween's pad? The plus sized pads are longer and wider with the same varying levels of absorbancy. I discovered these after my first pregnancy.
I have never liked the ultra thin pads. They are intended for the woman who would like to be able to forget they are wearing a pad. It's thinner and flatter. However, leaks and overflows are more common with these. Ultra thin pads should be changed every 2 to 3 hours and by women with lighter flows even on their heavy days. Ultra thins focus more on comfort and less on odor absorption and dryness.
Netting vs Cotton
Always pads are know for their netting. The claim is that they keep you dryer. The blood goes into the pad, hardens and can therefore not keep you wet. Unfortunately, once the hardening core has been activated, it cannot take on more moisture. It is easier to flood an Always pad than a pad without netting. There is also the issue of sweat. My readers have reported that the plastic material that makes up the netting, causes sweating which causes vaginal pimples and ingrown hairs. The cotton based pads or cotton netting continue to absorb both blood and sweat.
Cloth vs Disposable
Cloth pads are shaped the same as all of the pads above. The advantages include customization of size and style if you make your own, saving money by washing and reusing, organic options, preserving the environment, and snaps and or velcro for the most security. The disadvantages are similar to those of a cloth diaper. If you are in public, where are you going to put the pad until you get home? What happens if you run out before you can do your laundry? Disposables are certainly more convenient and bad for the environment. There are organic and rapid biodegradable options as well. I am on the fence about which is better. For now, the thought of carrying a soiled pad in my purse until I get home is enough for me stick with a disposable.
There are more brands than I am aware. When it comes to price, I choose Target Up and Up. If they are sold out, I go to Kotex for price and quality. I never use Always. I haven't used them since I was a teenager. They are the most expensive and are no better than the Kotex which are 50% cheaper. Stayfree was my go to brand when I first became "plus sized". But this specific type of Stayfree is not as widely available and is more expensive when I do find it. I have had to make due with Kotex.