Vaginas have their own unique odor, which can change from day to day, throughout the menstrual cycle and later on in life. Because the vagina changes in smell, pH, color and even texture, it can be hard to figure out which smell is the “right one.” Learning how to properly take care of ourselves is an important part of life, but we may still have questions.
Here, we’ll learn about how to take care of your vagina, what makes it smell the way it does, and how to identify unusual odors and potential infections.
Why do I have a strong odor down there? What causes vaginal odor?
Many people feel awkward when discussing their genitals, but it is normal for your vagina to have a natural odor. Each person’s genital scent is slightly different, but a healthy vagina (when not menstruating) should smell somewhat musky. During your menstrual cycle, your vagina may smell metallic due to the presence of iron in menstrual blood. The smell of your vagina may also temporarily change after you have sex.
Why do I have a fishy smell?
Noticing a fishy smell down there is unpleasant and may mean you have a vaginal infection. If you notice this, wash thoroughly (with unscented soap or just water) and use new/clean underwear. If the smell returns quickly or persists, consult your doctor.
A fishy smell can be caused by several issues, including:
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Trichomoniasis or another STD
- A yeast infection
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Leaving in a tampon or menstrual cup for too long
- Excessive sweating and inadequate hygiene
- A poor diet, particularly one that has a high oil or sugar content
What are the different types of vaginal odor?
There are several types of vaginal odor, some of which indicate that everything is healthy and balanced, and some indicate a problem.
Here are some examples of smells you may notice at different times each month:
- A musky, fleshy or slightly sweet smell: this is the typical scent a vagina should have.
- A fishy or foul smell: scents like this usually suggest that something isn’t right, especially if this smell persists.
- A sweet and yeasty, almost beer-like smell: this usually occurs when the vagina overproduces yeast. In this instance, the vagina might smell like bread, flour or beer. In the case of a yeast infection, this smell may also accompany a burning or itching sensation.
- A slightly metallic smell: your period will most likely follow soon if you don’t have it already.
What helps with vaginal odor?
As you might expect, it does help to have good general hygiene! Washing often, wiping well from front to back, and changing your underwear and pants often are all good practices. (Learn about our Proof undies which are equipped with moisture-wicking lining and antimicrobial fibers that inhibit the growth of bacteria and reduce odor.)
Avoid the urge to cover up the smell: heavily-scented soaps and shower gels can irritate the skin in and around your vagina and potentially upset your vagina’s natural pH balance, making things worse. Take particular care when washing around your labia as the skin around that area is more sensitive than the rest.
Wear the Right Fabrics
Your vagina may also develop an unusual smell if you don’t wear breathable fabrics and are inclined to sweat a lot. If you can source them, invest in some 100% cotton undies. These are great when you’re exercising or have a busy day at work; they wick away the moisture and keep you dry, reducing the risk of bacteria and infection. Wear loose fabrics every once in a while, too; too much tight clothing can trap bacteria, may not allow your body to breathe and can result in overheating.
A healthy diet plays a big part in our physical scent. For example, someone who eats a diet high in saturated fats, oils and sugar may not smell as pleasant as someone who eats well. Eating too much sugar can also lead to an overproduction of yeast.
If you want to use food to maintain a healthy vaginal pH, try eating foods like sauerkraut, probiotic yogurt and kimchi, and drinking kombucha. Not only are these fermented foods and drinks good for your gut, but they can also help maintain your vagina’s pH balance.
When should I see a doctor?
If you notice a major difference in your vagina’s smell, there may be something going on. If this new smell sticks around and is accompanied by consistent irritating, itching or abnormal discharge, you should contact your doctor.
How do I keep fresh down there?
Your vagina will typically clean itself, and if you wash with warm water and unscented soap, it will maintain a healthy pH balance and decrease your chances of hosting bad bacteria.
If you want to prevent infections (particularly urinary tract infections), make sure to urinate and wash your vagina after sex. Using a condom is also important, not only for safe sex but also for preventing sweat and seme interacting with your vaginal fluids.
It’s a good idea to avoid using loofahs and rough sponges around your vagina as they can cause small tears, making you susceptible to infections. You can buy products specially designed to help maintain your vaginal pH balance, but you shouldn’t need to use these unless you’ve had an issue with your pH balance before. In most cases, warm water and a bar of gentle, unscented soap will work.
When doing your laundry, it can help to wash your underwear separately from the rest of your clothes. If you can, wash your underwear using unscented products with as few chemicals as possible.
When you’re on your period, make sure you change all sanitary materials regularly. If they smell, it’s time to change them!
Generally, keeping things smelling good down there is just a case of caring for your body (eating relatively well) and washing regularly (that goes for your clothes, too). If you have a persistent odor, it’s a good idea to talk to a gynecologist or doctor to determine if you have a bigger issue at play.