Some vaginal odor is normal and to be expected. Most women have a musky or fleshy natural scent, but this varies from person to person.
Your scent may change as you age or in response to certain stimuli. Some factors that temporarily change vaginal odor include:
In addition to the impact that the menstrual cycle itself has on smell, vaginal odor can vary throughout the period of menstruation.
Many women suffer from misinformation and insecurity regarding vaginal odor. Normal smells are nothing to be concerned about, and small changes in scent should resolve themselves. In fact, self-treatment of perceived vaginal symptoms can sometimes create a problem where there wasn’t one before.
However, when the vagina has a strong, unpleasant smell that continues for days, it may be a sign of a health problem.
Common causes of abnormal vaginal odors include:
- Bacterial vaginosis, an infection caused by bacterial overgrowth
- Trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted infection caused by a parasite
- A tampon left in place for too long
- Poor hygiene
Bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis often produce a fishy or chemical odor, while a forgotten tampon may begin to smell of rot.
Remedies and Treatments for Vaginal Odors
If you are concerned about vaginal odor, you will need to address the cause in order to get rid of it. Maintaining good hygiene is key to avoiding health problems and abnormal odors.
Regular cleaning is important, but don’t go too far. Don’t be fooled by advertising that claims you need expensive products to be clean. The vagina is intensely acidic, naturally killing bad bacteria. You only need warm water to wash it away. In fact, some soaps may make things worse, changing the environment in a way that leads to bacterial growth.
Avoid perfumed soaps and deodorants. To wash the exterior folds of the vagina, use a gentle soap that won’t alter pH levels.
Wear Loose-Fitting Bottoms and Cotton Underwear
Thongs and lace are not the best clothing choices for good feminine hygiene. Take particular care with what you wear to bed. Consider wearing no underwear or basic cotton. Avoid tight underwear, pantyhose, and girdles.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Often, “vaginal odor” doesn’t come from the vagina at all. Excessive flesh around the folds and inner thighs due to being overweight can be a breeding ground for bacteria.
Switch to Tampons or a Menstrual Cup
Sanitary napkins frequently present a more noticeable smell. Try switching to a menstrual cup or tampon during your period, but be sure to change them frequently.
Use a Condom and Pee After Sex
Semen can irritate the vagina, producing smell or discharge. Avoid using a douche after sex. Just urinate to clear foreign substances.
While the scientific evidence is still sketchy, there is some suggestion that certain oral probiotics can protect against bacterial vaginosis. If you experience frequent infections, you might want to talk to your doctor about probiotics or other options.
Douching refers to washing out the vagina with water or other fluids. It’s a fairly common practice, but doctors recommend against it. Douching can lead to vaginal infections. Moreover, if you already have an infection, douching can push bacteria into the uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries.
When to See a Doctor
Often, a vaginal odor that requires a doctor’s visit will be accompanied by other vaginal symptoms. If you experience any of the following, schedule an appointment with a doctor:
- Irritation or pain
In addition, if you smell a strong, fishy odor, you may have bacterial vaginosis (vaginal infection) or trichomoniasis (a sexually transmitted disease caused by a parasite). Schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss antibiotic treatments to stop the infection.