What Causes Foul Vaginal Odor? Smelly Vagina

A foul smelling vaginal odor affects many women and may occur with or without any discharge. Often associated with overgrown pubic hair and poor hygiene, a smelly odor from the vagina may be indicative of a medical disorder that requires treatment in order to be corrected. In these cases, vaginal douching, removing the pubic hair and even good personal hygiene will have a limited effect in reducing the smell.

Vaginal odor is often associated with a “fishy” odor. However a range of other odors may also be present, like a “chemical” odor associated with high concentrations of ammonia, as well as  damp and musty odors. It is important to identify if the odor is emanating internally, often carried to the outside by vaginal discharge, or if it is only present on the outside, from the vulva or surrounding areas.

The vagina is a hollow tube that leads to the uterus and is separated from the external environment by the vulva. The micro-environment within the vagina is balanced to ensure a constant pH (acidity or alkalinity), moisture and the existence of naturally occurring bacteria. Any upset of these three factors can allow for the vaginal environment to be compromised, allowing invading bacteria or fungi to affect the tissue.

Vaginal Infections

Infections, particularly from bacteria and fungi, are the most common causes of a vaginal infection. In most cases, the naturally occurring bacteria or yeasts within the vagina may multiply uncontrollably, thereby causing an overgrowth resulting in an infection. At other times, external microbes may be deposited through the use of tampons, vaginal douches, intra-uterine device (IUD), bathing water or sexual contact.

Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is an infection caused by an overgrowth of naturally occurring bacteria or foreign pathogens. Some signs and symptoms include :

  • Yellow to brown discharge, usually foul smelling, (“fishy”)  and may have streaks of blood.
  • Pain in the pelvic area.
  • Fever may or may not be present.

Chlamydia Infection

Chlamydia is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. It is primarily spread through sexual contact and may affect both men and women. Typical symptoms include :

  • Lower abdominal pain.
  • Vaginal discharge.
  • Burning and/or pain during urination/sexual intercourse.

Urinary Tract Infections (UTI’s)

A UTI will affect most women multiple times in their life. The short urethra (tube leading from the bladder to the outside) in women means that microoragnisms, particularly bacteria, can easily infect the bladder (cystitis). Some signs and symptoms include :

  • Vaginal discharge may or may not be present.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Constant urge to urinate.
  • Incontinence or dribbling.
  • Burning and/or pain when urinating.
  • Dark yellow to orange-red color of urine, or bleeding noticed upon wiping.


Vaginal thrush or candidiasis is an yeast infection of the vagina, most often caused by the fungus Candida albicans. Yeast may be a normal part of the microbe population in the vagina, however, like the bacteria, its population size is controlled by internal factors. If any opportunity arises whereby the conditions change in the favor of the microbe, it will take the opportunity to multiply aggressively. Symptoms of thrush include :

  • Vaginal itching.
  • Burning and/or pain in the vagina.
  • Vulva may be swollen and painful.
  • Smelly vaginal odor.
  • Vaginal discharge may be thick and creamy-white (like cottage cheese) or thin and watery.

Sexually transmitted diseases

A host of sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) can result in vaginal odor. This may include gonorrhea, genital herpes, and even syphilis. Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV) is a form of chlamydia infection that causes sores on the gentialia and may also contribute to vaginal odor. The presence of a sexually transmitted disease should always raise concerns about unprotected sex and the possibility of HIV infection. In terms of HIV/AIDS, the body’s natural defenses (immune system) are weakened, thereby making cavities, such as the vagina, prone to opportunisitic infections.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

This condition occurs as a result of an infection spreading up towards the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. It is often the result of an untreated infection, particularly those transmitted by sexual contact, like chlamydia or gonorrhea. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) should be treated immediately as the infection could spread further up into the abdominal cavity or damage the reproductive organs thereby impairing future fertility. PID symptoms include :

  • Fever.
  • Foul smelling vaginal discharge.
  • Changes in menstruation.
  • Bleeding, not associated with menses.
  • Pelvic pain as well as lower abdominal pain.
  • Pain when urinating, during sexual intercourse and even when moving.


