Everything You Need to Know About Using Menstrual Cups

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on November 14, 2017Written by Annamarya Scaccia on November 14, 2017

What is a menstrual cup?

A menstrual cup is a type of reusable feminine hygiene product. It’s a small, flexible funnel-shaped cup made of rubber or silicone that you insert into your vagina to catch and collect period fluid.

Cups can hold more blood than other methods, leading many women to use them as an eco-friendly alternative to tampons. And depending on your flow, you can wear a cup for up to 12 hours.

Available brands of reusable cups include the Keeper Cup, Moon Cup, Lunette Menstrual Cup, DivaCup, Lena Cup, and Lily Cup. There are also a few disposable menstrual cups on the market, such as the Instead Softcup.

Keep reading to learn more about how to insert and remove a menstrual cup, how to clean it, and more.

How to use a menstrual cup

If you’re interested in using a menstrual cup, talk with your gynecologist. Although you can buy any of the brands online or in most stores, you’ll first have to find out what size you need. Most menstrual cup brands sell small and large versions.

To figure out the right menstrual cup size for you, you and your doctor should consider:

  • your age
  • length of your cervix
  • whether or not you have a heavy flow
  • firmness and flexibility of the cup
  • cup capacity
  • strength of your pelvic floor muscles
  • if you’ve given birth vaginally

Smaller menstrual cups are usually recommended for women younger than 30 years old who haven’t delivered vaginally. Larger sizes are often recommended for women who are over 30 years old, have given birth vaginally, or have a heavier period.

Before you put in your menstrual cup

When you use a menstrual cup for the first time, it may feel uncomfortable. But “greasing” your cup can help make the process smooth. Before you put in your cup, lubricate the rim with water or a water-based lube (lubricant). A wet menstrual cup is much easier to insert.

How to put in your menstrual cup

If you can put in a tampon, you should find it relatively easy to insert a menstrual cup. Just follow these steps to use a cup:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly.
  2. Apply water or a water-based lube to the rim of the cup.
  3. Tightly fold the menstrual cup in half, holding it in one hand with the rim facing up.
  4. Insert the cup, rim up, into your vagina like you would a tampon without an applicator. It should sit a few inches below your cervix.
  5. Once the cup is in your vagina, rotate it. It will spring open to create an airtight seal that stops leaks.

You shouldn’t feel your menstrual cup if you’ve inserted the cup correctly. You should also be able to move, jump, sit, stand, and do other everyday activities without your cup falling out. If you’re having trouble putting in your cup, speak with your doctor.

When to take your menstrual cup out

You can wear a menstrual cup for 6 to 12 hours, depending on whether or not you have a heavy flow. This means you can use a cup for overnight protection.

You should always remove your menstrual cup by the 12-hour mark. If it becomes full before then, you’ll have to empty it ahead of schedule to avoid leaks.

How to take your menstrual cup out

To take out a menstrual cup, just follow these steps:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly.
  2. Place your index finger and thumb into your vagina. Pull the stem of the cup gently until you can reach the base.
  3. Pinch the base to release the seal and pull down to remove the cup.
  4. Once it’s out, empty the cup into the sink or toilet.

Cup aftercare

Reusable menstrual cups should be washed and wiped clean before being reinserted into your vagina. Your cup should be emptied at least twice a day.

Reusable menstrual cups are durable and can last for 6 months to 10 years with proper care. Throw away disposable cups after removal.

What are the advantages of using menstrual cups?

A menstrual cup

  • is affordable
  • is safer than tampons
  • holds more blood than pads or tampons
  • is better for the environment than pads or tampons
  • can’t be felt during sex
  • can be worn with an IUD

Many women choose to use menstrual cups because:

  • It’s budget friendly. You pay a one-time price for a reusable menstrual cup — unlike tampons or pads, which have to be continually bought and can cost upward of $100 a year.
  • Menstrual cups are safer. Because menstrual cups collect, rather than absorb, blood, you’re not at risk of getting toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a rare bacterial infection associated with tampon use.
  • Menstrual cups hold more blood. A menstrual cup could hold about one to two ounces of menstrual flow. Tampons, on the other hand, can only hold up to a third of an ounce.
  • It’s eco-friendly. Reusable menstrual cups can last a long time, which means you’re not contributing more waste to the environment.
  • You can have sex. Most reusable cups need to be taken out before you have sex, but the soft disposable ones can stay in while you get intimate. Not only will your partner not feel the cup, you also won’t have to worry about leaks.
  • You can wear a cup with an IUD. Some companies claim a menstrual cup could dislodge an IUD, but a 2012 study debunked that belief. If you’re concerned, though, check with your doctor about using a menstrual cup.

What are the disadvantages of using menstrual cups?

A menstrual cup

  • can be messy
  • may be hard to insert or remove
  • may be tough to find the right fit
  • may cause an allergic reaction
  • may cause vaginal irritation

Menstrual cups may be an affordable and environmentally friendly option, but you still need to keep a few things in mind:

  • Cup removal can be messy. You may find yourself in a place or position that makes it difficult or awkward to remove your cup. That means you may not be able to avoid spills during the process.
  • They can be tough to insert or remove. You may find that you’re not getting the right fold when you put in your menstrual cup. Or you may have a hard time pinching the base to pull the cup down and out.
  • It can be hard to find the right fit. Menstrual cups aren’t one size fits all, so you may find it difficult to find the right fit. That means you may have to try out a few brands before finding the perfect one for you and your vagina.
  • You may be allergic to the material. Most menstrual cups are made from latex-free materials, making it a great option for people with latex allergies. But for some people, there’s a chance the silicone or rubber material can cause an allergic reaction.
  • It may cause vaginal irritation. A menstrual cup may irritate your vagina if the cup isn’t cleaned and cared for properly. It may also cause discomfort if you insert the cup without any lubrication.
  • There can be an increased chance for infection. Wash the menstrual cup very well. Rinse and let it dry. Don’t reuse a disposable menstrual cup. Wash your hands after.

How much does it cost?

Menstrual cups are more cost-effective than tampons and pads. You can pay, on average, $20 to $40 for a cup and not have to purchase another one for at least six months. Tampons and pads can cost an average of $50 to $150 a year, depending on how often, long, and heavy your period.

Like tampons and pads, menstrual cups aren’t covered by insurance plans or Medicaid, so using a cup would be an out-of-pocket expense.

How to choose the right feminine hygiene product for you

For many women, using a menstrual cup is a no-brainer. Before you make the switch, make sure you know what you need in a feminine hygiene product:

  • Will a cup cost you less?
  • Is it easier to use?
  • Do you want to have sex during your period?

If you answered yes to these questions, then the menstrual cup is right for you. But if you’re still unsure, talk with your gynecologist about your options and what menstrual product may work best for you.

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