Swears by: the best menstrual cups
Menstrual cups are an eco-friendly, safe and convenient alternative to tampons and sanitary pads. If you think you might like to give one a go, read on to find out about the pros and cons, choosing one that’s right for you, how to use yours and solutions to common problems
Periods. They’re a fact of life. One we’d much rather do without, but a fact of life all the same. It’s not just the period itself, either, it’s all the other stuff, like having to schlep to the shop in the rain to buy tampons and sanitary towels and then actually remember to put them in your various bags. It’s not having cash on you to buy an emergency tampon from the overpriced machine in the public loo (£2? For two tampons?!) It’s having to find a way to sneak your bag into the toilet when you’re out for dinner, then hating yourself for it, because why should women feel they have to do that, anyway?
So, if there’s anything at all that can make periods a little bit easier, then we’re up for trying it. Which is where menstrual cups come in. They’re cheaper in the long run than tampons and sanitary towels, easy to use (with a little practice) and you can leave them in for up to 12 hours (which means you don’t have to worry about changing yours when you’re out and about – hoorah!) They’re also better for the environment, as most are reusable, and are a good option when travelling.
What is a menstrual cup?
A menstrual cup is a bell-shaped cup that you insert into your vagina during your period to collect your menstrual blood. They are usually made of medical grade silicone (so they are safe for use inside the vagina) and are shaped like a bell with a stem. The stem is for removing the cup and cannot be felt if the cup is inserted properly.
How to use a menstrual cup
If you’ve ever used a tampon, especially the non-applicator kind, then you shouldn’t find it too difficult to get the hang of putting in your chosen cup. If you’ve ever used a diaphragm for contraception, then you should have even less difficulty.
Put simply, you need to wash your hands, fold the cup, aim it towards the back of your vagina (as you would a tampon) and give it a little push. When aimed correctly, the cup should draw itself up and form a seal with your vaginal wall.
The video below explains a few different folding techniques and provides some handy insertion tips too. Don't be fooled by her fresh face, Briony's Youtube channel comes highly recommended by Mumsnetters – “I basically think that for all things menstrual, you can't do better than let Briony tell you all about it” – and her videos are ideal for teens, pre-teens, and the uninitiated.Find the most relaxed position for you to insert it. For me it's just sitting down on the toilet.
To take your cup out, you need to pinch the base between two fingers, which will break the seal, before gently pulling the cup out by the stem. You can then empty out the blood into the toilet, rinse it out, and put it back in.
In practice, this can take a bit of getting used to. Most good cups come with a clear guide on how to fold, insert and remove them. Most instructions also come with a diagram.
What size menstrual cup do I need?
Vaginas come in different shapes and sizes. Although there isn’t a cup to suit each and every combination of these, most brands do offer at least two cup sizes. Not ideal, given how unique our bodies are, but better than nowt.
Choosing the right size is a little bit like choosing a new pair of shoes. Except it’s mostly not like that because, unlike a pair of shoes, you can’t go into a shop and try a menstrual cup out for size.
Luckily, most brands provide some guidance on their packaging and website about which size should work for you. Your cup size will depend on various factors, including your age, lifestyle, bladder function and how heavy your periods tend to be.
Which menstrual cup is best for me?
Choosing a cup can seem like a bit of a tricky task, especially when there are a fair few to choose from. It’s worth remembering, though, that although cups do vary in shape, size and style, the differences are fairly minimal. You’re probably not about to get out a ruler to measure the height of your cervix – and nor should you have to – so just go with the one you think sounds about right.
These are some of the cups that Mumsnetters swear by (but ultimately it’s up to you which you feel will fit you best):
Made from medical-grade silicone, the Mooncup is probably the most famous menstrual cup on the market. There are two size options available to Mooncup users: size A, which is for women aged 30+ or who have given birth vaginally, and size B which suits women who are under 30 and haven't given birth vaginally. Your size is determined by your child-bearing history and age, as these affect the tone of your pelvic floor. The sizes aren't related to your menstrual flow, so if you're under 30 and haven't had a vaginal delivery but your flow is normally heavy, you should stick to the smaller size and just empty your cup more regularly on heavier days.
Mooncups are latex-free, hypoallergenic and contain no dyes, BPA, phthalates, plastic, bleaches or toxins. Each cup also comes with a breathable Fairtrade cotton storage bag and instructions printed on recycled paper. They have slightly thicker walls than some other cups on the market; this helps them pop open once they're in place, but also makes them a little less flexible when inserting.