Vaginitis is a broad term for inflammation of the vagina. It may be caused by trauma, may be the result of an infection or could be linked to an allergic reaction. Vaginitis should always be a cause for concern if it occurs in young children, as it could be associated with sexual abuse. Typically, with the inflammation associated with vaginitis, there should be other signs or symptoms of inflammation, including pain and swelling. The use of vaginal douches is one of the most common cause of vaginitis and douches affect the normal pH and moisture of the vagina, often allowing vaginal infections to set in. All these factors may contribute towards a foul smelling vaginal odor.

Allergic reactions in the vagina may occur as a result of irritation caused by tampons, some brands of condoms or lubricants used during sexual intercourse. This will cause swelling of the vaginal wall, with severe itching, and excessive moisture, usually thin and watery. The vaginal odor in an allergic reaction is not usually foul smelling but will have a distinctly different smell to regular discharge.

Personal Hygiene

Hygiene plays an important part in body odor, not only in vaginal odor. Regular bathing and change of clothing and underwear will limit the extent of any odor. However, conditions like hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) and bromhidrosis (sweating with an offensive odor) may cause a foul smelling vaginal odor, often with a musty smell emanating from outside, rather than from internally like in the conditions above. The presence of pubic hair, especially if untrimmed, contained within a warm, damp and dark environment will also increase any musty odor. It also creates the perfect environment for a skin fungal infection on and around the vagina.


Both vaginal or cervical cancer may cause a smelly vaginal discharge. However a discharge may be absent at times, so routine testing for cervical cancer is important, rather than waiting for the appearance of symptoms like discharge. Vaginal cancer is rare when compared to cervical cancer and ideally it should be identified during routine gynecological testing, rather than waiting for symptoms to appear.

Treatment of Smelly Vaginal Odor

Before considering any medical treatment, start by attending to personal hygiene issues. Regular bathing, trimming pubic hair, changing from tampons to pads and using light clothing is the first step. Should the vaginal odor persist, then consult with your gynecologist about other possible causes of vaginal odor. However, if you are ever experiencing a foul smelling discharge, bleeding or pain with a fever, you need to consult with a doctor immediately.

29 thoughts on “What Causes Foul Vaginal Odor? Smelly Vagina

  • August 9, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    I have foul vaginal odors. What is causing this? It is getting worse every day

  • November 19, 2014 at 5:01 am


  • November 19, 2014 at 5:02 am


  • January 18, 2015 at 2:40 am

    What can I do if I bathe daily and properly and do everything possible to keep myself as clean as possible but I still have an uncontrollable vagina odor? I have been tested for STDs and bacterial vaginosis and everything is negative but I still have an uncontrollable odor.

  • June 21, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    Diet has alot to do with it.

  • August 13, 2015 at 4:41 am

    I hope no women are actually reading and believing this. Douching causes yeast infections. Trimming pubes makes you more susceptible to germs and bacteria, and shaving causes cuts which makes you more susceptible to stds. Pubic hair is MORE hygienic.

    • August 21, 2015 at 10:42 pm

      Please read the article carefully. We have clearly stated that douching can increase the susceptibility to infections, not just yeast infections. Contrary to popular belief yeast infections (vaginal thrush) do not usually cause a smelly discharge. You can read about the discharge being odor-free on the Mayo Clinic website (vaginal thrush symptoms). Hair on any part of the body contributes to the retention of moisture (sweat, urine, discharge) and can contribute to an odor. This is not to say that it must be removed. This article was intended for people who are trying to find solutions to an offensive odor from the vulva/vaginal area despite trying simple measures like practicing good hygiene. The cuts caused by hair removal (if you opt for shaving) are superficial and heal quickly but yes, it could pose a threat. Trimming does not equate to shaving. As for the associated STD risk, the use of barrier protection and lifestyle choices are often more of a concern.

