How to clean ‘that stuff’ (smegma) from your vulva safely and effectively

You might think only uncircumcised men develop smegma under their foreskins, but this isn’t true: women can accumulate smegma between the labia and under the clitoral hood.

How much smegma is a personal thing, but cleaning can be tricky since it is oily and doesn’t always rinse off easily with water and soap.

(Smegma is the horrible name given to what would normally be affectionately known as ‘dick cheese’. I know. We’re sorry. You get it too.)

What is smegma?

Smegma is a naturally-occurring oily substance made up of skin cells, oils, and other moisture, say from vaginal secretions or sweat. When it builds up, smegma tends to smell bad and can in some cases lead to an infection. Mostly, it’s just a bit gross if it’s left there too long.

Smegma may be cheesy in both appearance and odour and can occur more frequently in babies as a protective emollient. If smegma is occurring in excess in a baby, see your paediatrician for more information on cleaning.

Smegma is by its very nature a bit harder to wash off with water and soap, as it serves a protective barrier function for our delicate genitals. Smegma keeps your vaginal lips (vulva, labia) hydrated and supple.

How to find smegma

You’d think that regular washing would get rid of smegma, and usually, it does, but not always. You will soon discover where your blind spots are in cleaning your vulva by gently pulling your labia apart, and drawing back your clitoral hood. Be gentle!

You may find – even after showering – a little parcel of a white, thick substance tucked into the crevices. This is smegma.

Removing smegma from between the labia and around the clitoris

Usually, smegma is removed during normal bathing and towel-drying, however, it’s important to check yourself – you don’t want any nasty smelly surprises for visitors or to encourage bacterial overgrowth.

A recommendation from experts includes gently wiping the smegma away with a dry towel after washing the labia. You can also find your ‘trouble spots’ where smegma typically accumulates in your vulva and remove it with a finger in the shower.

You’ll notice that it doesn’t budge as easily as you might want it to, so using a soft wet or dry wash cloth (but do not use soap to do this) can manually remove it. It’s important not to hurt yourself doing this, so be gentle and take good care of your delicate vulva. Rips are easy when pulling the labia apart to get into crevices.

Preventing smegma buildup

It’s normal, so don’t concern yourself with the why’s and what for’s – you can’t prevent smegma from developing –  but remember that some elements may cause more smegma build-up than others.

  • Wash your vulva every day, twice if you must
  • Avoid tight synthetic fabric underwear
  • Don’t use vaginal deodorisers or feminine hygiene products – a healthy vagina doesn’t need anything and should smell lovely
  • Definitely do not douche

Teaching young girls how to check for vulvar smegma

When teaching your girls how to care for their vulva, teaching them about smegma is useful, since later they will know to check for it.

Many women have no idea what the crevices of their vulva hold, and while it typically doesn’t matter at all, it’s a thing we should all know about.

Jessica Lloyd - Vulvovaginal Specialist Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)