It is good of you to bring up this Topic as talk about “Periods” is considered taboo and hardly spoken about.
You are right. In some rural areas of India women, use cloth pieces or socks filled with soil, dust and even wood ash to soak their periods. This soil and ash comes in direct contact with the skin and causes infections which can lead to uterine cancer.
Not all women can afford sanitary pads in rural villages and so such dangerous methods are followed.
In India, due to patriarchal families, women are seen as impure when they are on their periods. They almost never talk about their periods to their husbands, who generally think that their wives are dirty during this part of their cycle. In lots of families, they are forbidden from cooking, touching vegetables in brine, even from hugging their children. Going to a temple or religious place is also forbidden.
Use of sanitary material is not something new.
The ancient Egyptians used papyrus, which was a thick paper used for writing. They would soak the papyrus, soften it and then use it.
Moss, that you find on river banks was also used. It was folded into cloth and then placed in the innerwear. No one thought about the bacteria and organisms in the moss!!
The Chinese made period pads by putting sand in a cloth and wrapping it tightly. Once the pad got soaked, they threw away the sand, washed the cloth and reused it. Made in China!!
In Africa and Australia, women used grass as a pad. Imagine pointed and rough grass in your vagina!!
Then there were sanitary belts, which were diapers with elastic belts on which cotton pads were clipped and used. These belts were invented in 1800 and were even used till 1970.
So, please do not follow blindly, what you see in Social channels. If you cannot afford sanitary pads, then it is quite okay to use clean cotton cloth, provided it is washed and boiled in clean water.