I Can Smell Myself Through My Pants: Complete Vaginal Odor Guide

Vaginal odors are normal and can change throughout your menstrual cycle, but some require a doctor’s care and treatment.
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Updated:September 2023

Vaginal odor is, for the most part, a normal experience and it isn’t necessarily bad — nor is it always a sign of a serious health concern, even if you can smell yourself through your pants.

There are many common vaginal odors you may be concerned about right now; click on any to learn more about what causes it — and what to do:

Key Takeaways:

  • Everyone who has a vagina also has a unique vaginal odor — and that’s perfectly normal.
  • Most vaginal odors are caused by innocuous things that may include the various stages of your menstrual cycle, pH balance, sweat, sex (i.e., if your partner cums inside), dehydration, personal hygiene, or diet (especially if you’ve eaten pungent foods like garlic or onions).
  • If you’re experiencing abnormal vaginal odor that is new or concerning, it’s important to watch for other symptoms, such as vulvar itching, redness, burning, or discharge, which may indicate something that requires treatment — like bacterial vaginosis (BV), a yeast infection, a urinary tract infection (UTI), or a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

It’s worth noting that every vagina has its own unique, natural scent — and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But how do you know if an unusual vaginal smell is just part of your natural aroma — or a sign of something to be concerned about?

Our in-depth vaginal odor guide will help you make sense of what you’re experiencing right now — and what to do about it.

Vaginal Odor Causes And Remedies By Smell

inky side view illustration of a contemplative woman with her chin leaning on her hand while smelling the odor from a cup of coffee on the table before her

A smelly vagina is not necessarily a bad sign —  nor one of poor vaginal health.

However, understanding what causes different vaginal odors can help you to make the right decision about when to seek a doctor’s opinion or treatment.

Below, we’ll explore the most common vaginal odors a person might experience, and what may cause them.

Vagina Smells Like Fish

If your vagina smells like tuna or has a fishy odor, the most common reason is bacterial vaginosis (BV).

Bacterial vaginosis is the most common form of vaginal infection, particularly among women ages 15 through 44.

The good news?

It’s easily treatable with a doctor’s prescription.

If you’re experiencing a bout of BV, the strong vaginal odor will typically be accompanied by other symptoms, such as burning or itching sensations.

A fishy vaginal odor could also be caused by:

  • Vaginitis: An inflammation or irritation of the vagina caused by a bacterial infection, yeast infection, or sometimes a sexually transmitted infection (STI) called trichomoniasis.
  • UTI: A urinary tract infection (UTI) can cause strong-smelling urine and a fishy smell in your vaginal discharge.
  • Sweating: Sweat has its own unique smell, which can become fishy when mixed with vaginal bacteria.
→ What To Do: If sweat is not the primary cause of your fishy vaginal odor and it is accompanied by itching, burning, redness, inflammation, or discharge, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor for diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Vagina Smells Like Onions Or Garlic

Onions, garlic, and other strong-smelling foods can potentially impact the smell of your sweat — which also has an impact on vaginal odor that can last a day or two.

Smelling onions or garlic through your pants doesn’t necessarily mean you need to eat less of your favorite foods, however, drinking more water can help mitigate the smell if this is the cause.

An onion-like vaginal scent could also be caused by:

  • Poor hygiene: Cleaning yourself thoroughly in the shower (and showering regularly) can help.
  • Hormonal changes: Certain hormonal contraceptives (such as the birth control pill) and hormonal changes that occur during your menstrual cycle, perimenopause, menopause, and pregnancy can cause unexpected odors.
  • Infection: If the onion smell is accompanied by a burning sensation, itching, or inflammation around the vulva and/or discharge, this could be a sign of bacterial vaginosis or STIs that include trichomoniasis, chlamydia, or gonorrhea.
  • Forgotten tampon: Although the most common odor associated with a forgotten tampon is that of rotten meat, it can create an odor some describe as onion-like.
  • Rectovaginal fistula (rare): This occurs as the result of an abnormal opening between the vagina and rectum that allows the lower part of the large intestine to leak into the vagina, potentially leaking stool and causing an odor. Rectovaginal fistulas are rare and generally the result of childbirth, bowel inflammation, or an injury.
→ What To Do: If the odor is not food-related and is accompanied by itching, burning, redness, inflammation, or discharge, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor for diagnosis, testing, and appropriate treatment.

