People who menstruate know they can’t always count on their cycle to be predictable, especially in an atypical setting. Certain circumstances call for unique preparedness, and having a plan will help you have a positive period experience wherever you are.
Where might you find yourself menstruating with variable access to sinks or toilets?
The great outdoors, for one. The perfect setting for nature-centric activities and gatherings like hiking, camping, backpacking, or festivals. Easy cleaning of your menstrual cup? Not so much. Some established campgrounds and facilities have bathrooms, some just a porta-potty. Many outdoor spaces and backcountry campsites, however, don’t have access to running water or a place to “go” at all, even if there is a water source.
Travel is another area where you might find yourself with your period in less than predicable circumstances, especially when moving between multiple destinations. Having more than one option when it comes to cleaning your period cup will be a huge benefit to your experience. Whether you’re on the road trip of a lifetime, spending a semester abroad, volunteering, or simply an extended trip where you know your cycle could occur, having multiple ways to your cup get clean will put your mind at ease.
Emptying Your Cup With No Sink or Toilet
Cleaning your menstrual cup is one thing, but first you have to empty it. Where should the blood go without a drain or proper receptacle? In a situation with no sink or toilet, you’ll need to be prepared to dig a cathole. Carry a trowel or small shovel in your pack, use hiking poles, or a stick to dig and bury. The Leave No Trace Center designates that holes should be 200 feet away from trails, water sources, and campsites. The goal is to find an area where others are not likely to tread. Holes should be at least 6 inches deep and 4 inches wide, and it’s much easier to dig them before you start fussing with your cup cleaning items.
Make sure your hands are clean before removing your menstrual cup. Pour any collected blood into the cathole. You should empty and clean your cup at least every 12 hours to prevent bacteria or potential leakage.
If you choose to clean your cup by rinsing with water or with a sealed container, also pour the cleaning water into the cathole before covering fully with natural materials. Below are other methods for cleaning your cup outside of a bathroom, but emptying will look similar.
Options for Cleaning Your Period Cup Without Access to Running Water
Rinse It With Bottled Water
Bottled water doesn’t necessarily mean water you’ve purchased, but rather water that you know you can trust. If you know your period will be present, consider carrying extra clean water with you for rinsing. This will keep you from having to scramble to find water in a pinch or where it’s scarce. When using water from an outdoor source, or in any area where you can’t be sure of the water quality, boil before using it to clean your cup. Remember, your menstrual cup goes inside your body, so if you wouldn’t consume it orally, don’t put it in your vagina. Rinse your cup over a drain or cathole and pour any water used to clean it before burying.
Shake In A Designated, Sealing Container
Container cleaning may be for you if you need to be careful about conserving water. Any container that locks or seals closed will work. DivaCup makes a collapsable ShakerCup, and other cup brands have similar cleaning and sterilization products available.
Have your cleaning container ready before removing your cup and follow the protocol for your situation to pour out the collected blood. Place your cup in the container along with enough water to mostly submerge it. You can choose to carry menstrual wash and squirt a small amount into the water before you seal and shake. Never use non-plant based hand soaps or dish soaps, as these are way too harsh for sensitive areas. Remove the cup and pour the cleaning water into a drain or cathole.
Clean With Fragrance-Free Disposable Wipes or Tissues
There are ways to clean your cup with no water at all. Disposable wipes or tissues are another method you can use on the go.
After removing your cup and pouring out the collected blood, use a wipe or dampen the tissue to remove any residual blood from the cup. We recommend fragrance-free wipes to prevent irritation and avoid unnecessary chemicals.
When using this option, you’ll need to consider how you’ll dispose of the trash. If there’s no place to dispose of waste, be prepared to pack it out in a sealed bag or container.
Some people double bag, or line a ziplock bag with duct tape for both privacy and durability. Do not bury your tissues or wipes even if they say they are compostable or biodegradable, these items can still take years to break down naturally.
Wipe With A Clean, Reusable Cloth
A low waste option for cleaning your cup is a clean, reusable cloth. Similar to using wipes or tissues, you’ll manually wipe the cup clean after pouring out our burying your menstrual blood. A wet cloth is better and can be achieved by sacrificing only a small amount of water. Remember to use only clean water, and boil water you’re unsure about.
You’ll need to plan for the storing of your cleaning cloth. Designating a container or bag will help prevent dirt and other particles from collecting on the cloth and potentially ending up on your cup. Folding one cloth into fourths can help you get a few cup cleanings out of one item.
Final Thoughts on Period Preparedness
When you’re not sure which direction your adventures might take you, having a plan and backup options can be a relief in a menstrual emergency.
Carry spare underwear and choose material wisely. Fabrics like polyester and nylon and breathable and can rinse and dry quickly should you experience leakage.
These methods are great solutions for cleaning during menstruation. Once you’ve finished your period, be sure to clean and/or sanitize your menstrual cup before storing it again.
Finally, know that your body may react differently when you’re outdoors, on the go, or on the road than it does during periods within your comfort zone. Having your period shouldn’t keep you home, but being mindful can make our journey a whole lot smoother.