From whether they’re messy to ways to insert & remove one (comfortably), we ask the experts to weigh in & dispel common menstrual cup myths

Every person on the planet who menstruates will know that their monthly bleed can sometimes be really inconvenient. But it turns out the effect on the planet and your wallet can be equally problematic.

The Women’s Environmental Network has revealed that women on average go through over 11,000 disposable menstrual products throughout the course of their lives. No wonder then that in one year alone, panty liners, pads and tampons and their packaging generate more than 200,000 tonnes of waste (which can end up in landfill, or worse, in seas, rivers and on beaches).

Despite the environmental and economic impact, stats from Mintel reveal that only 7% of us have made the leap to using the reusable menstrual cup (period pants are more popular with 19% of British women purchasing a pair last year). Why so few? Worries about hygiene were found to be the biggest barrier, as six in ten (59%) non-users believe they are not as hygienic to use as disposable options.

Are they actually unhygienic though? Read on for our guide to menstrual cups, from how to use one (and keep application mess-free) to how to wash them as well as some of the top menstrual cups available to buy now from Boots.

What is a menstrual cup?

"A menstrual cup is a method of internal period protection that collects menstrual fluid instead of absorbing it like a tampon or pad," explains Amanda Hearn, menstrual health educator and advocate at They usually come in a couple of different sizes depending on whether you’re over or under 30 years old and whether you’ve given birth vaginally.

What are the benefits of using a menstrual cup?

"Being reusable makes them friendlier than disposable products for both your budget and the environment," Amanda explains.

"While a box of tampons or pads may be cheaper in a single purchase, they can actually be much more costly – even in the short term," she adds. "Many reputable cup brands sell for the price of around three to four boxes of tampons or pads. The cost savings can add up quickly. And because they can be used for up to 10 years, the environmental benefit is clear."

How to insert a menstrual cup

Looking at a menstrual cup straight out of the box, it can be a little tricky to figure out the mechanics. "A menstrual cup is designed to be inserted into the vagina to sit below the cervix with the stem above the vaginal opening," explains Dr Shazia Malik, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist.

First remember to follow the instructions on sterilising it – and washing your hands – before using it for the first time. Then when you are ready use the guide that comes with the cup to get into the right position for insertion. "How to insert the cup is, on paper, as simple as folding it, and inserting it similarly to a tampon. However, all bodies are a little different and it can take some practice to get comfortable with how the cup fits you and which folding method works best," explains Amanda.

The first few times you may want to experiment with a few different folding techniques, while finding the right position that works for you – one way is to stand with one foot on the toilet seat or in the shower (but be very careful if the surface is slippy). There’s definitely a bit of trial and error involved, but knowing that beforehand can help aid an all-round smoother experience.

How to remove a menstrual cup

To start, wash your hands and get into the right position. "To remove the cup you’ll want to either be seated on the toilet or in the shower," says Amanda. "Pinch the base of the cup and keep it squeezed as you gently pull the cup down – this helps prevent the cup from creating suction.

"Once the cup is nearly out, you want to sort of pull it straight down so that the rim of the cup is parallel to the floor. Once removed, tip it over to empty, wash thoroughly, and reinsert."

Should I cut the stem of the cup?

It’s possible to customise your menstrual cup stem for a better fit. "I like to use a little pair of nail scissors to chop the stem and then I make tiny cuts until the base is smooth to my liking," says Amanda. Be cautious with your trimmings. "You can always remove more, but you can’t put it back."

Are menstrual cups messy?

Worried about the smell or mess when you have housemates sharing a bathroom or simply want to change it in the toilet at work? No problem. "When used as directed, your cup should not have an odour," says Amanda. "Practice emptying your cup before it’s filled to overflowing are the best ways to keep it mess free."

Do menstrual cups leak?

"A proper fitting cup shouldn’t leak, so long as it’s emptied before it’s full to overflowing," says Amanda. "That said, it takes a few cycles to get comfortable and confident with your first cup. I always recommend wearing a panty liner or sanitary towel if you’re at all worried. 

"If you find that you’ve given it a few cycles, tried new folds, and your cup still isn’t performing well, it could be that you need a different size."

Is a menstrual cup painful?

Good news. "Once it's in place and inserted properly, you shouldn't be able to feel it," says Dr Malik. "The first few times you try and insert it, or if you haven't had penetrative sex before you might feel uncomfortable until you become adept at inserting and removing it and find the right size for you.

"If it still feels uncomfortable or is causing pain, then you should book in with your GP to make sure there's no medical cause for your discomfort.

