Why Does My Vagina Smell Like Bleach?

A tangy or fermented smell is normal, as the bacterial flora in your vulva help keep pH levels balanced. But an unfamiliar odor may be a sign of trouble, such as a urinary tract infection (UTI), which has symptoms like pain when you pee and cloudy urine.

Romper talked to gynecologists to learn what different vaginal odors mean and when you should see your doctor about them.

Bacterial Vaginosis

The bacteria that live in our vaginas are delicately balanced, and a disruption in the mix can lead to an infection called bacterial vaginosis. The condition often has a fishy smell, but it can also have a chemical odor similar to bleach or ammonia, says Dr Minkin. Some women will also experience a change in the color or texture of their vaginal discharge, as well as itchiness and inflammation. BV is the most common vaginal infection in women between ages 15 and 44, according to the CDC, and it’s not an STI.

On the other hand, if you notice a bleach-like odor that’s not fishy and is accompanied by symptoms like severe itching of your vulva or vaginal discharge with cottage cheese-like clumps in it, it could be a yeast infection, warns Dr Wider. These happen when lubrication, spermicides, antibiotic use, and pregnancy throw our normal levels of yeast out of whack, allowing it to grow.

If you suspect you have a yeast infection, a quick fix is to wash your vulva with an over-the-counter pH-balancing gel. “These rebalance the acidity of your vulva and help assure that odor-causing bacteria don’t grow,” says Dr Minkin. But if your smelly vulva isn’t responding to over-the-counter treatments, see a doctor. They may prescribe you an anti-fungal medicine that requires a prescription, such as Monistat or metronidazole.

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Urinary Incontinence

There are billions of bacteria living around the vulva, so vaginal odour is fairly normal. However, there are times when the smell could be a red flag that it is time to visit the doctor. A bleach or chemical odour usually means that urine has built up in your underwear or surrounding the vulva. Urine contains urea, a byproduct of ammonia and this can cause the smell. If the odour is especially strong it might also be a sign of dehydration.

The smell can also be caused by a urinary tract infection (UTI) or if you are wiping your vulva incorrectly. These infections can lead to painful peeing and the feeling of a constant urge to go. A UTI usually has a very strong, fishy or bleach-like odour and often comes with symptoms such as pain when you pee or cloudy pee.

A weaker, more neutral odour may mean you have an excess of good bacteria or a yeast infection. These can be easily treated with a mild feminine hygiene soap and some self-care. Wearing cotton underwear that absorbs sweat, avoiding strong-smelling foods like onions and garlic and washing your vulva with pH balancing wipes can all help reduce these types of odour. You should also try to avoid rubbing your vulva as this can trigger an itchy sensation and can make the odour worse.

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Dehydration

In some cases, a strong bleach smell can also indicate that you have a urinary tract infection (UTI). When urine accumulates in your vagina, it produces a chemical odor. Washing your vulva can help, but you should be sure to use preservative-free intimate washes and cleansers and avoid scented sprays and lubricants.

If the odor is more fishy than bleachy, it could be indicative of BV, which results when the healthy bacteria that normally live in your vagina are out of balance. BV is a bacterial infection, but it’s treatable with antibiotics.

Another cause of a fishy odor is trichomoniasis, which is a sexually transmitted infection that can be treated with a shot and a pill. According to Duncan, if you have this infection, you should let your partner know and not engage in unprotected sex until both of you have been treated.

A metallic odor can be caused by blood from menstruation or light bleeding after sex travelling through your vulva canal, which can affect the pH balance in your vulva. It can also be a sign that you’re dehydrated, and drinking water may be helpful. The tangy smell can be caused by your normal bacteria that produce lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide to keep your vulva in good health. It can also be a result of the type of food you’re eating, as some foods contain more nitrogen than others.

Diet

If you’re experiencing a coppery smell around your vulva, don’t worry. It’s completely normal and usually signifies your pH level is changing, often due to menstruation or other reasons that don’t need medical attention.

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The odor can also be caused by the foods you eat. Strong odors, such as onions or garlic, get excreted by sweat glands throughout your body, including down below, and can mix with the variety of bacteria in your vulva to create a bleach-like odor.

Bleach-smelling pee may signify a UTI (urinary tract infection), which is normally accompanied by the need to pee frequently, with little to no coming out, and pain when you do pee. Urinary incontinence, which is common with age and can be caused by issues with the muscles that help your bladder hold urine, can also cause a bleach-like odor.

Lastly, sexual activity without using a condom and having multiple sexual partners increases your risk for conditions that can cause pee that smells like bleach, such as BV, and some sexually transmitted infections, or STIs. The odor is due to the presence of ammonia in your urine, which can be further increased by eating cruciferous vegetables or taking antibiotics such as metronidazole. If the odor is persistent, you should speak with your doctor as they may prescribe an anti-fungal medicine that will return your vagina to its natural, fresh scent.

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