Vaginal douching is washing the vagina with water or a mixture of fluids to eliminate odors and “clean” the vagina. Most often, vinegar is mixed with the water, but some prepackaged douche products contain baking soda or iodine. A few also contain antiseptics and fragrances.
One in five women between the ages of 15 and 44 use douches regularly. A 2002 survey found that the practice is more common in African-American and Hispanic women. In addition, one study found that teenagers of all ethnicities and races are more likely to douche.
Douching can cause side effects like burning and irritation, as well as several complications. These complications can make any issues you’re trying to cover up, such as unusual odor, worse. Find out safe ways to get rid of vaginal odor.
How does it work?
To perform a vaginal douche, a mixture of water and other ingredients is placed in a bottle or bag. The mixture is then sprayed or squirted upward into the vagina. The fluids then wash out of the vagina.
Common reasons women report they use a douche include:
- eliminating unpleasant odors
- preventing pregnancy
- washing away menstrual blood after a period or semen after sex
- avoiding a sexually transmitted infection
Douching doesn’t accomplish any of these things.
Is it safe?
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology doesn’t recommend women use douching products. Your vagina is designed to naturally maintain a healthy pH balance. It’s filled with bacteria, or vaginal flora, that help stop infections and prevent irritations.
If you remove or greatly reduce the number of healthy bacteria in your vagina, problematic bacteria may flourish. That can lead to infections, irritations, and more serious complications.
Risks of douching
If you douche, you may upset your vagina’s natural environment. You could end up dealing with complications that can be quite severe. These include:
Women who douche regularly are more likely to experience early childbirth, miscarriage, and other pregnancy complications. Using a douche can also lead to an ectopic pregnancy, and women who use douches may have a difficult time getting pregnant.
A healthy balance of bacteria prevents vaginal yeast from overgrowing. Eliminating the natural balance may let yeast flourish. This can lead to a yeast infection.
Some women use douches hoping that washing the vagina will eliminate a vaginal infection. Douching may make an infection worse. Douching while you have a vaginal infection may also spread the infection to other parts of your reproductive system.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
Cervicitis is inflammation of the cervix. Like PID, cervicitis is often the result of STIs, but women who douche are also more likely to develop this condition.
How to safely clean your vagina
The easiest way to clean your vagina is to perform a simple wash during a bath or shower. Soap isn’t necessary, but if you’re going to use one, make sure it’s mild and not heavily scented. Fragrances and chemicals can irritate the sensitive skin of your genitals.
- With one hand, form a V with your first two fingers to hold back the outside skin and spread out the folds of your vagina.
- Use warm water to gently splash the area several times. Wash with a mild soap if you want to use it. Don’t scrub the folds harshly, and avoid getting soap inside your vagina.
- Gently rinse the area with water until all the soap is removed.
- Using a clean towel, pat the area dry.
When to see a doctor
A natural vaginal odor is normal, as is some discharge. A few signs may indicate you have a more serious problem and need to see a doctor. These include:
- vaginal discharge with a strong smell
- vaginal discharge that is white or yellow-green
- vaginal odor that is persistent and doesn’t end after a few days
- burning, itching, and redness or swelling in or around the vagina
- pain or discomfort during sex
- pain during urination
How to prevent vaginal odor
All vaginas have a natural odor. Each woman’s odor is different, and the natural odor can change over time. Likewise, events like exercise or sex can change your vagina’s natural odor temporarily.
Still, you can reduce the risk of developing strong odors with a few simple steps.
Practice proper hygiene
Gently wash your genitals regularly. Avoid using soaps that could irritate the sensitive skin.
Wear breathable fabrics
Excess moisture around the genitals and vagina can increase odors and lead to infections. Wear undergarments made from 100 percent cotton, which is breathable and can wick away sweat and other fluids. Satin, silk, and polyester fabrics don’t allow for adequate air flow and may boost bacterial growth.
Use deodorizing products carefully
Sprays and powders may help mask vaginal odor, but don’t use them inside your vagina. They are only safe on the outside of your vagina.
Don’t use harsh cleansers
Don’t use harsh cleansers like douches in your vagina. They can upset your vagina’s pH balance and cause irritation and infections.
Your vagina is self-cleaning. It’s designed to eliminate semen, blood, and other fluids through natural discharges. You don’t need to clean it with harsh washes.
If you’re experiencing an unusual odor or discharge, don’t use a douche to eliminate it. Instead, make an appointment with your doctor. Regular douching may mask or hide underlying problems. It can also lead to serious complications down the road.