Why Does My Vagina Smell Like Chemicals?

A tangy, fermented odor is normal, thanks to the good bacteria in your vagina. But sometimes your vulva can smell like bleach or ammonia, and that’s not cool.

If that happens, you need to see a doctor right away. A fishy-smelling vulva could be the sign of a bacterial infection called BV.

Vaginal Odor

A coppery or tinny smell is normal because the vulva is filled with bacteria, just like the gut microbiome. These good bacteria produce lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide, which help keep harmful germs at bay. The odor is similar to that of fermented foods, such as yogurt and sour beer. It’s also common to see this odor during the menstrual cycle.

However, if the smell is more like dead meat or ammonia, it’s not normal and likely an indicator of an infection or other health issue. It’s important to talk to a doctor about this if it happens frequently and doesn’t go away with regular hygiene.

Another sign of a problem is if the odor or discharge is accompanied by itching, burning and changes to vaginal discharge (which may appear lumpy or white, like curdled milk). This could be an indication of an untreated yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or urinary incontinence.

Douching, harsh soaps and other feminine hygiene products can all throw off your vulva’s pH balance, leading to an overgrowth of bad bacteria. It’s best to just use water and mild soap down there, and avoid scented products altogether. It’s also important to wear cotton underwear, wear loose clothes and increase airflow in the area when possible to reduce moisture. If a doctor determines that an infection is to blame, dietary modifications, pelvic floor exercises and/or medications can often help.

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Bacteria

A strong chemical odor is often a sign of bacterial infection or other changes in the normal vaginal flora. Bacterial vaginosis (BV) has a fishy smell and can cause itching, burning or soreness in the vulva. Other symptoms of BV are white or yellowish discharge and a yeast infection. Trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted infection, also has a fishy odor and may be associated with a grayish-white or greenish-yellow discharge.

Other times the odor is caused by a change in what you’re eating or what you put in your vagina, such as garlic, onions and other spicy foods. Eating a healthy diet can help to avoid a change in the normal vaginal flora and the accompanying odor.

The odor can sometimes be due to a high concentration of sweat glands in the area called the labia majora. These “apocrine” glands are like those in your armpits and produce a milky fluid that when mixed with the wide variety of bacteria in the vulva, produces a similar smell to body odor. This is nothing to worry about and can be easily remedied by washing with a pH-balancing product designed to keep the vagina more acidic and assure that odor-causing bacteria don’t grow. Occasionally, the smell can be caused by an abnormal opening between the rectum and the vagina called a rectovaginal fistula that allows feces to leak into the vulva. If you have a smelly crotch, see your doctor right away to rule out this condition.

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Sweating

Sweat is a totally normal part of a healthy body, and the vagina has a collection of sweat glands too. When a woman sweats, it can mix with bacteria in her vulva and create a scent that is similar to body odor or even BO. This is normal, and it can occur for a variety of reasons, including overheating or exercising. It can also be caused by the hormones that increase in puberty, causing the area to become more moist.

It’s normal for the vulva to have a slightly tangy or sour smell, which some people describe as the smell of fermented foods like yogurt and sourdough bread. This is the normal odor of the good bacteria that dominate most healthy vaginas, lactobacilli. It helps keep the vulva acidic and protects against bad bacteria, says Cullins. The scent can change from day to day during the menstrual cycle and after sex, and may be stronger during the final days of your period.

Some women report smelling a coppery or metallic odor, which is usually nothing to worry about. This is the normal smell of blood in the vulva, and can occur for a variety of reasons, like the beginning or end of your period, or after sex. It can also happen due to a urinary tract infection or dehydration.

Infections

Everybody has body odor, and it’s normal to smell a little “down there” at times. But a strong, unpleasant odor isn’t normal, and it’s a sign of an infection that needs to be treated.

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The most common causes of vaginal odor are yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis (or BV), and trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted infection. The odor from these conditions can be a sign of an imbalance in the natural bacteria that live in your vulva. They can also cause other symptoms, like thick, cheese-curd-like discharge and pain or itching when you pee or have sex.

Other causes of vaginal odor can include poor hygiene, eating foods that produce a strong scent, and sweating too much. Sometimes, a change in vaginal odor can be caused by hormones, such as those that come with the menstrual cycle or during pregnancy. It can also be a sign of a serious condition, such as pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis.

If you have a strong, foul-smelling vagina, talk to your Moreland OB-GYN about it. Yeast and bacterial infections that aren’t treated can lead to more serious issues, so it’s always best to consult your doctor as soon as possible. They’ll be able to diagnose and treat the underlying issue, which will in turn eliminate your vaginal odor. They’ll also be able to recommend lifestyle changes that will help prevent future episodes of vaginal odor.

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