  • January 13, 2016 at 3:33 am

    Hi found aeticles really interesting and got some good advice.
    Ihave a fishy smell in vagina wich is really strong like an off fish. Its burning an i feel hot been doctors say i have infection. Have 3 days antibiotics. Symptons still here.
    an im woried.

  • January 21, 2016 at 6:07 am

    I also have a very serious vaginal odor problem. It is very strange, some people can detect the odor and some cannot. It is so humiliating and “adults” can be so cruel. I have had pap smears with no problems or issues detected. I even had a sonogram done on my bladder and kidneys. The urologist said that I had a very small cyst on one of my kidneys, which is common in people over 55 but not a serious worry and would not cause the problem I am dealing with. After reading this article and others, I feel I may have urinary stones, which I would have thought they would have detected in the sonogram on my bladder. However I do smell a strong ammonia odor at times. I was scheduled for a cystoscopy which did not pan out for personal reasons, but I am getting it done asap. The first visit with the urologist, I had a green discharge I felt was coming from my bladder. OMG! I smelled worse than a 24 hr a day prostitute! I guess, honestly I’ve never really smelled one. The urologist said I had an ecoli (apparently spelled wrong, but you know what I mean) bacteria and put me on a strong antibiotic, but it returned in a couple of weeks. He then wanted me to take a small dose every day! For the rest of my life I suppose. No way Lilly!
    Anyway… nothing I do seems to work. Even after immediately taking a shower and cleaning the problem area as well as I can, I can still smell an odor! UGH!!! I use vaginal estrogen twice weekly, Rephresh cream, probiotic ph balance pills taken daily, which are about $30 a bottle for 30 itty, bitty pills, sorry but if they were at least a little bigger, I would feel like I was getting more for my money.
    Also, one thing I would like to give some advice on, cleansing cloths. There for awhile I came to where I felt I needed them every time I went to the restroom, but had to break my obsession. My daughter is a nurse and made her mama stop, cause “our vaginas are self cleaning ovens and these cloths keep it from working correctly.” Well, blah, blah, blah nurse Hatchet, its not your hu hu stinkin, is it, now!
    I have within the last year lost almost 50 lbs and can honestly say that this problem did not occur until I lost the weight, but both the urologist and gynecologist told me that should have nothing to do with it. Hey, I wonder, if I can’t find a cure, can I get disability? I’d love to stay home and draw money……and stink lol…….
    My bottom line is this (finally, they say!) I REFUSE to except that I just have to live with this. You are professionals! Just find the dang problem and fix it!!! I have government insurance, every doctor and hospitals dream! Oh, come on ya, we might as well laugh. We can even start a support group. TSHHA (The Stinking Hu Hu’s of America)!!!

  • January 23, 2016 at 3:34 am

    “Editor” is clearly a man who prefers his woman clean shaven. Should I shave my head so my head doesn’t stink?

    • March 8, 2016 at 6:05 pm

      Hi Dawn. It is not bias on the part of our editor. It is simply a suggestion while the root cause is identified and treated. Hair removal is not a long term solution. The head is usually an exposed part of the body so the same recommendation may not apply. Hair on the covered areas of the body does contribute to increased sweating (hair helps with retaining warmth), secretion of oils at the base of the hair follicle as well as retaining odor in the area. So hair removal in the groin region is a logical short term option. If you do not want to attempt it for your problem then that is entirely up to you.

  • March 12, 2016 at 5:52 am

    Really, health talk team? I can make my own choices? How kind of you. My “problem” is a UTI. Is that also due to my poor personal hygiene?

  • April 1, 2016 at 2:02 am

    So I’m currently being treated for a uti. Before I found out I had one I always had discharge I thought it was normal, nobody ever really talked to me about this girl stuff. The discharge I had would be smelly and I’m not sure if it was a part of the uti becoming noticed or what. What could that be?

