Why Does My Vagina Smell Like Garbage?

Your vulva and labia are home to bacteria that keep everything healthy and working right. Your unique bacterial makeup produces a specific smell that can be described as musky, earthy, or yeasty.

But sometimes that balance gets out of whack. Your vulva can begin to smell like garbage, fish, bleach, or metal pennies if you’re on your period.


A healthy vagina has a unique signature aroma. It’s different for every lady, and it changes with sweating, exercise, menstruation, pheromones (which increase sex appeal) and other factors. It’s a sign of a good, working body!

Sweat has a natural odor, and when it mixes with your normal vaginal fluids, it creates a heady aroma that’s slightly rancid. This is completely normal and not something to be worried about. However, if this smell persists, or is paired with other symptoms, talk to your doctor.

Sometimes, the odor in the crotch is caused by a yeast infection. Yeast infections are usually easy to cure with antibiotics, but the bad odor can make life down there feel uncomfortable and gross.

A fishy, rotten or garbage-like odor is another warning sign that you may have an infection like bacterial vaginosis or chlamydia. Aside from an unpleasant odor, other symptoms of these infections include pain while peeing, vaginal discharge that is thick and yellow or grayish, and bleeding between periods or after sex.

Some odors are temporary and can be remedied with a little self-care, such as limiting tight clothing or going commando, washing with soap formulated for sensitive skin and using a feminine rinse. Others are more serious, such as a foul, sulfur-like odor that could indicate an untreated fungal infection or other conditions that should be treated by your healthcare provider.

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Everybody’s vulva is home to billions of bacteria that keep the area clean and healthy. They also emit a slightly sour smell, which is completely normal. But if you ever notice a strong, unfamiliar odor down there that resembles fish, garbage, or rotten bread, it’s a sign that something is wrong.

Odor changes are usually temporary and can be caused by hormonal fluctuations (especially during the menstrual cycle) or diet. If you notice a change in your vaginal odor that lasts for more than a day, it’s best to visit your GYN and get checked out.

It’s possible that an infection like bacterial vaginosis or Trichomonas vaginalis may be the cause of your unpleasant odor. These infections can be difficult to treat on your own, so you’ll need antibiotics from a doctor.

To prevent a stinky vulva, practice good hygiene, wear cotton underwear, and wash often with mild soap and water. Avoid perfumed sprays and douches, which can throw off the pH balance in your vulva. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, as this can help keep your vulva and reproductive organs healthy. Yogurt, kefir, and other probiotic-rich foods are also good for your vulva because they contain bacteria that help keep the area healthy.

Forgotten Tampons

The smell of your tampon can be offputting, but you shouldn’t let it deter you from using feminine hygiene products. That said, you should always change your tampon often, especially on heavy-flow days, to keep it from absorbing odor-causing bacteria and getting stuck in the vagina.

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It’s important to note that you cannot actually lose a tampon inside your body, though it may feel like it’s gone missing. If you put in a new tampon and forget to remove the old one, it can be pushed up higher in your vagina canal where it’s out of sight and out of mind, and can cause a “rotten” odor when it goes unnoticed.

Infections like bacterial vaginosis (BV), which can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria and upset the pH balance in your vagina, are also known to cause an unpleasant or strong odor. Other symptoms of BV include foul-smelling vaginal discharge and irritation. Trichomonas vaginalis, a sexually transmitted infection that can be caused by a protozoan parasite, can also cause a smelly odor in the vulva.

Sometimes objects get stuck inside the vagina, such as a piece of string from a lost tampon or a condom that’s split open and left behind. These objects can cause discomfort and infections if they’re not removed, as well as rare cases of Toxic Shock Syndrome. To check for a stuck object, sit on the toilet and place your legs apart, then try feeling in there with two fingers and making circular or back-and-forth movements to see if you can feel something.

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Vaginal odor is normal, even for healthy women. It varies from sweet to musky to metallic based on where you are in your menstrual cycle, whether or not you recently had sex, what you ate, and more. It’s not supposed to smell like perfume or flowers, but instead should have its own distinct scent that’s a combination of musky milk and yeasty bread (think sourdough).

If your vagina has an unpleasant odor, it can be a sign of an infection, a fungal imbalance in the ecosystem, or something else that needs medical attention. A sour or tangy smell may indicate you have a bacterial infection, while a foul-smelling discharge could be due to unprotected sex or a sexually transmitted disease such as gonorrhea, which can cause itching in the vagina, painful peeing, vaginal bleeding between periods, and an abnormal amount of white or yellowish discharge.

Eating foods such as spicy, garlicky, or smoked meats can also affect the vulva’s pH levels, leading to a change in the odor. In addition, washing the outside of the vulva too often with soap can disrupt its acidic, bacteria-laden environment. For best results, wash with warm water in the shower that gets into all of those nooks and crannies.

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