Vaginal Odor

Fast facts
  • Vaginas have natural odors.
  • Each woman’s vaginal odor is different.
  • If the unusual odor worsens, consult your doctor.
Is vaginal odor natural?

Unusual vaginal odor happens from time to time. Even when you’re taking good care of your body and your vagina, you may experience unfamiliar smells. What’s not normal is persistent or strong odors.

The first question you should ask yourself if you consider your vaginal odor abnormal is: What’s normal? Vaginas have natural odors, and each woman’s odor is different.

A healthy vagina’s typical scent may best be described as “musky” or “fleshy.” A menstrual cycle might cause a slightly “metallic” scent for a few days. Intercourse may change the smell temporarily.

Your vagina cleanses itself naturally. If you leave your vagina to its own devices, it can naturally maintain a healthy pH and keep unhealthy bacteria at bay.

But if you notice a stark difference in your odor, then you may be experiencing a sign of a potential problem.

Strong odors, itching and irritation, and unusual discharge are all signs you may have something other than just unusual vaginal odor.

7 ways to get rid of vaginal odor

Occasionally, you may need a little help getting rid of an odor. The following techniques may help you naturally eliminate unusual vaginal odors:

1. Practice good hygiene

Bathe the area between your legs. A gentle washcloth will help wash away dead skin, sweat, and dirt. You can use a gentle soap on the outside.

Inside the labia, the area is much more sensitive, and soap often burns and irritates. Letting the water run over the area is often enough to keep the labia around the vagina clean. The vagina itself doesn’t need to be cleaned.

Avoid loofahs because they may cause small tears, exposing the area to possible infection.

Don’t use perfumed soaps or body washes. The scents and chemicals may upset your vagina’s natural pH. Bar soaps may be gentler than body wash, but warm water is enough.

2. Use only exterior deodorizing products

If you want to use any sprays or perfumes, only use them on the outside of the labia, not near the vagina. Don’t insert them. They can upset your natural chemistry and lead to bigger problems.

3. Change your underwear

If you normally wear satin, silk, or polyester panties, make the switch to 100 percent cotton.

Cotton is breathable and does an excellent job wicking away sweat and fluids from your body. Excess moisture can upset your natural bacteria levels and lead to infections.

4. Consider a pH product

Over-the-counter (OTC) products may be helpful for restoring your vagina’s natural pH.

If you try one and the odor remains or grows worse, make an appointment with your doctor. You may need to use a different product, or you might need to see your doctor for a treatable infection.

5. Essential oils

Essential oil treatment has very little medical research to support it. Some essential oils have antimicrobial and antifungal properties that may help reduce and eliminate bacteria.

But never apply essential oils directly to the skin without diluting them first in a carrier oil. Even diluted, essential oils can still be irritating to the vaginal area.

You may find OTC creams that have essential oils in them, but only use them if there’s a recommendation for use in the genital area.

6. Soak in vinegar

Frequent hot baths and hot showers can upset your natural pH, but one type of bath may be useful. Pour a cup or two of apple cider vinegar into a warm bath and soak for 20 minutes. Vinegar may naturally reduce bacteria.

7. Prescription treatments

Prescription treatments can help eliminate underlying causes that are contributing to the odor. If your home or OTC treatments aren’t successful, it may be time to talk to your doctor about treatment options.

When to see a doctor

If this odor is accompanied by unusual symptoms, you should skip the home treatment and consult your doctor.

For example, if your vaginal odor is stronger than normal and seems to be getting stronger, you may need an appointment.

Likewise, a “fishy” smell is a reason to make an appointment. A foul smell is a symptom of a vaginal infection.

These odors could be signs of a problem that’s not improving. You may need your doctor to prescribe medication or prescription treatment.

You don’t want to delay treatment. An untreated infection can affect your ability to get pregnant later in life.

Some vaginal discharge is normal. If you notice an increase in discharge or that the fluids are no longer white or translucent, you may have an infection.

Occasional itching is also normal, but if you develop a frequent itch or one that’s painfully irritating, you may be experiencing signs of a bigger problem.

Tips for preventing future odor

Once you eliminate the unusual vaginal odor, keep these tips in mind for preventing another problem later:

  • Consider probiotics. Probiotics, which are good-for-you bacteria, can help maintain the pH balance of your vagina. Probiotic-rich foods include yogurtkombucha, and unpasteurized sauerkraut.
  • Maintain a healthy diet. Aim to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. A balanced diet makes for a healthy body, and that includes your vagina.
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water is good for more than just your skin. It can help your vagina’s overall health, too, by encouraging healthy sweating and fluid release.
  • Avoid douches and scrubs. You might think they’ll help eliminate bad bacteria, but they also eliminate the good bacteria. Let your body work out the bacteria ratios and skip these unnatural washes.
  • Wash your genital area before and after intercourse. Sex introduces bacteria, as well as foreign substances like lubrication and spermicide from condoms. Wash before and after sex to help maintain natural bacteria levels.
  • Cut out tight clothes. Clothes that are too tight don’t let your vagina and groin area breathe. Getting plenty of oxygen is vital to good vaginal health.
  • Wear cotton panties. Cotton panties wick away excess moisture from sweating or discharge. Synthetic fabrics are not as good at this.
Bottom line:

Home treatments usually help reduce unusual vaginal odor in about a week. If the odor isn’t gone, or if it becomes stronger, you should see a doctor. A strong vaginal odor can be a sign of a larger problem, one that you may be unable to treat on your own. It’s better to see a doctor early to prevent the problem from getting worse.

Hassan S, et al. (2011). Douching for perceived vaginal odor with no infectious cause of vaginitis: A randomized controlled trial.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2019). Vaginitis.
Vaginal odor: Possible causes. (2018).

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