What Is a Vaginal Wet Mount?

If you think you have vaginal infection, your doctor will probably perform a test called a vaginal wet mount, or vaginal smear.

It’s not the same as a Pap test, which is a regularly scheduled exam that looks for cancerous or precancerous cells in the cervix. But you could have a vaginal wet mount and a Pap smear at the same appointment.

Most often, your doctor will do a vaginal wet mount to find the cause of vaginitis, an inflammation of the vagina. She’ll usually order the test if you’re having symptoms like itching, discharge or pain.

What Causes Vaginitis?

A few different things. There are three main types of vaginitis:

  • Bacterial vaginosis . This is the most common type of vaginitis. It occurs when bacteria replace healthy vaginal cells.
  • Candida vaginitis. This is better known as a yeast infection. It’s the second most common type of vaginitis, and is caused by a fungus.
  • Trichomonas vaginitis. Also known as “trich,” this is actually a sexually transmitted disease (STD). It accounts for about 5% of all cases of vaginitis.

Your doctor might also do a vaginal smear to test for vulvitis. That’s an inflammation of the vulva -- the folds of skin just outside the vagina.

How Is the Test Done?

Your doctor or nurse will examine your vagina. If there’s obvious discharge, she may know what it is right away. For example, a yeast infection produces white, lumpy discharge. But with a bacterial infection, the discharge is thin and smells like fish. Still, your doctor might do a vaginal wet mount to be sure the culprit is what she thinks it is.

During the test, you’ll lie on your back with your feet above your hips, usually in stirrups. Your nurse or doctor will use a thin cotton swab to collect cells from the vaginal wall. She’ll smear the cells on a small microscope slide and mix them with a saline solution. She’ll view the slide under a microscope.

Before the test, don’t have sex, douche, or use tampons. If you’re having your period, wait until it’s over to have a vaginal wet mount. Blood can make it hard to get clean test results.

Your doctor will know what type of vaginitis you have, based on what she sees on the slide.


But What If I’m Embarrassed?

A gynecological exam of any kind can be a little awkward. You may also feel embarrassed if you have symptoms like a smelly discharge. But keep in mind that these types of infections are common. Your gynecologist sees people with similar complaints all day and would not judge you. Remember, a vaginal infection can lead to serious complications if it’s not treated right away.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on January 31, 2019



Pathology Laboratories of Arkansas: “Conventional Pap-Routine Vaginal Smear.”

University of California, Santa Cruz: “Vaginal Wet Mount Examination.”

Illinois Department of Public Health: “Vaginitis.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Vulvitis.”

Oklahoma State Department of Health: “Vaginal Wet Prep Procedure.”

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