I swear, it's like I was living in black-and-white before I switched from tampons to a menstrual cup. After getting past the initial hump of learning how to care for this new device, I found that menstrual cups were a much easier, cleaner, and safer method for dealing with my period than the plastic-and-cotton option. And you can save some serious cash when you trade in your tampons and pads for a cup — one costs around $30 and can last for up to 10 years — while also doing Mother Earth a huge favor — they're way more environmentally friendly than any kind of disposable menstrual product.
But as enthused as I am about life with a menstrual cup, it's not all rainbows and roses. Menstrual cups require you to get up close and personal with your body in a way that pads and tampons don't. Yes, you might get some blood on your hands. Yes, you may have to reach farther into your vagina than you're used to. But don't let that freak you out. Believe it or not, it's not inconvenient. Plus, all those, um, developments helped me get to a more comfortable place with my own body. Because seriously, there is nothing gross about our periods.
If you've been a bit hesitant to toss those tampons to the side and try out your first cup because it seems too complicated, I'd like to pass on nine essential menstrual cup hacks to help you ease into the transition. As always, read the instructions on the package, and consult with your doctor if you have any questions about using the product. And no matter what, empty the cup out regularly, and don't keep it inserted for more than 12 hours at a time.
1. Engage Your Kegel Muscles
I know, I know — you're used to the easy plastic tampon applicator, and that handy string just waiting for a quick pull to get it out. Inserting and removing a menstrual cup requires a little more effort than tampons — and that's where your Kegel exercises really come in handy. When you're placing the cup inside your vagina, it might not settle in the correct spot right away on its own. But if you contract your Kegel muscles a few times, drawing them upwards, like you're holding in pee, it should shift the cup to the right place without you having to reach in and mess with it.
When it comes to taking it out, just do the opposite. If your flow isn't that heavy, then the cup might be lodged up further inside your vagina — but don't freak out if you can't easily reach the long tip on the end of the cup. Use your pelvic floor muscles to push down until you have pushed the cup far enough down that you can pinch the base and release the suction. Keep practicing and you'll be a pro in no time.
2. Start With Cold Water
Everyone and their mother will tell you to wash your cup in warm water, and that's sound advice for making sure that it's properly cleansed. But if you want to avoid any permanent stains or discoloration, start your care routine with a cold rinse to ensure that the dark tints don't get set into the cup. Then you can move to a higher temperature for cleaning.
3. Rinse It With Vinegar
No need to spend money on a specially-made cleaner to clean out your cup during your cycle. You can just grab some vinegar from your cabinet and dilute it with nine times as much water. Vinegar is a sanitizing agent that is just as powerful as the synthetic stuff you can pick up at the grocery store, yet it comes without all the gross artificial hoo-ha . Simply rinse your cup out with this homemade solution, and you're good to go.
Vinegar is a great way to keep your cup clean and scent-free during your period. When I'm on my cycle, I like to do this rinse every night before I insert it for bedtime. If you make a big jug of diluted vinegar and store it for future use, it'll become the easiest routine on your self-care list.
4. Boil It Once A Month
Personally, this is my favorite trick. After your period is over and you want to give your cup a solid wash before tucking it away for the rest of the month, heat up a small pot of water. Once it starts rapidly boiling, drop your cup in and wait around the kitchen for five to 10 minutes. The boiling water will remove the unpleasant odor, discoloration, and any nasties that shouldn't be living on the surface. After the time is up, remove your cup, let it dry, and store it.
However, don't use this downtime to paint your nails, vacuum the whole house, or zone out. You've got to keep a close eye on the whole boiling process, or else you could burn the cup and forever damage it. Setting a timer to remind you when it's time to get it out can be really helpful.
5. Use A Pantyliner At Night
You can't know for sure what your period has in mind for you after you've turned in for the night. It could decide to kick in full throttle and release so that your cup might leak a little bit. Totally normal, so just be prepared — especially if you've been known to sleep in on a Saturday morning and wake up with not-so-white-anymore underwear. Combine a panty liner or pad with your cup before you shut off the lights, and you're set for a long night of stain-free beauty rest.
6. Clean It With A Toothbrush
There are four tiny dots under the rim of your cup that are hard to spot if you don't know to look for them. Well, they're not there to add decoration; they play a vital role in creating the suction of the cup and keeping that seal intact when it is inside your vagina. These holes may turn a funky color after a few months of use — usually a sort of reddish-brown — and using an old toothbrush is the easiest way to clean them out.
Run the cup under warm water, gently stretch out the holes, and use the brush to remove any debris that you can't get to with your fingers. The holes are so teeny that some people are tempted to use a safety pin or needle to pick out the gunk, but this is a rookie mistake — using something sharp could damage the quality of your trusty cup. So stick to soft bristles, like those on a toothbrush — they'll get the job done.
7. Use A Breathable Pouch
Avoid storing your menstrual cup in plastic bags or other sealed containers — it gets very cranky if it can't get some fresh air. Depriving your cup of oxygen will compromise the quality of the material, and also likely lead to some unfriendly scents. When you purchase your cup, it'll come with a small cotton pouch that is specifically designed to expose it to regular airflow when stored. If you lose it (trust me, you wouldn't be the first lady to do so), you can either order another one from the company that manufactured your cup or find a suitable replacement at an online store that sells menstrual cup accessories.
8. Put It Under Sunlight To Restore Color
Menstrual cups are normally a clear white/beige color when you unwrap them. But you're bound to run into some staining issues after you've been using that bad boy for several months. Don't worry — it's nothing that can't be fixed. Placing your cup under natural sunlight will help restore it back to its initial, happy color.
As you can probably imagine, sticking it on the rooftop patio of your apartment building isn't the best idea, though. Rather, place it on your windowsill, on a lightly-shaded back deck, or another place where it won't be under direct sunlight for hours and hours. That way, there'll be less chance of it melting down into an unusable wad of silicone.
These tips may make using and caring for a menstrual cup seem complicated, but it's not. Once you get into the swing of things, you'll likely wonder how you ever lived without it. And soon enough, you'll also be running around trying to convert women everywhere to make the switch.
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