Vaginal odor is a topic that’s not only embarrassing to discuss for many, but it’s simply embarrassing to live with for anyone who may be experiencing it. Oftentimes, it’s the result of a vaginal yeast infection, but that’s not always the case — which is why it’s important to find the root cause.
Having a healthy vagina is extremely important to overall health, healthy births and healthy marriages, and vaginal odor can be a signal that there might be a health issue at play. How this affects a woman’s self-esteem is another side effect, not to mention how it can affect her relationship with her significant other due to the impact it may have on their sex life.
While there are many causes, most of the time it can be resolved through natural remedies. Luckily, there are natural ways to take care of vaginal odor, such as apple cider vinegar, baking soda, probiotics, tea tree oil and more.
What Is Vaginal Odor?
Where does this incredibly uncomfortable vaginal odor come from, and what is it in the first place?
Vaginal odor is defined as any odor that originates from the vagina. It’s normal for your vagina to have a slight odor given it’s an opening to the interior of the body, but a strong vaginal smell, such as a fishy vaginal odor, could indicate a bigger problem and should be checked out with your physician.
Abnormal vaginal odor is typically associated with other vaginal signs and symptoms, such as itching, burning or irritation. Often there is vaginal odor and discharge at the same time.
Vaginal odor causes are still being studied, but we know that there are many things that can cause vaginal odor. However, problematic vaginal odor is typically combined with other symptoms, such as itching, burning, irritation or discharge.
Generally, if you have vaginal odor without some of these other vaginal symptoms, it’s unlikely that your vaginal odor is abnormal. Chlamydia, gonorrhea infections and yeast infections usually don’t cause vaginal odors — however, let’s review the possible causes.
1. Bacterial Vaginosis
The most common cause of vaginal odor is bacterial vaginosis. Bacterial vaginosis is an overgrowth of normally occurring vaginal bacteria. It has a high rate of recurrence, affecting nearly 30 percent of women who are in their reproductive years, and is associated with miscarriage, preterm birth, as well as the increased risk of acquiring other sexually transmitted infections. One of the biggest indicators of bacterial vaginosis is a “fishy” odor.
A study conducted at Virginia Commonwealth University as part of Vaginal Microbiome Project was designed to investigate the relationships between the human microbiota composition, diet and health status. Visitors to Virginia Commonwealth University’s outpatient clinics enrolled in the study focusing on the understanding of the common structure in vaginal microflora and to identify differences due to bacterial imbalance and inflammation caused by bacterial vaginosis.
This inflammation is still being studied, especially since there is no known reason as to why it develops, but it appears that certain activities, such as unprotected sexual intercourse or frequent douching, can put a woman at higher risk of this condition.
Trichomoniasis is another common cause of vaginal odor and is a sexually transmitted infection. In fact, it’s the most common non-viral STD in the world. Trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite and can cause a foul-smelling vaginal discharge, genital itching and painful urination. Though men can have trichomoniasis, they typically have no symptoms.
Trichomoniasis can affect pregnant women, causing them to be at higher risk of delivering their babies prematurely. If you suspect a trichomoniasis infection, both you and your partner should be treated. Using condoms correctly every time you have sex can help reduce the risk of infection.
3. Hormonal Changes
The University of California at Berkeley reports that vaginal secretions during menstruation and between ovulation and your next period may have a more unpleasant odor than during other parts of the cycle. Menopause may be a potential hormonal cause due to reduced estrogen levels causing the vaginal tissue to thin and become less acidic. Many women undergoing menopause may notice a smelly, watery vaginal discharge.
4. Poor Hygiene and Sweating
It should be no surprise that poor hygiene is a cause of vaginal odor. A sweaty groin area can definitely produce this embarrassing smell. It may seem obvious, but scientifically, the reason for this is because the external genitals have special glands called apocrine sweat glands, which are also found in the armpits, nipples, ear canals, eyelids and wings of your nostrils. These glands secrete an oily fluid that’s metabolized by bacteria on your skin, ultimately producing a noticeable smell.
Wearing tight clothing or being overweight can create a bigger problem by trapping sweat and bacteria on the skin or in skin folds for those who may have excess weight.
5. Retained or Forgotten Tampon
This pretty much falls into the category of poor hygiene and may seem bizarre, but this problem is more common than you may think. Awareness is crucial in taking good care of oneself, but it’s clear that the buildup of menstrual blood and bacteria can lead to irritation, itching and a strong, unpleasant-smelling discharge.
