Women's Health

4 min read

How To Practice Good Vaginal Hygiene

No, You Don't Have To Wash Your Vagina

From periods and sex, to childbirth and menopause, the vagina definitely goes through a lot. Luckily, the vagina is one of those body parts that is happiest when you leave it alone.

It’s understandable if you feel the need to wash it, after all we wash our bodies, our faces and our hair—why not wash the vagina, too? We are socially conditioned to think vaginas are dirty and high-maintenance, which is probably why “vaginal spas” have become a thing, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

The vaginal canal is lined with mucous membrane and a cocktail of different bacteria (known as the vaginal microbiome) both responsible for protecting the vagina from infections. Lactobacilli, the “good” bacteria in your vaginal microbiome, maintain an ideal (slightly acidic) pH balance that keep the “bad” bacteria out. Most importantly, the vagina is a self-cleaning organ that washes itself by producing secretions, AKA your discharge.

“When it comes to cleaning, your cervical mucus does the job, and is full of antibodies and good bacteria, so it does a much better job than any cleaning products you could buy,” adds Dr. Harry Baxter, Daye’s resident expert. 

No, you don’t have to wash your vagina

There’s a range of products available that claim to “clean”, “freshen” and “balance” your vagina, making up the multi-billion industry of personal hygiene. Truth is, these sort of claims are completely unfounded, steeped in misogyny (think about it: why are there no “penile hygiene” products?), and often risk doing more harm than good. 

Take vaginal steaming, for example. Although it can be traced back centuries to ancient Asian and African holistic medicine, it became mainstream thanks to Gwyneth Paltrow. The process involves squatting over herb-infused steaming hot water, which supposedly not only “cleans” the vagina, but the entire reproductive tract. There’s absolutely no scientific evidence to back up any of the purported benefits of vaginal steaming, in fact, experts agree that it’s actually harmful. 

Aside from the risk of burning your genitals, exposing your vulva and vagina to high humidity and warmth creates the perfect breeding ground for bad bacteria, which can lead to vaginal infections. 

But you needn’t look any further than your local pharmacy or supermarket to find products that claim to clean your vagina. Vaginal washes, wipes, deodorants and douches are not only unnecessary, but may increase your risk of infections—even the American College Of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says so

Vaginal douching is the worst offender. It involves squirting a solution—often scented—up your vagina with the intention of cleaning it (again, the vagina does a pretty excellent job at cleaning itself). Not only will this not work, but it will wash out all the good, infection-fighting bacteria in your vaginal microbiome. Douching can put you at risk of vaginal infections such as thrush and BV, as well as HPV

It may sound counterintuitive, but washing your vagina actually hinders its ability to clean itself. 

What about odour? 

It’s normal for your vagina to have an odour, and the smell of your vagina is not only completely unique, but also changes depending where you are in your menstrual cycle. Your vagina’s bacterial makeup changes in response to pH and hormones, affecting the way you smell.

It’s common for your vaginal smell to seem stronger while you’re ovulating, when your body produces more cervical mucus, and certain types of contraceptive methods, such as the combined contraceptive pill, may also affect vaginal smell. Another culprit? Semen. Semen has an alkaline pH, so if it comes into contact with the vagina, it can change its scent. And of course, sweat can also make things more ~pungent~. Your groin contains sweat glands, so much like your armpits would smell after a long day or intense workout, so will your crotch. 

Vaginas are not meant to smell like rose gardens, and it’s completely ok for your vagina to smell like… a vagina! Although there are a range of products, from sprays to scented tampons, meant to make your vag smell “fresh,” there is really no need for them. And once again, fragrances can disrupt your vaginal microbiome and actually cause your vagina to smell worse than it did before.  

As long as it doesn’t have an infection, the way your vagina smells is absolutely fine! However, if that smells becomes foul or fishy, it may indicate that you have BV. 

How to practice good vaginal hygiene

While we’ve established that you don’t need to clean your vagina (you really don’t), you do need to wash your vulva. Your vulva doesn’t have the same self-cleaning functions your vagina is blessed with, so it needs a little extra help. Even so, there’s no need for soap or special washes, so warm water alone will do. 

Generally speaking, maintaining good vaginal health means making sure you’re taking care of overall health, but here are some extra precautions you can take:  

  • If you’re putting anything inside your vagina, pay attention to the ingredients. Scented tampons, condoms and lube should be avoided, and always make sure to use toys that are made from body-safe materials, like food-grade silicone. As for tampons, Daye’s organic, sanitised, clinically tested tampons with protective sleeve are the safest option* (but I guess we’re biased).
  • Make sure to change your tampon every 4 hours. 
  • Always wipe front to back after going to the bathroom!
  • The above rule also applies to sex, since nothing that goes near your anus should come into contact with your vagina. Toys, fingers and penises should be washed after anal play before being inserted in the vagina, and condoms should be changed when switching from anal to vaginal intercourse. 
  • Speaking of intercourse, remember to pee after sex to prevent UTIs. 
  • Avoid wearing sweaty gym clothes for too long. Damp and warm conditions are an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, especially when sweat is involved. 
  • Get regular STI check-ups (every time you change sexual partner, or once a year if you’re in a committed relationship) and cervical screenings. 
  • The vagina is a self-cleaning organ that doesn’t need any internal washing, steaming or douching. 
  • To wash your vulva all you need is warm water. 
  • Vaginal washes, soaps, wipes and deodorants can weaken your vaginal microbiome and put you at risk of infections. 
  • To take care of your sexual health, always practise safe sex.

*Daye's Ultra-Soothing tampons are coated in full-spectrum CBD, which has a faint natural scent. It is not intended to improve the way your vagina smells, and we've tested the CBD we use to ensure it has no negative impact on your vaginal microbiome.

Illustrations by Erin Rommel. Erin is the founder of @second.marriage, a Brooklyn-based brand, illustration, and design studio.

Written by Liv Cassano. Liv is the Editor of Vitals, follow her at @liv_css.

BV HPV Lactobacilli Thrush Vaginal Microbiome

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