Are you worried about your vaginal smell? If yes, you are far from alone.
Thanks to the media and the misconception that your vagina should smell fresh and fragrant at all times, women everywhere are feeling self-conscious about the odour of their private parts.
However, the truth is that your vagina is a complex environment that is home to millions of bacteria (both good and bad), and even the slightest disruption can cause a change in odour.Within the below guide, you will discover everything there is to know about vaginal smell.
What does a healthy vagina smell like?
As briefly mentioned above, each vagina is unique, which means that each vaginal smell is different. That being said, normal vaginal discharge should have a mild, slightly musky scent that is not unpleasant. Of course, this can change throughout your cycle and also during other times when your hormone levels are different such as when you are pregnant or during menopause.
If you notice that your vaginal odour smells foul or unpleasant, then this could be a sign of an infection such as a sexually transmitted disease. This is particularly likely if you also notice other symptoms such as vaginal itching, a change in the colour of your vaginal discharge and/or pain during sex or urination.
Try not to get preoccupied with what people believe to be a normal vaginal smell, and instead, get to know your own unique scent so that you can identify any changes that could indicate a problem.
What are the main vaginal smell causes?
If you notice a change in your vaginal smell, there are several possible causes, most of which will either correct themselves or can be treated with an over-the-counter remedy.
If you have a fishy-smelling vagina, then the likely culprit is bacterial vaginosis, often referred to simply as BV.
A vaginal infection that affects many adult women, BV occurs when there is an imbalance in the vaginal flora. An estimated 50% of women who suffer from bacterial vaginosis experience an odour and/or abnormal vaginal discharge. Although bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted disease, if you have a new partner or multiple partners, you are more at risk of getting this infection.
Bacterial vaginosis can be treated with an over-the-counter remedy such as Multi-Gyn ActiGel. This medication does not require a prescription and can be bought at most pharmacies or drugstores.
Vaginal thrush is a common vaginal infection that affects up to 75% of women at some point in their lives. Sometimes vaginal thrush can cause a yeasty vaginal smell, although this is not always the case. Other symptoms associated with vaginal thrush include a thick, white, clumpy discharge and vaginal itching.
Vaginal thrush symptoms can be treated with an over-the-counter remedy such as Multi-Gyn FloraPlus, which soothes the symptoms of vaginal thrush.
Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause a pungent and fishy odour that is similar to bacterial vaginosis. This vaginal infection is caused by a parasite and often does not display any symptoms. If you do experience symptoms of trichomoniasis, these are likely to be an unpleasant odour and a yellow-green discharge.
Your GP or local sexual health clinic can diagnose trichomoniasis and prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.
Forgotten tampon smell
If you have left a tampon in your vagina for several days, you will quickly start to notice a foul smell coming from your private parts.
If the cause of your vaginal smell is a forgotten tampon, you will find that the odour gets worse very quickly and that it is very noticeable.
Leaving a tampon in for longer than the recommended length of time can cause Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), which can be life-threatening. If you suspect that your vaginal odour is a result of a forgotten tampon, then check your vagina and remove the tampon as quickly as possible.
Although hormonal changes should not make your vagina smell unpleasant, they can affect your vaginal discharge and the way it smells. For example, during menopause and in the post-menopausal years, your vaginal discharge may smell different.
During pregnancy, your vaginal discharge can also change in appearance, texture, and sometimes smell.
Urinary tract infection (UTI)
If you notice an ammonia smell, then you may have a urinary tract infection. If left untreated, a UTI can cause a fever, pelvic and lower back pain, and a strong odour.
Urinary tract infections can be treated with antibiotics, or sometimes, in mild cases, they can go away on their own by drinking a lot of water.
Cervical or uterine cancer
In very rare cases, a change in vaginal smell can be a sign of cervical or uterine cancer. Typically, these cancers cause a metallic and sickly smell.
Other cervical and uterine cancer symptoms include bleeding during sexual intercourse, regular spotting between periods, or any other unusual bleeding.
6 Vaginal smells and what they mean
Although smells vary, these are the most common and what they mean for you:
Fermented or sour smell
If your vagina has a slightly sour or fermented smell, then this is usually perfectly normal. The pH of a healthy vagina is between 3.8 and 4.5, which is slightly acidic and can cause a tangy odour.
