How to Make Your Vagina Smell Good

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How to Make Your Vagina Smell Good


From eyebrow shape to toe length, it seems like there's always a new thing about our bodies that the world wants us to feel bad about. Looking at the media, you will see a constant barrage of judgements and a million different ways people want you to think that your body, just the way it is, is not good enough. First off, they are wrong. Your body is awesome just the way it is. Secondly, I know it’s really hard to block out all of those criticisms and the anxiety that comes with them. With that in mind, today we are taking on one of the most personal and consequently, most embarrassing of these body critiques, vaginal odor.

Before we jump in, let’s get one thing straight, the vagina is a body part with its own set of functions, and each vagina has its own natural scent. Brass tacks? It’s not supposed to smell like flowers, fruit, a tropical oasis, perfume or whatever other artificial smell someone is trying to sell you. What’s more, trying to make a vagina smell like anything other than a vagina can actually wreak havoc on its delicate ecosystem and lead to some unpleasant repercussions.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about vaginal smells. What they are, why they change, what it means if they are unpleasant, and more!


Why do I have a strong odor down there?

As we mentioned earlier, some vaginal odor is to be expected. Seriously, while the specifics of the odor can vary person to person, it’s still 100% normal and natural. Feminine odor can change over the course of your life or in response to outside factors. Some things that can bring about a temporary change in the way the vagina smells include:

  • Getting sexy - sexual activity can leave the vagina smelling different afterwards.
  • Getting sweaty-  anything that causes you to work up a sweat can bring about a temporary change in smells.
  • Getting your period - the menstrual cycle can cause a change in smells both throughout your cycle and throughout your actual period. 

Now, because there’s a ton of misinformation floating around out there, there are also lots of folks dealing with anxiety and insecurity due to completely normal vaginal odor. Please remember that normal smells (as opposed to new, pungent smells) are nothing to worry about and minor shifts in those smells will typically resolve on their own. Attempting to self-treat small changes in scent can actually cause infections and imbalances in a previously healthy vagina. 

Why does my vag not smell good?

Okay, so we know that vaginas have a natural scent and that natural scent can fluctuate in completely normal ways. But what if the scent changes in a way that is not natural? This is definitely something that can happen. There still may be times when the vagina develops a strong odor that lingers over multiple days. If that happens, it may be indicative of a health problem.

What can cause abnormal vaginal odors? Well, a couple of things:

  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV). This is an infection, typically it is caused by bacterial overgrowth.
  • Trichomoniasis (Trich). This is a sexually transmitted infection and it is caused by a parasite.
  • Leaving a tampon in place too long. Forgetting a tampon is in the vagina or simply being lax about removing your tampon in a timely manner can result in a very unpleasant smell. 
  • Poor hygiene. This one is pretty self-explanatory. Like any other part of the body, the vagina might start to smell less than fresh if you don’t practice good personal hygiene. 

The smells that these issues cause will differ from one another. For example, BV or Trich can result in an odor that can be described as “chemical” or “fishy”. While a forgotten tampon will produce a foul smell of rot. 

When to See a Doctor

So, when do you need to seek medical attention for vaginal odor? In general if you are noticing  a strong, fishy or chemical-like or fishy odor, you definitely want to consult a doctor as that could indicate that you may have bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis, both of which require treatment. Typically a doctor would prescribe antibiotics to treat the vaginal infection.

Additionally, If you are experiencing any of these abnormal odors, or if the scent of your vagina changes drastically, you definitely want to consult a gynecologist so you can find the root cause of the smell and address it. It can be helpful to remember that vaginal odors that require medical intervention typically come with other symptoms. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you should absolutely go see a doctor:

  • Vaginal itching
  • A burning sensation
  • Abnormal or new vaginal discharge
  • Pain or irritation

In general identifying the cause and taking action (ie. treatment for infection, removal of a forgotten tampon, or adopting more stringent hygiene practices) should eradicate the unnatural odor and return the vagina to its typical state.


