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How to use a menstrual cup: a quick guide

Laura Harcourt

Written byLaura Harcourt

Dr Tania Adib

Reviewed byDr Tania Adib

what is a menstrual cup
Menstrual cups, or period cups, are a game-changer in feminine hygiene. Not only are they comfortable, reusable and sustainable, but they also offer another option beyond traditional pads and tampons.1 

Using a menstrual cup may feel daunting at first. Many women start their periods with disposable sanitary towels or tampons, so it’s only natural if you feel unsure about trying something reusable.

However, with a bit of practice, menstrual cups offer a safe, effective and economical way to collect period blood. 

That said, switching to a menstrual cup can come with a bit of a learning curve, and it may take you a couple of cycles to feel completely comfortable – two to five months, it’s been reported.2 But once you do, you can wave goodbye to single-use menstrual products!

In this guide, we share all the information you need to know about using a menstrual cup, discussing what they are and how they work, while also highlighting some of the benefits they can provide.

What is a menstrual cup?

menstrual cup is a reusable alternative to disposable pads and tampons.3 It’s a small cup-shaped device that you can insert into your vagina to collect blood during your period.2

Manufacturers produce menstrual cups from soft medical-grade silicone, which makes them flexible and able to match the shape of your vagina. The walls of your vagina and the vaginal muscles hold the cup in place, forming a seal that prevents leaks when you insert it correctly.4

Menstrual cups are environmentally friendly and economical. The initial cost of purchasing a menstrual cup is higher than pads or tampons. However, they can be washed and reused for up to ten years, so they’re a worthwhile long-term investment!3,5 

A menstrual cup can hold around ten to 38ml of blood.5 It has a small bowl at the top that collects the blood droplets, with a stem on the end to help you place it and remove it.

How often you need to empty it depends on the type of cup you choose and your menstrual flow, but experts suggest emptying it every four to 12 hours.5 To do this, you simply empty the contents down the toilet, wipe with a tissue, and reinsert.

There are two types of menstrual cups – a vaginal cup, which is generally bell-shaped and placed in the vagina, and a cervical cup, which, like a diaphragm for contraception, is placed around the cervix high in the vagina.6

How long do you keep a menstrual cup in for?

How long you keep your menstrual cup in depends on how heavy your flow is. But it’s usually anywhere between six to 12 hours.8 For a heavy day, it may be worth checking after six hours. But on a lighter day (or if your periods are just lighter in general) you should be alright to keep it in for around twelve hours.

If you keep it in for a bit longer than twelve hours, then you may experience leaks. If you’re concerned that you’ve left it in significantly longer, then it may be worth being seen by a doctor to ensure that you don’t have Toxic Shock Syndrome

Benefits of using a menstrual cup 

Women report several reasons for using a menstrual cup over other menstrual products. We’ve listed some of the top benefits below: 
  • safe to use: the medical community considers the menstrual cup a safe product. As long as you insert with clean hands, remove them carefully, and keep them clean6,7,8 
  • comfort: a menstrual cup is typically soft silicone, so you’ll hardly notice it’s there.2 And a menstrual cup collects and doesn’t absorb the blood, so it won’t dry you out
  • convenience: menstrual cups are reusable, so they’re ready to use when you need them. That means no last-minute dash to the shops or needing to stockpile a variety of pads and tampons. Once you insert the menstrual cup, they mould to your body shape, offering you leakproof protection for up to 12 hours2,5 
  • capacity: menstrual cups can collect more blood than pads and tampons, making them a suitable option for women with heavy menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia)6,9,10 
  • eco-friendly: a significant advantage of menstrual cups is their environmental sustainability. Unlike disposable pads and tampons that contribute to vast amounts of waste, menstrual cups can last up to ten years with proper care and cleaning, reducing your carbon footprint3 
  • cost-effective: the upfront cost of a menstrual cup is higher than buying disposable products, but it pays off in the long term. With proper maintenance, a single cup can last many years, saving you the money that you’d have spent on monthly supplies11 
  • less odour and mess: the menstrual cup forms a tight seal to prevent odour and leakage, allowing you to feel fresh and confident throughout the day.12 One study found that some users found menstrual cups ‘messy’, but on the whole, the consensus was that leaks were far less than when using tampons or pads. If you’re worried about spills or mess, this can be averted by wearing disposable gloves or keeping a pair of disposable gloves with you13

