Turning Red to Green- Reusable Menstrual Products Resource Guide

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It’s always nice to have a mega-resource for an oft asked about topic.  This page is going to be your new favorite resource for menstrual cup information and a nice link for your cup or cloth curious friends.  I’ll be referencing this page at my menstrual products workshops so if you are coming here after my session you will see links to much of what was discussed in person in the text when applicable and links to helpful outside resources at the end of this post.

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Part 1- Why Should You Switch to Reusable Menstrual Products?

Comfort is the number one reason I think all women should switch to either cloth or cups.  Honestly, it’s an incredible difference and seeing/feeling is about the only way to truly understand.  Unlike tampons or disposable pads, cups and cloth will not dry you out.  Tampons will remove your body’s natural moisture along with your flow but cups only contain the flow.  Cloth pads do not use highly absorbent chemicals that pull away your skin’s moisture with it and they have no plastic backing which makes them more breathable.   Instead, cloth pads use PUL or fleece backings to keep underwear clean and dry.   Most women cannot feel the cup once it is properly inside and the silicone is warmed by your body to mould and fit your shape; cups move with you so there is no friction to feel.  There have been cases where women forgot they were wearing the cup!  Cloth pads are made from soft fabrics like bamboo, velour, organic cotton, minky, or fabric blends- this means they are even softer than your softest panties and have no crinkling!

Anecdotal evidence and testimonials support the claims that menstrual cups can reduce cramps and sometimes even shorten the length of a menstrual cycle.

Convenience is another reason that every single woman should switch to a cup if they can.  Cups can be worn for 10-12 hours before needing to be removed and emptied!  Imagine not having to seek out restrooms to change your tampon or pad every 2-4 hours!  Women who work busy, demanding jobs with lack of reliable access to a bathroom especially should consider changing over to a cup.  There is an inexplainable freedom that only cup wearers understand.  Go anywhere, do anything… just like in those fun tampon commercials showing women swimming and bike riding, but women wearing cups can do even more for even longer!

Environmental impact is a major reason to consider switching.  Women can use over 16,000 disposable menstrual products during their lifetime.  That is a LOT of waste.  Consider that each product is wrapped in plastic and that pads are backed with a plastic liner and tampons come with a plastic applicator.  When it comes time to get rid of our used products we wrap them back in the plastic tightly and throw them into another plastic bag that often gets tossed into a larger plastic bag that then goes to a landfill.  Though the cotton may breakdown under the right circumstances it will never see the right conditions to do so, and the plastics will be around a very, very long time.

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Plastic debris, including plastic tampon applicators, on the shore of Onondaga Lake in NY after a storm. Photo used with permission from anikarenina on Flickr

Things like plastic tampon applicators are small and easily make their way into the ecosystem if not disposed of properly.  It isn’t uncommon to find tampon applicators on beaches and river banks.  Birds and fish are frequently found dead with stomachs full of small plastic parts they mistake for food, including tampon applicators.  As a society we can work on reducing our plastic waste, switching to reusable menstrual products can be one change and may lead to more.  For more on the plastic problem in our world watch this video on ocean garbage patches.

Money Savings can be either the motivation, or an added bonus, when you switch to reusable menstrual products.  It may not seem like much when you buy an $8 box of tampons but over the lifespan of your menstrual days it can add up to several hundred dollars depending on the brand you choose.  With the money you save each cycle you can treat yourself to a Venti from Starbucks or a pint of Haagen Daaz Coffee Ice Cream (now I’m craving!)

Part 2. The Logistics of Using Cloth or Menstrual Cups

Using reusable cloth for your period may sounds disgusting at first but it is actually very comfortable and for women with sensitive skin, it can be a lifesaver compared to disposable pads that dry out the skin.  I have a post with great beginner information on Getting Started with Reusable Menstrual Cloth for more information.

When it comes to using a menstrual cup it’s not as scary, difficult, or messy as you imagine.  I also imagined the worst but found it to be a chore worth doing in the grand scheme of things.  If the in person demonstrations at MommyCon weren’t enough and you need more visuals about how to insert the cup and remove it I have a video for that!  How to Insert and Remove a Menstrual Cup.

Now that I have created my new vagina stand-in model, Virginia, there’s a good chance I will make a new video soon for an even better visual aid.

Choosing the Right Menstrual Cup

Once you understand how it works and you’re ready to make the switch you will want to choose the cup that is likely to work best for you.  At first the choice seems simple enough- Size 1 for women under 30 who haven’t given birth or Size 2 for women over 30 or who have given birth.  That is a good place to start but there are a few other factors to consider.

Lily Cup, Diva Cup, and Lily Cup Compact

Firmness.  Menstrual cups can be extra soft all the way to extra firm and everything in between.  The silicone  (rubber or latex in some cases) firmness can dictate several things- how easy or hard it is to fold for insertion, how easy or hard it is for the cup to unfold once inserted, and how well it stays in place during wear.  Softer cups are easiest to fold and keep folded while inserting but might be harder to unfold inside to get a perfect seal.  Firmer cups are harder to fold and keep folded while inserting (they naturally want to unfold) but once inserted that comes in handy as they will pop open with more force/resistance to create a nice seal.  A good starter cup with average firmness is The DivaCup or Lunette.

