There are all kinds of vaginal odors. And they’re never as obvious as when you’re getting up close and personal with a used tampon or menstrual cup.
If your flow seems stinky this month, we’ve got you. Here’s how to find out why your period smells.
Why does my period smell?
Healthy flows tend to have a coppery, bloody scent because they are mostly blood. It might even be a little smelly if you’re sweaty or stressed.
But if your period blood seems fishy or smells like “death”, take heed. You might have a forgotten tampon or an infection on your hands.
Consider what a period actually is — blood and tissue from your uterus. So, sometimes it’ll have a vaguely metallic odor, especially when mixed with sweat or bacteria from your nether regions.
Normal. If your period smells like it’s a little beyond the grave, that might be normal for your body. But that odor shouldn’t be strong enough for folks around you to sniff out. And it should be easy to remedy with a fresh pad or tampon.
Not normal. If your flow smells like something crawled inside you and died, the culprit is probably a forgotten tampon. Neglected tampons are surprisingly common, especially at the end of your period.
Good news: It’s likely an easy fix. Feel around for the strings or use a clean finger to fish around your vagina.
If the tampon is stuck, or you can’t find the source of the stench, call your gyno and request a same-day appointment.
A period that smells like death is most often caused by a forgotten, decaying tampon.
If your flow smells fishy, something’s up. This kind of odor usually indicates bacterial vaginosis (BV). Sometimes it’s a symptom of trichomoniasis.
Most folks who get BV report an abnormally strong, fishy stench. That’s because BV is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in your vag.
If you have BV, you’ll probably have other symptoms before, during, and after your period:
- burning, especially when you pee or have sex
- a watery gray or white discharge when you’re not on your period
Sometimes, smelling fishy also indicates trichomoniasis, which is a curable sexually transmitted infection. Symptoms of trich include:
- genital redness and soreness
- pain when peeing
- excessive or thin discharge when you’re not on your period
- green or yellow discharge
Both BV and trich require medical treatment. After your doc diagnoses you, you’ll probably need to complete a round (or two) of prescription meds.
Sometimes, it’s tough to pinpoint unpleasant odors. Do your panties smell like garbage or rotten eggs?
Regardless of how you describe the stench, a rotten smell often points to some kind of decay or infection.
Here’s how to identify the source:
- First, check for a forgotten tampon, sponge, or other foreign objects.
- Next, see if the smell dissipates with a simple wash or pad change.
- If your flow still reeks, call your doc. Rotten odors typically indicate a medical problem like BV or an STI.
A period that smells “rotten” probably means you have some kind of infection. Check with your doc to know for sure.
If your vag smells ripe, a change in your hygiene habits could help. Menstrual flow is full of blood, tissue, and bacteria, so you’ll need to freshen up more than usual during your period.
Follow these tips for peak freshness.
- Change your tampons regularly. The same goes for pads and liners.
- Avoid douching. Did you know that your vagina is capable of cleaning itself? A 2020 study suggested that douching can actually raise your risk of vaginal infection.
- Wear cotton. Keep sweat and funk at bay by wearing breathable undies, especially during your period.
- Wash your bits. Your period is a great time for daily showers or baths. No need to use soap down there. Just wash with your fingers or a clean washcloth and warm water.
A word on scented products
Beware of sprays, douches, soaps, wipes, and suppositories specifically marketed for vaginal odor. Using perfumes in such sensitive places could trigger infection or irritation.
It’s totally normal for your period to smell a bit. But if the stench is strong — and doesn’t alleviate with a simple wash or tampon change — you might have an infection.
Let your doctor know if you have any of these symptoms of a bigger problem:
- itchiness, irritation, or swelling
- pelvic pain
- severe stomach pain
- a flow that’s heavier than normal
- cramps that are more severe than normal
- green or yellow discharge
Every vagina has a smell and even healthy periods get stinky sometimes. But if your flow smells like death, fish, or rotten eggs you might be dealing with:
- an old tampon
- bacterial vaginosis
- an STI
Most bad odors can be remedied with a shower or pad change. If the stink remains, or if it’s accompanied by other unpleasant symptoms, talk with your doctor.