Menstrual Cups: How to Use and Choose Your Period Cup
The best menstrual cup is made from high-quality silicone and has a design so comfortable that you don't even feel it. But the average menstruator has a lot of questions before they successfully transition to using sustainable period protection. For starters, which brands are best -- and why? Once you've chosen a brand, what size is best for you? And when you've finally decided to try out your menstrual cup, how do you even get started -- or take it out when it's full?
Menstrual cup beginners are faced with so many questions. We're here to answer all of them. The following comprehensive menstrual cup guide will set you down the path to sustainable, comfortable and affordable period care. For starters, what is a menstrual cup? Whether you're looking for insight into choosing a cup or want to know how to clean yours, here's what you should know in 2020.
Keep in mind that we are menstrual advocates, meaning that we believe in the power of the period cup to transform your cycle and save our planet from pad and tampon waste. In other words, we are not doctors: The following information is meant for educational purposes. This is not medical advice. If you have any questions regarding your health or period flow, please contact your gynecologist.
- What Is a Menstrual Cup?
- Why Use One
- Who Can Use a Menstrual Cup
- How to Choose Your Size
- How to Measure Your Cervix
- Cleaning and Storage
- Choosing a Brand: What to Look For
- The Best Menstrual Cup of 2020
What Is a Menstrual Cup?
Welcome to the rest of your life. A menstrual cup, sometimes known as a period cup, is a small cup, usually made out of silicone, that a menstruator inserts to collect period flow. But unlike tampons, which are typically made from cotton and chemicals, it does not absorb —but instead collects — your period. This makes it a more healthy, comfortable and sustainable choice, but we'll get into that later.
Making the switch to using sustainable period protection may seem tough from a distance, but the menstruators who make the switch never go back. In fact, over 90% of women who used a menstrual cup for over three cycles recommend it over any other type of period protection. What better recommendation is there?
Why Haven't I Heard of These Before?
Great question. Period cups were actually invented in the 1930s but were re-popularized in the 21st century. Why? Hard to say, but keep in mind that these are sustainable, rather than disposable products. Let's just say that it isn't in big business's interest to have you buy one product for repeated use as opposed to buying tampons every month (and fill up the world's landfills. Yuck).
Why Choose a Period Cup?
What's the big deal, anyway? Turns out, these simple products are truly transformative. There are dozens of reasons to choose one over pads and tampons. According to our staff and friends, here are a few great reasons to make the switch.
The Best Menstrual Cup Is Healthier.
There are a few big reasons why menstrual cups may healthier than pads and tampons. Let's go over tampons first:
- Tampons may contain bleach, which gives them that clean white color. They also may contain other chemicals used to make them more absorbent. Keep in mind that tampons are made from cotton, one of the planet's most pesticide-intensive crops. They may contain traces of those pesticides.
- They may chafe against the vaginal walls. This may cause discomfort and potentially thin the vaginal walls.
- Tampons may affect vaginal pH due to their absorbency. Affecting vaginal pH may make someone more susceptible to yeast infections and potentially event sexually transmitted infections and other types of bacteria. Not good.
- Tampons may lead to Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), a condition most common among women who use tampons.
Pads are not immune from problems either. Pads also may contain bleach to give them their unnatural white color. They may also cause rashes because they are holding waste against the body, as opposed to collecting it like a period cup.
By contrast, the best menstrual cup does not chafe because it's made of soft silicone and is not designed to absorb like a tampon. Though the concept of collecting vs absorbing makes their design seemingly more healthful than tampons, we do NOT recommend you find the cheapest product you can on Amazon made from mysterious ingredients.
Find an FDA-registered, American company for the best quality products. You'll know that they're actually made from medical-grade silicone as opposed to latex (yuck) and that their factory is in line with FDA regulations.
Menstrual Cups Are Way More Sustainable.
The biggest reason some of our team members became interested in silicone menstrual cups is sustainability. The average woman using disposable products like pads and tampons generates 6.5 lb of waste per year.
That waste goes into our landfills and can take hundreds of years to decompose. Remember that most American women use tampons with applicators, which are made from plastic that can take up to 400 years to decompose, and creates micro-plastics in the meantime. Pads and tampons are also filled with chemicals to make them more absorbent. When put in landfills, these chemicals may leach into the ground and pollute, like other types of disposable plastic-based waste. Not a sustainable solution.
