These are natural sea sponges that are inserted into the vagina to absorb the blood, then rinsed out and used again. They are used moist, making them soft and comfortable to insert. Sponges are reusable, but not long term like a menstrual cup or cloth pads are. In constant use they will last around 6-12 months. When they start to tear they should be replaced.
Any natural sea sponge (not your manufactured dish washing kind) can be used to absorb menstrual blood. You can purchase sponges that are specifically designed for this (cut the right size, and include instructions and storage pouch), but you can also purchase sea sponges for cosmetic/art use (from chemists/pharmacies and art/craft supply stores). If you buy a sponge from an alternate source to those designed as menstrual sponges, you may need to trim it to a desired shape and size, and there is no guarantee they are free from impurities.
The Museum Of Menstruation has images of older sponges, including ones that were inside a net with a long string. There would seem to be no reason why you could not use cotton gauze or other soft netting to make a pouch with a string to help removal (however these may pose more risk for TSS) Some women sew dental floss to the sponge as a string.
Once you have purchased a sponge, you should wash it thoroughly to remove any sand particles or other debris. Some sources say to boil the sponges in water for 10 minutes to sterilise them. Boiling the sponges can shorten their lifespan, so some sources do not recommend this, and suggest using other methods, such as soaking in vinegar or hydrogen peroxide solutions. (See below).
Before insertion they should be wet with clean water to make them soft, and then squeeze out the excess water so that they are just damp. Insert to about “midway” in the vagina, or where it feels right. To remove the sponge you will need to use your fingers to locate the sponge and carefully remove it without squeezing it too much. Rinse it out well with water, squeeze out any excess and reinsert it. If you have 2 sponges you can use one while the other is being cleaned.
You can wear 2 sponges together on heavy days, however they may not be suitable for women with a very heavy flow. You should remove and wash the sponges every 3 hours. Between use you should clean the sponges. Some recommendations are:
Boiling in water for 10 mins
Equal parts water and hydrogen peroxide
1tb Baking Soda in 1c water
1tb apple cider vinegar in 1c water
2 drops of teatree essential oil in 1 cup boiling water
1 tsp Colloidal Silver in 1 cup warm water
Remember that the sponge will be reused, so you will not want to use harsh soaps and chemicals that may irritate your sensitive skin. You should rinse the sponges very well to remove traces of the cleaning products used. Store them in a clean dry place, but not in a sealed container (They need to “breathe”)
- The same advantages of an internal product.
- Being a naturally forming product, they are better for the environment than creating tampons and the like.
- Cheaper than tampons in the long run, and much cheaper than menstrual cup initially.
- More comfortable to wear than tampons or menstrual cups, you may not even feel it is there.
- More comfortable to insert than a menstrual cup or tampon.
- Sponges are naturally spawning, so replenish themselves (given the opportunity).
- Not bleached or treated with chemicals (but as they are harvested from nature there can be nasties already in them).
- May last several years, though commonly it is less than that.
- Like tampons (and unlike menstrual cups) they are still absorbing, so can absorb natural secretions as well, although would seem to be less drying than tampons can be, as they are inserted damp.
- As they come from the sea there can be pollutants and nasties in the sponge.
- Being a sponge, muscle contractions (sneezing etc.) can squish the sponge making it leak.
- No proof they are safer than commercial tampons, with one website reporting a case of TSS from sponge use (http://www.cdc.gov/MMWR/preview/mmwrhtml/00000119.htm)
- Still need to buy an ongoing supply, though much less often than with tampons.
- Harvested living creatures (not vegan friendly).
- If not harvested sustainably, is bad for the eco-system.
- No strings or stems to make removal easier (though you could add a string if you wish).
- Not as effective for heavy flow.
- Absorbency varies from sponge to sponge – so a new sponge can take getting used to again.
- They can deteriorate and leave behind particles in the vagina
- Have to change them more often than you can empty a menstrual cup.
- Sponges are delicate and easily ripped.
- They can stain easily, but you could soak them in hydrogen peroxide to remove stains.
I’ve written up my thoughts on sponges Here