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Vaginal Hygiene: Normal and Abnormal Vaginal Smell and Tips for Keeping Vagina Fresh

Vaginal Smell

Have you recently noticed a new or unpleasant smell from your private area? In this post I will explain what's normal, what's abnormal and what to do about it. Are you worried about how your vagina smells? Nowadays there's a lot of pressure on women, especially the younger generation, to look and smell good. I've noticed an increase in the number of women consulting with me worried about their smell of the vaginas.

Ladies often use strong perfume and soap to keep the vagina smelling beautiful but this may be causing more issues than it solves. Vaginas aren't meant to smell like roses or a summer meadow. All vaginas will have a natural odour which shouldn't be unpleasant and can be described as a mild musky scent.

Normal Vaginal Smell 

Each woman has her unique scent which can vary from a subtle, slightly tangy aroma to a touch of natural perspiration. It's completely normal and a sign of good health. The delicate balance of good bacteria within your vagina causes this natural scent.

Over time you will learn to know what is normal for you. You may have noticed that your diet can subtly impact your vaginal scent with some foods like pineapple known to make it slightly sweeter. After sex you might also detect a change in odour.

Additionally you may notice a metallic scent from the iron in your blood as your period approaches or finishes. 

Abnormal Vaginal Smell 

So we know what's normal so what's abnormal? 

Fishy Vaginal Smell

If you have noticed a fishy smell it can be one of the two things.

The first is bacterial vaginosis also known as BV. If you have this you may also notice a change to the colour and consistency of your discharge which may become greyish white and of a thinner consistency even watery. BV is caused by the overgrowth of some of the bacteria that live in your vagina upsetting the delicate balance we discussed earlier.

You are more likely to suffer from BV if you're sexually active, have had a recent course of antibiotic or have been douching. Please don't douche. Our vaginas are self-cleaning and wonderful.

You may also be tempted to use strong perfume soap and fragrance to mask the smell but this can make things worse as it can upset the delicate pH of the vagina encouraging these fishy smell bacteria to grow. 

If you suffer from BV don't worry you're not alone. Around one in three women will encounter this in their lives and it can be easily remedied with a course of antibiotic tablet, gel or cream from your doctor.

The second reason you may have a fishy odour is trichomoniasis. Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a parasite. This infection is unlikely to go away without effective treatment with a course of antibiotics.

A Rotten or Rancid Smell

If you have noticed a rotten or rancid smell this can be caused by a forgotten tampon or some other foreign material. Surprisingly it's pretty common.

It can happen if you put a new tampon in, forgetting to remove the old one, pushing it deep inside the vagina or having sex and the tampon is pushed to the top of the vagina where it is harder to retrieve. If you think this has happened to you don't fret. Your doctor has likely seen this before and will be able to remove the problem quickly.

In rare cases an issue called a rectovaginal fistula can be the culprit. This condition creates an abnormal connection between your vagina and your bowel. Unfortunately this connection can lead to poo entering your vagina resulting in an unpleasant smelling discharge.

Additionally strong vaginal odour paired with unusual discharge could sometimes be associated with underlying health concern including cancer. While it's important not to jump to conclusions being proactive about your health is equally vital. So getting checked with your doctor is essential.

A Yeasty Smell

Are you smelling a bready smell? It's usually not bad but sometimes you may notice a bit of irritation, itchy and even a cottage cheese-like discharge. That's right, you have guessed it right.

It's vaginal yeast infections aka vaginal thrush. Thrush is very common and if you haven't had it already you are likely to experience it at some point in your life. Thrush is caused by an overgrowth of yeast that naturally lives in your vagina and this can be because of an upset in the balance of good bacteria in your vagina.

You are at an increased risk of vaginal thrush if you have recently completed a course of antibiotic, you're pregnant or have an underlying condition such as diabetes. But it can happen to any of us. Fortunately it's easily remedied and for most this will clear with a short course of antifungal medication you can get over the counter at your local pharmacy.

Metallic or Coppery Smell

It's common to get a metallic or even coppery smell at the start and at the end of your period. That's quite normal.

This is because blood contains iron. However if you get this smell throughout your cycle or between your periods it can indicate the presence of blood when we wouldn't expect it. Abnormal bleeding can be related to an underlying hormonal disbalance, medications you're taking and occasionally a tumour or cancer of the cervix, vagina or your womb.

Getting just a metallic smell is unlikely to be the only symptom of a serious underlying condition. If you notice unexplained irregular bleeding or bleeding of the intercourse make sure you get checked by your doctor. 

Ammoniacal Smell

If the smell down there is reminiscent of powerful cleaning product like ammonia it could be pointing to a urinary tract infection, also known as UTI or urine infection. Don't worry. These urine infections are very common, especially for ladies and you may have encountered one before.

Now here's the deal, that ammonia smell is caused by overabundance of bacteria hanging out in your urethra, kidney or your bladder. It often comes bundled with a not-so-fun package of symptoms like a burning or stinging sensation, cloudy urine or the constant urge to run to the toilet. Sometimes you might even catch a fever.

Sure, your diet, dehydration and certain medications can occasionally lend a hint of ammonia to your personal aroma but that should typically mellow out. If the ammonia scent persists or gets stronger, having a talk with your doctor is a good idea.

They might recommend antibiotics to help clear things up and get you feeling back to your normal, fresh self. 

Tips to Maintain Vaginal Freshness.

Avoid douching

Douching can disrupt the natural pH balance in your vagina, potentially leading to the growth of other bacteria causing infection. It's best to avoid it altogether. 

Choose Breathable Cotton Underwear

Opt for comfortable and breathable clothing for your genital area. Avoid using tight thongs that might restrict airflow. Cotton underwear allows your vulva to breathe, promoting comfort and reducing moisture.

Avoid Strongly Perfumed Soap

Consider using warm water only for cleansing your vaginal area. Your vagina is self-cleaning and a daily rinse with warm water is generally sufficient.

Stay Hydrated

Proper hydration can help reduce the risk of urinary tract infection and minimise ammonia-like odour. Drinking an adequate amount of water is beneficial for your overall health.

Avoid Scented Lubricants During Sex. 

Scented lubricants may seem appealing, but they can disrupt your vaginal pH balance and the beneficial bacteria essential for your vaginal health. Opt for unscented water-based lubricants for a safer experience.

Closing Thought 

Finally, knowing what's normal for you is essential so you know when something isn't quite right. If your vaginal odour is becoming more pronounced or you're experiencing other concerning symptoms, it's a good idea to reach out to your GP or your gynaecologist.


2. Romero Herrero D, Andreu Domingo A. Vaginosis bacteriana [Bacterial vaginosis]. Enferm Infecc Microbiol Clin. 2016 Jul;34 Suppl 3:14-8. Spanish. doi: 10.1016/S0213-005X(16)30214-2. PMID: 27474242.

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