You always want to err on the safe side when it comes to this.

Arielle Tschinkel
Updated August 28, 2020
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Holly Hildret/Getty Images
Holly Hildret, Getty Images

You use ’em every month, and they’ve likely saved you from many an embarrassing situation. But one question we can’t help but always wonder is: How long can you safely leave in a tampon?

We all know it's probably not a good idea to keep the same tampon in all day, but some days they stay inserted longer than intended. It happens. We’re all human. Maybe your flow is so light you want to keep your tampon in as long as possible. Or maybe you don’t have easy access to a bathroom (lookin’ at you, all-day music festivals). And some days you may just plain forget it’s in there.

But it's important to remember that the longer you leave in a tampon, the greater your risk is for developing infections. Since it's better for be safe than sorry when it comes to taking care of our lady parts, we spoke with U by Kotex partner and Jessica Shepherd, M.D., an OBGYN, and Prudence Hall M.D, founder and medical director of The Hall Center, to get the 411 on safe tampon usage.

How long can I safely leave my tampon in?

According to the tampon brand Tampax's website, the longest you should ever leave a tampon is eight hours. Dr. Shepherd agrees. She says that a tampon can safely be left in place between four to eight hours, but notes that there are certain caveats to the general rule of thumb. She says if a tampon is not changed frequently enough, the user might “experience an unpleasant odor.” And to pay special attention to your body and its potential smells during tampon use.

“Instead of ‘normal’ and ‘bad,’ try thinking of vaginal odor as ‘typical’ or ‘unusual’ for you–on your period or not,” she says. “Throughout your cycle your vaginal mucus changes and as it changes, the odor it may produce will change too. If you’ve recently experienced a change in your vaginal odor or that it’s become stronger, consider going to see your healthcare professional.”

Ultimately, if your vagina starts to smell abnormal, take out your tampon sooner rather than later and call you doc.

Can you wear your tampon to sleep? Dr. Hall says yes, but she cautions women about keeping them in past that eight-hour mark. “Especially at night, I recommend giving your body a break from tampon use, and using pads," she says. "If you leave a tampon in too long, the tampon becomes a breeding ground for bacteria.”

Another important aspect of safe tampon use is choosing the correct tampon size and absorbency for your menstrual flow.

And what about those super-light days where you still want to wear a tampon but might not need to change it that often? Dr. Shepherd says, "Even on light days, never go longer than eight hours without changing [your tampon].”

What about Toxic Shock Syndrome?

Since many women have heard of TSS but may not know exactly what it is, we asked Dr. Shepherd to give us the lowdown. She told us, “TSS is caused by the bacterium called Staphylococcus Aureus, which exists normally in the nose, armpits, groin, or vagina of about a third of the healthy population. Sometimes certain strains of this bacterium give off a toxin. Although scientific data suggest that tampon usage increases the risk of TSS, tampons themselves have not been found to cause TSS.”

Though it can be fatal, TSS is actually extremely rare. Each year, fewer than 1 out of every 100,000 people contracts TSS, so you’re more at risk for those odors and discharge than contracting a fatal disease.

What happens if I leave my tampon in for too long?

Don't worry! Those rumors from the medieval era that a tampon can get “lost” or disintegrate inside your body are absolutely not true. If you forget that you’ve got a tampon in, just remove it as soon as you remember. If you have difficulty removing it yourself, see a doctor and they can do it for you (don’t be embarrassed—it happens). And if you find that you're continually leaving your tampon in past the eight-hour mark, you might want to consider a menstrual cup, which collects the fluid rather than absorbing it and can have a lower risk of TSS.

While dealing with our menstrual cycles can suck, at least we can generally rest-easy knowing that tampons are a convenient, discreet tool to help us live our lives a little more worry-free every day of the month, just try not to leave them in for too long, okay?