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Everything You Need to Know About Menstrual Cups, According to a Doctor

Learning how to use a menstrual cup can be a little scary. Here's how to find the right type, insert it, remove it, clean it, and more.

Written by
Erika Schwerdfeger

As far as eco-friendly period products go, menstrual cups are a winner. They’re reusable, non-toxic, long-wearing, inexpensive, zero-waste—the list goes on.

Since they’re washable and reusable, they’re also extremely economical, since you don’t have to continue to buy new ones each month. This also means they generate far less waste than tampons and pads, their disposal counterparts... and that amount of waste is staggering.

The Benefits of Using a Menstrual Cup

Menstrual cups are pretty great for the planet. In the United States alone, an estimated 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons are discarded every year. Globally, that number is thought to be upward of 100 billion disposed-of menstrual products, which go to landfills since they're non-recyclable. 

Plus, think about the cost to the consumer. Using single-use disposable period products means repurchasing box upon box of new ones frequently. But a single menstrual cup will last you quite a few years, saving you tons of money where you may not have thought possible in your budget. 

Menstrual cups are also, to many first-timers’ surprise, highly convenient for the wearer. Since they can hold more blood than other methods, they can be worn for much longer (up to 12 hours, in fact!) perfectly safely. Some models can even be worn during sex. 

Cups also don't pose a substantial risk of toxic shock syndrome, a rare danger associated with tampon use. With that being said, there's no such thing as zero risk for any period product.

Overall, menstrual cups are planet-friendly, cost-effective, and convenient—what’s not to love? There’s a cup out there for every body that menstruates, and with their growing visibility and popularity in the world of period products, there’s never been a better time to give one a try. 

But all the options out there can be overwhelming... and how do you know if you're doing it right? We spoke to Cathy Feller, MD, a family medicine specialist with UCHealth in Colorado Springs, to get some answers to your most pressing questions.

All Your Menstrual Cup Questions, Answered

1. How Do I Pick the Right Menstrual Cup for My Body?

First, how do you pick the right menstrual cup for your body? There are lots of brands, sizes, lengths, and styles available that are tailored to everything from heaviness of flow to cervix height. Dr. Feller suggests starting with a cup in the middle ranges of these variables and seeing how it works for you.

“A lot of cups come in different sizes. You may opt to pick a menstrual cup in the middle and adjust as needed. I recommend changing one variable (size, shape, firmness) at a time to see what works best,” she says. "Just know that it may take some time to find the right fit. Once you have the right fit, the menstrual cup should feel the same as a tampon. You may need to try the same cup several times before you know if it fits well or not.”

Getting the right fit is important both for your own comfort and for the cup’s effectiveness. Before you can know if it fits, though, it needs to go in. For many people, this can be the most intimidating part. But while it requires a bit of a learning curve at first, it can become just as habitual as using a tampon.

2. How Do I Insert a Menstrual Cup?

Your first time attempting to insert a menstrual cup is the hardest—promise. Luckily, with some guidance from our expert, you're sure to be a pro in no time.

"To insert the menstrual cup, fold it to keep it closed before inserting it into the vagina, where it will open," says Dr. Feller. "There are videos online to teach different techniques. You should try different methods to see what works best for you."

As you're still learning how to use a menstrual cup, Dr. Feller recommends using a pad in case there's a little leakage. "It can be hard to tell if the cup is open inside you, so when you start using a menstrual cup, you may want to consider wearing a pad,” she says. "You can adjust the cup by inserting a finger in the vagina and moving the cup around a bit." Once you get the hang of it, there's no pad needed.

3. Could the Cup Get Lost Up There?

Despite how a menstrual cup might feel after inserting it, it won’t get stuck or "lost” inside of you. 

"A menstrual cup will not get stuck, similar to how a tampon will not get stuck," Dr. Feller says. "Additionally, similar to tampons that come with strings, menstrual cups come with handles for easier removal.”

In fact, this option comes with a special pull tab that works just like the string of a tampon, making removal a breeze.

4. How Do I Remove a Menstrual Cup?

Speaking of removal, this part can also be tricky at first. But as with insertion, it just takes practice and will get easier with time.

"To remove the cup, squat over a toilet and try to relax your pelvic muscles. Then pinch the bottom of the cup and slowly remove it,” says Dr. Feller. "This may be messy, so initially, I recommend removing the cup when it's not full."

5. How Do I Clean a Menstrual Cup?

Cleaning is a necessary part of the menstrual cup routine. Both during your cycle and in-between cycles, ensuring your cup stays clean is crucial to keeping it sanitary and in good condition.

"During your menstrual cycle, you can wash the cup in a sink with mild soap between emptying menstrual blood and reinserting," Dr. Feller says. If you're in a public place (like the office!), there's a fix for that, too: "You can use a baby wipe to clean out the cup before reinserting."

Now, you've probably heard of people boiling their menstrual cups. Luckily, that's not something you'll need to do between uses—just between periods.

"Between your menstrual cycles, you may want to do a deeper clean. You can boil your cup for 3 to 5 minutes (make sure to check that you can boil your cup)," she says. "Alternatively, you can get a sterilization tablet."

When you're storing your menstrual cup, Dr. Feller recommends avoiding using a sealed container, as it may not dry out completely and can develop an odor. Check your particular cup to see the best way to clean and store it.

6. How Long Does a Menstrual Cup Last?

Besides taking good care of your menstrual cup between uses, how long a menstrual cup will last also comes down to the brand and model. For the most part, you'll be able to use it for years to come.

"Reusable menstrual cups can last for six months to several years. This can vary based on how well you clean your cup and where it's stored,” says Dr. Feller. "Evaluate your cup before each use to ensure good condition."

Dr. Feller also notes you can always bring any menstrual cup-related questions to your primary care provider or OB/GYN. They'll be happy to give you guidance on your move to planet-saving period products.