Frequently Asked Questions
Menstrual cups are small, flexible cups made of silicone or latex rubber. Instead of absorbing your flow, like a tampon or pad, they catch and collect it.
There are a range of sizes. The smallest one is specifically for teens, others include those designed for menstruators who are under 30 years old or pre-pregnancy.
To insert them, sit on the toilet or put your leg up on the toilet and squat. You fold the cup, which then opens up inside the cervix; this short video from OrganiCup explains more in a clear and accessible way.
Like with tampons, it can take a while to get used to inserting the cups. After this, most people say they can’t feel them.
You gently squeeze the cup to release the suction and pull on the extended tube to release it. If you can’t remove your menstrual cup, the most important thing is to take your time and relax your vaginal muscles, as these are particularly sensitive to stress and will clench up around the cup.
It is very unusual for cups to get stuck, but Mooncup offer a customer service helpline for people having difficulties (Advice Centre 0044 (0)1273 673845).
Take care not to cut the extended tube too short as this can make it tricky to get the cup out.
The blood is simply poured into the toilet. The cup can contain more liquid than three super tampons.
According to the NHS, you’ll lose 5 to 12 teaspoons of blood during an average period, so you might be surprised by how little you bleed.
Different brands give different advice, but the key thing is to ensure your hands have been washed before removal to avoid bacteria or germs entering the vagina. The cup can be rinsed with water or cleaned with toilet paper during a cycle, then washed more thoroughly afterwards.
In between cycles, the cup should be sterilised with boiling water. Again, brands vary in their recommendations for the length of time. Boiling can be done in a pan or in the microwave. Ruby Cup sell a receptacle to microwave the cup in. Some brands recommend using Milton Fluid (steriliser used for babies’ feeding equipment) or unperfumed soap, although care should be taken not to upset the pH balance in the vagina.
You can wear a menstrual cup for 6 to 12 hours, depending on whether or not you have a heavy flow. This means you can use a cup for overnight protection. Some studies suggest that menstrual cups could carry a risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, like tampons. The main way that bacteria is carried is from the hands, so washing hands before emptying is advisable.
Yes, initially this is true. But if they are used again and again, they save money on buying 100s of disposables, and only one cup per period is required. Happily, there is no need to carry lots of spares as the menstrual cup is reusable. Menstrual cups can last up to 10 years with proper care. Tampons cost an average of £1,200 over a person’s lifetime.
Yes, if you are a virgin, you can use a menstrual cup, although you should be aware that inserting the cup may rupture the hymen. However, by medical standards, virginity is not defined by the state of the hymen; you remain a virgin until you participate in sexual intercourse. Read more about virginity, the hymen and using a menstrual cup.
Absolutely! Due to the softness of the material, you won’t feel the cup while it’s inserted, and it gives you comfortable and leak-free protection.
Yes, no problem! Unlike tampons, which have a string that can end up soaking up unwanted fluids, with a cup you can go to the bathroom without a worry.
Like disposable pads, reusables have layers of natural and synthetic materials that absorb blood and hold it within the pad. Although, as with all products, if a period is heavy and a product isn’t changed regularly, there is always a chance of leaking.
No. In fact, because they are made with breathable fabrics, they are less sweaty and smelly than a disposable pad.
It’s recommended that you have a wet bag (a waterproof bag) or a soap bag to put used pads in. At the end of your cycle, all the pads can be washed in the washing machine on a cool wash.
Blood comes out of any fabric if it is soaked in cold water first. For heavier stains a stain remover can be used, such as BunchaFarmers stain remover.
Period blood doesn’t need to be considered disgusting; it is no different to any other blood from the body.
Washing machines clean things thoroughly so other garments won’t end up with blood on them, especially if pads are soaked first.
There are a wide variety of mesh sacks that you can put the pads in for washing, if you wish to be discreet.
Most pads are designed to last around 10 years. Ultimately, it will depend on how well you look after them. For example, if you handwash your pads they won’t last as long as if you machine wash them, but they will still last several years.
Period pants have varying absorbency from half a tampon to four tampons worth of blood, so they are best used alongside a menstrual cup or a tampon on heavier days or overnight.
The pants use layers of natural and manmade fabrics that work in different ways to absorb, as well as creating a wicking and breathable layer so there is no wet feeling.
As with the above care advice for reusable pads, period pants are best rinsed in cold water immediately to get out any blood; they can then be washed at 30 degrees along with the rest of your laundry.
Yes, this is true. But if they are used again and again, they still save money on buying 100s of disposables.