If you find yourself in this predicament, a gynecologist can safely remove the tampon and treat any possible infection. Make sure you take the appropriate care needed.
6. Was It Something I Ate?
There are a number of foods that can cause vaginal odor. Probably one of the most common odors in the vaginal area that we recognize from food comes from nutrient-rich asparagus. Yes, it’s true that what you had for dinner may affect vaginal odor, similar as to how it affects other parts of your body, such as your armpits, scalp, mouth and feet.
Research shows that foods with strong scents like pepper, garlic, onion, blue cheese, cabbage, asparagus, fish and broccoli tend to have the most impact. This can be an easy fix by simply eliminating that food and seeing if the odor goes away. (18)
Vaginal odor is often more noticeable just after sex and can vary throughout the menstrual cycle. Normal sweating can also be a cause a vaginal odor. This is often where the the idea of using vaginal douching and other vaginal deodorant-type products comes to mind, but these products can actually increase irritation and other vaginal symptoms due to their chemical-filled ingredient list.
Instead of douching and other potentially toxic feminine hygiene products, try the following natural remedies.
1. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar contains amazing antibacterial and antiseptic properties that can help fight vaginal odor. Taking a bath with apple cider vinegar can help fight off the toxins and bacteria that cause vaginal odor while restoring the acidic quality of the vaginal flora. Try drinking a glass of water mixed with one or two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar daily.
2. Baking Soda
Baking soda can be used to balance the pH level in your body. When the pH level is in balance, the problem of vaginal odor will dissipate, which means you can add natural deodorizer to the list of baking soda uses.
You can simply add half a cup of baking soda to your bathwater and soak for about 15–20 minutes. Then thoroughly dry your body before putting on your clothing. Make sure to not allow moisture to sit in any folds or the groin area of the body.
Miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt and kefir are all great probiotic food options. Probiotic yogurt, for example, is rich in lactobacillus bacteria, which helps fight candida infection, a common cause of vaginal odor. Probiotics can also help restore the normal vaginal pH level, which can remove vaginal odor.
4. White Vinegar and Sea Salt
While apple cider vinegar seems to get all the glory when it comes to home remedies, let’s not forget white vinegar. White vinegar can help neutralize odors by breaking down odor proteins, and a white vinegar bath may help eliminate vaginal odor and help restore pH levels in the vagina.
Just a half cup each of white vinegar and sea salt in lukewarm bath water several times a week may do the trick.
5. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil contains strong antifungal properties as well as being a great antiseptic. These characteristics help get rid of bacteria that may contribute to the problem of vaginal odor and discomfort.
Add a few drops combined with water and witch hazel on a cotton pad and then applying it to the effected area daily can make a big difference. Make sure to dilute with the water and witch hazel since tea tree oil can cause some initial sensitivity to the groin area.
It may seem odd to take one foul smell to get rid of another, but garlic is known for its antimicrobial and antifungal properties. It’s a natural antibiotic that may be just the remedy for vaginal infections as well as vaginal odor. The antifungal properties that garlic contains can help fight a yeast infection, which, in turn, gets rid of bad bacteria.
Just incorporate garlic in raw or cooked form, on a daily basis, into your meals. Garlic is available in capsule form at your health food store, or you can eat one or two raw garlic cloves on an empty stomach with a glass of warm water.
7. Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh, organic, whole fruits and vegetables are always key to a healthy body and support vaginal health due to the numerous vitamins and minerals they contain. We know that vitamin C, found in citrus fruits, guava, strawberries, kiwi, and green and red peppers, is an immune system booster.
Leafy greens should always be consumed in abundance since they help with circulation and prevent vaginal dryness. Eat plenty of spinach, kale, cabbage, salad, Swiss chard, collards and other leafy greens by including them in your salads and smoothies. The avocado stimulates vaginal health and also helps with libido because it contains vitamin B6 and potassium, which supports healthy vaginal walls, reducing the risks of infection and bacterial growth.
8. Nuts and Seeds
Adding nuts to your daily nutrition helps prevents vaginal dryness because they contain vitamin E. Look for sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts. Almonds and pumpkin seeds are also rich in zinc, which helps regulate the menstrual cycle, reduce itching and other symptoms of dryness that can cause bacterial growth and odor.
We cannot stress enough the importance of water and lots of it. The mucous vaginal membranes need water to function properly so they remain well-hydrated. Water helps lubricate your vagina naturally, which aids in diminishing vaginal smells.