Vagina Smells Like Ammonia, Bleach, Or Chlorine

If your vagina smells like ammonia, bleach, or chlorine, this could be a sign of bacterial vaginosis (BV).

BV typically smells fishy, but it can also cause your vagina to smell like chlorine or chemicals because of the way it influences the pH balance of your vagina.

A vagina that smells like bleach or chlorine could also be caused by:

  • Urinary incontinence: If your bladder leaks a little between visits to the bathroom, the ammonia smell of your urine can build up in your underwear or around the vulva. This can be a more prominent issue for people who wear incontinence pads.
  • UTI: A urinary tract infection could also emit an unusual smell, similar to bleach or ammonia.
  • Dehydration: Being dehydrated could cause smells like this.
→ What To Do: If you suspect BV or a UTI, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor for diagnosis, testing, and appropriate treatment.

Vagina Smells Like Body Odor (BO) Or Sweat

If your vagina smells like body odor, it is probably just the normal smell of your sweat.

The fluid produced by your sweat glands is harmless, but when it comes into contact with vaginal bacteria, it can become pungent.

If you have a smelly vagina after working out, or when you’re dealing with high levels of stress that are leading to excess sweat, a thorough shower should address the problem.

→ What To Do: Take a shower and especially if you sweat a lot, do so routinely. If the odor continues or is causing distress, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor for appropriate treatment.

Vagina Smells Like Poop

Of all the different types of vaginal smells you could experience, the scent of poop or feces is probably one of the most concerning.

If your vagina smells like poop, this could just be a sign that you haven’t properly cleaned yourself after using the toilet.

A strong fecal aroma around your vagina may also be a sign of:

  • Bacterial vaginosis: BV causes a pH imbalance in your vagina, which can create several unusual smells, including the aroma of feces.
  • Damage to your vagina or anus: If you notice damage to the anus or muscles in the groin region around your vagina, this could be the cause of your unusual smell. Rectovaginal fistulas can form in the opening of your vagina if damage occurs.
→ What To Do: If you suspect BV or vaginal/rectal injury, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor for diagnosis, testing, and appropriate treatment.

Vagina Smells Like Vinegar

Vaginal discharge that smells acidic (like vinegar) could just mean you have a normal pH balance.

The acidic odor is usually caused by the healthy bacteria (lactobacilli) in your vagina, which prevents the overgrowth of dangerous bacteria.

If your vaginal discharge is clear or white and the odor isn’t causing your eyes to water, you’re probably fine.

If the odor is particularly strong, it might be caused by:

  • pH Imbalance: Excessive bacteria around the vagina can cause a smell similar to vinegar. Make sure you’re cleansing yourself regularly, maintaining good personal hygiene habits, and avoiding artificially fragranced products.
  • Diet: High amounts of vinegar in your diet can also influence the smell of your vaginal discharge.
  • Infections: Certain infections, such as yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis can cause musty or sharp odors, similar to vinegar.
→ What To Do: If you suspect BV or a yeast infection, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor for diagnosis, testing, and appropriate treatment.

Vagina Smells Like Pee

A urine-like smell coming from your vagina is usually a sign that you might be leaking pee without realizing it.

A pee-like smell could also be a sign of dehydration.

Your sweat will smell more pungent if you don’t drink a lot of water when working out or exercising, which affects the smell of your vagina.

Staying hydrated could help eliminate the vaginal odor you’re experiencing.

→ What To Do: If the smell of pee is accompanied by pain, itching, irritation, or unusual discharge, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor for appropriate treatment.

Vagina Smells Like Metal Or Copper

Blood is the most likely culprit of a coppery or metallic vaginal odor.

If you’re close to your menstrual cycle, there’s a good chance you’re just noticing the scent of blood in your discharge.

Alternatively, sometimes rough sex can cause tiny tears in vaginal tissue that can bleed, which might lead to a slightly coppery odor.

→ What To Do: If the smell of metal or copper is accompanied by pain, itching, irritation, or unusual discharge, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor for appropriate treatment.

Vagina Smells Rotten

There’s a big difference between a somewhat smelly vagina and one that smells pungent or rotten.

