Vulvar and Vaginal Care and Cleaning

You may be confused by the products that claim to keep your vagina smelling like “springtime.” Caring for your vulva and vagina is actually very simple because you don’t need to buy fancy soaps or liquids. In fact, these products can be very irritating and can cause

First, let’s review the female structures located on the outside of a female’s body.

The vulva includes the female genitals that are located on the outside, but near the opening of the vagina (see diagram below).

  • Mons pubis or “mons” (the mound of tissue above the pubic bone that is usually covered with pubic hair)
  • Clitoris (located above the vagina and typically feels good when it is touched. The clitoral “hood” is a small piece of skin that covers the clitoris)
  • Urethra (opening to the urinary canal, where urine/pee comes out)
  • Labia majora (larger pads of skin on either side of the vagina, protects the vagina from injury)
  • Labia minora (thinner flaps on either side of the vagina, sometimes called “lips”)
  • Anus (opening to the rectum, where bowel movements come out of)

How can I keep my vulva and vagina clean?

  • When showering or bathing, wash your vulva with warm water and mild or unscented soap. Make sure the water isn’t too hot and remember to rinse off all the soap.
  • Separate your labia and let the warm soapy water clean all around the clitoral hood and between your labia. This will rinse off any secretions or debris that get stuck in between skin folds.
  • Rinse completely and pat dry your vulva with a soft dry towel.
  • In between baths or showers, you may wish to use a facecloth or a peri-care small plastic bottle filled with warm (not hot) water that you squirt to clean your vulva. This plastic water bottle is also good to use during your period. You can usually find them at your local pharmacy or dollar store for about $1-$3 dollars.
  • While on your period, change your tampon/pad often. The vagina cleanses itself naturally. The cells in the vagina keep it at a normal pH so you should NEVER douche or use any sprays in your vagina (unless your health care provider prescribes it).
  • Use mild soap and warm water to clean around the opening to your vagina. Do NOT place soap into your vagina.

Vaginal and Vulvar Hygiene Tips

  • Wash all new underwear before you wear it (and for regular washing) with a small amount of mild unscented detergent. Rinse laundry well or use the extra rinse cycle on your washing machine to remove all of the detergent.
  • Wear underwear with a cotton crotch. Avoid wearing thong style underwear as they can irritate your vulva.
  • NEVER douche or use feminine deodorant sprays, bubble bath, wipes, bath oils, or other perfumed products on your vulva or in your vagina as they can cause irritation, allergic reactions, or remove the natural fluid that keeps your vagina clean. These products are NOT necessary and may be harmful.
  • Avoid tight fitting clothing.

How do I know my vagina is healthy?

Every female has a natural vaginal scent that can change throughout her menstrual cycle. Every healthy vagina makes discharge. Normal vaginal discharge is usually clear, white, or light yellow and sometimes sticky. Your vagina and vulva area are usually healthy if you do NOT have an odor that is different for you or fishy smelling and you do not have itching, redness, or burning. It is important to know that some vaginal infections such as gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause no symptoms.

How do I know if I have a vaginal infection?

If you have a discharge that smells different for you or if the area around your vulva or vagina is itchy, red, or sore, you should make an appointment with your health care provider and get treated.

Not all vaginal odors are caused by an infection. Poor hygiene (not washing your vulva/vagina regularly with warm water and soap) can cause an unpleasant smell. Wearing tight fitting clothing or underwear made of nylon that doesn’t breathe can cause sweat and bacteria to get trapped which can also cause an unpleasant odor.

If you have vaginal odor or signs of irritation (new discharge, redness, itchiness, burning) make an appointment with your health care provider. If you are sexually active, use condoms every time you have sex as this will lower your risk of getting an STI (sexually transmitted infection) and bacterial vaginosis (a common vaginal infection).