Tools to clear up a smelly vagina

When the wrong bacteria overgrow in your vagina, it can start to smell pretty bad. Bad vaginal smells are caused by imbalances of vaginal flora with less protective lactobacilli species and more disruptive pathogens.

Causes of fishy, foul or rotten vaginal smells include sexually transmitted infections (STIs), bacterial vaginosis (BV), aerobic vaginosis (AV), and sometimes yeast infections.

If you have not been tested, see your doctor or do a comprehensive vaginal microbiome test at home – we love Juno Bio.

If you have been diagnosed with BV or AV, download and read Killing BV or book in with one of our vulvovaginal specialist practitioners for individualised support.

Understanding vaginal bacteria is important for solving bad vaginal smells

Healthy vaginas have lots of protective bacteria, mostly lactobacilli varieties, while a smelly vagina has disruptive bacteria.

A yoghurty example – fermentation

Yoghurt is the result when you add Lactobacillus acidophilus into milk. The lactobacilli eat the lactose (sugar) in the milk, and excrete lactic acid in a process we call fermentation.

Fermentation thickens and sours the milk, turning it into yoghurt. The sour, tart flavour of unflavoured plain yoghurt is the taste of the lactic acid. This fermentation process happens in the vagina too, but instead of lactose, we have other sugars the lactobacilli use. (This is why we often use lactulose and probiotics.)

If you don’t put anything into milk, after a while it goes ‘off’ and starts to curdle and smell bad. There is no lactobacilli to protect the milk from other pathogens that can make us sick.

When your vagina has a healthy colony of lactobacilli in it, it doesn’t smell like much at all. When it has bad bacteria in it, it starts to smell bad and is unhealthy.

Understanding acid-producing lactobacilli bacteria and vaginal pH

Lactobacilli produce lactic acid, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and bacteriocins (special bacterial ammunition) to keep other bacteria from colonising the vagina​1–4​.

An important part of your vaginal balance is vaginal pH. That is, how acidic your vagina is. You want your vagina to be acidic because it means high numbers of protective lactobacilli (which produce lactic acid) and fewer disruptive bacteria.

No matter what we do here to clear up a smelly vagina, we are ultimately causing a change back to an acidic pH. This may be by adding more lactobacilli or by adding an acidic substance to promote the survival of lactobacilli and deter disruptive bacteria.

You can test your vaginal pH at home with specific vaginal pH strips – it’s a great way to see if your pH is over or under 4.5 and your treatments are working. Don’t worry, it’s easy!

My Vagina’s tried and true treatment options

Other vaginal treatments that may help with vaginal odour

Green tea vaginal irrigation

Green tea may have a beneficial impact on lactobacilli in the vagina.

Using regular green tea teabags or loose leaf tea, make a strong cup of green tea – use one bag in boiling water and steep for 10 minutes.

The tea will then be warm, but not hot. Do not use boiling water or too-hot tea in your vagina! Cool with a little cold water if necessary.

Use a syringe, douche or turkey baster to apply the liquid into your vagina.

Milk kefir orally and vaginally

Buy yourself some milk (and water) kefir grains online and learn how to ferment them at home. Milk kefir especially has lots of lactobacilli and other healthy probiotic microbes.

Make one cup of milk kefir and water kefir (separately) per day and split the dose into two.

Oral doses of milk kefir – drink in one big dose or throughout the day.

Vaginal doses of milk kefir – insert 20ml (give or take) of milk kefir into the vagina using a douche or syringe canister and put a tampon in afterwards to hold it in.

Alternatively, you can fill vegetable capsules with milk kefir (size 00 vegetable capsules are best) and leave them in the vagina overnight. It will leak out, so dress accordingly.

Apple cider vinegar vaginal douches

Apple cider vinegar has antimicrobial properties, and when diluted with water and used as a douche, can be effective in deterring disruptive bacteria and encouraging lactobacilli​5–8​.

DO NOT USE UNDILUTED VINEGAR! It will burn!

If there are very few or no lactobacilli left, vinegar by itself is unlikely to solve your problem. You may need stronger treatments.

Raw apple cider vinegar (‘with the mother’, Braggs brand) is a good vinegar, but white vinegar, brown vinegar or apple cider vinegar will also work. They all have antimicrobial properties.

Douche with 1/4 cup vinegar, 3/4 cup warm water.

Hydrogen peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is also a little bit acidic, but it’s also antimicrobial. Lactobacilli produce hydrogen peroxide to deter disruptive bacteria.

Douche with 3 or 6% hydrogen peroxide every day for a week (do not dilute – it’s already diluted). Six per cent is much more effective than three per cent, but don’t go above six per cent.

Vaginal boric acid​9,10​

Boric acid comes in capsules inserted once before bed until symptoms abate, but not usually longer than two weeks. Do not use if pregnant or breastfeeding.

Boric acid is slightly acidic, and is known to deter microbes. Always use with a source of protective bacteria vaginally to repopulate.

Boric acid factsheet

Garlic vaginally​11–13​

Garlic is an antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal. To use garlic vaginally, insert a slightly crushed clove of garlic into your vagina (with cotton thread through it so you can pull it out) for about an hour – after that it loses potency. Garlic spares lactobacilli.

Use of garlic vaginally can make you feel a bit sick and you may be able to taste and smell the garlic. Using garlic vaginally while you are asleep may work best.

Garlic may also sting or burn, so if you feel irritation, stop using garlic or use it less frequently. You can also use Alliderm gel vaginally.

