How to Naturally Get Rid of Vaginal Odor
The human vagina is home to a complex community of bacteria that can help to maintain good vaginal and sexual health. Many of these bacteria are part of the Lactobacillus family1 which help to compete against and prevent the growth of bad bacteria.
A healthy vagina shouldn’t exude a fishy vaginal smell but bad microorganisms such as Gardnerella vaginosis can overwhelm the normal Lactobacillus population and cause a condition known as bacterial vaginosis which causes a “fishy odor.” Let’s take a closer look at bacterial vaginosis, its symptoms, and some home remedies for taking care of it.
What Causes Bacterial Vaginosis?
Just about anything that either changes the pH of your vagina or upsets the normal vaginal flora can cause bad bacteria levels to spike and result in bacterial vaginosis. Below are the things that can increase your chances of getting BV:
1. The Practice of Douching
Douching is the act of washing the vagina. Water has a neutral pH of about 7 while the normally acidic vagina has a pH of 3-4. Douching washes away the normal bacteria and causes fluctuations in your vagina’s bacterial and pH balance.
Vaginas are self-cleaning, making douching unnecessary. As mentioned, avoid using heavily scented products or harsh soaps on your vagina. These can irritate your vaginal lining and alter the pH levels. And it cannot be stressed enough: avoid douching.
2. Unhygienic Practices
Tampons are inserted into the vagina and can harbor the growth of bacteria. Tampons that have been left in the vagina for a long time can facilitate the growth of Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) causing E coli bacteria.
If tampons are left inside the vagina long enough E coli can grow and start releasing compounds that cause a condition called Toxic Shock Syndrome which causes low blood pressure, fever, peeling skin, and rash.
4. Unsafe Sexual Activity
Both receptive oral cunnilingus9 as well as male-female intercourse can increase the chances of getting BV.
Bacterial vaginosis is not necessarily a sexually transmitted disease (meaning that someone with bacterial vaginosis can’t necessarily spread it to a sexual partner), but having sex with a new partner or having multiple sexual partners has been found to potentially increase the risk of bacterial vaginosis. However, women who have sex with women can spread BV to their partners through the vaginal secretions.11
Vaginal odor causes can vary, so consult your doctor if the smell is persistent. The vaginal odor may come from an underlying medical issue. Your doctor can diagnose bacterial vaginosis by doing bacterial cultures and may recommend the following good practices in addition to prescribing antibiotics like metronidazole gel.
- Fragrance free natural soap: Ensuring your vagina smells good includes regular washing with a fragrance-free, natural soap. Avoid perfumed soaps, gels and antiseptics that can throw own your vaginal pH level and natural balance of healthy bacteria.
- Restroom Practice: It’s also crucial that you wipe properly after using the restroom. That means wiping from front to back, so you don’t accidentally get fecal material and its related bacteria into your vagina.
- Water Based Lube: If you use lube during sex, choose a water-based product.
- Underwear: Change your underwear daily, and wear natural materials, such as cotton or silk, rather than synthetics. Natural materials are breathable, and bacteria are less likely to overgrow.
Home Remedies for BV
Along with medical treatments, incorporating home remedies for BV can help improve your health.
1. Hydrogen Peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is a compound that is commonly used in household cleaners. Certain vaginal probiotics have been shown to produce hydrogen peroxide, which may help in killing bad bacteria and controlling imbalances in the vaginal microflora. Using hydrogen peroxide may help to reduce bacterial vaginosis.
In one study, researchers compared the effectiveness of vaginal douching with hydrogen peroxide and an oral dose of metronidazole (an antibiotic commonly prescribed for bacterial vaginosis). The randomized trial allocated 142 patients diagnosed with BV to two groups. One group douched with 20 milliliters of 3% hydrogen peroxide and took an oral placebo. The other group took 2 grams of metronidazole orally and douched with a placebo. The hydrogen peroxide group had a cure rate of 62.5 percent, while the metronidazole group had a 78.6 percent cure rate. The metronidazole had a higher rate of gastrointestinal side effects. This suggests that douching with hydrogen peroxide may be effective in reducing bacterial vaginosis.16
However, as mentioned, douching often contributes to bacterial vaginosis, and studies show that douching cessation can significantly reduce cases of bacterial vaginosis. If you do not have BV, douching with any chemical or cleanser is not recommended.17
2. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil naturally possesses powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties, which may help to reduce or prevent bacterial vaginosis. Studies show that bacteria associated with bacterial vaginosis are highly susceptible to tea tree oil, while the naturally present Lactobacilli species are actually about twice as resistant to tea tree oil. This suggests that tea tree oil may help to restore balance in the vaginal flora.20
If you do use tea tree oil, note that it is highly potent on its own and must be diluted with a neutral carrier oil before being applied to the vagina. Undiluted tea tree oil will contribute to further irritation and burning.
