Feminine hygiene products come into contact with one of the most sensitive part of a woman’s body: the vagina. That's why learning how to wash menstrual cups is crucial for keeping our feminine part happy and healthy. After all, the cup is going inside our bodies.
But for some women, cleaning a cup can be uncomfortable and daunting. Especially if you’re just making your transition from disposables to reusable.
The Importance of a Clean Cup
One of the biggest conversations ever had in the online community about menstrual cups is regarding how to clean them. After all, if it’s going into your vagina, it’s only natural to want them in pristine condition.
A clean cup can be the difference between an infection or a hassle-free cycle. It also plays a decisive role in prolonging the lifespan of the cup. With all this natural obsession with cleanliness, it may not occur to many women that there’s such a thing as too clean.
In this post, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about cleaning menstrual cups. From the recommended cleaning methods, best cleansing products to use, and what the most common questions are. By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll be a menstrual cup cleaning master!
Before starting any kind of cleaning procedure, it’s good to check the material of your period cup first. This way, you’ll know what you can or can’t do. For example, cups made of medical-grade silicone are naturally bacteria-resistant. They won’t need sterilization after every use (although you can if you prefer).
Cups made from other materials such as latex or thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) also don’t need to be sterilized often. However, since you risk developing an allergy to these materials, it is best to clean them thoroughly before every use.
Following Standard Cleaning Recommendations
Most companies that sell feminine cups will include a cleaning guide in the package. You don’t have to follow the instructions to the letter.
The cleaning instructions provided by companies already take into consideration the cup's material. If you're unsure about which cleaning methods will damage your cup, it's best to follow the cleaning guide. This way, you won't risk accidentally damaging or deforming the cup.
The vagina is a very special part of the woman’s body in that it can create its own ideal environment. One decisive factor that contributes to our vagina’s health is its pH level. Basically, vaginal pH is a scale of alkalinity and acidity used to determine whether our feminine part has the perfect environment for good bacteria to thrive.
Not only does a healthy pH level keep bad bacteria at bay, but it also helps to avoid certain infections and diseases. The ideal vaginal pH is between 3.8 and 4.5 - just the right acidity so bad bacteria won’t survive yet not too harsh as to inflame the skin.
All feminine hygiene products can affect your pH. This includes tampons, pads, and yes, even menstrual cups. But if you’ve been using tampons up until now, you’ll find that menstrual cups are actually less disruptive to the vagina’s natural environment. However, feminine cups do not absorb menstrual fluid and are made of medical-grade silicone. This makes them the best option for maintaining a healthy vaginal pH throughout your cycle.
WHAT'S SOFT AND HARD WATER?
The simple way to differentiate hard water from soft water would be to determine the amount of calcium and magnesium dissolved in the water. Hard water contains high levels of these dissolved minerals and will often leave a film residue on your hands after you use it with soap. Scaling (deposits formed from calcification) is another sign that water is hard.
WHICH IS BEST?
Hard water shouldn’t be a problem if used to rinse a menstrual cup. However, soft water would be the ideal choice since there’s less chance of leaving any residue. If the water in your area is especially hard and leaves a film-like residue on your cup after rinsing, it would be best to look for bottled water instead. If no residue is left, the water should be safe for rinsing.
Some women also report scaling on hard water after boiling. This may make it problematic to sanitize your cup properly. We advice finding a softer source of water or buying bottled water instead. But if it’s quite impossible for you to do so, you can rinse off the residue then wipe the period cup after boiling it, then reuse the cup afterwards.
Cleaning for your first use will be a little more time-consuming than the regular between-uses rinsing. You may wonder why you’d need to clean a cup that’s right out of a sealed plastic. That’s a very good question.
Although the cup itself should be safe to use, there’s still the chance that chemical residue from manufacturing have found their way into the sealed package. With that in mind, it doesn’t hurt to take extra precautions to guarantee that your cup’s free from harmful chemicals before using.
The first step to cleaning any feminine hygiene product is to wash your hands thoroughly. If you’re in a hurry and pressed for time, you may think skipping this first step isn’t a big deal. You’d be wrong.
Always prioritize having clean hands before handling your period cup. We use our hands to do a lot of things, and most of these things expose our hands to dirt, grime, and chemicals.
