Aunt Vadge: my vagina smells like something died in it

A cute little bacteria looks mortified at the vaginal odour it can smell. Poor dear.

Hi Aunt Vadge, 

I’ve started to notice this disgusting something-died smell in my woohoo area. I noticed it two or three periods ago.

I use tampons and I’ve never forgotten a tampon up there, but not long before I put one in, it starts to smell weird down there.

I shower everyday and my diet is ok (a typical college student diet) so I don’t know what the problem is. I really don’t want to stop using tampons because they’re really comfortable, more comfortable than pads.

Please help Auntie!

Dead Inside
Age 19, USA

Hi there Dead Inside,

It sounds like you have a vaginal infection or bacterial imbalance. Some of the smelliest bacteria come from bacterial vaginosis, aerobic vaginosis, gonorrhoea or trich.

It’s important to see your doctor to get tested, as the treatments for each issue are different.

Most common bacteria that cause a smelly vagina:

Rotten meat vaginal smell is probably not caused by:

  • A yeast infection – yeast doesn’t cause bad smells, though it can smell yeasty (like bread)
  • A virus – viruses don’t cause these types of smells (like herpes, HPV)
  • Chlamydia – also doesn’t cause smells

Once you have a diagnosis, you can then get advice and consider your treatment options. Your doctor will have recommendations.

Clearing up a smelly vagina at home

After getting a test, check out some of our tried and true non-drug solutions for clearing up a smelly vagina. Return to your healthcare practitioner to retest if necessary.

Getting treatment for ‘dead thing-smelling’ vagina

Antibiotic treatment is the standard medical treatment for BV or AV​1​, and is a good place to start. Other options for non-drug treatments are available, such as My Vagina’s effective Killing BV treatments.

If you have a sexually transmitted infection, antibiotics usually clear the infection in one treatment. Any sexual partners also need treatment.

Why does my period and vagina smell like death?

Foul vaginal odours are almost always due to the activity of bacteria. Another reason vaginas can smell like something died up there is due to rotting flesh or blood – a dead-thing smell – like the smell of a forgotten tampon.

You should be able to find a sexual health clinic or doctor to test you, and there should be something available to you on your college campus. Ask around.

Do I have to stop using tampons?

You can keep using tampons unless the issue is something tampon-related, for example, if you react badly to your tampon brand (try organic).

Understanding vaginal pH

Your vaginal pH changes around your period, and disruptive bacteria do better in the less acidic iron-rich conditions of a period, which can exacerbate the foul, deathly smell. These vaginal odours may resolve between periods.

Most bacteria require iron to survive, so having period blood lingering in your vagina can make the problem worse (but don’t directly cause it). You can read more about how bacteria use iron in our article on BV and iron.

Warmest regards,
Aunt Vadge  


  1. 1.
    Abbe C, Mitchell CM. Bacterial vaginosis: a review of approaches to treatment and prevention. Front Reprod Health. Published online May 31, 2023. doi:10.3389/frph.2023.1100029
  2. 2.
    Subramanian C, Nyirjesy P, Sobel JD. Genital Malodor in Women. Journal of Lower Genital Tract Disease. Published online January 2012:49-55. doi:10.1097/lgt.0b013e31822b7512
  3. 3.
    Keith L, Stromberg P, Krotoszynski BK, Shah J, Dravnieks A. The odors of the human vagina. Arch Gynak. Published online 1975:1-10. doi:10.1007/bf00673143

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