This depends on how heavy your flow is and how often you want to do laundry! For a cycle of 4–5 days, 3–5 pairs are recommended. Of course, if you wash them more regularly you can buy fewer pairs and rotate them quickly! Some pants are compatible with removable absorbent inserts that you can replace like you would a pad, which means you can change them less often.
Swimming during your period can be tricky. Period pants aren’t ideal for swimming because they will absorb any water they come into contact with – leaving limited room to absorb your period. Plus, any menstrual flow already in your undies could seep out into the pool when you get in.
Period pants can be folded and stored in a laundry bag until you get home/to a washing machine. You can always rinse them whilst you’re away if you won’t be able to put them in a washing machine for a few days.
One pair of WUKA lasts up to 25 washes.
THINX pants should last two years.
Of course, these all depend on you taking good care of your period pants and reading the instructions!
Yes, there are many types of period pants! Almost all period pants currently on the market hold 1–2 tampons worth of flow, except WUKA pants which hold 4 tampons worth.
Most brands will have a variety of designs, absorbencies and sizes, so browse a few sites before you buy.
As soon as you start having your period, you’re old enough to use tampons. Pads are advisable for the first period, which will help gauge heavy and lighter days.
It can take a bit of getting used to, but once inserted correctly (high-enough up in the vagina) then there should be no discomfort and you should not feel the tampon. Some people experience vaginal dryness from using tampons as they absorb natural lubrication.
Depending on flow, a tampon should be changed every 4–8 hours. Tampons must not be left in any longer than eight hours as there is a risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome.
According to NHS UK, ‘Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare but life-threatening condition caused by bacteria getting into the body and releasing harmful toxins.’
It’s often associated with tampon use in young women, but it can affect anyone of any age – including men and children.
TSS gets worse very quickly and can be fatal if not treated promptly. But if it’s diagnosed and treated early on, most people make a full recovery.
Different sizes absorb different flows. If a tampon becomes saturated within an hour or two, look to use a higher absorbency tampon. On the other hand, if you remove the tampon and it feels stuck or dry, try a lighter absorbency.
It is perfectly normal to leak during a period and there is no need to feel ashamed. It generally means you need a higher absorbency tampon, or you could wear a panty liner, pad or period pants. The best way to get blood out of underwear is to rinse or soak in cold water.
Applicators are available in plastic and cardboard options. The applicators push the tampon inside the vagina and must be disposed of in the bin after use. Non-applicator tampons have a fine coat of polyester (plastic) which helps insertion, using a finger. These are called digital tampons.
Yes, tampons be worn for up to 8 hours during the night, although if it is a heavy day, it may be worth using a panty liner, pad or period pants. If you sleep for longer than eight hours, a pad is recommended.
All components – wrappers, applicators and used tampons – must be placed in a bin unless they specify that they can go into your home-composter. Tampons must not be flushed as they can cause sewer blockages that pollute rivers, beaches and the sea.
It is recommended that you change your pad every 4–6 hours. If a pad becomes damp on the outside, it is an indication that it needs changing as it has reached full absorbency.
Not for swimming, but yes for exercise. There are very thin options available which are better suited for this.
Wrap the pad up and place it in a bin. Pads must not be flushed as they can cause sewer blockages that pollute rivers, beaches and the sea.
The difference is in the materials they are made from. Organic means the materials have been produced without chemicals and pesticides. It also means the materials are unbleached with chlorine and there are no synthetic, plastic-based materials in the products. Organic pads are not perfumed, either.
People choose to use organic menstrual products because they don’t want chemicals, plastic and chlorine close to their skin. Many people report problems from using non-organic menstrual products, such as itchiness or thrush. This is believed to be caused by the synthetic materials and the chemicals upsetting the pH balance of the vagina.
This means that in the right conditions they would break down, because they have no plastic in them. The ‘right conditions’ are not present in landfill as landfill sites are too compacted for anything to break down (aerobic digestion requires air). They can’t go in the food waste bin either, as this anaerobic digestion process is shorter than is required for menstrual products to break down (any plastic materials that end up in a food waste bin will be pulled out and burned).
So, if you want to compost them, it is best to do this in a home composter and anticipate it will take 18–24 months. At present, compost facilities available to process biodegradable or compostable plastics do not exist commercially, but this could change in the future, if there is a bigger move away from oil-based plastics.
No. While they are made from natural materials, they still don’t break down like toilet paper and could cause blockages that may lead to ocean pollution.
An ‘average woman’ throws away 115–135kg of pads, tampons and applicators in her lifetime. Menstrual products that are properly disposed of (not flushed!) create 200,000 tonnes of landfilled waste every year in the UK. The break-down of these products in landfill contributes to the production of greenhouse gases, just like other bio-waste.
