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A menstrual sponge can be either a real sea sponge or a synthetic one.

They act like a feminine hygiene product without the string.

So it’s not surprising that people may have used them to absorb menstrual blood for thousands of years, according to Planned Parenthood.

Nowadays, menstrual sponges are promoted as natural and sustainable period products. But they’re not the safest type and require some serious consideration before use.


  • Absorbent. They expand to keep liquid inside (but it’s difficult to say exactly how absorbent a natural sea sponge is).
  • Reusable. Manufacturers claim you can reuse them for between 6 and 12 months, which may benefit the environment and your finances.
  • Comfortable. The sponge is flexible and soft, meaning it changes shape to suit your body once inside.


  • Safety concerns. They are not allowed to be sold as a menstrual product in the United States without special approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) due to a risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) and other infections.
  • Messy to remove. You’ll need to stand in the shower or over the toilet to avoid blood dripping onto the floor.
  • Require thorough cleaning. But there’s no research into how to best clean them for sanitary use.
  • Only suitable for a few hours. So you’ll need multiple sponges or other period products.

Menstrual sponges are similar to tamponsthey’re inserted into the vagina and absorb menstrual blood, expanding to keep the blood inside the sponge.

“They don’t have an easy way to put a string or rim in place to help with removal.”

They can be washed and reused after being removed.

No, according to the FDA.

Sea sponges labeled as menstrual sponges, sanitary sponges, or hygienic sponges need special approval due to a significant safety risk.

That’s because 12 natural sponges were examined back in the ‘80s and found to contain the likes of grit, sand, and bacteria.

One case of TSS was associated with sea sponge use.

There are other concerns. There are no clear instructions on how to wash a menstrual sponge, which can add more germs to the vagina.

They have a natural texture that may cause small scratches inside the body when removed.

Toxic shock syndrome

Toxic shock syndrome is a potentially life threatening condition that has been linked to certain types of feminine hygiene products.

But menstrual sponges were found to contain the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, a major cause of TSS, according to research from 1982 that studied vaginal bacterial floral during the menstrual cycle.

Although the condition is rare in today’s society, the risk of TSS means menstrual sponge use is not recommended.

There are serious safety concerns with menstrual sponges. They are not a recommended period product for anyone to use.

People with heavy periods may find them unsuitable as the level of absorbency can vary from sponge to sponge.

The use of menstrual sponges is not recommended.

Here are some tips to help you minimize risk if you decide to go that route.

Inserting a menstrual sponge

The process of getting your menstrual sponge in remains the same.

First, wash your hands.

Then, wet the sponge with water or a water-based lubricant. (Some manufacturers advise using essential oil as a lubricant, but there’s no research to support this and the chance of irritation.)

Then squeeze the sponge to remove the excess liquid.

The next step is to get yourself into a comfortable position, whether that is sitting on the toilet or putting one leg up.

You can insert the sponge into your vagina by crunching it up.

If you experience any pain, you may need to remove the sponge and trim the edges.

When to remove a menstrual sponge

Manufacturers often advise removing the sponge after 4 to 8 hoursa similar amount of time to a tampon.

It takes a while to clean, so you will probably need another product to use in the meantime.

And remember that they do not last forever. The maximum recommended time by WaterAid is 6 months.

Removing a menstrual sponge

There is no string to remove a menstrual sponge.

You can just stand over the toilet, shower, or other surface that is easy to clean and insert two fingers into your vagina.

If the sponge is hard to reach, you can use your muscles to help.

Pull it out when you can feel it. It can be messy and you should expect blood.

Cleaning a menstrual sponge

The cleaning process is important to reduce the chance ofbacteria and other pathogens entering your body. You should clean your sponge before you use it.

There is no research on the most effective cleaning process.

General advice is to be given.

  • Add a cup of water with either a dash of hydrogen peroxide or a dash of vinegar.
  • The sponge should be soaked in a solution of apple cider vinegar or hydrogen peroxide.
  • Put it somewhere clean to dry and rinse thoroughly.

boiling may cause trauma to the inside of the vagina, so it is not advised.

The most popular options are between $20 and $40 for a pack of two.

You can find cheaper sponges.

“Sea sponges need to be approved by the FDA before they can be marketed as sanitary sponges. You probably won’t find many under this label.”

They are more likely to be called sea sponges or even cosmetic sponges.

There are not many options available due to the restrictions.

Natural sea sponges are often framed as sustainable. There are eco-friendly period products.

For example, menstrual cups are reusable. The DivaCup comes in three different models, depending on your age and menstrual flow. It’s available via the likes of Amazon, Walmart, and Target.

You can also buy reusable menstrual pads from Rael via Amazon, Walmart, and Walgreens among other retailers.

Thinx period underwear absorbs menstrual blood without the need for a separate product. Buy a variety of styles from the brand’s site as well as the likes of Urban Outfitters and Kohl’s.

Even some tampons have an eco-friendly element to them nowadays. Cora and LOLA organic cotton tampons are available via Amazon, while Dame sells reusable applicators online.

Some people even choose to free bleed, requiring no product at all.

A healthcare professional can help you figure out which product is right for you.

And if you experience any of the following symptoms after using a menstrual sponge, seek medical attention as soon as possible:

  • high temperature
  • Difficult breathing
  • nausea or vomiting
  • Symptoms of the flu.
  • dizziness
  • A rash is similar to a sunburn.
  • There is irritation or pain around the vaginal area.

Although menstrual sponges are more sustainable than other period products, they are not a good way to manage your period.

Companies are not allowed to market menstrual products without FDA approval because of safety concerns.

If you want a safer option, consider the likes of menstrual cups or period underwear. They can be just as effective and do not have the same risks.

Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.