There are approximately 2 billion menstruating people alive right now. If each person used pads and tampons, as some big corporations would like, we would generate 13 billion pounds of waste every year. Where would all of that trash go?
By contrast, the best menstrual cup lasts for over ten years, or longer if you take care of it. That means that one replaces 65 lb of waste over its life cycle. Not only is it healthier for the person using it, but it's great for our planet, too.
Keep in mind that because menstrual cups are sustainable products, some companies will try to sell you disposable products along with it. We're specifically talking about the wash or wipes that some brands offer. You can clean your menstrual cup with boiling water. No need for wash or wipes unless you are going to Burning Man and need to clean your menstrual cup in an RV.
They Are Convenient AF.
Of course, we all want to make the healthy choice for our bodies and choose sustainable products, but it can be hard to do when you're rushing out the door in the morning. What is a menstrual cup? It's also a more convenient alternative to pads and tampons.
Why is it more convenient? The best menstrual cup will offer up to 12 hours of leak-free period protection. It's also great for sports like swimming and running because of its comfortable design. For most of us, 12 hours more than covers a whole workday, a great night's sleep or a night on the town. And because some designs are so comfortable, you can literally go 12 hours while forgetting that you even have your period. Pretty crazy, I know.
Actually, some of the earliest menstrual cup adopters were swimmers. This is because they can offer amazing, long-lasting protection from leaks compared to tampons, which can be uncomfortable or show embarrassing strings, especially if you're wearing a swimsuit.
You Save Lots of Money.
Let's face it: buying tampons and pads every month adds up. Some estimates gauge that the average American woman spends $18,000 or more on feminine products over the course of her life. A lot of the time, these products are taxed too. Keep in mind that you'll be menstruating for around 30+ years. That's a lot of trips to the drug store if you don't have a menstrual cup
One menstrual cup will easily pay for 2-3 months. After that, you can put that money aside for things that you actually want to spend it on.
Who Can Use a Menstrual Cup?
Though a potentially life-changing product for the majority of the world's menstruators, they're not for everyone. Certain people can use one after consulting with a gynecologist. Others should not use them.
- Can Pregnant Women Use One? Even if you are experiencing spotting, please speak with your gynecologist before using one. Women who have just given birth should also consult with a doctor prior to use.
- What If I Am a Virgin? Yes, you can use one. If you are concerned about your hymen, however, please speak with a gynecologist first.
- Can Someone Going Through Menopause Use One? Yes. Many women prefer it to pads or tampons as it won't cause dryness.
- Can I Use a Menstrual Cup and IUD? Many women use both at the same time, however, please speak with a gynecologist prior to use.
How to Use a Menstrual Cup
Okay, okay. You're on board for why menstrual cups are great — but you're still worried about using one. Don't fret: we've all been there and we're here to walk you through it. Pro Tip: Try a menstrual cup at the same time as a friend or talk to someone who uses one. It's great to have a community to ask questions and ease anxiety.
How to Choose Your Size
The best way to have a good menstrual cup experience is to choose the right size for you. There are three big questions you need to answer:
Have You Had Children?
A few other factors may play a role in choosing the right size for you, such as how often you work out, your age, your preference, but these three questions are the most important.
The first question is easy to answer. Most brands suggest that you choose a larger size if you've had children, whether they were delivered vaginally or you had a c-section.
How High Is Your Cervix?
Knowing your cervix height can be slightly more challenging. The best way to know is to consider what size tampon is comfortable for you. Do you like a small one or do you wear a super tampon comfortably? Women who wear a smaller tampon usually do well with a mini menstrual cup, or one with a lower height. If you wear a bigger tampon, chances are you may be comfortable with a medium or large design.
To take a more methodical approach to find the right size for you, you'll have to measure your cervix. We'll go over this in-depth in the next section.
How Would You Describe Your Menstrual Flow?
The third most important factor is your menstrual flow. Though this does not determine what size is comfortable for you, some people prefer a smaller size if they have a light flow or a larger one if they have a heavier flow. This is because having more room allows you to wear your cup for a longer period of time, though it will make little to no difference for people with a light or medium flow.
