Vaginal cleaning isn’t necessary, but cleaning your vulva is. Keep it simple and stick with basic water, but skip any fad regimens you may have heard about.
No, but you do need to wash your vulva.
Let’s recap some basic anatomy. The vagina is the inner canal inside your body.
The term “vulva” refers to the outer parts around the vagina, such as the:
- clitoral hood
- inner and outer labia (vaginal lips)
While you shouldn’t wash inside your vagina, it’s a good idea to wash your vulva.
Washing the vagina can lead to many problems. You might have heard that the vagina is like a self-cleaning oven — a pretty accurate metaphor.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists points out that your vagina cleans itself and keeps itself healthy by maintaining the correct pH balance and cleaning itself with natural secretions.
Your vagina contains a lot of “good” bacteria. These bacteria maintain the ideal pH balance in your vagina, which is slightly acidic.
The acidic pH makes it hard for “bad” bacteria to infect your vagina.
When you use soaps, sprays, or gels — and yes, even water — to wash inside your vagina, you disrupt the bacterial balance. This can result in bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection, and other irritation.
Washing your vagina can also affect your vagina’s ability to clean itself. So if you want a clean vagina, leave it alone to clean itself!
You should wash your vulva with warm water. If you’d like, you can use a mild soap that won’t irritate the skin — but this isn’t necessary.
Spread your lips apart and gently cleanse around the folds, using a clean washcloth or your hands. Avoid getting water or soap inside your vagina.
In addition to washing your vulva, it’s a good idea to wash the anus and the area between your vulva and anus every day.
It’s best to wash “front to back” — in other words, wash your vulva first and then your anus. Otherwise, bacteria from the anus can spread to your vagina, which can cause infections.
Nope! You don’t have to use soap to wash your vulva, according to Mayo Clinic.
If you want to use soap, choose a soap that’s unscented, mild, and colorless. Fragranced soap can irritate the sensitive skin in and around the vulva.
Most supermarkets have a range of feminine washes and sprays that are said to reduce odor and clean the vagina. Don’t buy these.
Your vagina doesn’t need any of these items to be clean, and it certainly doesn’t need to smell like a rose garden!
These products were essentially created to prey on people’s insecurities regarding their bodily odors.
In truth, these products are both unnecessary and harmful, as they can irritate your vulva and vagina.
Yes, you should avoid these at all costs. Scented products — whether they’re soaps, washes, or sprays — can irritate the vagina and the vulva.
Probably not. Your vagina might smell distinctly like a vagina, and that’s OK.
It’s unlikely that someone else will be able to smell it unless they’re very close to your vagina — so your sexual partner will probably smell it.
But that’s perfectly normal, and it’s not something to worry about.
No vagina is odorless, nor should they be. Vaginas have many possible smells, from coppery to sweet. The smell of your vagina might change depending on your diet and menstrual cycle.
If the smell is pungent and unpleasant, contact a doctor or other healthcare provider.
Certain conditions, such as bacterial vaginosis, can cause your vagina to smell strongly. Your provider can advise you on any next steps.
Vaginal discharge is totally normal. If you’re concerned about your discharge, take a look at the color.
More often than not, clear and white discharge is the natural lubrication that your vagina produces to keep the tissues moist and healthy.
Clear discharge could also be a result of ovulation. This is just a sign that your vagina is doing its job.
Your discharge might also appear reddish-brown around your period, as it will be colored by your blood.
You might need to chat with a doctor if your discharge is gray, green, or yellow in color, or if it’s accompanied by itching, pain, or any other unusual symptoms.
You can wash your vulva in the same way while menstruating. If you’re concerned about potential odor, you may consider washing your vulva more than once a day.
Some people use fragranced soap to wash their vulvas without any problems, but it’s still not a good idea. Fragranced, harsh soaps can irritate the sensitive skin around the vulva.
Vaginal douching involves squirting a solution into the vagina, usually with the intention of cleaning the vagina. This doesn’t work and isn’t safe.
Remember the “good” bacteria mentioned earlier? Douches, like soaps, can irritate and kill off that good bacteria, leaving your vagina more vulnerable to infection.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends against using douches. There are a number of complications related to douches, from STI susceptibility to problems with pregnancy.
In short, douching doesn’t make for a healthy reproductive system. Like fragranced feminine washes, they’re unnecessary and harmful.
Vaginal steaming became a hot topic when Gwyneth Paltrow praised it back in 2015.
It involves steeping certain herbs in hot water and sitting over the water so that the steam enters your vagina. It’s said to ease cramps, bloating, and other conditions.
Vaginal steaming isn’t a good idea. There is no scientific evidence that it works, and it can be harmful.
Hot steam can hurt the delicate tissues in and around the vagina, and certain herbs can cause you to have a miscarriage.
When it comes to a body part as sensitive as a vagina, it’s best to stick to well-studied solutions.
There are a number of things you can do to keep your vagina and vulva healthy.
Wipe from front to back
When using the toilet, don’t wipe from back to front, as this can spread bacteria from your anus to your vagina.
This can cause a number of infections. Instead, always wipe from front to back.
The same goes for any sexual activity
The “front to back” rule doesn’t just apply to wiping.
Nothing that goes in or near your anus should go in or near your vagina afterwards, unless you clean it first.
This is especially important when it comes to sex and masturbation — toys, fingers, tongues, penises, and anything else that might go near your anus should be washed before it goes into your vagina.
Always pee after sex
Pee after sex to push any germs outside of your urinary tract.
During sex, germs can come into contact with your urinary tract, a small hole just above your vagina. Peeing after sex helps flush those germs out.
If you don’t pee after sex, you could get a urinary tract infection (UTI) — an easily treatable, but painful condition.
Choose your products wisely
If anything goes into your vagina, be sure to check out the ingredients before you use it. Scented lube, condoms, and tampons should be avoided.
Wear cotton underwear
Cotton underwear is both gentle and comfortable on your sensitive pubic area — and it’s breathable, which lets the moisture “air out” instead of building up.
Nylon and other synthetic fabrics can irritate the sensitive skin around your vulva.
Change out of sweaty or wet clothes ASAP
Damp, warm conditions are ideal for breeding bad bacteria. To prevent this bacteria from overgrowing and infecting your vagina, change out of your wet swimsuit or sweaty gym pants as soon as you can.
See a doctor or other healthcare provider if you experience:
- pain when you urinate, have sex, or masturbate
- a pungent and unpleasant smell coming from your vagina
- blisters, sores, or warts around your genitals
- green, yellow, or gray discharge
- thick discharge that looks like cottage cheese
- persistent vaginal itching
- unexplained vaginal bleeding
It’s also a good idea to see a doctor about your vaginal health if you have any other questions and concerns, as well as for a regular Pap smear to screen for cervical cancer.