Vaginal odor is any smell that comes from your vagina. It could be the odor produced by healthy vaginal secretion or an unpleasant, abnormal smell caused by an infection.
Your vaginal odor may change throughout your menstrual cycle or other times, like pregnancy or menopause.
The vagina is *not* supposed to smell like nothing! Just like other body parts — including the scalp, belly button, armpits — the vagina has some scent.
And that scent? Isn’t that of dandelions, daffodils, or daisies!
“A vagina isn’t supposed to smell like flowers, no matter what our culture likes to tell us,” says sex educator Searah Deysach, owner of Early to Bed, a pleasure-product company in Chicago that ships worldwide.
The scent of your vagina will vary based on things like hydration levels, recent food intake, medications, overall health status, and where you are in your menstrual cycle.
Common vaginal scents include coppery, musky, meaty, or fleshy, explains Felice Gersh, MD, author of “PCOS SOS: A Gynecologist’s Lifeline To Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones, and Happiness.” (Though sex may alter the scent for a few hours, especially if there was an exchange of bodily fluids).
The natural secretions from your vaginal tissue often produce an odor. This is totally normal and to be expected. Still, sometimes that odor can seem stronger than usual.
Here are some potential causes of stronger or abnormal vaginal odor:
- poor hygiene
- bacterial vaginosis (BV)
- forgetting to take a tampon out
- hormone changes (menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause)
In rare cases, more serious medical problems can cause vaginal odor, such as:
- rectovaginal fistula
- cervical cancer
- vaginal cancer
If your vagina smells a little off, and that scent is NOT accompanied by other symptoms, you may be able to relieve your symptoms on your own.
1. Shower or bathe regularly
Get this: The off smell could just be a sign you just need a shower!
“The area can accumulate sweat, dead skin, and dirt,” says Gersh. And just as those things can affect the smell of your pits, they can affect the smell of your vagina.
Maintaining a regular hygiene practice can help avoid the accumulation of the scent that you don’t like.
But if the scent has already taken root and you don’t have time to shower, simply take a warm washcloth and wash your pubic mound and outer lips.
“Even just using your finger to swish the warm water around the vulva is adequate,” she says.
For the record: Loofahs are *not* a good substitute for washcloths. Loofahs can cause small tears to the delicate genital skin, and expose the area to possible infection.
2. Stop washing inside your vagina
To be clear: while you can (and should!) wash the outside of your vagina (aka the vulva), you should not start going in your hole with water, washcloth, or soap.
“It’s true that a vagina is a self-cleaning machine,” says Gersh. “The natural makeup of bacteria inside the vaginal canal is designed to keep the canal healthy and clean — and that bacteria doesn’t need any help from you to operate optimally.”
Washing inside the vaginal canal isn’t just unnecessary, it’s downright dangerous. Washing inside the vaginal canal — especially with fragrant soaps — can upset your vagina’s natural bacterial makeup and pH.
And when your vagina’s natural bacterial makeup gets disrupted? You put yourself at risk of developing infections like bacterial vaginosis (BV) which (negatively) impact your vaginal odor.
3. Check for recent product swaps
Did you recently change your detergent? Start using a different body wash? Switch up your toilet paper brand? All of these things can impact your vagina, according to Gersh.
“Take some time to think through what things have changed in your routine,” she says. “What soaps you’ve been using, the type of underwear you’ve been wearing, and how tight your clothes are could all be the culprit.”
4. Stay hydrated
Nope, we’re not talking about booze. We’re talking about the good ‘ole fashion clear stuff: water.
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, says Deysach. The more you know!
5. Eat a balanced diet
As a general rule, a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, will elicit a softer scent compared to greasy, fast foods.
As Gersh puts it, “A balanced diet makes for a healthy body, and that includes your vagina.”
Just be warned: “Some very strong-smelling foods like asparagus, garlic, and onions can result in a stronger smelling cooch,” says Deysach.
So, if you’ve been eating a whole lot of asparagus, garlic, and onions recently, simply cutting out those foods could return your vagina to its natural scent.
“There are no prescription medications to treat just vaginal odor,” says Gersh. Read that again!
However, an unusual vaginal odor is a by-product of vaginal bacterial disruption, infection, or hormonal disruption, she says, all of which can be treated with medication.
For example, a bacterial sexually transmitted infection like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis — all of which can impact vaginal scent — can all be cleared up with a prescription antibiotic, she says.
Antibiotics can also be prescribed for other kinds of infections, such as BV, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and yeast infections.
“And for people with menopause who are experiencing changes and odors and other symptoms associated with hormonal changes, you can prescribe localized or oral hormone replacement medications that help,” she says.
The quotation in the headline should clue you in.
While there are a number of online articles and forums waxing poetic about at-home and DIY “remedies,” the truth is these should be avoided at all costs.
