Why Does My Vagina Smell Like Bleach?

Your vulva has a natural bacterial flora to keep things in balance, and these bacteria can cause odors. A tangy smell, like the mild vinegar or pickle scent of fermented food, is totally normal and a sign of healthy vaginal flora.

If the scent is stronger and accompanied by new symptoms, speak with your healthcare provider.

1. Urinary Incontinence

The vagina isn’t meant to smell like roses, but it’s totally normal for it to have a bit of an odor. In fact, the odors that come from your vagina can give you clues about whether you’re dealing with a routine change or something more serious.

A bleach or ammonia-like odor can be caused by urine buildup. Urine contains urea, which is a byproduct of ammonia. When it builds up around your vulva, it can start to smell like ammonia. This could also indicate that you’re dehydrated and should drink more water. A chemical smell could also be a sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI) or trichomoniasis, an STI that affects eight million Americans each year. Both can cause a chemical smell and should be treated with antibiotics.

Another possible cause of a chemical or bleach-like odor is the lubricant you’re using. If you’re experiencing this, switch to an unscented lubricant or condoms.

The most common odor is usually described as tangy, fermented or sauerkraut-like. This is caused by the good bacteria that live in your vulva, which creates lactic acid and other substances to keep the area healthy and clean. It also helps maintain the acidic level of your vulva, which protects against harmful bacteria and infections. If you notice a different odor, talk to your gyno. They can help you find what’s causing it and recommend the right treatment.

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2. Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

While a normal vagina doesn’t have to smell like a rose garden, it’s important to be aware of what your body is telling you. If your vulva odor changes to smell like bleach, it could be a sign that something is amiss down there. It might be time to call your gyno, especially if it’s accompanied by pain when you pee or cloudy pee.

A bleach-like odor could also mean that bacteria from your urine is making its way into your vulva. This is a common cause of UTIs, which can be treated with antibiotics. UTIs are often accompanied by the urge to pee more frequently, pain when you pee, or cloudy or bright pee.

It’s also possible that the odor could be a result of a yeast infection, which is also treatable with antibiotics. If you suspect that you have a yeast infection, talk to your gyno about which antibiotics are safe for you to take during pregnancy (such as tinidazole or metronidazole).

You should also let your gyno know if you think you might have trichomoniasis, another STI that can be easily treated with antibiotics. You can get a trichomoniasis test at your gyno, and make sure to let any sexual partners you’ve had recently know that they need to be tested as well. This will ensure that the infection doesn’t spread to them.

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3. Dehydration

It may be surprising, but your vagina is supposed to have a scent. According to Livi, a woman’s natural bacterial flora is what gives the area its signature smell. It’s normal for a vulva to smell slightly earthy or ripe. But, if the smell becomes strong or unusual, it’s important to know whether or not you should be concerned.

If your vagina smells like bleach or ammonia, it could be due to trichomoniasis, a condition that affects the genital tract. This infection is usually caused by a bacteria called Trichomonas vaginalis. Treatment for this can include antibiotics or prescription treatments such as Tinidazole, Metronidazole, or Clindamycin.

Vaginal odor can also change due to your diet. Eating certain foods, like garlic, onions, mint, asparagus, red meat, and vinegar can disrupt the balance of flora in your vulva. This can cause a foul odor and lead to BV or a yeast infection.

Your vaginal odor can also be influenced by your emotions. When you’re stressed or anxious, your body produces a special sweat through the apocrine glands located in your armpits and groin. This sweat can mix with the bacteria on your vulva, producing a skunky or decomposing fish smell. This is not a serious issue but it’s worth speaking to your doctor.

4. Chemical Smells

If the smell down there is a bit bleachy, it could be a sign of bacterial vaginosis (BV). This odor is caused when healthy lactobacilli are thrown out of balance and overtake bacterial flora. This condition can also lead to thin vaginal discharge and itching or burning sensations when peeing. If BV is the culprit, your gyno may prescribe a topical gel to help restore a healthy pH and nix the odor.

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Another potential cause of the bleach smell down there is a sexually transmitted infection called trichomoniasis or gonorrhea and chlamydia. These infections can be treated with antibiotics that are usually taken orally. If you have a sexual partner with you and they are not on treatment, make sure you wear a condom for penis-in-vaginal sex.

You may also notice a smell of bleach down there when you’re eating a nitrogen-rich diet, such as lots of leafy vegetables or meat. This is because the sweat glands on your labia majora, which are similar to those in your armpits, release a liquid that can react with the abundance of bacteria on your vulva and create an unpleasant body odor. This is a normal response and the smell will typically go away once you regulate your diet. However, if the smell is persistent, it’s time to talk to your gyno.

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