However, if you notice a fermented odour and other symptoms such as a thick white discharge and vaginal itching, you may have a yeast infection.
If your vagina has a coppery or slightly metallic odour, then this is most likely due to menstruation. Blood contains iron which has a metallic smell, and during your period, blood and tissue shed from your uterine lining and travel down your vaginal canal.
You may also experience a little bit of bleeding after sex which can be responsible for a coppery smell.
A sweet smell vagina is nothing to be concerned about. Your vaginal ecosystem is constantly changing, and this can result in a slightly sweet odour. Typically, this sweet aroma smells like molasses.
A chemical smell that is similar to bleach or ammonia is often the result of a urinary tract infection or dehydration.
Although it may seem like it is your vaginal discharge that smells, it is actually your urine that has changed in odour.
A fishy odour is usually a sign of a vaginal infection known as bacterial vaginosis. If you have BV, you may also experience a grey/white, thin discharge.
Typically, this fishy smell will get worse after sexual intercourse.
A rotten or decaying smell is usually caused by a forgotten tampon. This vaginal smell is likely to be very overpowering, and it will get worse the longer you leave a tampon in.
A tampon smell treatment is simple – all you need to do is remove the tampon, and the smell will go away immediately.
What are the most effective vaginal smell treatments?
The treatment you need will be dependent on the cause of your abnormal vaginal odour. In most cases, you can remedy the issue yourself with either an over-the-counter medication or by a few simple lifestyle changes.
If your vaginal odour has a distinct fishy smell and is accompanied by a thin, greyish discharge, then you are likely to have a vaginal infection known as bacterial vaginosis. Bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted disease, although sex can make the odour and discharge worse.
If you are unsure whether or not you have BV, you can buy bacterial vaginosis test kits online and at most pharmacies.
To treat bacterial vaginosis, you do not need to see your GP. Instead, you can buy an over-the-counter treatment such as Multi-Gyn Actigel. This fast and effective BV treatment works by supporting the growth of good bacteria in your vagina and suppressing the growth of bad bacteria.
Does your vagina have a slightly yeasty smell? If yes, then you might have vaginal thrush. A very common vaginal infection, thrush typically comes with several other key symptoms, including vaginal itching, vaginal soreness, and a thick, white, clumpy discharge.
To relief symptoms related to vaginal thrush, you need an over-the-counter remedy such as Multi-Gyn Flora Plus, which is specifically designed to soothe the symptoms of thrush. This highly effective thrush treatment works by creating an optimal and natural vaginal flora that prevents the growth of unwanted microorganisms such as Candida.
If you have a sexually transmitted infection such as trichomoniasis, then you will need to see your GP or visit your local sexual health clinic for a course of antibiotics.
Some of the most common antibiotics for vaginal infections include:
Antibiotics are also sometimes prescribed to treat bacterial vaginosis, although some women experience side effects off taking the antibiotics.
Vaginal odour can sometimes be caused by an imbalance in your vagina’s delicate ecosystem. Some women find that taking a daily probiotic can help to restore this balance and minimise vaginal odour.
Probiotics can also help to prevent bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections.
What vaginal smell treatments should you avoid?
If you Google “vaginal smell treatments”, you will be met with a whole host of suggestions, many of which are at best ineffective and at worst unsafe.
These are the vaginal smell treatments that you should avoid:
Vaginal douching with a product like Multi-Gyn Vaginal Douche and tablets, is ideal for general vaginal hygiene however not recommend more than once a week. Douching is often not necessary, but it can be helpful in certain situations in moderation.
Scented feminine products
Although you may be tempted to try and mask your natural vaginal smell with a scented spray or deodorant, these are not good for your overall vaginal health. Many of these scented products can cause irritation to the vagina and may also increase your risk of getting a vaginal infection.
When to see your GP about vaginal smell
If your vaginal odour has become unpleasant or foul-smelling or it is accompanied by other symptoms such as vaginal itching, vaginal soreness, pain during sex, or urination, then it can be a good idea to see your GP to rule out an infection.
However, if you have only noticed subtle changes in your vaginal odour throughout the month and you have no other symptoms, then the change in your vaginal smell is most likely nothing to worry about.