10. Neem Bark Extract
Neem bark has some pretty phenomenal antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties that help support balanced intestinal flora while fighting infection from fungi, such as candida.
In fact, in vitro studies showed efficacy against infections, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia and herpes, in sexually active women who took neem oil extract in the tablet form. This is due to the possible enhanced antibody production and because forms of neem may promote the immune response of white blood cells, unleashing them — hence killing bacterial invaders.
Feminine Hygiene Tips
1. Wash Daily
It can eliminate recurring vaginal odor by washing daily with warm water. While soap is optional, a gentle natural soap can be used around the area. Don’t use a washcloth and definitely don’t use inside the vagina. That could upset its delicate pH balance and actually cause irritation and infection.
2. Wear Loose Clothing and Cotton Underwear
When wearing tight clothing, it can restrict airflow, causing moisture buildup. Loose clothing and cotton underwear can help increase airflow to your groin and help prevent moisture in the area. Changing your underwear every 12 hours is helpful, too. This prevents additional bacteria growth that can occur if the area is kept in an unsanitary environment.
3. Change Your Clothes After Exercising
A sweaty groin, also known as a sweaty crotch, can leave you feeling and smelling unpleasant. Don’t hang out in your in sweaty clothes. This is a breeding ground for bacteria! It can also help if you wash your groin area, then dry the area, before putting on fresh clothes.
4. Lose Weight If Necessary
While it may seem irrelevant, extra weight can cause extra sweating, even in the vaginal area. As noted above, this extra moisture can cause bacteria to form, which can cause vaginal odor. Choosing a healthy lifestyle of clean eating and regular exercise can making a big difference in how much sweat you produce.
5. Avoid the Douche
Our bodies were designed to take care of most issues. When you douche, you remove healthy bacteria in the vagina that you need to help prevent infection. As well, douche products contain lots of chemicals that can cause toxic buildup in the body.
6. Don’t Fall for the Feminine Sprays
Feminine sprays are a marketing trap! These sprays can lead to irritation and possibly an allergic reaction. Our bodies aren’t able to break down the chemicals that come through the skin.
In fact, the skin absorbs these chemicals very quickly because of the thin nature the skin. The chemicals then head right into the bloodstream. The vagina is made to naturally cleanse itself, so interfering with the process is more likely to cause bigger problems for you.
7. Avoid Certain Foods
There are numerous foods that affect the pH of the body, and when that happens it increases inflammation and bacterial growth. Candida is a common infection that can easily become inflamed through eating certain foods, especially sugary foods since yeast thrives in a sugary environment.
Foods that are best to avoid if you have vaginal odors and infections include sugar, alcohol and wheat products. Overall, avoid processed and sugar-rich foods, and eat plenty of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables.
Many of these home remedies may take care of the problem, but be cautious about using any essential oils or other methods that you may not have used before, especially if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or taking medications.
Though less common, abnormal vaginal odor may result from rectovaginal fistula, which is an abnormal opening between the rectum and vagina that may allow feces to leak into the vagina. If you think you have rectovaginal fistula, cervical cancer or vaginal cancer, please consult your physician. It’s important to note the vaginal odor may be a sign of cervical or vaginal cancer.
- Vaginal odor is defined as any odor that originates from the vagina. It’s normal for your vagina to have a slight odor given it’s an opening to the interior of the body, but a strong vaginal smell, such as a fishy vaginal odor, could indicate a bigger problem and should be checked out with your physician.
- The top 10 natural remedies for vaginal odor include apple cider vinegar, baking soda, probiotics, white vinegar and sea salt, tea tree oil, garlic, fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, water, and neem bark extract.
- Some other tips to help your vagina smell good include wearing loose clothing and cotton underwear, changing your clothes after exercising, losing weight if necessary, avoiding the douche, ditching feminine sprays, and avoiding certain foods.
- Some common causes of vaginal odor include bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis, hormonal changes, poor hygiene and sweating, retained or forgotten tampon, and certain foods.
How to Get Rid of Vaginal Odor: Remedies & Feminine Hygiene Tips
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar with the mother
- 1/2 cup sea salt
- 10 drops tea tree essential oil
- 20 drops lavender essential oil
- Draw a lukewarm bath.
- Mix the apple cider vinegar, sea salt, tea tree and lavender essential oils.
- Soak in the bath for about 20 minutes several times a week to get the best results.