Steps for using a menstrual cup

First things first, read the instructions. Each manufacturer has a different product, so their recommendations for inserting, removing, and cleaning the cup may vary.14 

Here’s how to insert your menstrual cup:8
  1. wash your hands: before handling the menstrual cup, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water
  2. wash your menstrual cup: carefully wash the menstrual cup with mild soap and warm water. Make sure you rinse off the soap entirely before use. If it’s the first time you use it, put your menstrual cup in a pan and boil it or use a sterilising solution — the type you’d use with baby equipment. You could also use a dedicated menstrual cup steriliser10
  3. add lube: if you’re worried about inserting the cup, apply some water-based lubricant to the rim of the cup to help it slide in more easily
  4. fold and hold: squash the top of the cup to flatten it, then fold it in half to form a ‘C’ shape 
  5. position yourself: find a comfortable position ready to insert the cup. You can insert it while sitting, standing, squatting, or raising one leg on the toilet 
  6. relax your muscles: take a moment to relax to make it easier to insert the cup. Take some deep breaths or try to tense your vaginal muscles and release them 
  7. insert the cup: keep the menstrual cup rolled up and insert its rim first into your vagina towards your tailbone. It may also help to pull your labia (lips) apart slightly. Release the cup so it unfolds into place, then check it’s unfolded by sliding a clean finger up to the bottom of the cup to ensure it feels round. If the position of the cup doesn’t feel right, remove it and try again 
  8. check the seal: grip the cup’s stem and gently tug it to make sure the cup has a suction seal. You should feel a slight resistance, which means it’s sealed and shouldn’t leak10
When you’re ready to remove your menstrual cup, use the following steps:8
  1. wash your hands: clean your hands with warm soapy water
  2. find a comfortable position: whether you’d rather sit or stand, find a position that allows you to relax your vaginal muscles 
  3. break the seal: gently pull the stem until you can feel the base of the cup. Pinch the cup slightly to break the seal 
  4. remove: pull the cup out by holding onto the pinched base to ensure zero leaks. This is also a more comfortable way of removing the cup than pulling it out using the stem. Keep the cup’s rim slightly folded to avoid spillage on your hands You may want to use disposable gloves for this part 
  5. empty: tip the menstrual blood down the toilet 
  6. clean and reinsert: wash and rinse your cup thoroughly using a gentle, unscented, oil-free soap and reinsert10 
Feeling confident when inserting and removing your menstrual cup can take a few tries. That’s why it’s important to be patient and persevere, but you should get the hang of it in no time.

How to find the best menstrual cup for you 

Before you buy a menstrual cup, there are a few factors to consider.

For example, finding the best menstrual cup for you depends on personal preference, your menstrual flow, and what you feel comfortable with. Don’t feel discouraged if it takes a few attempts to find the most suitable one. 

Material 

Most manufacturers use medical-grade silicone for menstrual cups, while others use medical-grade thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) or natural rubber. They’re all equally safe and effective, but you may prefer one over the others if you have a specific allergy.8

Size — what size menstrual cup should I get? 

Many brands offer at least two sizes of menstrual cups.8 Usually, there's a smaller size option for women under 30 with no history of childbirth and a larger size for women over 30 or those with a history of childbirth. Some brands offer smaller cups for teenagers as well.8 

Cup size varies considerably across brands, so we recommend checking the advice on the brand’s website before selecting your cup.15 This is because determining the correct cup size helps ensure it feels comfortable to use and doesn’t leak.7

If you have heavy periods, for example, you may prefer a cup that’s able to hold a larger volume of blood. 