Diluted tea tree oil vaginally

Tea tree spares lactobacilli while showing promise against a wide range of pathogens​14–16​. Always dilute tea tree oil, and make sure to use only tea tree oil from Australia or New Zealand.

Dilute tea tree oil with a carrier oil such as coconut oil or avocado oil – any vegetable oil will do, but it should be high quality and have no additives like preservatives.

Instructions for making tea tree pessaries (suppositories).

Do’s and don’ts of clearing up a smelly vagina at home

  • Avoid semen in your vagina – semen changes the pH unfavourably and can trigger a flare-up of odour
  • Don’t douche with anything other than what’s been suggested
  • Don’t douche all the time – find a better treatment
  • Don’t put anything weird into your vagina (food, creams, disinfectants)
  • Keep your vulva clean and dry
  • Don’t have sex without a condom or barrier with any person – you can pass these bacteria on to others
  • Keep your anal area clean and dry
  • Wear cotton underwear
  • Go hypoallergenic – laundry liquid, soap, etc. to avoid irritation

If symptoms persist, please get a comprehensive vaginal microbiome test! We love Juno Bio. If you’re feeling stuck or at a loss as to what to do next, book with one of My Vagina’s qualified, experienced vulvovaginal specialist naturopathic practitioners.

References

  1. 1.
    Pendharkar S, Skafte-Holm A, Simsek G, Haahr T. Lactobacilli and Their Probiotic Effects in the Vagina of Reproductive Age Women. Microorganisms. Published online March 1, 2023:636. doi:10.3390/microorganisms11030636
  2. 2.
    Mei Z, Li D. The role of probiotics in vaginal health. Front Cell Infect Microbiol. Published online July 28, 2022. doi:10.3389/fcimb.2022.963868
  3. 3.
    Liu P, Lu Y, Li R, Chen X. Use of probiotic lactobacilli in the treatment of vaginal infections: In vitro and in vivo investigations. Front Cell Infect Microbiol. Published online April 3, 2023. doi:10.3389/fcimb.2023.1153894
  4. 4.
    Chee WJY, Chew SY, Than LTL. Vaginal microbiota and the potential of Lactobacillus derivatives in maintaining vaginal health. Microb Cell Fact. Published online November 7, 2020. doi:10.1186/s12934-020-01464-4
  5. 5.
    Yagnik D, Ward M, Shah AJ. Antibacterial apple cider vinegar eradicates methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus and resistant Escherichia coli. Sci Rep. Published online January 20, 2021. doi:10.1038/s41598-020-78407-x
  6. 6.
    Yagnik D, Serafin V, J. Shah A. Antimicrobial activity of apple cider vinegar against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans; downregulating cytokine and microbial protein expression. Sci Rep. Published online January 29, 2018. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-18618-x
  7. 7.
    C. Patole V, G. Mahore J, D. Nandgude T, Gutte A. Apple cider vinegar: Effective adjuvant treatment for aerobic vaginitis. Novel Research in Microbiology Journal. Published online August 8, 2022:1659-1669. doi:10.21608/nrmj.2022.253697
  8. 8.
    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
  9. 9.
    Zeron Mullins M, Trouton KM. BASIC study: is intravaginal boric acid non-inferior to metronidazole in symptomatic bacterial vaginosis? Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials. Published online July 26, 2015. doi:10.1186/s13063-015-0852-5
  10. 10.
    Powell A, Ghanem KG, Rogers L, et al. Clinicians’ Use of Intravaginal Boric Acid Maintenance Therapy for Recurrent Vulvovaginal Candidiasis and Bacterial Vaginosis. Sexual Trans Dis. Published online October 29, 2019:810-812. doi:10.1097/olq.0000000000001063
  11. 11.
    Bekut M, Brkić S, Kladar N, Gavarić N, Božin B. Garlic clove applied as vaginal suppository – A case report. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. Published online August 2018:97-100. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2018.05.017
  12. 12.
    Watson C, Grando D, Fairley C, et al. The effects of oral garlic on vaginal candida colony counts: a randomised placebo controlled double‐blind trial. BJOG. Published online December 6, 2013:498-506. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.12518
  13. 13.
    CALDERONE J. Fact or Fiction?: A Clove of Garlic Can Stop a Vaginal Yeast Infection A medical expert weighs in on our burning questions about alternative therapies for this pesky invader . Scientific American. Published 2014. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-a-clove-of-garlic-can-stop-a-vaginal-yeast-infection/
  14. 14.
    Di Vito M, Mattarelli P, Modesto M, et al. In Vitro  Activity of Tea Tree Oil Vaginal Suppositories against Candida  spp. and Probiotic Vaginal Microbiota. Phytother Res. Published online August 3, 2015:1628-1633. doi:10.1002/ptr.5422
  15. 15.
    Hammer KA, Carson CF, Riley TV. In Vitro Susceptibilities of Lactobacilli and Organisms Associated with Bacterial Vaginosis to                          Melaleuca alternifolia              (Tea Tree) Oil            . Antimicrob Agents Chemother. Published online January 1999:196-196. doi:10.1128/aac.43.1.196
  16. 16.
    Fugh-Berman, MD A. Tea Tree Oil and Vaginal Infections November 1999; Volume 1: 89-91. Relias Media. Published 1999. https://www.reliasmedia.com/articles/43629-tea-tree-oil-and-vaginal-infections


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Original price was: USD $9.99.Current price is: USD $0.00. ex GST/VAT/TAX
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)
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