woman lying down in blue underwear and cream sweatshirt holding clear period cup over her hip

What are menstrual cups & how do you use them?

Last Updated: June 11, 2021

Whether they're called menstrual cups or period cups, these environmentally friendly and cost-effective feminine care items might just be your next sustainable swap.

Menstrual (or period) cups ... you may have friends that swear by them or have just heard about them in passing, but they’re more than just environmentally friendly — they save you money and save your vagina from discomfort sometimes caused by traditional period care products. But we understand the idea of making the switch to period cups can be daunting or downright confusing.

“The biggest misconception about period cups is that you’ll leak if you use one because people have a hard time believing that a cup the size of a shot glass(!) could hold up to six hours of menstrual fluid,” says Meika Hollender, co-founder and president of Sustain, which offers menstrual cups in two sizes. “But we bleed a lot less than we think we do! Most people who try cups say how surprised they are by how little they bleed.”

Ready to make the switch? Just like when you started using traditional or organic tampons, cup insertion can take a little practice at first. Here’s an easy and helpful primer on period cups to get you started.

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Menstrual cup basics

two hands each holding one clear menstrual cup in different sizes

What exactly is a menstrual cup (or period cup)?

A period cup is a small, flexible, bell-shaped container you insert into the vagina similar to how you’d insert a tampon (see insertion tips below).

Like a tampon, the cup is a menstrual product designed to expand once in place; unlike a tampon, it’s not designed to soak up menstrual fluid — it collects the fluid instead. The cup is designed to be so soft, small, and flexible that you shouldn’t feel it once it’s correctly inserted to collect menstrual blood. Cups can hold more blood than other methods, leading many people with periods to use them as an eco-friendly alternative.

woman in black bra and underwear holding menstrual cup in front of stomach

Why would I want to switch to a menstrual cup?

Well, to switch less often. While regular tampons typically hold five milliliters of fluid, a reusable menstrual cup may hold anywhere from 30 to 60 milliliters of fluid, which means you don’t have to empty your cup as often as you’d have to change a tampon.

Many cup users find they only need to empty their cup once or twice a day, depending on where they are in their menstrual cycle. And unlike traditional feminine care products, reusable period cups collect your flow instead of absorbing it like tampons and pads, so you avoid irritation and dryness during menstruation.

Top reasons to make the switch


“Period cups are the most sustainable option when it comes to period care,” says Hollender. “One period cup, on average, replaces 720 tampons that will end up in a landfill. That’s huge.”


Cups are usually made from medical-grade silicone material free from bleach, plastic, perfume, and other irritants you may not want to place inside your body.


This is a one-and-done purchase. Switching to a period cup will save you money on tampons or panty liners (and late-night drug store runs) over time, with some menstrual cups lasting up to 10 years.

How long do period cups last?

A period cup can generally only be used for 3 years. So what is its environmental impact if it inevitably gets thrown away too?

The cup eliminates the day-to-day waste you get from tampons, which can definitely add up! But after 1,095 days, the Sustain period cup also makes its way into the municipal waste stream. And because of its interaction with bodily fluids, the biomedical grade silicone period cup cannot be recycled.

But, even though you do eventually have to dispose of your period cup after several years of use, there are additional environmental benefits to using the period cup instead of tampons, such as its material -- silicone! Silicone is a nontoxic substance that is more ocean-friendly than plastic. When plastic makes its way into oceans and other bodies of water, it can break down into chemicals that are harmful to marine life and other vegetation. Silicone, on the other hand, is derived from silica, which is a type of sand, and has a much lower chance of releasing chemicals into the surrounding environment.

So at the end of your cup’s lifetime, you’re only putting one 74mm-long cup into the municipal waste stream -- and compared to hundreds of tampons, this is a pretty big win!

Grove Tip

How do you find the right fit with a menstrual cup?

Most popular brands, including Sustain and Lena, offer two sizes: one for women who have not given birth vaginally, and one for those who have.

That said, each cup manufacturer sizes their product a little differently, and every woman is different, so regardless of their suggestions, you may have to try a few to find the right fit for you.