How to Measure Your Cervix
There is a more scientific approach to know exactly how high your cervix is. First things first: What is the cervix?
Glad you asked: The cervix is the lower part of the uterus and part of the female reproductive system. More specifically, it links the vaginal and uterine cavity and changes shape during childbirth. Menstrual fluid passes through the cervix to be discharged, and the sperm passed through it for pregnancy to occur.
Why does cervix position matter for menstrual cups? In simple terms, people have cervixes of different heights. That means that someone with a low cervix may want a smaller cup. Someone with a high one may prefer a larger size because a small one is harder to remove. Keep in mind that many people are somewhere in the middle between two extremes.
To measure your cervix, start by washing your hands with a gentle soap. Insert your pointer finger into the vaginal canal gently. If you can feel your cervix by the first knuckle, you have what they call a low cervix. If you can feel it by the second, you have a medium cervix. And if you can only reach it by the last knuckle or cannot reach it at all, you have a high cervix.
How to Use a Menstrual Cup in 11 Steps
Now that you've purchased the right size for your body, it's time to get down to brass tacks: How do you use a menstrual cup? Here are the basic steps to using one, though we will go over it in more detail later on.
- Boil your cup. Even though you've never used it before, start by cleaning it before you insert it. You can either leave your cup in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes or pour boiling water into a bowl or mug and completely submerge your cup. How and where you clean your product is up to you and what makes you comfortable.
- Wash your hands with gentle soap. You always want to make sure your hands are clean before inserting or removing your menstrual cup.
- Fold your cup in a C-fold (pictured) to make it small for insertion. Though there are other ways to fold it, we recommend the C-fold for beginners.
- Squat and relax. The best way to do this is to relax your muscles so it slides in comfortably and easily.
- Insert your menstrual cup gently. Double-check that it unfolded inside the vaginal canal by reaching in and feeling the walls of the cup. If it feels like it has its original cup shape, it is less likely to leak or move around.
- Wear it for up to 12 hours and enjoy life without worrying about tampons.
- After 12 hours or sooner, head to the bathroom to wash your hands again.
- Squat again and relax. We recommend moving the same muscles that you would if you were having a bowel movement to maneuver your cup further downward.
- Break the cup seal by squeezing its sides gently. Then slowly pull it down without tipping it over.
- Dump the fluid into the toilet or sink.
- Rinse your cup with warm water and reinsert it.
This process may seem challenging at first, but after a couple of times, you get accustomed to inserting and removing it. Still confused or have questions? We go over all these steps in more detail in the next sections.
How To Insert a Menstrual Cup in 6 Steps
Here's a deeper dive into how to insert a menstrual cup to answer any follow-up questions.
1. Wash Your Hands
Always remember to wash your hands. The best way to do this is to use gentle soap before you get started.
2. Fold Your Cup
There are so many ways to fold your cup, but we recommend pinching it so it assumed the shape of a C. If you push the rim downward, it becomes an even small size, easier for insertion.
3. Squat Down in the Bathroom
Squat and relax your muscles. The best way is to imagine alining the vaginal canal, which makes it easier to insert your cup at the right angle.
4. Insert It Gently and Slowly
While separating your labia with your non-dominant hand, hold the cup and slide it in rim-firm into your vagina. The entire cup, including the stem, should be completely inside. Keep in mind that it should open naturally witin the vaginal canal and reassume its cup shape.
More specifically, the stem should be within the first knuckle of the index finger, which is around 15 mm away from the vaginal opening. If it went in further, it's okay as long as you're still comfortable. If you can still feel it, chances are you didn't insert it correctly and it may not have gone inside enough.
5. Double-Check That It Opened Up
It's always a good idea to double-check that it opened up. This is a great way to avoid leaks and discomfort. The best way is to feel the sides of the cup with your finger and check for a dent, If there is a dent, you can either rotate your menstrual cup or remove it and start over.
6. Go About Your Life
You should be able to go about your life without worrying about your period for up to 12 hours. Go for a run, work all day or sleep in without worrying about leaks and discomfort. Always remember to empty it every 10-12 hours at a minimum, which is approximately 2 times a day.