Your Mooncup should last for years, but, because they are undyed, they do tend to get a little discoloured over time. This is perfectly normal and doesn't affect the hygiene of your cup, but some users do find it a bit off-putting.
Maximum capacity: 29.3 ml (size A)
“I love mine – best decision I ever made. I used to dread every month, but the cup is so liberating. I practically forget I am on my period. I am more comfortable, have less pain and it saves money. I just wish I'd switched years ago.”
“I love my Mooncup. It took a couple of months to get familiar with it, but it has never leaked, my periods seem lighter, shorter and less painful, and best of all I don't get the week of severe thrush that used to happen after every single period when I used tampons.”Buy now from Amazon
Lunette Cup, £21.25
The Lunette cup is also made from medical grade silicone, but, unlike the Mooncup, you can choose whether you'd prefer a firm or more pliable cup. The Lunette Model 1 is the smaller and more flexible option – with a 41 mm diameter and 25 ml capacity – and is designed for women with a light to normal flow. The Model 2 is firmer and larger, with a 46 mm diameter and 30 ml capacity. Model 1 is recommended for teens and women with a low-sitting cervix, sensitive bladder, or light flow.
There are six Lunette colours to choose from – colourful cups are less prone to discolouration – as well as a Lunette branded cup cleaner and wipes that you can use to clean your cup on the go. These cleaning products aren't essential – cups can be sterilised in boiling water or using good old Milton – but some Mumsnetters like using them. All Lunette cups are made in Finland using hypoallergenic, toxin-free silicone.
“I love mine! Leaking is much less of an issue and the last few days of the period I can barely remember I'm on my period. I'm definitely going to recommend it to DD when she has periods.”
Maximum capacity: 40 ml (model 2)Buy now from Amazon
In spite of the slightly naff packaging, the DivaCup is another option that's very popular with Mumsnetters. There are three different DivaCups on offer: the Model 0 which is extra petite and ideal for young teens or menstrual cup newbies, the Model 1 which is designed for women under 30 who've never delivered vaginally or by caesarean section, and the Model 2 which is for women over 30 and those who've had children.
Like the Mooncup, the DivaCup is made from undyed silicone and is suitable for use by women with latex allergies.
Maximum capacity: 30 ml
“I've been using a Diva Cup for about six months and it really is life-changing. I wanted one for years but never got around to buying it. I'm so glad I finally did. I will never go back to tampons!”
“I couldn't get on with a Mooncup at all – it leaked like a bastard. Switched to a Diva Cup – daft name but its brilliant. I particularly like that I can wear it when my period is imminent to avoid being caught out."Buy now from Amazon
Me Luna Cup, £16.39
If you're an old hand and know exactly what you're looking for from your next menstrual cup, then take a look at the Me Luna site for more choice than you can shake a stick at. Overwhelming at first, the huge amount of choice allows you to create a perfectly customised cup. They offer sizes ranging from small to extra large, as well as a choice between regular or “shorty” fit. The shorty fit is designed for women who need shorter cups due to a low-lying cervix, which makes wearing regular cups uncomfortable.
As well as a variety of size options, there are three fit options to choose from: soft, classic, or sport. The classic option suits most women, but if you've got a particularly sensitive vagina and find insertion uncomfortable, a softer cup is best. The Me Luna Sport cups are designed for women with strong pelvic floors who get a better fit from a firm menstrual cup.
You can also customise the grip of your Me Luna cup. Most menstrual cups have stems that can be trimmed for a more comfortable fit. Me Luna offers cups with stems, small balls, ring pulls, or no grip at all, so you can find one that suits your needs exactly. There are lots of different colour Me Luna cups available – including gold glittery options – but you can keep it simple with an undyed silicone option too.
Maximum capacity: 42 ml
“I've got a Me Luna and I love it. I take wipes with me and if I need to change it when I'm out I just tip it into loo then reinsert and wipe my hands. Then I rinse it properly when I get home. It's made periods easier and far less painful. I didn't fancy having to cut the stem, so went for a ring stem, and have had no problems.”
“Me Luna have massive choice of size, stem, softness and colour.”Buy now from Me Luna
Ruby Cup, £25.95 (or two for £41.95)
When you buy a Ruby Cup, a menstrual cup is automatically donated to a girl in the developing world. Plus, every cup donation also provides girls with an educational workshop on how to use it and access to a Ruby Cup support network. So, by opting for a reusable cup, you not only reduce the environmental impact of your own period, you give a girl in the developing world access to 10 years of safe, hygienic periods.
