Why Do Vaginas Smell?

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

Written by : Dr. Aidah Ilyas, M.D.

The feminine odor is a thing that every woman has to deal with. It is quite natural for your vagina to have a slight odor. However, every woman's vaginal odor is different and specific. A healthy vaginal smell can be described as 'musky' or 'fleshy.'

During the menstrual cycle and after sex, it may change temporarily for a few days. But be informed, this odor can change in the presence of infections or other medical conditions.

Vagina has a mechanism to cleanse itself and maintain its pH keeping infectious organisms away.

But, if you interfere with the natural mechanism of cleansing like using products to improve vaginal odor, you may end up having infections.

These products remove fluids that naturally cleanse the vagina, thereby altering pH, making it a favorable environment for bacteria.

Causes of Vaginal Odour

Nutrition, health status, and many other factors can alter the intensity of the vaginal odor. But not every unpleasant smell is due to infections. Poor hygiene, tight-fitting clothing, and sweating can also cause vaginal odor to be unpleasant. Often vaginal odor with symptoms of irritation, itching burning, and discharge is the cause of concern and must be addressed immediately. We will discuss some common causes of vaginal odor and how to minimize them.

Bacterial Vaginosis (Fishy Vaginal Odour)

The most common cause of vaginal odor is affecting females aged between 14-55 years. It is caused by bacterial overgrowth due to altered pH. Affected women may have symptoms of itching, irritation, burning, or creamy yellowish discharge.

Yeast Infection (Sweet or beer-like odor)

It is the fungal infection that causes intense itching, irritation, dryness, and cottage cheese-like discharge. The vaginal odor due to overgrowth of yeast changes to sweet, beer like or sometimes sour.

Trichomoniasis (sexually transmitted infection)

It is a sexually transmitted infection and causes a strong vaginal smell. This infection produces a fishy smell. Other sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea or chlamydia are not associated with distinct vaginal odor.

Forgotten Tampon

Foreign objects that are left inside the vagina mistakenly like tampons can cause a strong putrid smell. They also increase the risk of infections if not removed quickly.

Dietary Intake

It is seen that the food we eat influences the vaginal smell. So it is vital to notice the vaginal smell about the food or drinks you take. If your vaginal odor is changing and you are eating more processed foods, you should consider to stop consuming such foods and increase the intake of fruits and vegetables.


Sweat anywhere on the body produces smell, and the vagina is prone to sweating. If you exercise and wear tight clothing without breathable fabric, a moisty vagina will be smelly.


Certain antibiotics or herbal medicines can also alter the natural smell of the vagina.


Hormonal changes in the body either by pregnancy, menstruation, menopause, or hormonal supplements can also cause the vagina to smell differently.

Rectovaginal Fistula

It is not much common but can cause vaginal odor. It is the abnormal opening between rectum and vagina, allowing the feces to leak into the vagina contributing to the smelly vagina.


Not the common cause, but cervical cancer can cause foul smelly bloody discharge. So it is also the reason for a smelly vagina.

Tips to Reduce Vaginal Smell

The management of vaginal smell depends on the cause. The infections are treated with antibiotics or antifungals, along with hygienic measures. However, a mild vaginal scent not due to infections or other medical-related problems can be managed by:

➢ Good Hygiene

Hygiene is vital to prevent the vagina from smelling bad. Although the vagina doesn't need cleaning, the area around it must be kept clean and dry as much as possible to avoid bacteria's overgrowth. Sweaty clothes must be changed as soon as possible. If you use synthetic (polyester, nylon or satin) panties, you must switch to non-synthetic material. Non-synthetic materials are breathable and wick away any moisture, sweat, and fluids, which cause the vagina to smell.

➢ Avoid Douching, Bubble Baths, and Frequent Use of Panty Liners

Douching means flushing water inside the vagina, and people think in this way they clean their vagina. But douching alters the pH of the vagina, making it prone to infections. The same is the case with bubble baths and panty liners. Both change the pH, causing the vagina to smell bad.

There are many reasons why vaginas smell differently than natural odor. We have discussed almost all the common causes, and the management is based on causative factors. It is to be noted that not all the conditions are severe, but one must investigate it. By examining timely, it can be managed efficiently.


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