Length.  The length of a cup is also an important factor.  The average vaginal canal is 3-4 inches (if you’re wondering how that works for intercourse it lengthens when aroused) however that isn’t always the case.  The cervix can also change positions during the month/week and sometimes it is lower or higher.  If the cervix is lower while you are on your period you might find it harder to wear certain cups that are longer.  You can look at this handy comparison tool to compare the lengths of cups on The Eco-Friendly Family.  If you already have a cup and realize this by using it try trimming the stem or flipping the cup inside out.  If your cervix is higher you may want a longer cup so that you can reach the stem when needing to remove it.  Please see the diagram to note that a cup sits below the cervix and shouldn’t cup over it.  If you have an IUD in place be especially mindful of this fact since there is a risk of dislodging it.  Women with IUD’s have and do successfully wear cups but you may want to consult your gynecologist first to get peace of mind.

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Diameter.  Most brands stick to a simple Size 1 or Size 2 model but there are some that offer a wider assortment of choices.  Most women who have given birth are fine with a 2, most women who haven’t are fine with a 1, but sometimes the roles are flipped.  If you are a woman who finds the size 2 still slips out of place there are cups with a wider diameter from brands like Meluna.

Shape.   Most menstrual cups are similar in shape and look like a bell.  The bottoms are tapered and the top is wide.  The shape combined with the length and diameter all contribute to how much the cup will hold.  If you are already aware that you have a heavy flow a cup with a rounder bottom that is longer will hold more than a cup with a pointed bottom that is shorter.  Once again, the comparison chart on The Eco-Friendly Family is the best resource to compare each brand when deciding on a cup to try.

 

Caring for your Cup or Cloth

Washing your menstrual cloth products is very simple.  You will want to pre-rinse on cold.  Wash on hot with a detergent that lacks softeners.  Being that this cloth touches your most sensitive skin you may also want to avoid dyes and harsh fragrances.  Tumble dry your cloth pads.  You can wash with diapers or with towels to save water.  If you want to wash with towels or clothing you can pre-rinse in the sink before adding to the wash.

Washing a menstrual cup is easy as well.  Find a fragrance free, gentle soap (this product is worn internally so it is best to avoid soaps with ingredients that could irritate) or use a wash specifically designed for use with menstrual cups like DivaWash. After dumping the contents in the toilet you can either wipe the rest with TP or take it straight to the sink and wash. If you want to lessen how much TP you use while on your period the Fridet is also a nice option to cleanse yourself and rinse out the cup over the toilet before washing.   To get the suction holes clean bend the cup and run under water or use a toothpick for thorough cleaning.  After washing with hot water and soap reinsert.  You can boil the cup to sterilize if you choose each month at the end of your cycle or if you notice any stains or odors.  If the raise lettering or grips are collecting any film take a soft bristle toothbrush to the cup.  Cups can last many years if cared for and kept clean.  Store your cup in the drawstring bag it likely came in or another package of your choosing.

As for the many questions asked by women (and men) from every walk of life I am happy to answer them in person or through this post.  Sensitive questions can be emailed directly as well.

Further Resources:

DDL’s Menstrual Posts

All my videos can be seen in this playlist for easy access or scroll down for links right to the posts and videos.

Reusable Menstrual Cloth Basics

Menstrual Cups: What Every Woman Should Know

The Most TMI Post Ever

How to Insert and Remove a Menstrual Cup

What to Expect When You Switch to Menstrual Cups [a timeline of milestones]

10 Pro-Tips for Menstrual Cup Users

 Excellent Outside Resources

The Eco-Friendly Family’s What Menstrual Cup is Right For You 

(NSFW) Oh Joy Sex Toy’s Comic about the Keeper Cup

 Precious Star Pads YouTube Channel

Menstrual Cups LiveJournal

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  • Timmi

    I am curious what would be recommended for someone just getting their period. I have a daughter who is on her way into the wonderful world of puberty and I am wanting to prepare her for it by having the products and knowledge all ready to go so she’s not afraid or shocked when it all starts.

  • Jackie

    So, my cup reeks. Like, there is no way I want that thing going back in. I washed it vigorously with soap and even boiled it, but it still has some serious stank. I have only gotten to use it for 2 periods so I don’t want to throw it away. Any ideas to help?

    • Brittney

      How often do you empty it? A benefit of cups is that they don’t NEED to be changed as often as tampons, but if it is not an inconvenience they probably should be. If only to give your cervix a breath of fresh air! With the seal, there’s no air circulation and that contributes to the rotten smell.

    • Someone

      It could either be
      A: Time to buy a new cup
      or
      B: A good idea to empty it more often. Without a chance to sort of air out, The stuff that collects can get to smelling terrible.

  • Jaime

    Soon-to-be newby here. Just had IUD removed and ready to try a menstrual cup! So many option though!! Two vaginal deliveries, high/tilted cervix, regular flow. Can you please give me some recommendation(s) for a good cup for a first time user?? Thanks so much!

    • kimrosas

      If your cervix is high you might want to use a Lena Cup and leave the stem, a Diva Cup, or Lily Cup Standard. There is a great comparison chart on putacupinit.com/chart that shows their measurements. The Lena cup is the firmest of all three but overall I think they’re all good for a beginner.