There are two Ruby Cup sizes to choose from: small and medium. Small is recommended for women with a light flow, and medium for those with a heavier flow. They also sell a handy, collapsible pot for sterilising your cup in the microwave and, if you’re not totally happy with your new cup, Ruby Cup offer a 120-day money back guarantee.
Maximum capacity: 34 ml
“I bought a Ruby Cup as my second one. The main reason I chose it is it had the biggest capacity on the market at the time and since I had children I need the help! It also came with a microwave steriliser, and they donated a cup to a girl in need.”Buy now from Ruby Cup
Pros of menstrual cups
- They’re cheaper. Although cups can be a bit pricier than buying, say, a packet of tampons, they last for a long time (some up to 12 years), making them much cheaper in the long run. Depending on which one you buy, you might see a saving in your first couple of periods – which means money saved to spend on other, more exciting things, like gin.
- They’re good for the environment. Unlike tampons and pads that are made of trees and end up in landfill, most cups are reusable, so are pretty good runners in the green stakes.
- Arguably, they’re safer. When you use a tampon, there’s the risk of getting toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a rare but serious condition. The risk of TSS is lower when you use a cup. However, it is recommended that you clean out your cup after 12 hours of use at most, just to be safe.
- No odour. Unlike pads and tampons, cups do not allow your menstrual blood to come into contact with air. As such, you’re less likely to experience any odours.
- No dryness. A cup doesn’t absorb blood – it collects it. This means that it does not cause vaginal dryness in the same way a tampon can. It also means that healthy bacteria in your vagina are allowed to thrive, so you’ll be less likely to get an infection.
- They’re more comfortable. Many women find cups more comfortable than tampons or pads. Because they are made of soft silicone, they move and work with your body in a way that rigid tampons and scratchy pads don’t. When inserted correctly, you won’t notice it’s there.
- They protect you for longer. Depending on how heavy your period is and which which menstrual cup you use, you can keep yours in for up to 12 hours without emptying it. Compared to the average use time of four to eight hours for tampons and pads, a cup provides a much longer period (pun intended) of protection. You can even sleep with one in, avoiding the 6.30am must-run-to-the-loo-to-change-my-tampon dash…because since when should a period curtail your lie-in?
- Fewer leaks. Once you get used to using your cup, you’ll probably find that you experience few to no leaks. This is due to the tight seal that is formed between the cup and your vaginal wall – that blood isn’t going anywhere. They also hold up to a third more blood than tampons and pads, so are much less likely to get overfull.
- Good for active sports and travelling. If your day involves sports or travelling, it’s a real advantage not to have to think about multiple pad or tampon changes. The joy of a cup is that you can put it in in the morning and forget about it until the evening (although do check the packaging for exactly how many hours you can keep yours in for) which means one less thing to think about.
- You can have sex with a disposable menstrual cup in. Reusable cups are NOT meant to be worn during sex, as they’re thicker and more durable. However, disposable ones are fine to use when you’re having sex, as they’re thinner and move more with your body. Like reusable cups, they can still be worn for up to 12 hours and they produce less waste than using tampons – you can try them here.
Cons of menstrual cups
- They’re more expensive. Depending on which ones you choose, a menstrual cup can set you back anywhere up to about £25. Although it does work out significantly cheaper in the long run compared to buying tampons, we can’t deny that it’s a hefty chunk of cash to spend on a sanitary product. Let’s just say it might not be your most exciting buy ever, but it could just be your most useful.
- They’re a bit fiddly. When you first try to use a cup, there’s a good chance that you’ll spend longer than usual in the loo. You may find yourself reading the instructions three times over and still wondering just how you’re going to get it up there. But with a bit of patience and practice, it will all fit into place (ahem).
- They can be messy. As they don’t absorb blood but instead collect it, things can get a little messy when it comes to taking them out. It doesn't take long to get into the routine of quick insertion/removal.
- You have to rinse them out between uses. You’ll want to clean your cup between taking it out and putting it back in. If you don't want to use the sink to do this when you're in a public toilet, you can always bring a bottle of water in with you to rinse it out. It feels like a bit of a faff, but the buzz of knowing you're doing awesome things for the environment makes it worthwhile (kind of).