If you notice a putrid smell coming from down there, the most common culprit is a tampon that’s accidentally been left in your vagina for too long.

Remember, keeping a tampon inside for too long can also lead to something more serious such as toxic shock syndrome, so replace your tampons regularly.

Other potential causes for a rotten vaginal odor include:

  • STIs: STIs that include trichomoniasis, chlamydia, or gonorrhea can create a rotten vaginal odor and are often accompanied by a foul smelling discharge.
  • Cervical cancer: In rare circumstances, a foul odor could be a sign of cervical cancer. The smell is usually caused by a pink-brown discharge from the vagina, made up of dead cells.
  • Vaginal cancer: Though extremely rare, vaginal cancer can also cause inflammation and odors produced by dead tissue.
→ What To Do: If the rotten vaginal smell is not the result of tampon use or you are experiencing additional symptoms, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor for appropriate treatment.

Vagina Smells Like Weed Or Skunk

Sweat can smell pretty pungent, but it becomes more aggressive when combined with vaginal bacteria and can sometimes smell like weed (marijuana) or skunk.

If your vagina smells this way, a shower will likely remedy the odor.

If stress is making you sweat excessively, yoga or meditation may help you to de-stress.

→ What To Do: Take a shower and especially if you sweat a lot, do so routinely. If the odor continues or is causing distress, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor for appropriate treatment.

Vagina Smells Yeasty Or Breadlike

A vaginal odor that smells like yeast or bread is most likely the result of a yeast infection, caused by Candida albicans, a type of fungus.

Diabetic women are more susceptible to Candida (yeast) infections and might find this smell to be a bit more potent than most.

→ What To Do: Yeast infection treatments are sold over the counter but it’s a good idea to consult your doctor for appropriate treatment, especially if it’s your first or if you’re unsure that it is a yeast infection.

Vagina Smells Musty

A musty-smelling vagina could be a sign of excess sweat in the groin area and may be especially noticeable after exercise.

Additionally, you may notice this smell if your underwear is a synthetic material without much breathability.

→ What To Do: Take a shower after exercising and wear breathable underwear with a cotton crotch (not a synthetic material like nylon). If the odor continues or is causing distress, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor for appropriate treatment.

Vagina Smells Sweet

A sweet-smelling discharge from your below-the-belt area (such as the scent of maple syrup) is generally normal.

For example, some women notice that they smell sweeter during ovulation, so during this phase of their menstrual cycle, they’ll notice sweeter vaginal odors.

Sweet smells can also be created by the natural bacteria in your vagina.

If the sweet smell is accompanied by other symptoms, such as itching around your vulva or thick, white discharge, this might be a sign of thrush (vaginal yeast infection).

→ What To Do: If you suspect the odor is due to a yeast infection, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor for appropriate treatment, especially if it’s your first or if you’re unsure whether you have one.

Vagina Smells Like Spoiled Milk Or Cheese

Any “spoiled” smells, including those of milk or cheese, may be a sign of an STI or a yeast infection.

Sometimes, a spoiled milk smell may also be caused by a change in your vaginal pH balance, caused by sexual intercourse, or a specific type of lubricant or condom.

→ What To Do: If you suspect the milk or cheese vaginal odor is due to an infection, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor for appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

Vagina Smells Like Corn Chips

If it smells like corn chips down there, you may be noticing the smell of yeast, likely caused by a yeast infection.

A yeast infection can cause a distinctive smell, similar to bread, milk, cheese, and even corn chips.

→ What To Do: If you suspect the odor is due to a yeast infection, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor for appropriate treatment, especially if it’s your first or if you’re unsure whether you have one.

Vagina Smells Sour

A healthy vagina can have a sour or tangy smell and isn’t necessarily cause for alarm.

However, an excessively sour smell could be an indication that your vaginal pH balance is overly acidic.

While your vagina is naturally acidic, semen is naturally alkaline and can change the pH balance.

→ What To Do: If you’re concerned about a sour vaginal odor, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor.

What Does A Healthy Vagina Smell Like?

inky illustration of a woman seated on a park bench from shoulder to mid calf, her legs crossed as though hiding the smell of her vagina from the world

A healthy vagina might smell like nothing, or it might smell slightly sweet, sour, or metallic.