How to reduce vaginal odour
There are several hygiene practices that you can adopt to reduce vaginal odour:
Care for your vagina
The vagina is a self-cleaning organ, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to take care of it. Some of the best hygiene practices for reducing vaginal odour include:
- Change your underwear daily
- Use unscented washing powders
- Take a shower after exercise
- Urinate after sexual intercourse
- Use a pH-balanced intimate care wash
- Always wipe from front to back after going to the toilet
Switch to tampons
If you use external menstruation products such as pads, these can trap vaginal odour and make it more apparent. By switching to an internal menstruation product such as tampons, you can reduce vaginal odour during your period.
Make sure that you change your pads or tampons regularly to avoid vaginal odour and to keep your vagina healthy.
Practice safe sex
Semen is naturally alkaline, which means that it can disrupt the delicate pH balance within your vagina. This can contribute to vaginal odour and sometimes cause vaginal infections such as bacterial vaginosis.
To limit the effects of semen on your vaginal smell, follow the below safe sex practices:
- Use a condom
- Rinse your vulva with water after sex
- Avoid scented lubricants or condoms
Take a daily probiotic
Vaginal odour can sometimes be caused by an imbalance in your vagina’s delicate ecosystem. If you are prone to vaginal infections such as thrush or bacterial vaginosis, then a daily probiotic supplement can help to support the growth of good bacteria in your vagina. This, in turn, can help to reduce unpleasant vaginal odours.
Avoid tight-fitting clothing
When you sweat, this can increase your vaginal odour, so it is a good idea to avoid wearing clothes that are tight-fitting.
Ideally, you should choose clothing that is made from breathable materials such as cotton, as these are less likely to hold moisture.
Vaginal smell FAQs
Why does my vagina smell?
It is completely normal to have a smell in a vagina. If your vagina suddenly develops an unpleasant or foul-smelling odour, then this could be a sign of an infection.
Why do I have a fishy smell?
A fishy smell coming from your vagina can sometimes be a sign of a bacterial infection called bacterial vaginosis. This is not a sexually transmitted disease, and it can be treated with an over-the-counter remedy such as Multi-Gyn ActiGel.
What does chlamydia smell like?
Chlamydia does not always have a smell, but in some cases, you may notice a yellow or green discharge that has an unpleasant odour.
What should your vagina smell like?
A healthy vaginal discharge has a mild, sometimes slightly musty smell, although this can change throughout your menstrual cycle. For example, during your period, you may notice a metallic smell. Your vaginal smell can also change during pregnancy and menopause.
Your vagina should not smell foul or unpleasant. If it does, this could be a sign of an infection.
How to have a nice smelling vagina
The best way to ensure a nice smelling vagina is to practice good vaginal hygiene habits and to practice safe sex. If you suspect you may have a vaginal infection, then seek treatment as soon as possible to avoid unpleasant vaginal odours.
What causes vaginal odour?
Your natural vaginal odour is unique and is based on factors such as diet and your menstrual cycle. If you have an abnormal vaginal odour, this can be caused by changes in hormones, an infection, or changes in the bacterial makeup of your vaginal canal.
What is a bad vagina smell?
A bad vagina smell can be unpleasant, foul-smelling, or even putrid. Bad smells are most likely caused by a vaginal infection or a forgotten tampon.
What do yeast infections smell like?
A yeast infection does not typically have a smell, but some women may notice a slightly yeasty odour that is typically accompanied by thick, white, and clumpy discharge. Vaginal itching is also a common symptom of a yeast infection.
What does BV smell like?
Bacterial vaginosis, BV, has a very distinct fishy odour that often becomes worse after sex.
How to get rid of a fishy smell?
A fishy smell is usually caused by a bacterial infection known as bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV can be treated with an over-the-counter remedy such as Multi-Gyn Actigel. You do not need a prescription for this medication, and it can be bought online or at most pharmacies.
How to get rid of a smelly vagina?
The best way to get rid of a smelly vagina is to practice good vaginal hygiene. Gently wash your vagina daily with warm water, wear breathable underwear, and do not douche. If you suspect that you have a vaginal infection, seek treatment as soon as possible.
How to have a nice smelling vagina?
To keep your vagina smelling nice and fresh, make sure that you wash daily with warm water, practice safe sex, avoid douching, and wear breathable underwear. If you are self-conscious about your scent, then you may also want to try a feminine hygiene product that has been specially formulated to maintain the pH balance of your vagina.
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