- They require deep cleaning. It's best to give your cup a good ol' clean between each period. You can use a steriliser if you've already got one, or just put the cup into a saucepan of boiling water and leave it for a few minutes. You should do this before your first use, too.
Menstrual cup FAQs
How long can you leave a menstrual cup in?
Most brands suggest that you can leave your cup in for up to 12 hours. You should check the packaging/website for the recommended maximum time you can leave yours in for. If you have a particularly heavy flow, you might feel like you want to change yours more regularly than usual, if only for peace of mind.
Can you wear menstrual cups overnight?
As long as you do not leave it in for longer than the time detailed on the packaging, you can sleep with it in. Because cups tend to be very comfortable, you may find that you prefer sleeping with it in than with, say, a sanitary pad.
Where do you buy menstrual cups?
You can buy them from most pharmacies, many supermarkets and lots of online retailers.
Can you pee with a menstrual cup in?
You can pee and poo with one in. Unlike tampons, cups don't have a long string, so there's no chance of unwanted, lingering bacteria.
Can you have intercourse with a menstrual cup in?
You cannot have sex when using a reusable cup. They are too rigid and it would not be safe. However, you can buy disposable ones that can be worn during sex. You should check the packaging to make sure yours is marked as being safe for use during sex.
Can you go swimming with a menstrual cup in?
Yes, you can. In fact, many women find that a menstrual cup gives them better protection from leaks than tampons.
Are menstrual cups better than tampons?
There are many reasons to love menstrual cups, and we think they're worth giving a go. Ultimately, though, it comes down to personal preference. Some people prefer pads to tampons, some prefer tampons to pads. In the same way, some people will prefer cups, some won't.
Can you wear a menstrual cup when you're not on your period?
If you are expecting your period to start, you can wear your cup in anticipation of it. Likewise, you can keep using it until your period is completely over, unlike with tampons where you often have to rely on pads for the last day or so.
Can you use a menstrual cup if you use an intrauterine device (IUD, or coil)?
The short answer is yes, you can. However, if you wish to use both together, bear the following in mind:
- There should always be a space between the cup and the cervix. If you have a low-sitting cervix there may not be enough room for your cup to sit safely and work properly alongside your IUD
- Place the cup low down in the vagina and ensure you have an adequate seal
- Always release the seal before removing your cup
- After each period, check you can still feel the IUD strings. If you cannot feel them or think that your IUD has moved or is causing you pain, use another form of contraception such as a condom until you see the doctor, who will be able to check your IUD is still properly in place
Are menstrual cups safe?
When used correctly, they are completely safe.
One of the worries with incorrect use is that you might forget to take it out at all, given that you can keep it in for up to 12 hours. If you feel like you need to, it can be an idea to set a reminder on your phone reminding you to change it.
Troubleshooting – menstrual cup problems solvedIt takes a while to get used to but I wouldn't go back now.
Help! I can't get my menstrual cup in
Just like with tampons, it can take a little while to get used to inserting your cup. If you try and don't succeed, don't stress. Carry on using your usual pads or tampons and give it a go another go the next day or next period.
I can't get my menstrual cup out
If you can't reach your cup to get it out, it is probably sitting a bit too high. Take a deep breath and do a series of small, downward pushes with your vaginal muscles. This should encourage the cup to move down far enough for you to reach the stem, break the seal and remove the cup.
I don't want to rinse out my cup in a public toilet – what can I do?
While we're all for waving the period flag, it's also OK not to want to wash out your menstrual cup in the sinks of a public loo. If you know you'll need to change yours while you're out and about, bring a bottle of water with you to rinse out your cup over the toilet. Alternatively, try to time your change so that you don't need to change yours when you're out.
I can still feel the stem when I have inserted my menstrual cup – what should I do?
You may find that no matter how many times you insert your cup, you still find that you can feel the stem digging in. It may be the case that you have a low-sitting cervix. Just remove the cup, trim the stem a little bit and reinsert. If you need to trim off a little more, make sure you remove the cup before doing so.
I’m just really sorry I left it so late in life to discover them.
I love, love, love my squishy friend. I’ve had it for several years now and will never go back to any other sort of sanitary product. I work, travel, do sports and just generally do everything in my life as normal with it.
I love mine! No monthly expense, no landfill, no mess like with pads and no dryness like with tampons.
I found inserting and removing fiddly initially but once you get the hang of it, it’s much easier and more convenient and much less likely to leak.
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