Best Tampons & Menstrual Cups
Surfing the crimson wave, on the rag, time of the month, Aunt Flo - whatever you call being on your period, the one thing all menstruating people have in common is that it isn’t a walk in the park for any of us.
Deciding whether to use tampons, use menstrual or period cups, or something else entirely can be difficult, but regardless of whether you’ve just started your period or are a seasoned menstrual veteran, you’re bound to find something that suits you.
Can take a heavy flow without leaking
Discreet and easy-to-carry packaging
Simple and comfortable to insert
- Value for Money5.0 (1)
- Causes Irritation Yes (0) · No (1)
Effortless insertion and removal
Easy to clean
- Value for Money3.0 (7)
- Causes Irritation Yes (0) · No (7)
Easy to insert
Can't feel it inside you
- Value for Money3.0 (6)
- Causes Irritation Yes (1) · No (5)
- Ease of Use1.0 (1)
- Comfort1.0 (1)
Unresponsive customer service
Valve stem doesn't always work
Feels low quality
- Value for Money1.9 (15)
- Causes Irritation Yes (7) · No (5)
Should I use tampons or a menstrual cup?
Tampons and menstrual cups are both effective ways of handling your menstrual flow, so the choice is up to you - some people even use both.
A tampon is a plug made from a soft material that is inserted in the vagina to absorb menstrual blood.
- Convenient. You can throw a used tampon out once you’re done with it. They’re also very small and easy to carry around.
- Invisible. You can wear any underwear (or none at all), as your tampon sits internally and won’t be visible at all (except for the string).
- Not environmentally friendly. Tampons end up in landfill and polypropylene (the material tampons are wrapped in) isn’t biodegradable.
- Can be difficult to learn how to use. If you’re young, haven’t had penetrative sex, or have a relevant health condition, you may find inserting and removing a tampon difficult.
- Can pose hygiene risks. When left in too long, tampons can pose health and hygiene risks. They can also be drying for the vagina for some wearers.
- Need to be changed frequently. They hold less than half the amount of fluid that a menstrual cup can, and so need to be changed more often.
A menstrual cup is a reusable, bell-shaped cup that is inserted inside your vagina to collect menstrual blood.
- More eco-friendly. Because they’re reusable rather than disposable, menstrual cups produce significantly less landfill waste than tampons and pads.
- Cost effective. After you buy a menstrual cup, it can last you up to 10 years, saving you any ongoing costs (and trips to the supermarket).
- More hygienic. Because they collect menstrual fluid rather than absorb it, they’re non-invasive to the biology of the vagina, making them more hygienic than tampons.
- Holds more menstrual fluid than tampons. This means you can keep them in longer.
- Can’t feel them. They shouldn’t be able to be felt inside you, making them comfier than pads.
- Invisible. Cups aren’t visible externally (even more so than tampons which have a string that comes out the vagina), so you don’t need to worry about panty lines.
- Convenient. If it’s in, you don’t need to carry around any additional menstrual hygiene products.
- Can be difficult to learn how to use. Menstrual cups need to be folded before insertion, which can be fiddly to learn.
- Can be messy. You need to empty the contents of a menstrual cup in a toilet or shower and rinse it before reinsertion - this may be inconvenient when using public bathrooms.
- Need to be cleaned. You need to sterilise your cup at the end of your menstrual cycle.
- Can be unsuitable for people with latex allergies. Although most menstrual cups are made from silicone or rubber, some are made from latex, which may cause problems with some people.
- Possible fit problems. Varying internal anatomy could mean that not all menstrual cups fit well inside you.
Factors to consider when choosing a tampon or menstrual cup
Ease of use
Because they have a more sleek shape, tampons are generally thought to be easier to insert and remove than menstrual cups. For tampon insertion, use a fingertip to push the tampon up the vagina as far as you can. Although they aren’t as common in Australia, some tampons come with a tampon applicator to help with insertion without needing to dirty your finger.
Tampons should never be left in for more than 8 hours, and most tampon manufacturers recommend you change them every 4-6 hours. This means you need to change them more frequently than menstrual cups. It also means that if you sleep for more than 8 hours every night, you may need to get up at some point in the middle of the night to change your tampon.
Although you change them more frequently, disposing of your tampon is relatively straightforward. You simply need to pull on the string to remove the tampon from your vagina, wrap the tampon in toilet paper, and dispose of it in the appropriate sanitary bin.