"It will probably take trial and error to get the right size, brand and firmness of the menstrual cup that suits you. To make the process easier, it can be really helpful to get to know your vaginal anatomy better.

"Learning how to feel where your cervix is and how your vagina curves upwards and backwards can make a huge difference to getting the cup size right, avoiding leaks and feeling comfortable inserting and removing a cup. ‘The best time is after a warm bath or shower and being relaxed so that you don't tense up your muscles. Being somewhere private and finding a comfortable position to examine yourself is really helpful.

"To get used to one, you might like to try a menstrual cup when you're not at work or out and about initially. Also allow yourself time to increase the number of hours you use one until you feel fully confident, especially at night or when you aren't at home."

How long can you wear a menstrual cup for – & how often should you clean it?

It’s generally recommended that menstrual cups are removed, cleaned and emptied every four to eight hours (or more often if needed), depending on your flow.

How do you empty & wash a menstrual cup?

"A gentle soap that’s unscented and doesn’t contain antibacterial agents will do," suggests Amanda. "A castile soap is a great choice and intimate washes and specialty cup washes can also be used. If you notice any irritation, try changing washes.

"Wash your hands before soaping up, rubbing the cup and using your thumbs to gently rub clean the interior. This helps to get the air holes and any grooves cleaned quickly and easily. Rinse well and you’re ready to reuse and get on with your day."

In a public or work toilet? No need to fret. "Hopefully you shouldn't have to use public or work toilets too often to empty your menstrual cup. However, if the situation arises, it's good to try and plan in advance," advises Dr Malik. "Always wash your hands before going into the toilet so that you don't introduce any bugs, such as candida, into your vagina.

"Take a small bottle of water into the cubicle with you to rinse your cup out before reinserting it," suggests Amanda. But ultimately washing is essential. So if you can’t do that properly make sure you have disposable products such as pads or tampons to use in an emergency.

"But you can simply wipe it with toilet paper or intimate wipes if you’re in a bind – just don’t make a habit of it as it’s best to wash it with water."

How to find the right menstrual cup for you

"Our vaginas change as we go through different stages of our reproductive life – so what you might have used as a teenager is likely to change if you give birth vaginally," explains Dr Malik.

"As we age, our vaginal shape and strength can change, and our periods may get heavier (especially if you’re not using hormonal contraception). So, it’s important to get confident in self-examination and also monitoring how heavy your flow is so that you can use a cup without any interference with your daily life and activities.

"Doing pelvic floor exercises to keep your vaginal muscles in shape can help keep cups in place, especially after childbirth."

Can I wear one when I’m swimming?

"Yes – I’d recommend emptying just before going, especially if you have a heavier flow day," says Amanda.

Can I wear one if I'm a virgin?

"Absolutely – it might take a while to get used to inserting and removing one, and you need to be aware that it can stretch your hymen," says Dr Malik.

"You may want to start with a smaller cup and a bit of lubricant on the rim of the cup to make insertion easier and more comfortable," says Amanda.

4 of the best menstrual cups for your flow

Feeling inspired to try a menstrual cup? Here are four of Team H&B’s favourites to try.

Shop more menstrual cups in our full range.

Try: Boots Menstrual Cup Pre Birth

• Made from 100% medical-grade silicone

• Box: recyclable

• Bag: 100% compostable biodegradable

Recommended for people under 30 years old who have not given birth vaginally, this cup’s designed to hold more than three times as much as a tampon for up to eight hours – meaning less fuss and less of an impact on your wallet too.

Try: Boots Menstrual Cup Post Birth

• Made from 100% medical-grade silicone

• Box: recyclable

• Bag: 100% compostable biodegradable

If you’re aged 30 years old and above or given birth vaginally, try this cup. Whether you want to travel, swim, exercise or simply curl up on the sofa during your period, this easy-to-use option will be right there with you – even when your period is heavy.

Try: Mooncup Size A

• Made from 100% medical-grade silicone

• Free from plastics and dyes

• Recyclable packaging

• Contains organic cotton storage bag

Designed for those aged 30 years old and above, and all women who have given birth vaginally, this cup designed by women and made of soft, medical grade silicone offers both comfort and convenience to suit both light and heavy days and those with sensitive skin.

Try: Mooncup Size B

• Made from 100% medical-grade silicone

• Free from plastics and dyes

• Recyclable packaging

• Contains organic cotton storage bag

Recommended for women under the age of 30 years old who have not given birth vaginally, this medical-grade silicone cup has been designed to suit a variety of different flows and like size A, those with sensitive skin. Simply fold and insert into the vagina and it will open up once inside. Change every four to eight hours depending on your needs, then just clean and reinsert. Simple.