Menstrual Cup 101: How to use, clean and care for a menstrual cup

When I first heard about menstrual cups, my reaction was one of disbelief. Firstly, at the fact that a product other than sanitary towels or tampons actually existed. And secondly that anyone would want to be that up close and personal with their vagina whilst on their period.

The idea didn’t appeal to me. At all.

However, over the next few months I was recommend video after video and article after article online telling me why menstrual cups were so great. Thanks, cookies! I got clued up on their benefits to the environment because they’re completely reusable and can last up to 5 years, as well as the fact that they may be better for our bodies due to the fact that they don’t contain the sorts of chemicals that are often in conventional tampons or pads. And, naturally, I also realised that having one would save me a hell of a lot of cash.

I caved. After listening to dozens of women talk about how much the menstrual cup had changed their period and, frankly, not believing them, I bought one. Partly in the hopes that I could say, “HA. See! I still hate menstruating just as much and this little cup is definitely not as much of a game changer as everyone is making out.”

Reader, it was a game changer.

I know that menstrual cups aren’t for everyone. Some people don’t like the idea of sanitary products that go inside of them, are wary of TSS, hate the idea of reusable menstrual products or just straight up dislike using the cup. Everybody and everybody’s body is different, so what works for me might not necessarily work for you. I am not the type of gal to judge you for what you put in your vagina or pants.

However, if using a cup is something you’re interested in (or even mildly curious about!), then I would recommend giving it a go. It truly has changed the way that I experience my period and – since I’m on my period 1/4 of the time – it’s also changed the way that I experience life. I’m more comfortable with my body whilst menstruating, I feel slightly smug every month knowing how much I’ve reduced my waste and, if nothing else, I no longer have to make a dash to the corner shop when I come on unexpectedly.

Related post: The Mooncup Could Change Your Period and Your Life

Having read that little backstory about my own menstrual cup journey (and BOY was it a journey), you’ve probably realised that if anyone knows about all of the questions and hesitations you may have about using one, it’s me.

That’s why I decided to write this blog post, answering some of the queries that I had when I first started using a cup, as well as some that readers have sent my way. Lemme hold your hand through this potentially life changing experience.

But not in a creepy “actually in the bathroom with you” sort of way.

What is a menstrual cup?

When I said basics, I meant BAS-ICS.

A menstrual cup is a small cup (obvs), often made out of medical grade silicon, that you put up inside of your vagina whilst on your period to catch (not to soak up) the blood.

Why would I want to use a menstrual cup?

The answer to this question could be a post in itself.

In fact, it is! I’ve already written about the pros of using a cup for your body, the planet and your wallet in this blog post.

How do you insert a menstrual cup?

Learning how to insert a cup is definitely one of those things that can take a bit of time and patience, especially if you’re used to using pads or applicator tampons. For me, it took a few days and a couple of leaks to get into the swing of things. Nowadays, it’s like second nature.

To use a cup, you simply fold it, hold the cup firmly in its fold with you fingers and then insert it, at which point it will unfold inside of you and form a seal so that it doesn’t leak. Whilst inserting it, just try to stay relaxed (easier said than done, I know) and either sit on the toilet, squat slightly or rest one foot on something so that one thigh is parallel to the floor to make it easier.

An important thing to remember is that cups don’t sit anywhere as high in your vagina as a tampon does, since it’s catching and not absorbing your blood. So, basically, you don’t need to shove it right up there. Instead,  put it as low as you can physically have it, with it still feeling comfortable to you.

In terms of folding, there are many techniques that you can test out to find which shape works best for your body. Mooncup do a great job of outlining them here. I personally use a “punchdown” fold which looks like this:

Source: https://www.mooncup.co.uk/folding-techniques/

Yes, when using a cup, you do insert it with your fingers and your fingers do need to go inside of your vagina. It’s sort of like using a non-applicator tampon in that sense.

How do I know if my menstrual cup is not inserted properly?

If your cup hasn’t fully unfolded or you can still feel it inside of you, you need to jiggle it around or remove and re-insert it, or else you may have a leak.