Next, clean the menstrual cup with soap that’s ideal for washing feminine hygiene products. Then boil the cup in a large pot of water for 10-20 minutes, taking care not to let it sink to the bottom. Letting the cup sink may lead to burning or a deformity of the cup’s natural shape.
After every use, rinse the menstrual cup under clean tap water. If you don’t have access to water, however, you can simply wipe the cup with a clean tissue paper or buy a bottle of water to rinse the cup with.
Some women prefer to use soap to wash their cup. This isn’t strictly necessary but it still a matter of personal preference. Just make sure not to use washes that contain oil, fragrance, and strong antibacterial agents.
Once your period is over, you’ll want to give your cup a good clean up before storing so it doesn’t stain. Here are effective ways on how to wash menstrual cups after your cycle:
Note: Cup stains will naturally occur. This doesn’t mean the product is unsafe or unhealthy to use. But for aesthetic purposes, most women would prefer if their cup were stain-free.
If you don’t have access to clean water for this, you can choose to use bottled water instead. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and gently place the cup in. Some cups tend to sink to the bottom, which often leads to burning. To avoid this, place the cup in a whisk and put it back into the pot of boiling water, keeping the cup away from the sides.
Keep the cup in the water for up to 5-8 minutes, drain it, then let it air dry. If you feel uncomfortable using a pot you use for cooking, you can buy a special pot just for cleaning your period cup.
A mixture of equal parts 1% hydrogen peroxide and water does wonders for removing cup stains. Submerge the cup for at least 24 hours, then give it a good wash to remove any residue before storing or using.
Note: Some companies advise against using hydrogen peroxide since this may reduce the cup’s lifespan and make it more prone to damage later on.
For a more natural way to clean your period cup, you can use a vinegar and water solution (1:10 ratio). Some rinse their cup with the solution while others soak it for up to 24 hours. Some women don’t like their cup smelling like vinegar, so they follow it up with a few minutes of boiling.
Denture tablets aren’t just good for keeping dentures and jewelry sparkly clean. They’re also great for cleaning menstrual cups.
Simply fill a 10 oz cup with water that’s very warm (but not boiling hot) and drop the denture tablet in. Next, place your menstrual cup inside and let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes. This should remove any tough stains and make your cup look like new.
After soaking, remove the cup from the solution, rinse it, and store it for your next cycle.
When it comes to environment-friendly cleaning alternatives, you’ll find plenty of choices. Boiling is a fantastic way to sterilize the cup without spreading toxic chemicals found in detergents. Rinsing the cup with warm water, vinegar, or lemon juice are also ecologically-sound cleaning methods.
You may still use soap or other gentle cleaning products to clean your cup. Just pay attention to the ingredients and make sure to avoid using products that contain fragrances, phthalates, optical brighteners, and “microbeads”. These are often toxic to the environment, animal species, and even human beings.
Also avoid antibacterial or antiseptic soaps for cleaning cups. Not only do they kill off the good bacteria that helps keep us healthy, but they also encourage the evolution of more resistant strains of bacteria, or “superbugs”.
How do I clean my cup when I’m away from home or at the office?
The best way to clean a menstrual cup when you’re out is to buy a bottle of water and look for a public restroom. You probably shouldn’t clean the cup under the public sink or you’ll attract a lot of weird looks.
Wash your hands then get inside a stall. Remove the cup from your vagina over an open toilet. This is to prepare for any spills or leaks while removing. Next, wash the cup with the bottled water you brought with you.
If you can’t get bottled water or any kind of clean water for rinsing the cup, you can choose to simply wipe the cup with dry or damp tissue. After cleaning, you can then re-insert the cup.
Can I boil my cup every time I empty it?
Yes. Although it isn’t recommended, you can boil your cup however many times you want. However, cup manufacturers advise against boiling cups made from rubber and medical-grade silicone to lengthen the product’s life-span.
How often should the cup be emptied/washed?
For light flow, your cup won’t need to be emptied for up to 10 to 12 hours. However, this is just an estimate. The size and shape of your cup will also play a factor. Smaller-sized cups will need to be emptied more frequently - up to 4 to 10 hours, especially for heavy flow days.
DO NOT let the cup sit more than 12 hours in your vagina. Any feminine hygiene product that’s left too long will increase the chances of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) and other health problems.
Do I need to sterilize my cup every time I empty it?