How to Remove Your Menstrual Cup
When do I remove my menstrual cup? A lot of people first starting out with menstrual cups ask this question. Our advice is that, like a tampon, you will develop a better understanding of your body and flow over time. More often than not, women are surprised by how little is collected because it looks like more when absorbed by a tampon.
More specifically, the average woman will lose between 8 and 6 teaspoons of blood throughout their entire period, according to the National Health Service.
1. Wash Your Hands Again
Always wash your hands when touching your menstrual cup before and after.
2. Relax and Flex Your Muscles
The best piece of advice someone on our staff said she received was relaxing. When you are uncertain about how to use a menstrual cup, your muscles will naturally tense up. Take a deep breath and relax, then flex your muscles as if you're having a bowel movement. This will push it downwards and normally makes it easier to remove.
3. Pinch the Sides of Your Period Cup
When removing it, break the seal by gently pinching the sides. Do not try to remove it without breaking the seal as it will be much more uncomfortable.
4. Slide It Out Slowly
Slowly, slide it out, following the natural line of the vaginal canal. We recommend keeping it upright for easy, clean removal.
5. Empty and Rinse It
Empty the menstrual fluid in the toilet, rinse your cup in the sink and re-insert it. You do not have to boil your cup with every use if you wash your hands and rinse it with warm water frequently. After rinsing it, re-insert it or put it away for later use.
Cleaning and Storing Your Menstrual Cup
Finished with your period and need to put your feminine products away? Remember to clean your cup with boiling water at the beginning and end of each cycle, at a minimum. Also, store it in a dry, clean place. We recommend using a menstrual cup case made from silicone for storage. A high-quality, re-usable case is the best, most sustainable way to store your product in a medicine cabinet or in your purse. The best case will do two things:
- It will keep your cup clean from debris, dirt, and lint. This means protecting it from the inside of your bag or a makeup kit.
- A case will also allow your cup to dry. You do not want to store it in a plastic bag or somewhere where it will remain moist and potentially create bacteria. Instead, you want a case that has breathing holes that allow a damp cup to dry safely.
Menstrual Cup FAQ
There's more to know about sustainable feminine products than just how to use them. Let's go over some of the most common questions we've heard.
Are There Menstrual Cup Dangers?
A recent study has found that period cups are safe to use and just as effective as other forms of period protection at preventing leaks. The study also found that menstrual cups did not affect vaginal flora, meaning the vaginal microbiome and pH.
If you have any specific questions about your body and feminine products, we advise you to speak with a gynecologist. This article is not meant as medical advice but is for educational purposes.
What Is It Made From?
The best menstrual cups are made from 100% medical-grade silicone, not latex, plastic or TPE. Specifically, look for 100% Medical Grade Class VI Silicone — the same type of silicone used in baby bottle nipples and medical devices. This class of silicone meets strict biocompatibility requirements.
Can I Have Sex While Wearing One?
No, you cannot have intercourse while wearing one. A menstrual cup is a feminine hygiene product, not a type of birth control. It is not a contraceptive nor will it prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Please see a gynecologist for more advice on birth control.
Is It Messy?
Lots of people wonder about this, but it's actually a lot cleaner, healthier and better for the environment. Plus, you get a little more comfortable with your body. Pads and tampons are very messy and smell because they're exposing blood to air. You'll be surprised and thrilled by how easy the best menstrual cup is to use. The only question you'll be left with will be, why didn't I try one sooner?
Does a Menstrual Cup Smell Bad?
No, actually. Remember that tampons and pads can be smelly because the blood is exposed to air. This allows for bacteria to form, which creates the odor. This does not happen with a menstrual cup.
Can My Period Cup Get Lost or Stuck Inside Me?
Rest-assured that it cannot get stuck or lost. Though it may take some practice to get used to removing it, you'll quickly become accustomed to it -- just as you did with tampons. Keep in mind that the vaginal canal is typically around 4 inches long, or shorter if you have a low cervix. This means that your menstrual cup cannot go that far up.
Having trouble finding the stem? Flex your muscles like you're having a bowel movement while searching for the stem with your thumb and index finger. By moving your muscles, your menstrual cup should move downward. Once you've found it, pinch its base to break the seal and move it carefully downward.
