What Should My Vagina Smell Like?

What Should My Vagina Smell Like?

Photo of "Diva" sculpture by Brazilian artist Juliana Notari

The vagina resides in a dark, warm place loaded with lymph nodes and glands. Smell is normal here, even after bathing. It’s a delicately balanced ecosystem complete with its own unique odor-producing bacterial flora. We know there are a lot of opinions out there about vaginal smells, so we want to set the record straight.

What smells are normal and healthy?

Before you schedule an appointment with your OB-GYN, take note that these scents aren’t cause for concern.

  • Tangy, fermented, or sour. These are perfectly healthy descriptors of vaginal odor. The good bacteria help keep your vagina healthy by producing lactic acid, hydrogen peroxide, and other substances to keep harmful bacteria out. The vaginal pH level is on the acidic side—between 3.8 and 4.5 for those yet to experience menopause and between 4.5 and 6 for those in menopause. This pH level helps fend off the overgrowth of yeast and other harmful bacteria.
  • Metallic, like a jar of pennies. This could be due to blood from menstruation or light bleeding after sex traveling through the vaginal canal. Blood contains iron, which explains the smell. Have you ever brushed your teeth too hard which made your gums bleed and caused a metallic taste in your mouth? This smell could also be from contact with semen, which can affect the pH level of the vagina.
  • Bittersweet or molasses-like. If you smell a little like a tangy gingerbread cookie, it could be that your normal bacteria are a little out of flux. This affects your pH, which affects your aroma.
  • Bleachy, like a clean kitchen sink. This more chemical-like odor could be because you have a bit of urine in your underwear or around your vulva. BUT it could be a sign of a bacterial infection, so keep an eye on it and contact your OB-GYN if it hangs around.

What smells should raise alarms?

If you notice any of the odors below, it might be a good idea to contact your doctor.

  • Fishy. There are a LOT of jokes about this smell, but it should be taken seriously. If your odor is smelling foul, like a dead fish, it could be a sign of a more serious condition that you want to get treated.
    • Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is one possibility. BV occurs when the healthy lactobacilli are thrown out of balance and grow too much. Symptoms include a thin vaginal discharge with a strong fishy smell and itching or burning when you urinate. It’s treated with antibiotics.
    • Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection that could be the culprit for a fishy smell. You may notice genital itching, burning, redness or soreness, urinary discomfort, and a clear, white, yellowish, or greenish vaginal discharge. It’s also treated with antibiotics.
  • Rotten, like bad meat. If you’ve forgotten about a tampon you have in, it could be the cause of this putrid odor. The color of vaginal discharge could be yellow, green, pink, gray, or brown. You may also experience fever, vaginal itching, pain urinating, pain around your pelvis or abdomen, redness around the genital area, and vaginal swelling. If you’re unable to retrieve said tampon and are experiencing these symptoms, call your doctor.

If you experience any of the above odors in addition to the symptoms below, contact your doctor.

  • Fever
  • Vaginal discharge that is unusual in color or consistency
  • Bleeding not from your period
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Vaginal swelling
  • Genital rash or redness

Vaginal hygiene best practices

It’s important to remember that many vaginal odors actually point to its health. If, however, you wish to minimize them, adopt these habits to ensure you aren’t causing any disruption to the bacterial balance.

  • Don’t douche. I think most of us are aware that this trend isn’t healthy, but it never hurts to mention it. Douching and other products like deodorants and sprays marketed for the vagina can alter the pH level, cause an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, and lead to infection.
  • Wash with warm water, a mild unscented soap, or a pH-balanced soap created for the vulva. The key thing to remember is you never need to wash inside the vagina. It does that all on its own—amazing right? If you’re using anything other than warm water, be extra careful to keep product usage external.
  • Use a condom. This helps prevent contact between semen and vaginal fluids, which can disrupt pH balance. If you’re using lubricants, stick to unscented and non-flavored ones.
  • Wear cotton underwear. It’s more breathable and makes it more difficult for smell-producing bacteria to build up.
    • Merino wool is another great alternative. It’s a bit pricier than cotton, but it’s moisture-wicking, odor resistant, and a great temperature regulator. This means it keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It’s no wonder it’s a favorite fabric among outdoor enthusiasts.
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing. This includes thongs, which can collect fecal matter that can reach the vagina and cause infections and odors—and UTIs!
  • Get your probiotics in. These can help prevent yeast infections and reduce vaginal odors by keeping your pH level in check. You can eat them via yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha or you can take a supplement like our Pre+Probiotic for Women.
  • Stay hydrated. This helps keep bacterial overgrowth and stress-related sweat in check.
  • See your OB-GYN annually. Getting yearly check-ups helps you know what your normal is and can give you peace of mind. Never hesitate to make an appointment if you have concerns in-between visits.
  • Take Menopause Essentials. If you’re going through perimenopause, your estrogen production is winding down. Lack of estrogen causes less vaginal mucosa which lines and nurtures the lactobacilli in the vagina and changes the pH level.

It’s natural to have a vaginal scent and subtle shifts are normal. None of the listed healthy smells are floral or fruity, so any products that promise that should raise red flags for you. The smell associated with your vagina has everything to do with its pH level. Focus on supporting a healthy pH level as well as keeping the bacteria that colonize your vagina in balance and you should have a happy, healthy vulva.

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