How do you use a period cup?

Gif of someone inserting a menstrual cup in between a hold made with thumb and forefinger

Menstrual cup insertion tips

1. Wash your hands.

2. Fold the cup between your thumb and forefinger so that the rim makes a C shape.

3. Crouch, sit on the edge of the toilet, or stand with one leg propped up; however you usually insert a tampon.

4. Gently insert the folded cup inside your vagina, again, like you insert a tampon. The cup may not go quite as far up as a tampon but that’s okay as long as it is fully inside your vaginal canal.

5. Release the cup so that it can open up inside your vagina. Run your finger around the outside edge to ensure it’s fully unfolded.

  • If there's still a minor fold or if you want to ensure a seal, rotate the cup one-quarter turn.

Grove Tip

Inserting the period cup

The first few times you attempt to insert the menstrual cup may feel tricky. Stay with it!

You can rinse the cup with water or add a small amount of lube to help with insertion.

Gif of someone holding a clear menstrual cup filled with red liquid squeezing it and pulling it out of hold made by thumb and forefinger

Menstrual cup removal tips

1. Wash your hands.

2. Hold the stem of your cup and bear down the same way you do to pee, which uses your pelvic muscles to push the cup downwards.

3. Grab the base of the cup with your fingers and squeeze the sides together to release the suction seal. Some cups have a tab at the bottom of the period cup you can pull on to ease the cup out instead.

4. Gently remove the cup by holding the base between your fingers.

5. Empty the cup in the toilet and rinse it with water. If you cannot rinse out the cup with water, you can simply reinsert it once emptied, or give it a quick wipe with tissue or paper towel.

Grove Tip

Removing the period cup

If you have trouble removing your cup, don’t worry!

  • If you can’t reach the cup, try squatting.
  • If the suction seal seems hard to break, hook your finger between the rim of the cup and your vagina to release the seal.
Gif of clock and next to it, liquid being poured into black cup and then clear menstrual cup being put inside black cup with liquid

Cleaning and caring for your period cup

You can simply rinse your cup with water every time you empty it, before reinserting. You do not need to disinfect your cup between uses during your cycle. Also, avoid washing your cup with scented soaps or other products that may irritate your skin.

When your period has ended, you should disinfect your cup before storing it away until your next cycle begins. To disinfect your cup, place it in a bowl or pan of boiling water for 3 minutes or according to your brand’s directions. Be careful not to boil for too long or you risk damaging the silicone. After boiling, let your cup cool, dry it thoroughly, and store according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Grove Tip

Emptying your period cup in a public bathroom

Period cups hold more fluid than your average tampon, so you shouldn’t need to empty it often. But if you do need to empty it while out and about, wash your hands and remove the cup and empty the contents into the toilet.

If a sink is out of reach, wipe the cup clean and reinsert. Some cup users carry unscented wipes with them for this purpose.

Other handy menstrual cup tips

Stem too long?

Don’t worry about that long stem; you can cut it shorter if it bothers you.

Slight discoloration?

If your cup is “clear” silicone, be aware that it will likely discolor with use, but it should continue to work just fine.

Issues with silicone?

Not feeling the silicone? There are also cups made of latex or rubber.

Can you use a menstrual cup if you’re a virgin?

Yes! Just like tampons, period cups can be inserted and removed by anyone, virgins and nonvirgins alike.

Can you use a menstrual cup while swimming?

Yes! The cup is designed to stay in place until you remove it.

Can you have sex while using a period cup?

You can be intimate in a number of ways with your partner, but it’s best to not insert anything else into your vaginal canal while the cup is in place unless the cup you are using specially lists that as an option.

Can you use a menstrual cup as birth control?

Nope. The cup is not designed as birth control. It’s best to use proven birth control methods.

Can you use a period cup if you have a tilted or retro cervix?

Yes! Up to 25% of women have a tilted uterus or cervix. You may just need to practice a little extra to get the cup into the position that works for you.

Why is my period cup leaking?

There's a couple of reasons your period cup might leak after inserting. Read up on the 6 most common reasons and how to fix them here!

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