No. Sterilizing your cup during your period is not necessary, no matter how many times you empty and re-insert it. The only instances a cup must be sterilized is when you’re about to use it for your period or after your period when you’re about to store it away.
You can still sterilize the cup after emptying it if you prefer. However, most menstrual cups are made from material that are resistant to bacteria so even if you don’t sterilize it, it should still be safe to use.
Should I always use brand-recommended menstrual cup cleaners?
Contrary to what some cup manufacturers may tell you, it isn’t necessary to use branded menstrual cup cleaners. Your cup should come with cleaning instructions that are meant to prolong its durability. A quality menstrual cup, if taken care of properly, can last up to 10 years without needing to be replaced. And you can still give your cup the proper care it needs without using branded cleaners or wipes.
Can I use any type of commercial soap to clean my cup?
When it comes to soap, a good rule to follow is never to wash your cup with soap that isn’t good for your vagina. Unfortunately, most types of soap you can get on grocery aisles will only do more harm than good to your vagina.
Antibacterial soaps, for example, disrupt the natural pH level of your vagina and lead to irritations and yeast infection. Another good reason to avoid using antibacterial soap is their ability to produce more resistant bacteria, or “superbugs”.
Fragrances, dyes, and deodorants are all potentially harmful to your vagina, as well. Most intimate washes should be safe for washing menstrual cups. But just to make sure, always check the ingredients of the product before using it to clean your cup.
Can I use natural, plant-based soap to clean my cup?
It would be common to think that soap made from natural ingredients are good for cleaning our bodies, and therefore, our period cups. But remember that even natural ingredients can leave unwanted residue. Moisturizers, natural fragrances, essential oils, base oils, and ingredients that leave a film-like residue would not be good for your vagina.
That doesn’t mean you should avoid natural, plant-based soap altogether. Make a habit of checking the ingredients to see if it contains chemicals to avoid. If a company doesn’t state the complete list of ingredients on the product’s box (which is often the case), you may need to contact them yourself.
Can I use a microwave to sterilize my cup?
There are two popular approaches for using a microwave to clean a menstrual cup. The first is to bring a mug of water to a boil in the microwave, take out the mug, then drop the menstrual cup in the hot water. The second approach is to place the menstrual cup inside the mug of water, put them in the microwave, and leave them inside for 20 minutes while the water boils.
Although uncommon, some women report their cups being burned or melted after leaving in the microwave. Be sure to check the manual that came with your cup to see if the material is microwave-safe to avoid problems.
Are menstrual cups dishwasher-safe?
No, not all menstrual cups are safe to place in a dishwasher. The manual that came with your cup should include information on cleaning do’s and don’ts. If the manual specifically states to avoid using a dishwasher, then it is best to do so to avoid permanent damage.
Is it normal for menstrual cups to stain?
Yes. After numerous uses, you should expect to see staining on your cup. This does not always mean your cup is deteriorating. It also doesn’t mean your cup isn’t clean. Staining is normal, especially with silicone cups. No matter how many times you boil or wash it, some stains are just there to stay. To prevent permanent discoloration, most women soak the cup in 3% Hydrogen peroxide (this was done on silicone cups). It’s very effective and will make your cup look as good as new.
Will I be able to use and empty a menstrual cup if I’m not comfortable around blood?"
If you can handle a tampon, you should be able to handle a menstrual cup. If looking at blood really makes you feel uncomfortable, you can remove and empty the cup while sitting over a toilet. That way, you don’t have to look at the gathered menstrual fluid.
Will the cup start to smell after several uses?
If cleaned and stored properly, your menstrual cup shouldn’t have any unpleasant odor. If your cup does start to smell, you may need to give it a deeper clean. Boiling, wiping with rubbing alcohol, or soaking in diluted vinegar should do the trick. Soaking the cup in pure lemon juice for several minutes is also effective. Just make sure to boil the cup afterwards to remove any residue.
Does the cleanliness of a period cup have anything to do with women developing yeast infections?
Yes. Candidiasis (or yeast infection) is a common female genital ailment that a women is likely to experience at least once in her lifetime. For women who practice good personal hygiene when using menstrual cups, the chances of developing a yeast infection is greatly reduced.
Of course, yeast infections can be triggered by other factors aside from poor hygiene. Diet, medications, hormonal changes (especially during pregnancy), and tight-fitting pants or underwear may also cause them.
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