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As someone who menstruates, I’ll be the first to admit that menstrual cups carry a sort of stigma when it comes to managing your period that tampons and pads do not. But those products come with some drawbacks, including cost and sustainability, that menstrual cups could help avoid.
Americans use around 19 billion single-use menstrual products each year, and over 80% end up in landfills where the plastic components can take up to 500 years to break down, according to the Life Cycle Initiative, a resource for information on global sustainability hosted by the UN Environment Program. When they’re disposed of incorrectly, such as being flushed down the toilet, they can block sewers, cause flooding, and pollute marine environments. They also cost the average person around $160 per year.
So why don’t more people use menstrual cups?
It might be due to a lack of familiarity, concern about cleanliness and the need to wash them, or not knowing how to insert and remove them properly. That’s where we come in. Here’s everything you need to know about menstrual cups as well as the best ones on the market if you’re thinking about making the switch.
What is a menstrual cup?
A menstrual cup is a flexible disc or funnel-shaped product that you insert into the vagina to collect period blood.
They come at a range of prices, with most falling in the $20 to $40 range, which would pay for enough tampons to get you through about three cycles or so (less if you use both tampons and pads or pantyliners).
“I actually think [using menstrual cups] is a fantastic alternative when you think about how many tampons or pads a woman will go through in any given year, especially if you have a heavy period,” said Dr. Wendie Trubow, an OB-GYN at a functional medicine and wellness company in Massachusetts.
Trubow specifically recommended looking for one made from high-quality silicone, which would include most of the popular products on the market. She also said that every vagina is a little bit different, and you want to honor that when selecting your cup. That means choosing the right size and shape for your body, and paying attention to whether it’s intended for those who have or have not given birth.
Why you should consider using a menstrual cup
Trubow also noted that menstrual cups have a positive impact on the environment overall because you use fewer tampons and pads. What’s more, they can benefit septic systems, which can get clogged with cotton tampons.
There are other options that allow you to buy fewer tampons and pads, including reusable pads and period underwear, but menstrual cups are likely the sustainable winners with less than 1% of the impacts of the single-use options over a year of use.
Basically, after using a cup for two to three months (what could equate to roughly 40 to 60 tampons), you would break even when it comes to your environmental footprint in terms of the resources it takes to produce menstrual products like tampons and pads.
Period underwear and reusable pads still require significant water to launder, said Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, an Oregon-based obstetrician and author of Let's Talk About Down There. She agreed that menstrual cups are likely the most environmentally friendly period product on the market.
Despite the fact that menstrual cups are eco-conscious, proven to be safe and cost-effective with a low frequency of adverse side effects as well as having similar or lower leakage as compared to disposable pads or tampons, findings from The Lancet Public Health indicated that awareness of menstrual cups is quite low, with only 30% of websites intended for menstruation education including any information about them.
How to use a menstrual cup
If you're not sure how to insert a menstrual cup, the flexible silicone material allows you to fold the rim of the cup in order to place it in your vagina. The cup’s rim then expands to take its original shape, with a large enough opening to catch any period fluid.
Your specific cup should have instructions including how long it should last, the maximum time the manufacturer suggests keeping it in, and any other pertinent guidelines, Lincoln said. They are considered to be very safe.
Since they can hold more blood than other options, menstrual cups can be worn for up to 12 hours depending on your flow.
“I know it seems kind of weird to think that you can leave a cup in for 8 or 12 hours because we’re all taught with tampons, you have to take it out or you’re at risk for toxic shock syndrome,” she said. “When used as directed, they’re both extremely low risk for that.”
You can also keep using your cup until you start to notice any sort of cracking or material breakdown, unless otherwise noted. Keeping it clean is also important, so you may want to do a more thorough disinfection after each cycle. (You can disinfect a menstrual cup by washing it with soap and hot water, soaking it in boiling water, or using a specified cleanser that many menstrual cup brands also sell.)
Though it may seem obvious, Trubow also said you should absolutely not share your cup under any circumstances, and that it will not serve as birth control. (Athough some do say they can stay in during sex, they should still not be used to block sperm.)
Whether you prefer a funnel shape with a narrow extension at the bottom or the disc versions that you reach in and pinch to pull out, they should be fairly straightforward to remove.
Since you’ll need to empty the cup and rinse it before reinserting, Trubow also advised being aware of your bathroom situation. If you have to empty the cup in public, you should aim for private or single stalls if possible as opposed to a shared sink situation.
It might not be as messy as you think, particularly if you use it on days when your flow isn’t that heavy.
Who shouldn’t use a menstrual cup?
Both experts noted that menstrual cups are not recommended if you have an intrauterine device. The removal process can create some suction, particularly with the funnel-shaped options, that may cause your IUD to dislodge.
