So you’ve decided to use a menstrual cup for your period. Great choice!
Before you get started, there are a few things to keep in mind.
At the top of mind: Since menstrual cups are reusable, you’ll want to prep yourself on the best techniques to clean and store your cup.
Do use a gentle, unscented, oil-free soap to maintain your menstrual cup.
You can find cleaning solutions dedicated to menstrual cups, but if you don’t have one, don’t worry. You can use any mild, unscented oil-free soap.
On the other hand, there are a few things you should stay away from.
Many of the more common cleaning products can cause serious irritation if used on your cup.
Avoid the following:
- antibacterial soap
- oil-based soap
- scented soap
- baking soda
- dishwashing liquid
- hydrogen peroxide
- rubbing alcohol
Congrats on buying a menstrual cup! You’ll want to prepare the cup before your first use.
Start by washing both of your hands and the cup with a mild, unscented cleanser.
Next up: Boil a pot of water, and let the cup sit in the boiling water for no more than 10 minutes.
Be careful to monitor the cup so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.
Once you’ve successfully prepared your menstrual cup, you’ll also want to keep it clean every day after using it.
Cleaning the cup removes bacteria and buildup, and prevents stains and odor.
No matter where you are, you’ll want to always wash your hands before and after insertion of the cup.
Remove the cup and empty the blood into the toilet.
Then, rinse it out with clean water, and use a mild, oil-free, fragrance-free soap to give it a quick clean.
Once it’s clean, you can reinsert the cup.
In a public bathroom
If you’re out and about while on your period, it might be harder to rinse your cup.
If you’re unable to rinse the cup and use a safe cleanser, remove and empty the cup like normal.
Then, instead of rinsing, use a piece of toilet paper to wipe the cup clean, making sure to remove any small pieces of tissue.
Reinsert the cup, and go about your day.
Remember to give it a proper rinse and clean once you get home.
During travel or in nature
On some occasions, you might not be somewhere where the water supply is safe to use.
In this case, bring bottled water with you to rinse off the menstrual cup.
You’ll also want to pack a travel-sized version of your favorite oil-free, unscented soap.
If you’re hiking or camping, pour the blood into a cathole (a small hole in the ground) like you would with any other organic waste.
Then, use water from a water bottle to rinse off the cup, and wipe it with a clean tissue before reinserting it.
Don’t forget to pack your storage pouch, too, to ensure the cup remains sanitary when not in use.
To sanitize the cup after your period is over, rinse it thoroughly, then boil it for a few minutes.
After the cup is boiled, set it aside to completely cool down and dry off.
Some brands sell sanitizing cups that can be filled with water, placed in the microwave with the menstrual cup inside, and boiled for 3 to 4 minutes.
Both processes remove all the bacteria to prevent bacterial growth before the next use.
Most cups will come with a bag or pouch to store it in when you’re not using the cup.
If yours didn’t come with one, you can use any breathable pouch. You want to make sure you protect the cup from dirt and germs, but that there’s still plenty of air circulation.
Store the pouch in a cold, dry location (such as a vanity drawer) where the cup can properly dry out before your next use.
Daily cleaning of the cup only removes some of the surface bacteria, odor, and buildup.
However, sterilizing completely removes bacteria and preps the cup to be stored for the next time it’s used again.
Caring for your menstrual cup might not always be so black and white. Here are a few situations that may arise.
The cup has a foul odor
Some vaginal smells are completely natural. But if you notice your cup is starting to pick up a sour smell, there are a few things you can do.
First, take note of how long you’re wearing your cup. If you wear it for too long, this can increase the chance of an odor developing.
It’s best to change it every 4 to 8 hours, if possible. Never wear it for more than 12 hours.
When you clean the cup after every use, rinse it with a shot of cold water first. Hot water can lock in smells. Then, take an unused toothbrush to scrub the cup thoroughly.
Finally, make sure you’re sanitizing your cup after each period. This will help prevent odors from setting in for the long haul.
The cup has discoloration or stains
Slight discoloration will likely happen over time.
Some discoloration is preventable with a thorough sanitization before and after every period, and continual thorough cleaning.
Similarly to how you can prevent odors, you can also use a clean toothbrush to scrub away stains when you’re doing your daily cleaning.
If you notice extreme discoloration, it’s time for a new cup. Simply recycle or dispose of your old cup and replace it with a new one.
The cup has white residue on it
If you notice a white film after boiling your cup, don’t fret. This is completely normal.
The white residue comes from hard water in certain regions. Simply rinse off the residue before inserting the cup.
The cup fell into the toilet
Whatever you do, don’t reinsert it right away.
If it fell into clean toilet water at your home bathroom, chances are that you’ll be fine after sterilizing the cup in some boiling water.
But if you dropped the cup in a public restroom, or if there’s pee or feces in the toilet, you might want to replace the cup entirely.
An at-home sterilization might not be enough to remove the bacteria from these situations.
If you don’t clean your cup properly, bacteria, odors, stains, and erosion can occur.
This could lead to irritation, or, in more rare cases, infection.
This also means that your cup will likely need to be replaced more often.
That’s why it’s recommended to keep up with your daily cleaning and monthly sterilization.
If you develop any type of infection during use, stop using the cup immediately and talk to a doctor or other healthcare professional.
They’ll be able to determine the best steps moving forward.
Signs of infection include:
- unusual vaginal discharge
- vaginal pain or soreness
- burning during urination or intercourse
- foul odor from the vagina
Yeast and bacterial infections are treatable. Just remember to replace the cup before your next period.
If you’re able to maintain daily cleaning during your period, as well as monthly sterilization, your cup will stay in pristine condition.
Jen Anderson is a wellness contributor at Healthline. She writes and edits for various lifestyle and beauty publications, with bylines at Refinery29, Byrdie, MyDomaine, and bareMinerals. When not typing away, you can find Jen practicing yoga, diffusing essential oils, watching Food Network or guzzling a cup of coffee. You can follow her NYC adventures on Twitter and Instagram.