A menstrual period consists of the shedding of an unfertilized egg, blood, and uterine lining tissues. It’s completely normal for this combination to have a slight odor after it exits the vagina. This is most likely related to the vaginal substance itself, but bacteria and acidity can also play a role.

Any odors you might notice during your period can also fluctuate. “Healthy” periods can have a slight smell of blood. They may even have a slight metallic smell from iron and bacteria.

Generally speaking, period odors aren’t noticeable to others. Good hygiene practices can also combat normal period odors and make you more comfortable during menstruation.

A strong odor from “down there” may be cause for worry, as it could be a sign of an infection. In such cases, the odors are accompanied by other symptoms, such as vaginal discharge or pelvic pain that’s not related to normal menstruation.

Learn more about some of the common odors associated with periods, and which symptoms warrant a doctor’s visit.

Your period can produce an odor, which may even be different month to month.

Some women report that their period “smells like death,” though this isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. The strong smell is likely due to the blood and tissues exiting the vagina along with bacteria. It’s normal for the vagina to have bacteria, though the amount can fluctuate.

The resulting “rotten” smell from bacteria mixed with menstrual flow shouldn’t be strong enough for others to detect. You might be able to control such odors by changing pads and tampons frequently, especially during heavy-flow days.

A “rotten” smell can occur when a tampon is left in for too long or forgotten. This can happen at the end of a period, when you don’t have to insert a new tampon as often and you have no further bleeding. If you’re concerned that you may have forgotten to remove a tampon, try to feel at the opening of your vagina for the strings. If you can’t feel them, see your doctor for a vaginal exam to confirm.

If your period smells and you notice unusual symptoms, see your doctor. There could be something else going on.

Some women report a “fishy” smell during menstruation. Unlike other common odors, fishiness usually indicates a medical problem that you need to see a doctor for. This odor is most often attributed to bacterial vaginosis, a type of infection. It’s also a lot stronger than a normal period smell.

You may have bacterial vaginosis if the “fishy” smell is accompanied by:

Bacterial vaginosis may be noticeable during your period, but it’s not caused by your menstrual cycle. It results from the overgrowth of healthy vaginal bacteria.

While the exact cause of this overgrowth isn’t understood, bacterial vaginosis seems to be most common in women who are sexually active. Douching may also increase your risk for this type of infection.

Bacterial vaginosis is treated with antibiotics. Once the bacteria is balanced out after treatment, you should no longer notice any unusual smells or other symptoms during your period.

Other odor changes during your period can include a “sweaty gym” smell or an odor of onions or salt. These are most likely caused by not practicing good hygiene during the menstrual cycle.

Proper hygiene habits can help combat the usual odors associated with menstruation. This can be as simple as making sure you change tampons, liners, or pads every few hours.

Daily showers are also important, and you can help prevent period odors by cleaning the outside of your vagina only. Deodorizing products, such as wipes and sprays, aren’t recommended because of the possibility of irritation. You shouldn’t douche either, as the process can get rid of healthy vaginal bacteria and lead to infection.

Avoid scented tampons and other products, as these can cause irritation and allergic reactions. You’re better off using unscented products and wearing breathable cotton underwear and clothing to keep unpleasant odors at bay.

While some odors are completely normal when you have your period, others may be a sign that you need to see your doctor. This is especially the case if any unusual odors accompany the following symptoms:

  • yellow or green vaginal fluids
  • bleeding that’s heavier than normal
  • stomach or pelvic pain
  • cramps that are worse than normal
  • fever

As a rule of thumb, you should see your gynecologist any time you suspect reproductive health issues. While most odors are healthy, some may be signs of an infection. Your doctor can also identify or rule out more serious conditions, such as pelvic inflammatory disease.