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Reusable period protection: What you need to know

Whitney Coy is a freelance writer and editor based in Columbus, OH, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She writes frequently for SheKnows, as well as several other websites. She writes on topics including parenting, trav...

Get smart about going green

Greening your period is a great move, but reusable period protection is a whole new ball game. No matter what type of protection you choose, there are some things you should know before you get started.

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Menstrual cup

A menstrual cup is a cup made of silicone, latex or rubber, and it sits inside your vagina to collect the blood that your tampon normally would.

  • Size -- Most menstrual cups come in two sizes, a smaller size for younger girls and anyone who has never had a baby, and larger size for older women and women who have had children. Some cups are larger than others, and some are wider, while others are longer. No two vaginas are the same, so the cup that your girlfriend swears by may not work for you at all.

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  • Length of wear -- The amount of time you can wear a cup depends on both the size of the cup and the heaviness of your flow. A good rule of thumb is that they can usually be worn for twice as long as tampons, or between eight to 12 hours.
  • Cleaning -- Read your manufacturer’s instructions before you use your menstrual cup. Most cups should be rinsed out between uses during the day and washed once daily. Depending on the material, some cups tolerate soap while others do not. If your cup can be used for more than one cycle, it may need to be sterilized between periods.
  • Storage -- Menstrual cups should never be stored in plastic baggies or other airtight containers because this can cause them to mold. Many cups come with their own fabric, drawstring bags for storage. If yours didn’t, just remember to put it someplace where it can breathe. One good option is to wrap it up in a towel or cloth between uses.

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  • Durability -- Your cup’s lasting power depends on the manufacturer and materials. Some are said to be usable for up to 10 years with proper care, while others are meant to get you through just one cycle. Obviously, the cups designed for long-term use will be much more expensive than those meant to be thrown away after just one week.
  • Travel -- Dealing with a menstrual cup while on the go can sometimes be tricky since they need to be dumped and rinsed. Your best bet is to find a private restroom, and then carry on just like you would at home. If a private restroom isn’t possible, be prepared – washing out a bloody cup at a public sink may raise some eyebrows. A good alternative is to dump the cup in the toilet and carry a bottle of water to rinse your cup and your fingers. Dry the cup with toilet paper before reinsertion.
  • Warnings -- According to Mary M. Gallenberg, M.D., OB-GYN for the Mayo Clinic, menstrual cups are not to protect you against pregnancy or STDs. She also recommends you discuss menstrual cups with your doctor if you have an IUD or if you’ve ever suffered from Toxic Shock Syndrome.

Washable pads

Washable pads work just like you’d imagine – you place them in your underwear just like you would a disposable pad, but then you wash and wear them again, instead of throwing them away.

  • Size -- Just like their disposable counterparts, the sizes and shapes of washable pads are nearly endless. You can find short and thin pads for light days or coverage in between periods, and longer, thicker pads for heavy days. Some are even made to be stacked for extra protection on super-heavy days. Fortunately, some of the natural materials are very absorbent, so even very thin pads can be surprisingly absorbent.

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  • Fabric -- Most washable pads are made of cotton, flannel or fleece. If you decide to make your own, stay away from super absorbent materials, because they can actually remove moisture from your body “down there” and cause you quite a bit of pain. Stay with the basics, just to be safe.
  • Washing -- To clean your pads after use, soak them in cold water then throw them in the wash.
  • Durability -- Most washable pads can be used for years. There’s really no set timeframe for how long you should keep them. Just replace them once they start looking a little too shabby for your taste.
  • Travel -- If you’re going to be on the go, changing a washable pad isn’t much different from changing a disposable one. The biggest difference is that you need to get your pad back home instead of throwing it away in the ladies room. Carry a bag or pouch of some sort with you for transporting used pads – an airtight one is best to avoid any unpleasant odors.

Quick Tip

Try out your menstrual cup for the first time when you're not on your period to practice insertion and removal.

More on feminine protection

5 Reasons getting your period is actually a good thing
Choosing the right protection for your period

High-tech help for your period

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