I Accidentally Left My Menstrual Cup in For Over 72 Hours — Here's What You Should Know

POPSUGAR Photography | Jenny Sugar
POPSUGAR Photography | Jenny Sugar

One of the benefits of using a menstrual cup or disc is that you can insert it and not think about it all day. But that doesn't mean we should get too comfortable. "The general recommendation is that you can leave a menstrual cup in for eight to 12 hours," gynecologist and obstetrician Amy Roskin, MD, JD, and chief medical officer at The Pill Club, tells POPSUGAR.

While we've all left a cup in for an extra hour or two, or maybe even 24 hours — during a recent period I did the unthinkable and left my menstrual cup in for an entire weekend!

I thought I took it out Friday night before bed, which was the last day of my period, so I didn't even think about it. Then on Sunday, when I went to find it in the bathroom sterilize it, so it'd be ready for next month, a wave of shock and disbelief rushed over me — it was still inside of me! I've never removed my cup so fast in my life. Two-day-old period blood smells pretty foul, and I thought for sure I had some sort of infection. I was so scared and couldn't call my gyno until Monday morning when the office was open.

Thankfully, she reassured me that everything was going to be OK, but here's what you need to know if you've left menstrual cup in too long.

How Long Can You Leave a Menstrual Cup In?

Again, the general recommendation is eight to 12 hours. So you can wear them when you're sleeping or all day long. That being said, if there's any leakage, or if you're experiencing a heavy flow, Dr. Roskin recommends taking it out sooner to empty and clean it.

What Happens If You Leave a Menstrual Cup in For More Than 12 Hours?

Just take out the menstrual cup and clean it thoroughly, Dr. Roskin says. Most people are concerned about toxic shock syndrome (a life-threatening condition caused by certain bacteria), which is often associated with tampon use during menstruation, per Cleveland Clinic. But "the risk of infection or toxic shock is small because menstrual cups are generally made of silicone or rubber and aren't absorbent like tampons," says Dr. Roskin. That doesn't give you the green light to leave it in 15 or more hours on purpose, though. Set a reminder on your phone to take it out at the end of the day in order prevent bacteria buildup and give yourself peace of mind.

Can You Leave a Menstrual Cup in For 24 Hours?

Dr. Roskin reiterates that the risks of infection or toxic shock are usually low with a menstrual cup. However, there is an increased risk for other infections if you leave it in for too long — like say, for more than a day. If you forget to remove your menstrual cup, check in with your healthcare provider. Also be on the lookout for pain, fever, and/or bad-smelling vaginal discharge.

Should I Throw Out a Menstrual Cup That Has Been Left in Too Long?

If the menstrual cup is reusable (made from silicone or latex), you should be able to clean and sterilize it instead of throwing it out, Dr. Roskin says. However, it's really important to clean all of your reusable products thoroughly, according to the product instructions, and to dry them completely to reduce bacterial growth, she adds. If you don't clean them effectively, this can lead to irritation and, in some cases, infection. Most manufacturers recommend sterilizing a menstrual cup between cycles, usually by boiling it. But if you're at all concerned, or the foul odor doesn't go away after sterilizing it in boiling water, it's better to be safe and buy a new one.

— Additional reporting by Melanie Whyte