In addition, over your lifetime you can expect to save up to 94% of what you would have spent on disposables, by switching to reusables!
Of course, there are certain times and occasions where people may need to use throwaway products. On those occasions, consider opting for organic products instead of those that contain plastic, bleach and other undivulged chemicals.
Of course! Just as some people use a combination of disposable pads and tampons and use different products as their flow changes, some people use a combination of disposable and reusable products in the same way. Many people use multiple products during heavy flow, or switch to disposable organic products when they’re at festivals, etc.
NB: using a pad on top of period pants won’t work – the tech will be cancelled out!
Reusables can be more practical when you’re living outdoors, because you don’t have to worry about finding a bin for your disposables. However, they can pose new challenges in the type of washing facilities that are available!
If you’re using a cup, make sure your hands are clean and bring a reusable water bottle into the toilet with you so you can rinse your cup off even if there’s no sink. You can also buy cup wipes or use a sterilising tablet (like those you’d use for a baby bottle) in a foldable cup.
Reusable pads and period pants can be folded and stored in a bag until you get to a washing machine, or you can wash them by hand!
How you manage your flow is your choice! Let your partner/friends/family know that this is your body and your decision. No one should make you feel ashamed for choosing a menstrual product that is better for your health and for the environment.
The more we talk about periods and period products the more ‘normal’ and accepted the subject will become.
Over your lifetime you can expect to save up to 94% of what you would have spent on disposables, by switching to reusables! Don’t let the initial financial investment put you off – it more than makes up for itself over time.
Based on a 4–5 day cycle, the ‘average woman’ spends around £100–150 per year on disposable products.
Menstrual cups cost £9–25 and will last you up to 10 years.
A set of reusable pads will cost you £10–35 and some can last up to 10 years.
A pair of period pants will cost you between £23 and £31, and each pair will last you at least two years.
These timelines are all dependent on you properly looking after your products, so be sure to read the washing/maintenance instructions that come with whatever product you opt for!
The exact amount of money you save will depend on what and how many products you decide to use, and what throwaway products you move away from.
This is very much a personal preference. Many people find reusables more comfortable than disposable products – no squeaky, expanded pads or tampons that dry you out.
Some people say that they can forget all about their period when they’re using a menstrual cup because they can’t feel a thing. Reusable pads can be made of super soft cotton and bamboo, which feel like a luxurious rug in your pants! Period pants don’t move or shift in your underwear and sit comfortably without requiring you to fiddle around or insert anything internally.
Suggested sources of additional information:
- Precious Stars YouTube channel is a great source of short, informative vlogs, all delivered by a teenage girl, Bryony.
- A Dad’s Guide to Periods: Pads 4 Dads from Hey Girls recognises that chatting about periods can hard, especially if you don’t experience them yourself.
- My Period Cards from Hey Girls have been designed to help you start positive conversations about periods. Each pack contains 50 flash cards with an image on one side and discussion points on the other. The cards cover everything from the biology of menstruation to stigma and taboo; from discharge to menstrual cups. These cards are appropriate for the classroom, the youth club, the community centre or a one-to-one chat at home. My Period Cards will really help you get the conversations flowing!
- Break the Barriers from Plan International UK is a first-of-a-kind report which documents girls’ experiences of periods in the UK.
Where can I buy products and are there any discounts?
There are loads of amazing brands on the market offering a full range of reusable products. To make life easier, here’s a list to get you started, with some exclusive offers to make it even more affordable. Did you know that by switching to reusable period products you could save up to 94% of what you would have spent on disposables in your lifetime – and you’ll help stop a huge amount of plastic pollution at source!
Lunapads – 15% off any order of any value. Quote: LUVLUNA15
Lunette Cups – 15% discount. Quote: CITYTOSEA15
Ruby Cup – 15% discount. Quote: citytosea15
Mooncup® – 15% discount using the code citytosea15
FLUX Undies – 10% discount using the code citytosea10
Bloom & Nora reusable pads – 15% off using the code WEN15
OrganiCup menstrual cup – 20% off using WEN20
The Cup Effect menstrual cup – 15% off using WASTEFREEPERIODS15
OHNE – Get your first box of organic tampons FREE when you subscribe using the code PERIODSWITHOUTPLASTIC
Grace & Green organic subscription service – to get full discount use G&G40 (40% off) and GGWEN (for an additional 10% off quarterly subscriptions or 5% off monthly subscriptions).
TOTM organic disposables – 15% off new orders (expires January 2020) using TOTMWEN15
ALBANYONE organic disposables – 50% off first purchase using code ALBANYONE
Natracare for organic disposables