How to Avoid Unpleasant Vaginal Odor

So, we know what to do if unhealthy vaginal odors happen but is there anything we can do to prevent them from happening in the first place? So glad you asked! There are several steps you can take to keep your vagina happy, healthy, and smelling like it should.

Wash Regularly and Correctly

Maintaining good hygiene is key to avoiding health problems and abnormal odors. Please understand though, that while regular cleaning is super-important, it’s also important that you do it correctly. In the case of the vagina, this means don’t overdo it!

There are tons of products out there designed to convince you to spend money to clean your vagina. You don’t need any of that. In fact, soaps and cleansers can actually make the whole situation worse by altering the vaginal environment and causing bacterial growth. The vagina is a pretty miraculous self-cleaning environment. It is naturally acidic and designed to kill off bad bacteria, leaving you to wash with warm water. Seriously. Stay away from perfumed products like soaps and deodorants. If you feel like you need more than water to clean the exterior folds of the vagina, look for an extremely gentle soap that won’t alter your pH.

Also, make sure anything that enters your vagina is clean. This includes fingers, penises, or adult sex toys

Skip Vaginal Douches

Douching -- the washing of the vagina with water and other fluids-- is still a pretty common practice but doctors advise against it. Not only can douching trigger vaginal infections, but for folks who already have an infection, it can serve to force bacteria into the rest of the reproductive system including the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.

Change After Swimming or Working Out

A wet bathing suit or tight sweaty workout wear can be a breeding ground for bacteria that seriously messes with your vaginal pH. Avoid this issue by changing out of your wet bathing or sweaty workout clothes ASAP. Better still, have a quick rinse in the shower before you put on your dry, breathable clothes. 

Keep things breezy with Cotton Underwear and Loose-Fitting Bottoms

Speaking of breathable clothing, for vaginal health it’s best to wear materials that breathe. Cotton undergarments are better for vaginal health than, say, polyester and lace and looser fitting undies are better than thongs, pantyhose, or girdles. This is a good thing to keep in mind at all times but especially important at bedtime. Sleeping without underwear or with basic cotton undies can help keep your vagina happy and healthy. 

Consider Using a Menstrual Cup or Tampons

During your period, maxi pads can have a noticeable smell. If you are concerned about odors, use tampons (be sure to change them often) or an environmentally-friendly silicone menstrual cup.

Practice Safer Sex (and pee after!)

Fun fact: semen can irritate the vagina leading to smells, discharge or both. Using condoms and urinating after sex can help avoid this.

Ask Your Doctor About Probiotics

So the jury is still out on whether oral probiotics actually help prevent vaginal odor but there is some evidence that they can protect against bacterial vaginosis. If you are experiencing repeated bouts of BV, talk to your doctor about trying some probiotics.

Vaginal smells happen. Some are natural and normal, others let us know something is out of whack. Either way, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about!


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Written By: JoEllen Notte

JoEllen Notte is a writer, speaker, sex educator, and mental health advocate whose work explores the impact of depression on sex and relationships. Since 2012 she has written about sex, mental health, and how none of us are broken on her award-winning site The Redhead Bedhead as well as for Glamour, The BBC, Bitch, PsychCentral, and more. JoEllen is the author of The Monster Under the Bed: Sex, Depression, and the Conversations We Aren’t Having.

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Sunny Rodgers

This content was reviewed for accuracy and relevancy by Dr. Sunny Rodgers.

Dr. Sunny Rodgers is a clinician, author, and speaker who has worked in the wellness industry since 2000. She holds a Ph.D. in Human Sexuality, a Master of Arts in Clinical Sexology, and is an accredited Sexual Health Educator. She is the Founder of The Institute of Intimate Health, an Ambassador for the American Sexual Health Association, regular lecturer for the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, Sexual Confidence Coach for the Marigold App, and a professional Sex Toy Concierge™. Rodgers hosted a popular weekly show on Playboy Radio, has been an expert guest on several TV and radio programs, and is a regular contributor to HuffPost, Men's Health, Cosmo, Bustle, and many more publications.