However, Lincoln said that if you have an IUD and still want to try a menstrual cup, you can have your doctor clip the IUD strings so that they’re flush with the cervix. You could also use a disc-type cup since they’re less likely to have a suction effect, but definitely discuss with your doctor. (Menstrual cups are safe to use with contraceptive rings, although you have to be careful to not remove the ring when you are taking the cup out.)
Because menstrual cups are new for a lot of people, you should know that it may take some patience and effort to get the hang of using them.
Lincoln urges people to not give up too soon. She suggested practicing the insertion when you’re not on your period so you can try one without worrying about leakage. Extra lubrication with water or a water-based lubricant can help insertion. (Don’t use silicone- or oil-based lubricants because they can damage the silicone material of a menstrual cup.) Lincoln suggests talking to your healthcare provider if you’re having trouble so that they can walk you through the process.
DivaCup was the first menstrual cup I ever heard about, and remains the most recognizable brand name in this product category. The company now has a variety of size options, with Model 0 intended for ages 18 and younger, Model 1 (this one) for anyone ages 19 to 30 with an average or medium flow who has not given birth vaginally, and Model 2 for ages 30+ and/or heavier flows. They’re all made from 100% medical-grade silicone with no chemicals, plastic, or dyes. They also come with a little fabric pouch to keep them clean and safe when not in use, and an instructional booklet to help guide you through the use process.
Promising review: “I’ve used tampons for years, and this thing is a game changer. I work construction so it’s hard to use the bathroom sometimes and the porta potty isn’t ideal. This thing works wonders for me, I can keep it in all day, no leaks, and it is very comfortable. I highly recommend this product. It has saved me money by not having to buy a box of tampons for $10 once a month as well. If you're contemplating the diva cup I say go all in!!!” —Chelsea Peck
What else to consider: If you get the wrong size, it likely won’t feel comfortable or work as intended, so make sure to consult with your doctor if you need help figuring out which is best for you.
Best for: those who feel more comfortable trying out a menstrual cup from a trusted brand with name recognition and over 23,000 reviews.
You can buy the DivaCup on Amazon for around $33.
If you’re into aesthetics in any product category, Lena may be the most initially intriguing menstrual cup. Not only is the packaging lovely, but the actual shape of the cup resembles the blooming flowers depicted on the box. It comes in four different colors and two sizes, the small for first-time cup users with light to heavy flow and this one (large) for experienced cup users with a very heavy flow. It’s also made from safe and sturdy medical-grade silicone and can be worn for up to 12 hours regardless of activity level or reproductive history. Lena says that with proper care and use, one cup can be used for many years.
Promising review: “Alright people with a menstrual cycle, this little cup is AMAZING. If you’re like me and have an extremely heavy flow (I’m talking ultra tampon every hour) this is for you. I sat through 4.5 hours (!!!) of meetings without a single leak. I’m used to my monthly visit being messy and anxiety inducing. I will say I still had anxiety and checked in regularly, but I could go 6 hours without having to touch it. Now that my week is coming to an end, I can go 12 hours in between changes. Putting it in and taking it out requires some finesse. I’m also very thankful for a private bathroom at work. But overall this cup has made usually a horrible week so much easier and cleaner. If you’re hesitant to buy it, just go for it! You won’t regret it!” —Mackenzie Hoag
What else to consider: Some reviewers noted difficulty removing Lena cups because of how rounded they are at the bottom, but most felt confident that they’d get the hang of it with some practice.
Best for: those with a heavier flow, particularly if you haven’t given birth vaginally but still need the extra storage space.
You can buy the Lena Reusable Menstrual Cup from Amazon for around $25.
The shape of the Saalt menstrual cup is a bit of a hybrid between the DivaCup and Lena — the bottom is narrow, but it expands into more of a bulb shape. It’s made from a similarly high-quality hypoallergenic, chemical, and toxin-free silicone and comes in several colors as well as small and large sizes. This small size has the capacity of two to three tampons, making it appropriate for light to medium flow days, and can stay in for up to 12 hours. The company also promises that the cup can last for 10 years, which means it’s particularly cost-effective if you think about how many tampons or pads you’d buy in that timeframe. Saalt also donates 2% of every purchase for period care to areas with the most need.
Promising review: “Since I first got my period I have been using tampons, however changing to the Saalt cup has changed my life! It is so simple and eco-friendly which I appreciate :) Making the transition from tampons to the cup was definitely a learning curve, but once I figure out the methods to put it in and take it out that work for me I have absolutely no complaints. It is so comfortable, holds the liquid effectively without leakage, and you can keep the cup in for much longer than a tampon. Overall, could not recommend this product and brand more!” —Natalie via Target
What else to consider: Some reviewers noted that the small cup was bigger than they were expecting, so it may not be best if you have a lighter flow and want a cup that’s as little as possible.
Best for: anyone interested in investing in a cute cup from a brand that gives back a little extra.
