Menstrual cups vs. tampons: Things you might not know about the cup

Posted by Emily Linklater, D.O.
May 26, 2016

Menstrual cup and tamponNot quite sure what a menstrual cup is or how it works? You are not alone. Even though menstrual cups have been around since the early 1930s, only in the past few years have they become a more popular choice for women. Made of hypo–allergenic rubber or silicone, a menstrual cup is inserted into the vagina during your period to capture fluid. How often you need to empty or replace the menstrual cup depends on the size of the cup and your menstrual flow, but the cup can hold up to three times as much fluid as a regular tampon.

Why the recent popularity? A few factors may contribute to this trend including:


The average woman spends between $50–$150 per year on tampons or pads, depending on duration, amount and regularity of their periods. On average, a menstrual cup costs between $20$40 s and can last from six months to 10 years. Depending which brand of cup you choose and how often replacements are required, this can add up to significant financial savings.


A menstrual cup can be worn up to 12 hours before it should be removed, cleaned, and reinserted. Typically tampons or pads should be changed every four to six hours. The cup allows women to have more time before changing out, especially on light days. Also, it prevents the need to carry extra pads or tampons, which many women find burdensome and even embarrassing. The menstrual cup can even be inserted around the time of an expected period, to avoid first day leakage.


Although tampons and pads are not required by the FDA to list ingredients on packaging, many women are concerned about reports of tampons containing bleached cotton, rayon/viscose fibers, and dioxin. Although rare, toxic shock syndrome (TSS) has long been associated with tampons. The menstrual cup is made of flexible hypo-allergenic silicone, alleviating concerns that fibers or chemicals are left behind in the vagina. Most menstrual cup companies report a suction seal that is formed between the vagina and the cup, claiming a decrease in risk of bacteria, although this statement has not been scientifically proven.

Environmentally friendly

People often attribute disposable diapers for causing landfills to become full, but tampons and pads accumulate in landfills, too. A Huffington Post article estimates 9,120 tampons are used over a woman’s lifetime. The menstrual cup is reusable and significantly reduces the impact on the environment.

No age restrictions

Females of any age can use a cup, even before a woman has had a child. Most cups come in different sizes, with sizing charts on the manufacturer’s website.

Are there any drawbacks?

Women may find that emptying the cup can be messy, especially if changing the cup at a public restroom. Rinsing the cup after removing is preferred, which can be difficult in a large public restroom. The cup may not fit all women, especially if the uterus is low or abnormal. Also, the menstrual cup does require a certain amount of upkeep. It should be sterilized between periods, similarly to sterilizing a baby bottle between feedings. Some women might find this cumbersome and inconvenient.

Overall, the menstrual cup does appear to be a safe option for women during their period. Individual preferences may vary, but if you have concerns or questions, discuss them with your health care provider.

Emily Linklater, D.O., is certified by the American Board of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and is a physician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Red Wing.

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