  • April 16, 2016 at 4:17 am

    I too am having very similar problems, gyno did pap, it was normal, took a sample from my vagina and she said she saw no sign of any infection but gave me difflucan 1 day treatment just as a good measure, of course that did not help! She also told me that I’m menopausal and my body is going through many changes…hummm not the kind of change I was expecting
    I’ve had this going off and on for many months now, and am having a ultrasound done next week, hoping for some answers and praying that it is not something more serious!
    Janet id be interested to know if you found a answer to your problem?

  • May 28, 2016 at 7:05 am

    Can i use rephresh douche kit for trich

  • August 19, 2016 at 10:25 am

    Janet & Leah
    I had a similar experience when I started menopause. Doctors couldn’t find anything. I tried everything from RepHresh, PH balance pills, tea tree soap,cleansing wipes, douching etc. Nothing worked. It did eventually get better. I do still have occasional flare-ups, however, I can control it now. I douche and then immediately use non-prescription RepHresh vaginal deodorant ( found in the drug store near the feminine hygiene products). If you’re not familiar with RepHresh, it’s an applicator that you insert and squeeze to deposit gel.
    I have found that using wipes does irritate the problem (especially the scented ones) and is often responsible for my flare-ups. I’ve quit using them now.
    I wanted to share my experience so I could offer some hope. I know how embarrassing it can be to smell like something died in there while trying to carry on a normal life.

  • August 23, 2016 at 11:57 pm

    I have the marena coyl and this is my second one I have it 4 years lately I have been getting a very strong smelly discharge and a sharp pain in my lower pelvis any advice?

  • September 10, 2016 at 10:05 pm

    I have CKD 4, I too have a very smelly hu hu, I mean if I can smell it through my clothes, jeans or what ever I am wearing, I know everyone else can. I bathe all the time, I take baths and showers, I use baby powder, perfumes, I take air freshener every where I go. I got put on an antibiotic for a year, since then, I’ve been on other rounds of antibiotics, I just got off of another. I can’t have a Pap smear, I start pouring blood as soon as they put in the speculum, I’ve had my ovaries removed due to Endo, I hurt all the time down there, my lower abodomen hurts really bad. I’m 54 years old, I’ve had this problem for over 20 years, I’ve not been with anyone since 1999, I don’t know what to do anymore. I can’t douche, I can’t have intercourse, I’m so afraid, I can’t sit down longer than 10 mins, because the smell gets worse. Any suggestions? The last Pap smear was over 2 years ago in the ER I ended up doing it myself because I started hurting and bleeding so hard that the doctor couldn’t finish. I feel like I have cancer. But I don’t know.

  • September 27, 2016 at 11:16 am

    Hi! For the past 5 to 6 month’s, I am having lower right pelvis pain that does hurt really bad on and off. My menstrual flow used to be good using regular tampons, now since that pain started I went from using regular tampons to super + tampons. I am bleeding throughout my tampons in less than 2 to 4 hours if lucky, I get big sizes blood clots that is way bigger than it used to be…I am experiencing a really strong smell none stop with a yellowish to a weird yellow darker color as well…I got told that it might be my pre-menopause that started, cause since quite a while, I have no sexual desire at all witch is really not how I used to be! I just turned 39 years old…Could it be what is happening to me? My body is changing, I always took really hot steaming shower or bath. Now I cannot stand taking a hot shower or bath, it has to be just warm too room temperature. Please is there any explanations for all those changes I and now having & experiencing since this past xmas holidays. Thank you in advance for even take the time to read my email, Best Regards!

  • October 22, 2016 at 9:07 am

    I have had the same problem for over 10+ years I’m 32. Sometimes real ammonia type smell and sometimes Musty sometimes there’s not a word! Sitting caused it to get worse. I ran across a article and I was determined to help myself. It said try these things and since I have the odor is down to very minimal almost normal.