Your vagina (and its smell) is as unique and individual as you are.

All healthy vaginas produce smells, and the smell you emit will depend on a number of factors, from your lifestyle and diet to your overall health.

Vaginal odor can also change throughout your menstrual cycle — and that’s normal.

Your vaginal pH level will typically be between 3.8 and 4.5 but will vary depending on menstruation and menopause.

Color-Coded pH Infographic Chart Showing Vaginal pH Levels Compared To Everyday Items

Typically, before your period and after menopause, your pH will be higher than 4.5, but during our peak years for reproduction (ages 15-49) it should never be higher than 4.5.

Having a higher pH puts you at risk for certain infections that can cause unwanted odors.

Most vaginal odors aren’t cause for alarm, but if you notice an unfamiliar, very strong, or noticeably unpleasant odor that persists, it’s best to seek advice from your doctor or gynecologist.

This is especially important if there’s pain, discomfort, or additional discharge accompanying the smell.

  • If I can smell myself through my pants, can others smell me, too?

Even if you think your vaginal odor is super strong, chances are good that other people aren’t noticing it.

Don’t try to cover up any vaginal odors with soaps or douching, as this can impact your vaginal pH balance, potentially making odors worse.

Why Does My Vagina Smell After Sex?

A stronger scent coming from your vagina after sex is normal for the most part.

After cumming inside, for instance, the alkaline pH of semen can influence the acidic pH of your vagina, causing an after-sex odor.

Even receiving oral sex can cause changes to your vaginal pH balance, as saliva contains both bacteria and digestive enzymes.

Finally, certain types of lubes and condoms can cause a noticeable scent after sex as well.

When selecting a personal lubricant, it’s best to choose one that is pH-balanced for the part of the body it’ll be coming in contact with: 3.8 to 4.5 for vaginal sex and 7 to 8 for anal sex.

Our team-tested top recommendations for pH-balanced lubricants are below:

Top Pick: Lightweight Formula
Top Pick: Thick Formula
Runner Up
Also Good: Fertility-Friendly
$11.95 (2.5 oz)
$27.99 (5.1 oz)
$14.00 (4.2 oz)
$19.99 (2 oz)
Description:

Bottom Line: Aloe Cadabra is lightweight and versatile with a pH-balanced formula made from 95% food-grade, NSF Certified Organic aloe vera you can feel good about using on your most delicate areas. Unlike chemical-heavy products that alter the vagina’s natural pH — harming vaginal health in the process — this lubricant keeps everything in balance for long-lasting comfort during sex and beyond. [Full Review + Video]

Description:

Bottom Line: Using a luxurious formula made from 96% organic ingredients certified by the Soil Association, AH! YES WB is responsibly formulated to match vaginal pH. This hypoallergenic lubricant replenishes natural moisture while supporting vaginal health with a cushiony texture that’s thicker than you’ll find in most water-based lubricants, making all of your fantasies a pleasure to explore — again and again. [Read Full Review]

Description:

Bottom Line: This liquid-like lubricant is formulated with just five body-safe ingredients — living up to its name in every way — and is specially designed to closely mimic natural vaginal moisture with no color, flavor, or odor. Sliquid Naturals H20 personal lube provides long-lasting moisture that feels like your body’s natural lubrication, leaving no sticky residue behind after use — like it was never even there. [Read Full Review]

Description:

Bottom Line: Working with your body to create an optimal environment for conception and a comfortable intimate experience, BioGenesis naturally adapts as higher pH sperm are introduced into the vagina to help balance its pH while simultaneously supporting sperm health and movement. Closely mimicking your body’s natural lubrication in texture, it promotes conception and healthy vaginal flora at the same time. [Read Full Review]

Top Pick: Lightweight Formula
$11.95 (2.5 oz)
Description:

Bottom Line: Aloe Cadabra is lightweight and versatile with a pH-balanced formula made from 95% food-grade, NSF Certified Organic aloe vera you can feel good about using on your most delicate areas. Unlike chemical-heavy products that alter the vagina’s natural pH — harming vaginal health in the process — this lubricant keeps everything in balance for long-lasting comfort during sex and beyond. [Full Review + Video]

Top Pick: Thick Formula
$27.99 (5.1 oz)
Description:

