It’s normal for a healthy vagina to possess a mild smell. However, when a fishy, sour or otherwise foul odor develops, it signals a problem. The vagina is home to an enormous variety of bacteria and fungi. Some are beneficial, some are harmful, some are invasive and some are typically benign but become harmful under the right circumstances. When the bacterial and fungal populations in and around your vagina are out of balance for any reason, they can produce disagreeable odors, sometimes along with symptoms like discharge, redness, soreness, rash or itching. Fortunately, there are numerous steps you can take to prevent bad behavior from these bugs and keep your vagina fresh as a daisy.
Do Laundry Often
The entire time you’re wearing your underwear, they’re accumulating sweat, dead skin, skin oils and vaginal fluids. They’re also warm. These factors create an ideal environment for bacteria and yeasts to thrive in, including odor-causing varieties. Your bath towels can also be an issue. When you use a towel to dry off, it’s picking up some of the leftover germs from your vagina, anus and the rest of your body. Combined with the humid environment inside of your bathroom, these pathogens can flourish. When you use the towel again, you’re reapplying them to your your genital area, even the harmful, odor-causing ones. For these reasons, many experts recommend changing out your linens and underwear with greater frequency and to avoid wearing underwear you’ve worn before, even if it was for a short time. Also, it can help to hang your used bath towels in a dry location with sufficient airflow to discourage bacterial and fungal growth.
Satin panties are sexy, but it’s hard to feel that way when they’re causing a decidedly unsexy problem. Satin is a synthetic material that is made from nylon or polyester, both of which are plastics. As you’d expect, plastic holds moisture against the skin and doesn’t allow much air to pass through. This encourages the rapid growth of yeasts and germs that can cause odors. Instead, save the satin panties for the bedroom and stick panties with a 100 percent cotton crotch for regular use. Cotton not only allows for proper air circulation but also pulls wetness away from the delicate skin of your vagina.
Eat Fewer Smelly Foods
Everyone knows that the foods you eat can affect your breath, but few are aware that foods can also affect vaginal odor. The odorous compounds in pungent foods like garlic, coffee, onions, meat and potent spices circulate through your bloodstream and settle in various mucus membranes, including your vagina. In fact, this is the same method by which these foods cause unpleasant breath. If you eat a lot of these things and struggle with vaginal odors, try limiting them or removing them from your diet and see if there’s any improvement.
Don’t Use Soap
We’re all taught to use soap and water to wash ourselves. However, we’re not often told that doing this to the vagina is a bad idea. Bar soaps and body washes are normally gentle enough to use all over your body, but they’re far too harsh for the thin, sensitive tissues of your vagina. The chemicals, dyes and perfumes in soaps can cause significant itching and irritation in the area. This irritation allows naturally present bacteria and fungi to invade the skin, potentially causing an infection. Plain warm water is all that is really necessary to clean your vagina.
Avoid Antibacterial Products
If bad smells are caused by bacteria, then it makes sense that using an antibacterial soap could help fight the problem. Unfortunately, women who try this method don’t just wind up disappointed when it doesn’t work. They’re also shocked when they discover that the antibacterial soap only made vaginal odors worse. The soap kills the vast majority of the bacteria in your vagina, both the harmful and beneficial types. Because harmful bacteria are usually faster-growing and more opportunistic than beneficial ones, these germs tend to come back with a vengeance, leaving odor in their wake that is much worse than before.
Wash Immediately After Exercise
Do you tend to lounge around in your workout clothes after exercising? If so, it could be causing disagreeable vaginal odors. The fabric traps sweat and germs and holds them against your skin. The longer you keep your clothes on, the more of a chance bacteria and fungi have to proliferate and cause skin irritation. They may also end up in places they don’t belong, like in the case of rectal bacteria making it into the vagina. Getting out of your clothes and into the shower as soon as you’re finished with your workout can help keep you fresh.
Encourage Good Bacteria
Large populations of beneficial bacteria tend to out-compete harmful ones and keep their numbers in check. This principle applies to both your digestive system and your vagina. What’s more, the same things you do to support good bacteria in your intestinal tract will have the added bonus of supporting them in your vagina. Because harmful bacteria are the biggest contributors to foul vaginal odors, it’s wise to keep them under control. To encourage and support good vaginal bacteria, you can take probiotic supplements, eat probiotic yogurt and foods high in soluble fiber, consume more raw veggies and consider including kimchi or sauerkraut in your diet.
If you’re like so many other women, you likely have some vagina-related products laying around, such as lubricants and medications. Because they’re often meant to be used repeatedly, most feature twist-on caps or flip tops. While they’re convenient, they provide an ideal place for germs and yeasts from your fingers to accumulate and hide. The next time you use the product, you’re getting some of those pathogens with it and introducing them into your vagina where they can cause odors or infections. It’s essential to practice good hygiene when using products like these. Wash your hands before every use, wipe any excess off the container’s opening and store the product in a cool, clean and dry place to discourage bacterial growth.
Minimize Sugar Intake
It’s a well-known fact that sugar feeds both yeasts and bacteria, even in the body. Furthermore, it’s now understood that sugar consumption also suppresses the immune system, weakening the defenses that would otherwise help keep harmful bacteria in check. This creates a perfect storm for the development of offensive vaginal odors by allowing pathogens to take over. Besides preventing bad vaginal smells, cutting down on your intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates will also benefit many other important areas of your health.
Sleep in the Buff
Who says you have to wear pajamas to bed? Sleeping in the buff is not only more comfortable but also better for your vaginal health. Because you’re not lying there for hours on end with your genital area covered by layers of cloth, bacteria and fungi have a harder time growing.
itch the Douche
Douching is a common and age-old solution to undesirable feminine odor. Unfortunately, the use of douches for combating vaginal odor is not only ineffective but also counterproductive. Douching flushes out the good bacteria along with the bad, making it easier for harmful odor-causing pathogens to reestablish themselves later. Furthermore, many douches contain ingredients that can cause skin irritation and further upset the balance of bacteria by altering the pH (acidity) in the vagina. These ingredients include vinegar, sodium, iodine, fragrances, preservatives and antibacterial agents.
On the other hand, there is one situation in which douching may be recommended. Many women have found complete relief from yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis by douching with a solution of unsweetened plain yogurt or a lactobacillus supplement. Doing this provides the vagina with a large quantity of beneficial bacteria that overwhelm the harmful pathogens and restore order. Indeed, the same bacterial strains found in yogurt and your intestines also occur naturally inside of your vagina.
If Odors Persist
If seems like you’ve tried everything only to have vaginal odor come back or even become worse, there may be a more serious problem involved. Persistent foul odors can be a symptom of many common infection as well as some sexually transmitted diseases, even in the absence of other symptoms. If you develop vaginal odors that don’t respond to regular treatments, call your gynecologist or general practitioner. These conditions will likely require a course of antibiotics to treat.