    Bath in apple cider bout two cups
    Bath in baking soda
    Bath in tea tree oil
    Bath in Epson salt
    Bath in white vinegar

    Sometimes i use a combo of almost all and sometimes I use on or two.
    Most always I use the tree and apple cider and baking soda.
    (Easiest to keep)
    I also let a tampon soak in apple cider vinegar and let it sit inside my vagina for about two hours.
    I could not smell anything for a week!
    I use baking soda in my underwear if I’m too busy to bathe one day.
    They also say pro biotics helps and sugar free yogurt either soaking it on tampon or eating a bunch helps.
    But I always forget the yogurt.
    I wish they would name this thing that seems to be haunting us all!
    My doc says it very common.
    All test are always negative. I do drink a lot of caffeine and not a big water drinker. I’m sure that contributes some how. I don’t eat a lot of yogurt either. I feel these things play a bit of part of the whole sceme.
    Anyways hope this helps!

  • January 7, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    About 6-7 years ago my Gynec. made cryotherapy which is kind of a freezing that is done inside cervix, no pain and nothing hard.My Gynec. did it for infertility treatment but it made the bad smell disappeared and never came back again until recently.I want to make an appointment as soon as possible.(and it worked for that unknown infertility!, I have a 3/5 years old sweet sun😄).
    Good luck to you all.

  • January 29, 2017 at 4:37 pm

    I discovered that as well as drinking coffee and alcohol, eating citrus fruits, apples and tomatoes is a big no no. I had also been drinking hot water and lemon juice all the time, thinking this would cleanse my system . Since cutting all these out the hideous smell that has caused so much embarassement for 18 months has gone. It’s worth a try.

  • February 21, 2017 at 4:52 am

    Bad sweaty wet vagina

  • May 23, 2017 at 12:59 am

    Help!!! I’m about to lose my mind. I can’t figure out this very fishy smell from my vagina. My nurses all say make a doctor’s appointment, but who wants to sit in the doctor’s office with this embarrassing condition. Is there any help for the sick and tired of dealing with this troublesome issue? If so, please let me know so I can stop feeling ashamed and not clean enough. I have stopped using my body wash and I just want to get in the shower and stay there. Can we die of embarrassment because that’s how I feel.

  • October 2, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    Since 2014 I have had this embarrassing issue of mine, at first I went to the doctors and apparently I had bacterial Vaginosis. So they gave me antibiotics for that but that made things a lot worse made me had a lot of watery discharge, burning and fishy smell still.The thing is I waited a year to go the doctors because I was scared and unsure what was going on I was 16 at the time so I dicided to tell my mum to book a oppoinment. After that I just started college and I would have this very strong meat like smell which was really weird. It really lowered myself esteem as I couldn’t be the person I wanted to be. I loss confidence became reallly quiet in college to the point where I had no friends. This problem of mine has ruined my life as I feel my life is on halt. People don’t want to sit next to me because I smell bad if people do sit next to me they don’t talk to me and cover there nose not obviously but to me it was obvious and they would shake there leg because I smell really bad been this way as well since 2014 in upper school too and it’s like that on my period too. Even the tutors ( college tutors would cover the nose deliberately in my face while talking to me) this makes me feel so small on the inside. So I looked up some natural recipes such as tea tree oil but that made things bad down there as well as I would put a little bit on my flannel and wash down there at first it kinda helped but it made me smell fishy sometimes.

    I didn’t realise that that tea tree oil can kill off the good bacteria in the vagina the only problem it help is was the rash I had outside my vagina I don’t know if it it’s a fungus because it’s like white dried liquid. I am not sexually active and I am a virgin so it definitely not a STD. But it never cured the rash only soove and clean it so I’m wandering if its a fungus.