You can buy the Saalt Menstrual Cup from Target for around $30.
One thing that Trubow mentioned was that, although she had a good experience with her menstrual cup, she ended up trimming the stem so that she couldn’t feel it while it was in. The menstrual discs solve that problem without any trimming for those who don’t like the stemmed design. The Cora cup is one-size-fits-most, so you shouldn’t have to worry about choosing the right size or shape for your body and flow. It has a high capacity, claiming to hold the equivalent of five to seven tampons, and the company says that you can keep it in during sex while on your period for a less messy experience. It also shouldn’t create the same suction as the funnel-shaped cups, so it may be a safer option if you have an IUD or just find that suction sensation uncomfortable.
Promising review: “I was a cup user for a few years, I was hesitant to try a disc as it seems more intimidating..I was wrong, this disc is fantastic and way easier then a cup. Tricky to learn how to remove without a mess but got the hang of it after a few days!! Highly recommend trying!!!” —Ashley
What else to consider: You may want to check with your doctor to make sure this shape will be right for you, as reviewers noted that it was nearly impossible to remove with a tilted cervix (you may not know if you have one, but your doctor can tell you). It also has a groove about the size of your finger that should help you grip it enough to pull out without a stem.
Best for: people with an IUD or who had issues with the suction or stems of traditionally shaped menstrual cups and are interested in another option with similar functionality.
You can buy the Cora Disc from Amazon for around $30.
The Ziggy Cup from Intimina is another popular flat-fit menstrual cup option. It’s also supposed to be wearable for up to 12 hours, including during sex, and is made from BPA-free silicone. The company describes the body as “petal-thin” with a thicker, leak-proof double rim for maximum comfort and durability. The insertion is the same, using your thumb and forefinger to squeeze the rim and place correctly against your cervix, and then you hook your finger in the groove to gently pull it out.
Promising review: “I’ve only used this cup for one cycle, but I love it! It’s much easier to insert than a traditional shaped menstrual cup and much easier to remove than I thought it would be. I’ve had no leakages so far and because it’s shaped like a disc there isn’t that uncomfortable feeling of the “handle” or “grip” of a menstrual cup digging into you from the inside. I’m an experienced cup user so this was different and definitely better.” —Emily_Oz95 via CVS
What else to consider: This version of the Intimina cup also comes in only one size and it does not specifically say what the capacity is, so you may want to check it frequently at first to make sure the shape and size work for you.
Best for: experienced cup users looking for a flat-fit option for extra comfort and wearability.
You can buy the Intimina Ziggy Cup from CVS for around $40.
If you’re looking to try a menstrual cup but you’re most worried about removal, the Flex is probably the best entry point. It’s made from 100% medical-grade soft silicone that’s hypoallergenic and free of phthalates, BPA, and latex. It should also last for years with proper use and care. Flex uses a unique pull-tab design that makes it as easy to remove as a tampon. It’s inserted the same as the others by simply pinching the rim, but the looped stem allows you to hook a finger for removal so that you never have to worry about it getting stuck. Both sizes have this same stem, so you can feel comfortable whether you think you need the smaller or larger capacity. This starter kit also comes with two of the classic Flex menstrual discs to try out if you so choose once you get the hang of the cup.
Promising review: “So very happy with my purchase!! Fits comfortably! Easy to insert and remove just takes some getting used to. Save money on pads and tampons! Very very very happy with this purchase.” —Evie
What else to consider: Since some users already had issues with the classic stem, it’s likely that the pull-tab design means you’ll be able to feel the presence of this cup more than others. However, it could still be a good starter cup to get the hang of insertion and removal.
Best for: menstrual cup beginners who are most comfortable with tampons and want to make sure they’ll be able to remove it without issue.
You can buy the Flex Cup Starter Kit from Amazon for around $35.
Lunette makes one of the more affordable menstrual cups on the market without sacrificing any quality. They come in three colors and two models, one for light to moderate flow and another for heavier periods. It’s made from a sturdy, bell-shaped medical-grade silicone with ridges on the bottom to help facilitate removal. This model (Model 1) also uses a softer silicone, which may be more comfortable for lighter days, while Model 2 is more firm to effectively collect more blood without any leakage. You can also wear either for up to 12 hours, and they should last for several years.
Promising review: “I always struggled to get my Diva cup to open when inserted but this one pops right open! It’s definitely dependent on your personal anatomy but I can’t recommend trying this one enough. I have very little leakage even on days 1/2.” —Samantha
What else to consider: A few reviewers experienced some leakage, but they still liked Lunette and felt that this could be remedied with a larger cup. Others noted that it’s on the firmer side as far as materials for menstrual cups go, which won’t be the most comfortable for every body.
Best for: more experienced cup users who had issues with leakage, proper placement, or ease of opening with other brands.
You can buy the Lunette Reusable Menstrual Cup from Amazon for around $22.