What is a Menstrual Cup? Come and find out!

what is s menstrual cup?

My girlfriend’s regularly ask me “Eloise, what is a Menstrual Cup, and are they any good?!”. So I thought I’d put together a quick guide for those too embarrassed to ask!

OK straight to it – What is a Menstrual Cup?

A menstrual cup is a simply a device that is placed inside a woman’s body to collect the fluids that are released during menstruation. Unlike other methods of dealing with this fluid, such as tampons, pads or sanitary towels, it is not disposable but is designed to be emptied, cleaned and reused. Menstrual cups were first used, with great success, in the Fifties but have only recently returned to mainstream use.

How does a menstrual cup work?

There are many different manufacturers of menstrual cup who offer cups of varying shapes, sizes and materials, but all work using the same principle. A moulded cup made from soft silicon is inserted facing up inside the lower part of the vagina. It is folded in order to insert it and opens out inside the body, then is gently rotated to create mild suction to hold it in place. The rim of the cup-shaped part of the device is held against the walls of the vagina to prevent leakage and below is a lower stem to allow easy removal. For most women, it takes around eight hours before the cup needs to be removed, emptied of blood and rinsed before reinserting. This continues until menstruation has ended.

Cleaning and caring for a menstrual cup

For everyday use, thoroughly washing in clean water is sufficient. Using soap can cause irritation unless it is completely rinsed off. For a more through cleanse, the cup can be boiled in a saucepan for five minutes or can be soaked in sterilising fluids used for baby bottles, such as Milton’s.

Are menstrual cups safe?

All menstrual cup manufacturers advise that a cup should not be left inside the vagina for more than eight hours. Doing so will give an increased risk of toxic shock syndrome, although the risk is lower than that for tampon users. Menstrual cups that are not cleaned properly can also lead to infection and users should always wash their hands with soap and water before inserting and removing a cup as well as thoroughly washing the cup itself.

The advantages of menstrual cups

Health benefits

Menstrual cups avoid several health issues that can arise from other types of sanitary products. The risk of toxic shock syndrome, which can be caused by leaving tampons inside the body for too long, is reduced. Tampons can also leave bleached rayon fibres inside the vagina that cause irritation and have even been linked to cancer. Sanitary pads can cause chafing and irritation due to moisture coming into contact with the skin and the bleaches and chemicals used in manufacturing them. As menstrual cups are made from medical-grade silicon there are no issues with allergic reactions and skin irritation.

Environmental benefits

Billions of tonnes of pads and tampons have to be disposed of every year, leading to increased landfill and clogged sewers. The manufacturing of these disposable products and their packaging uses high levels of resources such as water, paper and plastic. In contrast, menstrual cups will last for around five years before they need to be replaced and so significantly reduce a woman’s eco footprint.

Financial benefits

It has been estimated that the average woman uses around 11,000 tampons or sanitary pads over the course of her lifetime. The regular costs of these are far more than the one-off price of a menstrual cup. This is around £10 or £20 and will last for several years, leading to considerable money savings.

Disadvantages of menstrual cups

Disposing of menstrual fluids

Some women find it unpleasant to actually see their own bodily fluids, although cups are actually more hygienic and healthy that leaving fluid-soaked pads or tampons against the skin. There are some very slim potential menstrual cup dangers too. Using public bathrooms can also cause worry, especially about having to clean the cup in a sink in front of other women. The blood does not have to actually be tipped down a sink, however, and can be disposed of in private inside the toilet where the cup could also be wiped around with paper or rinsed with bottled water.


Some women do experience leakage, which can be due to a number of things. The most common problem is inserting the cup too high up the vagina. It should not be placed far inside the body, certainly nowhere near the cervix, but should be placed closer to the entrance of the vagina. Choosing a cup of the wrong size can also cause leakage; most manufacturers offer menstrual cups in two sizes. A smaller size is offered for childless woman under 30 and those who have given birth via a Caesarian while under 30, while anyone who has given birth vaginally or is over 30 should choose the larger size.

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