What should my vagina smell like?
Have you ever noticed a fishy vaginal smell? Or a slightly rotten or even metallic scent coming from your vagina? These are all common vaginal odours! Now let’s find out what they mean…
It may be hard to believe, but every vagina has a different smell and no, they don’t all smell of roses or fruits – they’re actually not supposed to.
The smell of your vagina is mainly controlled by your vaginal pH – remember learning about pH from your chemistry class? Well this applies to your vagina too! If your vaginal pH is unbalanced (either more acidic or alkaline than the optimum vaginal pH), then it affects the natural bacteria present in your vagina and can cause it to sometimes smell a little off.
When your vagina produces internal fluids such as discharge, or arousal fluids, these are eventually transported out to the external area of the vagina. It's when these internal flows become external that you may notice a slight smell. You may get a whiff of it when changing your underwear, stepping into the shower or even when you’re just relaxing on the sofa! Some days you may be able to smell something and some days you won’t smell anything - this is completely normal. If your vagina is smelling a bit odd it’s really nothing to worry about; an unbalanced vaginal pH can be easily restored. Sometimes it may just be that some areas of your V-Zone, like the vulva and the V-shaped front you see in the mirror (where your pubic bone and hair are) could be a bit sweaty, or it could even be your natural scent! Vaginas are great at maintaining their own special ecosystem of “good” and “bad” bacteria, so unless the smell of your vagina is persistently strong then there is usually nothing to worry about.
Now it’s time to find out what some of the most common vaginal odours mean, so you can recognise them and understand why your vagina may smell a certain way at times.
Let’s look at some common vaginal odours
An unbalanced vaginal pH can cause a vaginal infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV for short). BV can produce a fishy vaginal smell, along with a thin, off-white discharge . So, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, then there’s a chance you may have BV.
A vaginal infection may sound scary, but it’s nothing to stress about as it’s easily cured with antibiotics. So if you do feel like you may have BV, check with your doctor so that they can prescribe you with the necessary medication.
Have you ever smelt a metallic, slightly coppery smell from the blood when you accidently cut your finger? Well the same smell can apply to your vagina, from your period blood! Blood in general contains a lot of iron, so when the lining of your uterus is shed as period blood during menstruation, it’s normal for your vagina to smell a bit metallic. This smell will only really be present when you’re on your period though, and go away soon after it finishes.
We’ve all left food out for longer than it should be and the smell isn’t great! If your vagina smells like rotten food that has passed its use by date, then you may have forgotten to take your tampon out. Leaving your tampon in your vagina for an extended amount of time can cause a strong, pungent smell.
This is because all the blood and vaginal secretions which are absorbed by the tampon and caught in the vagina provide an environment for smelly bacteria to grow . We know it’s not always easy to remember when you have a tampon in, so do try your best to keep track of it; whether that’s by setting an alarm or reminder on your phone, or making a note somewhere of every time you insert a tampon.
It’s also worth noting that leaving your tampon in for too long can pose the more serious health risk of toxic shock syndrome. So if you are unable to take your tampon out, make sure to go and see a medical professional as soon as possible so that they can remove it. Doctors and nurses have seen it all before, so you can trust they'll know how to take care of your (tampon) string of bad luck!
Sometimes your vagina may smell a bit like chemicals or even bleach. While your vagina smelling like a cleaning product may seem alarming at first, it’s only a bit of pee residue that causes this particular smell. Even though no pee comes out of the vagina itself, sometimes when you wipe yourself, a bit of pee residue may get transferred onto the general V-Zone area (the vagina, vulva and V-shaped front you can see).
Pee naturally contains ammonia, which is what gives it this slightly chemically smell . The amount of ammonia in your pee goes up when you’re dehydrated, which may make the smell stronger – so remember to drink your water!
How can I get rid of vaginal odours?
Sometimes your vagina may smell a little different to what you’re used to and you may not even notice it! But if you do, it’s understandable if it leaves you feeling a little bit embarrassed or self-conscious. While you can laugh off a bit off body odour with your friends after a sweaty gym sesh, vagina smells are a different story. Especially since talking about intimate details of your vagina can feel very personal; making it sometimes tricky to talk to others about it.
However, speaking to someone you trust such as a close friend, relative or medical professional is important, as they’ll be able to provide you with the support and advice you may need to feel more comfortable.
On top of that, as we’ve said, your vagina is supposed to have a natural smell! The unique combination of bacteria in your vagina will produce a unique smell and it’s just a sign that your vagina is healthy! Try to avoid unsettling your vaginal pH by staying away from using scented products and completely avoiding cleaning the inside of your vagina, as this may not only disturb the natural bacteria in your vagina, but could also make your vagina smell actually bad. This is because if you interrupt the natural bacteria in your vagina, your vaginal pH could become imbalanced and produce smelly bacteria.
The best thing you can do is let your vagina look after itself. You can help this process by letting it be, along with changing period products or liners regularly, wearing clean, cotton underwear and using intimate soap only for the external area of the V-Zone. It’s also a good idea to drink lots of water and wash after exercising, or even just after long day (but remember no internal cleaning of your vagina!). Plus, who doesn’t love an excuse to take a relaxing bath or shower on a regular basis – or if a shower isn’t available, you can always use some intimate wipes!
So next time you think that your vagina may be smelling off, try and not feel too self-conscious – all vaginas have a natural smell (yours is just as unique as you are!), it’s usually their way of saying that they’re healthy. In the meantime, for more helpful info on V-Zone wellbeing, check out our pages on everything you need to know about V-Care and what special products you may need for your vulva.
The medical information in this article is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please consult your doctor for guidance about a specific medical condition.