Bottom Line: Using a luxurious formula made from 96% organic ingredients certified by the Soil Association, AH! YES WB is responsibly formulated to match vaginal pH. This hypoallergenic lubricant replenishes natural moisture while supporting vaginal health with a cushiony texture that’s thicker than you’ll find in most water-based lubricants, making all of your fantasies a pleasure to explore — again and again. [Read Full Review]

Runner Up
$14.00 (4.2 oz)
Description:

Bottom Line: This liquid-like lubricant is formulated with just five body-safe ingredients — living up to its name in every way — and is specially designed to closely mimic natural vaginal moisture with no color, flavor, or odor. Sliquid Naturals H20 personal lube provides long-lasting moisture that feels like your body’s natural lubrication, leaving no sticky residue behind after use — like it was never even there. [Read Full Review]

Also Good: Fertility-Friendly
$19.99 (2 oz)
Description:

Bottom Line: Working with your body to create an optimal environment for conception and a comfortable intimate experience, BioGenesis naturally adapts as higher pH sperm are introduced into the vagina to help balance its pH while simultaneously supporting sperm health and movement. Closely mimicking your body’s natural lubrication in texture, it promotes conception and healthy vaginal flora at the same time. [Read Full Review]

Why Does My Vagina Smell After My Period?

During your period, a slightly metallic smell is normal, thanks to the blood you’re excreting.

But what about after your period?

Since menstrual blood has a high pH, this can cause a temporary shift in your vaginal pH balance, affecting its odor.

This shift in your pH balance can last for a few days after your period.

Why Does My Vagina Smell During Pregnancy?

During pregnancy, your hormonal balance and vaginal pH levels will change and this can cause a range of different odors.

Many pregnant women also have a heightened sense of smell, so you may find that you’re more likely to notice unusual smells down there when you’re pregnant.

Unusual odors during pregnancy can be caused by the food you eat, particularly if you have cravings for high-sulfur foods, such as garlic and onion.

Postpartum vaginal odor is common as well, especially if you delivered vaginally.

Postpartum bleeding, known as lochia, begins as bright red blood in the days that follow delivery, eventually subsiding to mucus after 10 to 14 days, and can have a stale, musty, or metallic odor associated with it.

Tips For Making Your Vagina Smell Better

inky profile illustration of a contemplative woman looking down toward her crotch while sitting alone in a cafe

As long as your vagina is healthy and clean, vaginal odors are nothing to be ashamed of.

However, if you’re worried about strong smells and want to reduce vaginal odor (safely), here are a few things you can do to tackle the aroma:

  • Practice good hygiene: Shower frequently, change your underwear often, and make sure you only use mild soap and warm water on your vulva. Avoid scented soaps and douching, as this can disrupt your vaginal pH level and lead to irritation. Attempting to clean deep inside your vagina is not safe. Remember to take a shower after sex, oral sex, or intense exercise — and don’t use talcum powder on your genitals afterward, as it is potentially carcinogenic.
  • Dress in breathable clothing: Avoid clothes that are too tight against your vulva and wear breathable underwear, ideally with a cotton crotch (not synthetic material).
  • Drink plenty of water: Vaginal odor can be stronger if you’re dehydrated so drink plenty of water.
  • Try probiotics for vaginal odor: Good probiotics support the formation of healthy bacteria throughout the human body, including in your vagina. Some probiotics can even help prevent certain infections.

When To See A Doctor

Most of the time, vaginal smells are no cause for alarm, but sometimes they can arise from an infection that requires treatment.

Infographic Illustrating Healthy Vaginal Mucosa Compared To Bacterial Vaginosis and Yeast Infection

If you’re experiencing abnormal vaginal odors or the smell is accompanied by itching, burning, irritation, inflammation, and/or discharge, it is best to speak to a doctor.

This will typically resolve the problem faster than waiting for it to resolve itself.

Closing Thoughts

Vaginal odors are normal and they are not always a sign of serious issues.

You know your body better than anyone else — so if you notice a sudden or unusual vaginal odor or if it’s accompanied by other symptoms, it’s best to seek a consultation with your doctor.

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I've been writing about modern dating, sex, women's health and relationships for over a decade. After earning my Psychology degree, I landed a...