    It wasn’t until the 2nd year of college 2016 summer break that I decide to go this NCS program one of the activities was swimming and that made everything down their burn on fire and so much watery discharge fishy smell people could smell it on the coach including me I was in pain when a few days until they dropped us home when I looked at my girls boxer shots the discharge looked yellow. So I went to the doctors the first lady doctor was useless had no idea what I was talking about my symptoms it was like she was confused and never heard of BV and told me to put Vaseline down there. First of all what the fuck and second how can you put vasline down there she was foreign but speaked good English jus wasn’t a very good doctor and basically didn’t do anything.

    So we booked another appointment just not with that rubbish doctor this women doctor was way much better and more understanding and said to me that I had thrush and subscribe me a blue pill to swallow. That didn’t do a anything still had symptoms but the fishy odour was gone. After a couple of months 2017 noticed a musky,yeast and bread like smell. So went back to the doctors and gave me some cream type pill to put in vagina for 3 days as I took a swab to be tested. It wasn’t till I actually examined myself properly that I nocticed a thick yellow yeast discharge inside tha labia. So I decide to use tea tree oil to clear it all out because I was fed up with everything. After that I used natural plain yougurt to replace the good bacteria it was very sooving for about a weak but I would still burn there and people can still smell me on my 3rd year now at college. I think yeast seems to be gone now but I have creamy type discharge in vagina don’t know if it is normal as I am also coming on my period soon. At this current point my vagina smells like strong BO but could i possibly have yeast, bv and a urine effection at the same time because I just don’t know no more. How can my vagina smell that bad that other people can smell it I just don’t know. Sometimes my period as well will smell yeasty and fishy.

    Watery discharge, pants feel very wet all the time
    Sometimes the watery discharge can look thin and grey
    Sometimes I have bit of thick white type paste discharge
    Swollen looks red around labia and inside vagina
    Rash on ouside round vagina could it a skin fungus
    Strong BO type smell I don’t know if it’s because the yogurt masked the yeast type smell

    When I sit next to other people in college or in general I can’t smell nothing but they can why is that
    This issue of mine has stopped me experiencing life such as getting my first job, driving, make new friends, socialising, growing feeeling comfortable with myself, my goals. It has stopped me from actually going Uni I wanted to go Uni not stay at college to do a higher level there. I lied to everyone because I said it was closer and cheaper I just feel so loss because of this one issue that has effected me. I avoid going to social events, seeing family members pretty much everything now and not enjoying college.

    I haven’t told anyone this but I feel very despressed and sometimes sucidal scenes come in to my head which is not good I would never take my own life but I just want this to go away. As we speak I am now 18 even writing this brings me to tears…

    Things I’ve tried
    Vagina cream pills
    Blue pill
    Tea tree oil
    Coyo plain yogurt
    Coconut oil for rash – me personally don’t do this very uncomfortable

    PLEASE HELP WOULD BE SO HELPFUL TO ANY CURES or anyone going through this same similar position thanks
    I think I should see to the genoglist because I’ve never been before

    I really can’t continue like this enough is enough….

  • October 14, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    I have a yellow liquid coming from my bladder. Also a fishy smell. Stains my underwear. No discharge from vagina. I had HPV in 1994. Total hysterectomy. Everything removed plus !lymph nodes. Vagina was sewed off where it entered my abdomen. I don’t know what is wrong. Anyone have any advice? Could HPV have returned?

  • December 6, 2017 at 5:36 am

    I have this condition, what should I do?

  • December 16, 2017 at 10:58 pm

    I have been getting bad pains a bleeding from time to time an when I go the toilet an smell the tissue it’s like this smell on it not dead strong and no discharge is on it its clear no think there just a tiny smell what is it am going out my mind here help

  • February 5, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    my hubby and i went to the dr for the smell my hubby did some looking online and saw if i got plain yogurt put in ice cube tray and froze and at night put in my Vagina and i did this for 3 nights and the smell went away my hubby is the best


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