One physician reported a confirmed case of BV that a patient self-treated with a 5 day course of tea tree oil pessaries, each containing 200mg of diluted tea tree oil in a vegetable oil base. After the treatment the woman’s BV was resolved and the physician believed that tea tree oil should be assessed as a treatment for BV.22
3. Garlic Tablets
Garlic is known to possess powerful antimicrobial properties that may help to mitigate bacterial vaginosis and support vaginal health. In one study, researchers compared the effects of an oral garlic tablet to an oral dosage of oral metronidazole in the treatment of bacterial vaginosis.
Results of this study found that the garlic tablet was comparable to the antibiotic in effectively reducing signs of bacterial vaginosis while presenting far fewer side effects. This suggests that garlic supplementation may be an effective alternative.20
Consider incorporating more garlic into your diet or taking a garlic supplement. However, do not put cloves of garlic into your vagina, which can contribute to irritation and present various health complications.
Because BV is caused by dysbiosis, or imbalance, of the vaginal flora, restoring the normal vaginal flora is helpful for the treatment of BV.
One study found that consuming yogurt containing live Lactobacillus acidophilus cultures increases the amount of L. acidophilus found in the vagina and reduces the episodes of BV after 1 and 2 months compared to women who consumed sterilized and pasteurized yogurt10.
Another study found that the intra-vaginal application of yogurt in pregnant women with BV was better at treating it than intra-vaginal vinegar tampons and no treatment11.
Probiotics refer to the beneficial bacteria found throughout your body (primarily in your gut and vagina). Probiotics have been found to help support a healthy digestive system, but studies suggest that having certain Lactobacillus species such as L. crispatus and L. jensenii in the rectum is associated with a lower chance of having BV12.
Lactobacillus probiotics are particularly helpful for vaginal health as they make up a part of the normal vaginal flora and help establish a healthy pH environment.7
In addition to lowering your chances of having BV, having a healthy vaginal microbiome helps to lower the amount of UTI-causing E. coli bacteria as well as yeast-infection causing Candida yeast. You can get probiotics from various types of food, including yogurt, kefir, and kimchi, or from dietary supplements.
6. Boric Acid Suppository
Boric acid is a versatile compound used to treat Candida yeast infections that are resistant to traditional antifungals. According to researchers boric acid has never been shown to be effective in treating BV. However, anecdotal stories and product reviews disagree.
Boric acid suppositories are inserted into the vagina to help to help restore the normally acidic state of the vagina. Boric acid must be used with caution as it can be toxic if eaten or consumed orally.8
Foods for Vaginal Health
Eating the right foods may help to support your overall vaginal health to prevent the onset of a bacterial vaginosis infection. One study found that the regular consumption of yogurt containing probiotics helps lower the incidence of bacterial vaginosis compared to a pasteurized control yogurt without probiotics.10 The following suggestions help ensure that you have the healthiest gut and vaginal flora.
As mentioned above, probiotic-rich foods can play an integral role in balancing your vaginal microflora and preventing dysbiosis. Focus primarily on foods that are rich in Lactobacilli species as they are plentiful to a natural vaginal microbiome and help to maintain healthy pH levels. Some probiotic-rich foods to keep in mind include:
You may also consider taking a probiotic supplement to take the guesswork out of serving sizes and CFUs.
Along with probiotics, consider incorporating more prebiotics into your diet. Prebiotics work by feeding existing probiotic bacteria in the gut and vagina, promoting the growth of healthy bacterial populations. Some common prebiotic foods include:
- Whole grain
- Onions and leeks
Most prebiotic foods also happen to be high in dietary fiber, which offers a wide range of potential benefits, including improved heart health and weight management. Fiber is also known to help promote regular bowel movements, preventing both diarrhea and constipation.18 Smoother bowel movements are good for your digestive system and general health, but they also contribute to less strain to muscles in the pelvis, thereby supporting vaginal muscular health.19
Recurrent Bacterial Vaginosis
For some women, BV becomes a recurring or chronic condition. Treatment generally consists of extended courses of antibiotic therapy, often for four to six months. Temporary lifestyle changes may become necessary to eradicate BV. Probiotic supplements may support healthy bacteria in the vagina, and eliminating processed and sugary foods and consuming a healthy, organic diet can help the body combat the infection. Abstinence is recommended, but if that is not a long-term option, have your partner use a condom during intercourse.
Women with HIV may experience BV recurrences more often than women without this infection. However, treatment is the same for both groups.
Bacterial vaginosis can be uncomfortable and painful, but with the right treatment and some simple lifestyle changes, you can easily manage it and prevent recurrence.