Sponge tampons are a reusable type of menstrual hygiene product. They are inserted into the vaginal canal, much like a cotton tampon, where they soak up the menstrual flow. When the sponge tampon is saturated, it is rinsed thoroughly with water before reuse. After the duration of the menstrual cycle, the sponge is disinfected with a mixture of vinegar and water or by boiling.
Before use, sponge tampons are rinsed and wrung of excess water and inserted into the vagina. Sponge tampons do not have an applicator, so this must be done manually. Depending on the heaviness of the menstrual flow, removal time is between two and four hours.
Sponges typically last up to six cycles. They can last for longer or shorter periods of time depending on the type of sponge and use. Although they are reusable, they are not as long lasting as other menstrual products like molded cups or cloth pads, which typically last for many years.
Usually, sponge tampons are harvested from the ocean and trimmed to a small size conducive for use in the vaginal canal. They must be sanitized thoroughly as sponges often contain bacteria and sand. Typically, a sponge can be thoroughly cleaned by boiling it in water for a short period of time.
There is no specific species of sponge that is used for sponge tampons. In fact, any type of sea sponge could be trimmed to a proper size and used for this purpose. Companies that specialize in sponges for menstrual use usually try to find soft, smooth sponges since they are meant to have prolonged contact with a sensitive area of the body.
Not all government agencies consider sea sponges a safe type of feminine hygiene product. The United States Food and Drug Association (FDA) issued a compliance order in 1981 that all companies producing sea sponges for menstrual use must submit the product for pre-approval before sale. This was in response to a study done by the University of Iowa which found bacteria, grit, and sand as well as some other materials in 12 menstrual sponges.
Even so, many individuals use sponges on a regular basis find them to be a comfortable and satisfactory alternative to traditional types of menstrual hygiene products. Of course, as with tampons, there is a risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) if the tampons are left in too long. Typically, four to eight hours is the maximum recommended time for using a sponge before taking it out, rinsing it, and reinserting it.