Including (but not limited to!) the below:
Douches and scrubs
Remember when we told you not to wash the inside of your vagina? Well, that also means avoiding products like douches and scrubs that are marketed as internal washes.
These might claim to help eliminate odor-causing “bad” bacteria, but they also eliminate the “good” infection-fighting bacteria!
“Doing things like aggressively washing the vagina on the inside can throw your bacteria ratios out of whack,” says Gersh. The result? Odor!
Let the record show that you should not, under any circumstance, be putting garlic gloves, cottage cheese, or yogurt inside your vaginal canal!
“We live in a world full of bad advice and putting food inside your vaginal canal falls in that category,” says Gersh. “The food isn’t going to do anything but harm your vaginal microbiome.”
Fragrant ‘feminine hygiene’ products
There are a number of perfumed tampons, pads, and toilet papers on the market. Avoid these.
“The vagina is a very delicate ecosystem that’s going to be negatively impacted by these fragrant products,” says Gersh.
“If you have any concerns, it’s always best to talk with [a] healthcare professional,” says Gersh.
Talking with a healthcare professional, she says, is especially important if:
- You recently started engaging in sexual activity with a new partner(s).
- You’re experiencing any additional symptoms, such as pain, irritation, burning, or funky discharge.
- You’re pregnant or hoping to become pregnant.
Even if there is no underlying cause like infection, a clinician will be able to help.
Deysach says they can help you understand whether recent medications, your hydration levels, or other lifestyle habits could be causing the smell and advise on any next steps.
Whether you’ve just eliminated the unusual scent, or are simply looking for ways to prevent future funk, these tips can help.
Take inventory of your usual scent
Before you can diagnose yourself with an off scent, you have to know what your usual scent is! So, if you don’t already make a mental note to ~observe~ the smell of your vagina, start doing so!
Gersh explains: “The most common sign that something is going on with your vagina is a change in smell.” Specifically: A change in scent that can’t be explained by where you are in your cycle.
Becoming intimately familiar with the range of the scents your vagina usually falls within will help you identify when something is off.
Sorry babes, but it’s time to sub your silk and satin skivvies for cotton ones.
Cotton is far more breathable than other materials and does an excellent job wicking away sweat and fluids from your body.
Other materials can trap excess moisture, explains Gersh, which has the ability to upset your natural bacteria levels and lead to infections.
“Excess moisture can promote an overgrowth of yeast, which can change the natural bacterial makeup and ultimately disrupt your natural scent,” she says. Pass.
Cut out tight clothes
Underwear aside, “any tight clothing can trap moisture in the groin area,” says Gersh. And that moisture can have stinky, irritating side effects.
Getting plenty of oxygen between your legs is vital to good vaginal health.
So, if you’re noticing a change in odor — or want to reduce your chances of noticing a change in odor — she recommends staying away from skin-tight leggings and jeans.
What causes vaginal odor?
Again, the vagina is going to have some natural odor. And that natural odor can vary slightly based on factors like your diet and menstrual cycle.
As for unusual vaginal odor? There are three main causes, according to Gersh:
- changes in the bacterial makeup of the vaginal canal
- changes in hormones
- untreated underlying infection
What is a ‘bad’ vaginal smell?
“If you start to notice a fishy, rotten, or spoiled smell coming from between your legs, you should get checked out by a doctor,” says Deysach. Those scents are a sign of infection.
What do yeast infections and BV smell like?
Actually, they smell different.
Usually, a yeast infection will make the vagina smell like a loaf of sourdough. BV, on the other hand, usually causes a fishy odor.
Can sex cause vaginal odor?
Semen and ejaculate have a different pH compared to the vaginal canal, so P-in-V intercourse can lead to a disruption in pH, and cause a temporary scent change.
Likewise, most lubricants, coated condoms, and other barriers have chemicals that can be irritating, leading to a scent change.
How long does vaginal odor take to go away?
Ultimately, it depends on the cause. But once you find the cause it shouldn’t take more than 2 to 3 days to clear up.
How do I get rid of the odor down there?
You can’t completely get rid of the odor from your vagina. It’s supposed to have a scent!
Still, if your vaginal odor seems unusually strong, you may be able to lessen the odor with:
- good hygiene
- a nutritious diet
- staying well hydrated
- looking for any changes in your routine or products that may be causing the change
Is it normal for the vagina to have a smell?
Yes. The natural secretions your vagina produces are meant to have a slight odor. Normal vaginal smells include coppery, musky, meaty, or fleshy scents.
A change in vaginal odor can be a sign of a larger condition, one that you may be unable to treat on your own. It’s best to see a doctor or other healthcare professional early to help prevent your symptoms from getting worse.
Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tested over 200 vibrators, and eaten, drunk, and brushed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books and romance novels, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.