If you’ve heard about menstrual cups, you might be interested in trying one instead of tampons or pads – but you’re probably wondering how to insert a menstrual cup, how to remove it, how to keep it clean and whether menstrual cups are safe for everyone to use. We’ve got the answers you need.
What is a menstrual cup?
A menstrual cup is made of silicone or rubber and comes in different sizes. It's flexible and funnel-shaped, with a stem at the bottom. When inserted into your vagina, the cup catches and collects menstrual blood.
Menstrual cups can be reusable or disposable. Reusable ones are more economical and more environmentally friendly – which is one of the main reasons they’ve become popular in recent years.
How to insert a menstrual cup
If you’ve never used a menstrual cup before, you might need to practise using one to get completely comfortable with it. You’ll need to follow the directions on the package, but these are the steps you’ll generally follow:
- Wash your hands with soap and water.
- Fold the cup in half, squeezing the edges together. There are a number of ways to fold your cup – one way is into a ‘C’ shape.
- With the stem pointed down, gently insert the folded cup into your vagina.
- The stem should be no more than 1.3 cm (half an inch) into your vagina.
Once inserted, the cup should ‘snap’ into place and form a seal. Depending on the brand, you may also need to rotate the cup for an ideal fit. If you’ve inserted it correctly, you shouldn’t be able to feel the cup.
You’ll need to remove the menstrual cup from your vagina and empty it every 4 to 12 hours, depending on how heavy your period is.
How to remove a menstrual cup
You’ll probably remove it more often to begin with – and on heavier days of your period – until you get a feel for how long you can leave the cup inside your vagina before you need to empty it.
Don’t go for more than 12 hours without removing and cleaning the cup.
To remove the cup, follow these steps (or the package instructions):
- Wash your hands with soap and water.
- Pull the stem until you reach the base of the cup.
- Pinch the cup to release the seal.
- Pull the cup out of your vagina.
- Pour any collected blood into a toilet.
- Wash the cup with soap (mild, unscented and water-based) and warm water.
- Carefully insert the cup back into your vagina or put it away until your next period.
How to clean a menstrual cup
It’s important to keep reusable menstrual cups clean. Between uses during your period, wash the cup with soap and warm water.
Don’t share your menstrual cup with anyone.
When you remove the cup at the end of your period, take extra care to clean it well and store it in a cotton or breathable fabric bag – don’t store it in an airtight container.
How do I know what size menstrual cup to use?
Most menstrual cups come in size ‘small’ or ‘large’. You might need to experiment at first with sizes to find the one that fits you best. Consider your age and history of childbirth, rather than your usual menstrual flow, when it comes to choosing the size of the menstrual cup you use – it’s important for the cup to be wide enough to stay in place.
Are menstrual cups safe to use?
Infections from using a menstrual cup are rare, but they can happen. Using a menstrual cup may carry a very small risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS). This rare but serious condition can happen if bacteria get into your body and release toxins. However, this risk is very low and can be reduced further by practising good hygiene when using your cup.
There’s also a small chance you may be allergic to the material the cup is made from, or that it causes vaginal irritation.
Seek emergency medical attention if you have:
- a high fever
- a rash that may resemble sunburn
Speak to your doctor if you have:
- any unusual pain or soreness in your vagina
- unusual vaginal discharge
- a burning sensation while peeing or having sex
- a reusable menstrual cup is an affordable, eco-friendly alternative to pads or tampons
- it can take a bit of practice to get comfortable using a menstrual cup
- it’s important to clean a menstrual cup properly
- if you feel pain in your vagina or have unusual discharge after having used a menstrual cup, talk to your doctor