How do you take a menstrual cup out?

As I said, when you have properly inserted a menstrual cup, it forms a seal inside of your vagina to properly catch the blood. So, in order to remove it, you first need to break this seal, which is simply a case of getting hold of the menstrual cup’s stem or bottom and pinching it, or of running a finger along the outside of the cup. At this point, the cup will bend slightly and release.

Then you pull gently on the cup, whilst also “pushing out” with your vagina muscles. I know that sounds complicated, but just use the same muscles that you would if you were forcing out a pee.

I would recommend removing your cup over the toilet to avoid any spillages, at least until you become an absolute pro.

Once you’ve got the cup out, you simply empty the blood down the toilet, rinse the cup and re-insert.

Can you pee whilst using a menstrual cup?

Yep. It’s the same as using a tampon.

How long can a menstrual cup be left in for?

It’s important to check on the packaging of your own cup as this does vary slightly between brands.

However, many menstrual cups can be left in for up to between 8 and 12 hours as they hold a lot more than most tampons and, since they are usually made of medical grade silicone, don’t harbour bacteria in the same way.

What are the best brands?

Obviously I haven’t tried all cup brands out, but I personally love my Moon Cup. I’ve also heard great things about Tulip Cup and TOTM.

Is it messy?

I’m not going to bullshit you: When you first use a menstrual cup, it can get a bit messy. But I feel like that’s kind of the case for when any of us started using any period product. You just have to get used to them and get through the leaks and spillages.

After that, you will get blood on one or two fingers whilst inserting and removing the cup. Nothing major. And certainly nothing that your bathroom tap can’t handle.

Does it leak?

As long as you’ve inserted your cup correctly and know when it should be removed based on your own flow, no! I recommend taking it out relatively regularly at first, until you learn how long your own body needs between emptying.

How do you clean your menstrual cup and keep it sanitary?

As most menstrual cups are made of silicon, you don’t need to completely sanitise them between uses in one cycle. You just need to empty the cup when you remove it and rinse it with clean water.

Between cycles (and before first use), the cup does need to be sanitised to make sure that no bacteria builds up. For this you have two options: Firstly, and certainly the cheapest and most eco-friendly option, cover the cup in a pan of water and boil it for around 10 minutes. I have my own dedicated cup pan to keep things sanitary. Secondly, you could use sterilising tablets or solutions, following the instructions specific to whichever brand you use.

How do you care for your cup whilst not using it?

Simply keep your dry cup in a small bag between uses and do not expose it to extreme temperatures.

Do menstrual cups make cramps worse?

I’m hesitant to say whether menstrual cups make cramps better, worse or have no influence since no real research has been done on the matter.

However, speaking anecdotally, my cramps have massively improved since using a cup, as have some of friend’s.

How can I use a menstrual cup on the go?

Using a menstrual cup on the go is probably the only downside that I can find in comparison to tampons and pads. However, since it can stay in for so long, it’s rare that I have to empty mine in public toilets.

If I do need to, I bring a bottle of water with me and some biodegradable baby wipes. I remove and empty the cup as usually but, instead of rinsing it out in a sink, I use the water and do so over the toilet. I can then clean my fingers with the wipes and dispose of them to get rid of any obvious blood, before then washing my hands.

If traveling with a menstrual cup, make sure to wash it with drinking water.

Tulip Cup have also recently released a “stem valve” menstrual cup. Whilst I haven’t tried it, the idea is that you can empty it by releasing the valve, without having to remove it. Of course, you will still have to take it out after 18 hours to clean it, but this could be a more convenient option for you if you’re out and about a lot.

Can you use a menstrual cup if you’ve given birth vaginally?

Yes! Menstrual cups are great, whether you’ve had a vaginal birth or not. However, some cups sell different sizes depending on if you have, as well as your age. Check with the company before buying!

What are my other choices?

I’ve done a whole podcast episode on sustainable period products, so give that a listen if you’re still unsure of which product is right for you.

Related podcast episode: Sustainable Period Products. 

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