Why Does My Vagina Smell Like Chemicals?

Your vagina houses a unique ecosystem of healthy bacteria with its own odor. Vaginal odor can vary during the menstrual cycle, after sexual activity and more.

The odor from the V-zone varies, but it usually doesn’t smell like chemicals or bleach. If it does, it’s likely caused by a few things, including: a buildup of urine or an infection.

Ammonia

Your body has two types of sweat glands: eccrine, which populate the armpits, and apocrine, which are found in areas with hair follicles like the groin. When your apocrine glands are active, they release a milky fluid that can combine with certain bacteria in the area to produce an ammonia-like odor. This is particularly common during menstruation and right before or during ovulation.

Your natural bacterial flora in the vagina can also produce smells that are more earthy or tangy, similar to sauerkraut or vinegar. This is a good sign and is caused by the bacteria producing lactic acid, which keeps the area healthy. A change in this bacterial balance can cause a more chemical-like or bleach-like odor, which could be due to a urinary tract infection (UTI), a yeast overgrowth called Candida, or an imbalance of the pH of the vulva.

You may also notice a metallic scent in your vagina, which is normal and is due to the iron in the blood (whether it’s from your period or sexual intercourse). This odor usually only happens during the time of your cycle and should fade shortly afterward. You can help nix this scent by washing your vulva with a mild, unscented soap and wearing cotton underwear that breathes. If the odor persists, talk to your doc for advice.

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Bleach

Vaginal odor is normal and shouldn’t be ignored, but not every smell is a cause for concern. Vaginal odor, and changes in the odor or color of your discharge, can signal infections that need treatment. Keep in mind that you should never use scented products or douches inside your vulva, as these can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria and alter the pH of your vulva, which could lead to infection.

A foul or rancid odor, like gone off meat, can indicate that you forgot to remove a tampon after 8 hours, or you have a urinary tract infection (UTI). A fishy smell, also known as trichomoniasis, is a sign of bacterial vaginosis, which can cause a change in the color and consistency of your vaginal discharge and may be painful. If you suspect you have this bacterial infection, talk to your doctor and they will probably prescribe antibiotics.

A copper-like or metallic odor is also normal, as it’s caused by blood that has entered your vulva during sexual intercourse or when your period starts. This is because the pH of your vulva has been changed and can be due to unprotected sex, douching, or using scented soaps and deodorants. You can try to rebalance the PH of your vulva with over-the-counter “pH warfare” gels that are designed specifically for the area.

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Fishy Smells

It’s important to remember that, despite the various products out there that promise to eradicate all scents and make your vulva smell like coconuts, every female vagina releases a natural odor. That’s because the vulva has its own microbiome filled with different bacteria and yeast, many of which create their own signature odours.

If your vulva emits a strong, bleach or ammonia-like scent, it could be a sign of excessive urine. Urine contains urea and ammonia, which is why it has that distinct chemical odour. Washing your vulva with a mild soap should help neutralise the odour. A fishy odour, on the other hand, might be a sign of an infection or STI. According to OB/GYN Jessica Shepherd, a fishy-smelling vulva can be a symptom of trichomoniasis, an infection that’s caused by a parasite. She adds that if you’re experiencing other symptoms such as redness, irritation or white, gray or green discharge, it’s worth seeking medical advice from your GP.

A metallic odour is also worth noting, as this can be due to blood from menstruation or light bleeding after sex. This can change the pH balance of your vulva and cause an odd odour, as well as a coppery or tinny taste to your sex fluid. This is a symptom of a condition called trimethylaminuria (TMAU), and while there’s no cure, taking medication can help to control the symptoms.

Apocrine Smells

Like sweaty armpits, your vagina is prone to the occasional musty smell. Apocrine glands in the groin release an odorless fluid that can combine with bacteria in the area to produce this smell, similar to what you might experience after eating onions or garlic. This is normal and nothing to worry about, but washing the affected areas with a mild soap can help prevent it.

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If you’re noticing a dead meat-like smell, it could be a sign of an infection such as trichomoniasis. This bacterial infection, which is very common in females, causes a thick, cottage cheese-like discharge and can be easily treated with antibiotics from your Moreland OB-GYN.

Another possibility is a yeast infection, which also produces a skunky odor and is usually easy to treat with prescription oral medication. In most cases, consuming probiotics can help prevent yeast infections and keep the pH levels in your vagina in check. Also, avoid tight-fitting clothing (especially thongs) that can trap fecal matter that can lead to infections and odors.

Vaginal odor fluctuations are completely normal, but it’s always a good idea to see your gynecologist if the odor becomes persistent or unusual. By catching an infection early, you’ll be less likely to develop painful symptoms, including itching and pain when you pee. You can also use a breathable cotton underwear to make it harder for odor-causing bacteria to build up.

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