Will It Actually Fit?
Of course. Once you fold it in half — what we call the C-Fold — it's quite easy to insert. We recommend that you experiment with different folding styles to figure out what works best for you.
Why Is It Discolored or Changing Colors?
Some cups, like the Casco Cup, do not sure colorants so you may notice some discoloration over time. This is completely natural, as silicone yellows over time, and especially when being exposed to blood. This does not mean that the cup is old or unclean. As long as you are boiling it, it will be completely clean to use for a minimum of 10 years (if you choose one of the best menstrual cup brands).
4 Questions to Choose the Best Menstrual Cup
So you're on board to try sustainable period protection, but not sure which size or brand to choose. Don't sweat it: There are lots of great options out there if you know what to look for. Here are a few questions to answer before investing in your next product, whether you're new to the world of sustainable periods or want to test out a different style product.
What Is the Best Menstrual Cup Made From?
Not all products are made from the same quality materials. Worse still, some products advertise that they're made from high-quality medical-grade silicone and are not. Trust us: We've tested a lot of them. For instance, cups that discolor when you pull the material are not made from 100% silicone and probably contain some type of filler.
Other cups are made from TPE, which is a type of plastic or latex, neither of which is preferable. Look for 100% medical-grade silicone because it has the best biocompatibility: This means that it does not produce a toxic or immune response when put inside or next to the body. This is why a lot of medical devices are made from medical-grade silicone, not plastic.
How Do You Know If It's Medical Grade Silicone?
Great question. There are a few things to keep in mind when looking for medical-grade silicone products, whether you're shopping for a menstrual cup or scuba diving equipment:
- Silicone is an expensive material. A period cup that costs $10 is unlikely to be made from it, even if advertised as such.
- Products made in the United States, especially those that are FDA-registered are required to follow more strict protocols regarding ingredients and processes. A USA-made product that advertises itself as 100% medical-grade silicone is most likely to be made from premium materials.
How Do I Know It's High Quality?
Best to check that it's made in the United States and FDA-registered. This means that the federal government came in to oversee its processes and gave it a stamp of approval. That's a big deal in the manufacturing world.
What's My Menstrual Cup Size?
Aside from checking quality and ingredients, you should also make sure that you find the best menstrual cup size for you. That means considering your cervix height, whether or not you've had children, and how heavy your flow is.
The toughest question for you to answer is your cervix height. We suggest you go back to the earlier section of this article (How to Measure Your Cervix) to find that out.
The Best Menstrual Cup of 2020: Casco Cup
Made from 100% medical-grade silicone in Sanford, Maine USA, the Casco Cup combines premium quality materials with complete transparency. Available in three sizes that are amazing for women with different cervix heights, the Casco Cup also comes with a cute menstrual cup case so that you can store your cup in your cabinet or in your bag without dirtying it.
6 Reasons to Love Casco Cup
- FDA-registered: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Casco Cup manufacturing and packaging processes, which is a great stamp of approval.
- Made in Maine, USA: This brand is dedicated to making stuff in the U.S and paying its workers a fare wage.
- Medical-Grade Silicone: No latex, TPE or other cheap materials that do not meet silicone's biocompatibility standards.
- 3 Sizes: Different sizes for different body types, so you can wear the most comfortable model for you.
- Menstrual Cup Case: No other brand offers a silicone case with every purchase. Ask anyone who owns a menstrual cup: having a sustainable case that lasts is a lifesaver when it comes to storage and portability.
- Satisfaction Guaranteed: Not 100% satisfied with your size? You can return it within 90 days for a full refund, no questions asked.
The Official Menstrual Cup Guide of 2020
Choosing the right sustainable, healthful and comfortable period care is a life-changing experience. Not only is it easier to use— longer protection, more comfort, great for sports and sleeping — but it's a transformative thing for the planet and your bank account. Win, win.
But making the transition from years of tampon use to the best menstrual cup may be intimidating. We made this guide to make the process as easy as possible. Just remember: The best way to choose a product is to know exactly who made it, what sizes are offered, and what it's made from. And the best way to get started is to talk to other menstrual cup users to empower and support one another.