Shape 

Most menstrual cups are bell-shaped with rounded edges that flare at the rim. However, other shapes also exist, including a V-shape, a spherical round-shaped vessel and an asymmetrical shape. They can also vary in both width and length. As such, it’s important to find out which shape is right for you, as it could influence how firm it is and how easy it is to insert.8 

Travel-friendly 

Some brands of menstrual cups offer foldable or collapsible cups. These cups fold flat into a compact protective case that you can easily toss into your purse or backpack for added protection.15

The final say

As a comfortable, sustainable, and cost-effective alternative to pads and tampons, switching to a menstrual cup is an easy choice to make for many women. 

Offering a huge number of benefits, including added convenience, capacity, and leakproof protection, they can empower you to manage your period with confidence. 

Alternatively, why not consider period pants instead? These can offer another great reusable option for you to consider.

Sources

  1. NHS. Periods [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2024 April 17]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/periods
  2. Singh, R., et al. Study of adaptability and efficacy of menstrual cups in managing menstrual health and hygiene: A descriptive longitudinal study. Cureus. 2022;14(9):e29690. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.29690.
  3. Blair, LAG., et al. An exploratory study of the impact and potential of menstrual hygiene management waste in the UK. Cleaner Engineering and Technology. 2022;7:100435. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clet.2022.100435.
  4. Sica, VP., et al. Safety assessment scheme for menstrual cups and application for the evaluation of a menstrual cup comprised of medical grade silicone. eBioMedicine. 2022;86:104339. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ebiom.2022.104339.
  5. Bowman, N., et al. Menstrual cup and risk of IUD expulsion – a systematic review. Contraception and Reproductive Medicine. 2023 Jan 21;8(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40834-022-00203-x.
  6. van Eijk, AM., et al. Menstrual cup use, leakage, acceptability, safety, and availability: A Systematic Review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Public Health. 2019;4(8):e376–93. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6669309/
  7. Arenas-Gallo, C., et al. Acceptability and safety of the menstrual cup: A systematic review of the literature. Rev Colomb Obstet Ginecol. 2020 Jun;71(2):163-177. https://doi.org/10.18597/rcog.3425.
  8. Manley, H., et al. Comparison between menstrual cups: First step to categorization and improved safety. Women’s Health. 2021;17:174550652110585. https://doi.org/10.1177/17455065211058553.
  9. Stewart, K., Greer, R., & Powell, M. Women’s experience of using the Mooncup. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 2010; 30(3), 285–287. https://doi.org/10.3109/01443610903572117
  10. Shanmugham, V., Murugesan, A., & G, V. Usage of menstrual cups among the doctors of reproductive age group in a tertiary care centre in Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu, India- An observational study. Clinical Epidemiology and Global Health. 2024; 25, 101473. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cegh.2023.101473
  11. Babagoli, MA., et al. Cost-effectiveness and cost–benefit analyses of providing menstrual cups and sanitary pads to schoolgirls in rural Kenya. Women’s Health Reports. 2022 Sep 1;3(1):773–84. https://doi.org/10.1089/whr.2021.0131.
  12. Pokhrel, D., et al. Acceptability and feasibility of using vaginal menstrual cups among schoolgirls in rural Nepal: A qualitative pilot study. Reproductive Health. 2021;18(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12978-020-01036-0.
  13. North, BB., et al. Preclinical, Clinical, and Over-the-Counter Postmarketing Experience with a New Vaginal Cup: Menstrual Collection. Journal of Women's Health. 2011; Vol. 20 Issue 2 Pages 303-311 https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2009.1929
  14. NHS Inform. Choosing period products [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2024 April 17]. Available from: https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/womens-health/girls-and-young-women-puberty-to-around-25/periods-and-menstrual-health/choosing-period-products/
  15. Liberty, A., et al. Menstrual technology innovations and the implications for heavy menstrual bleeding. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2023;141(4):666–73. https://doi.org/10.1097/AOG.0000000000005126.

 
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