At first, it may take a bit of time to get used to menstrual cup insertion and removal. To insert the cup, fold it in a way that’s most comfortable for you - the most common folds are the C or U fold, the punch down fold, and the 7 fold - and insert it into your vagina.
Many menstrual cup manufacturers recommend you to keep them in for up to 8 hours, although some say you can keep them in for up to 12 hours - so you should be emptying the cup at least twice a day.
Removing a menstrual cup can be fiddly, as you have to pull on the stem or pinch the base, ensuring you keep it upright as you remove it so your menstrual flow stays in the cup.
You’ll also need to empty the contents of your cup into a toilet and rinse the cup before reinsertion. Some people may be uncomfortable doing this, particularly in public bathrooms.
At the end of your period, you’ll also need to sterilise the cup per the manufacturer’s instructions (this usually involves boiling it for at least 5 minutes). Your cup has two air holes at the top of the cup, making it easier to remove - you’ll need to take extra care when cleaning your cup as blood can get stuck in these holes.
Ensure you wash your hands with soap and water before and after you insert and remove your tampon or menstrual cup.
Being on your period isn’t an easy gig, and it doesn’t help that on top of all the cramping, bloating, muscle aches, acne (the list goes on), you also might experience a rollercoaster of emotions before, during, and right after your period. That’s why it’s important to choose the right products that don’t add to your stress, and are comfortable for you.
Both tampons and menstrual cups shouldn’t be able to be felt, and so should be comfortable - however because everything happens internally, ensuring it's placed right can be tricky.
No two vaginas are alike, and no two vaginas bleed alike, which is why tampons and menstrual cups come in different sizes to accommodate different internal sizes and flows. Finding the right cup or tampon size can help you on your way to being comfortable.
For tampons, most brands offer regular tampons for light to regular flows, as well as super tampons for heavy flows. You can also get mini tampons that are shorter and narrower - these are usually marketed as for girls who are starting menstruation and using tampons for the first time.
Like tampons, menstrual cup brands will also often offer at least 2 sizes. Smaller cups often hold around 25mL of fluid, and are said to be better for teens, those with lighter flows, and people with a low-sitting cervix. Larger cups will usually hold at least 30mL, and are advertised as well-suited for those with heavier flows.
You don’t need to take these recommendations as gospel - try whatever you think would suit you, and if it’s comfortable, feel free to stick with it.
For some menstrual cups, you can also trim the stem with a pair of scissors to make it more comfortable. Those with a higher-sitting cervix may not want to remove more of the stem, while some with a lower cervix may find that the stem of their cup sticks out a bit from their vagina and may therefore want to trim it.
Health and hygiene
With proper use, both tampons and menstrual cups are safe and hygienic. Menstrual cups are said to not disturb your vagina’s pH level or natural flora as they collect menstrual blood rather than absorb it as tampons do. They’re also usually made from medical-grade silicone that doesn’t leave any residue in your vagina.
Because of their absorbency, tampons are thought to promote vaginal bacteria growth. Leaving a tampon in for too long also increases the risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Although TSS cases have occurred with menstrual cup use, these incidences are much rarer than those associated with tampon use.
It’s estimated that most people who use tampons will use around 10,000 of them in their life. While tampons are more eco-friendly than pads, they’re still disposable and will end up in landfill. Menstrual cups are reusable, and when taken care of, can last up to 10 years.
The manufacturing process and materials used in menstrual cups are also more environmentally friendly than those for tampons. The plastics used to wrap tampons are made from polyethylene, which don’t break down easily and release chemicals into the ground when they do.
You should expect to pay between $2 and $5.45 for a 16 pack of tampons. You’ll generally pay at the higher end of this spectrum for organic tampons or super-sized tampons.
Menstrual cups usually cost between $35 and $65. While this is a higher upfront cost, they can last up to 10 years and during this time there are no ongoing costs. To put things into perspective, 12 packs of pricier tampons cost the same as a pricier menstrual cup.
A lot of menstrual cups can also be bought in twin packs, reducing the cost per cup, so you can score a deal if you rope a friend in to buy one too, or if you just like to be prepared for the future.
Every person with a period is different. Embrace whatever your choice in menstrual hygiene product is, knowing that it suits your routine and helps you live your life to the fullest.