woman holding menstrual cup and tampon

A guide to menstrual cups

In this guide, we’ll take a look at what menstrual cups are, how you use them, and the pros and cons of their use.

What is a menstrual cup?

A menstrual cup is a period product that fits inside the vagina and collects period blood. They are made from soft, flexible materials such as silicone and rubber, making them reusable, unlike tampons and pads.

How do you use a menstrual cup?

  • Before the first use, sterilise the cup in boiling water for 3-5 minutes and wash your hands.
  • Insert the menstrual cup into the vagina. Due to its shape, it needs to be folded first for easy entry into the body. The most popular folds are the C-fold and the Punch Down fold, but you are best to experiment and find one that works for you and your body.
  • Once inside you, let the cup pop open.
  • Check that the cup is fully unfolded by reaching in and feeling around the base of the cup. If there are any dips, reposition the cup by holding it firmly at the base and twisting it slightly.
  • You can leave most menstrual cups in place for up to 12 hours, but you may need to empty it more frequently depending on your flow.
  • When you are planning to remove the cup, wash your hands.
  • To empty the cup, pull the stem to bring the cup further towards your hand, then insert a finger as close to the rim as possible and break the seal.
  • Next, gently pull the cup out sideways.
  • Empty the blood into the toilet, rinse (when possible), then reinsert.
  • At the end of your period, sterilise the menstrual cup, leave it to dry, then store it in a clean and breathable fabric bag until next month.

The above is just an overall guide. It is important that you follow the exact instructions given by the manufacturer of the specific menstrual cup you are using.

a purple menstrual cup being held in a c-fold
A menstrual cup in a C-fold

Using a menstrual cup can take some getting used to but 70 per cent of women want to continue using menstrual cups once they are familiar with how they work.

What are the benefits of using a menstrual cup?

The many benefits of using a menstrual cup are outlined below.

The cost

Menstrual cups can be used for around a decade before they start to degrade, making them far more cost-effective than single-use period products.

While the initial cost is more expensive, a menstrual cup will have paid for itself in a year or two.

The sustainability

Because menstrual cups are reusable, you will be creating no waste while using one, which is far better for the environment than single-use products such as tampons and pads.

While standard tampons and pads and their packaging end up in landfill and therefore contribute to the production of greenhouse gases, a menstrual cup is only one piece of waste and will avoid landfill for many years.

Some menstrual cups can be recycled or composted, so check before you dispose of them.

The ease of use

Once you’ve got the hang of them, menstrual cups save you the bother of having to carry tampons or pads around with you.

With nothing to carry to the bathroom (when you’re already wearing your cup), there are no concerns about forgetting your period products or having to sneak them to the bathroom if you’re embarrassed at school or work.

an orange menstrual cup sat on top of a cotton storage bag

What are the drawbacks of menstrual cups?

There are some drawbacks to using a menstrual cup, which are outlined below.

Insertion difficulty

At first, menstrual cups can be difficult to insert. This is especially true for younger women and those who haven’t had penetrative sex.

Choosing the right size

With so many cups on the market, it can be difficult to know which to buy.

Menstrual cups are available in a wide variety of sizes, materials and thicknesses, and with various stems (or no stem).

This can result in you needing to go through a time of trial and error to find the perfect cup for you.


Unlike tampons and pads, using a menstrual cup can get quite messy at times — especially if you have a heavy flow.

However, they are as leak-proof as their single-use alternatives, so the mess only occurs during removal.


Your cup ideally needs washing out each time you remove it but this isn’t always convenient. It also requires sterilising between periods.

Read A guide to reusable & eco-friendlier period products to learn more about switching to more sustainable options.

What is your experience of using menstrual cups? Let us know in the comments or @ us on social media.

Published by

Lucy Ravenhall

Lucy is a long-standing editor of the Forge Recycling blog and loves writing about her environmental passions.