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10th March, 20214 min read

How to clean your vagina

Medical reviewer: Dr Adiele Hoffman
Author: Helen Prentice
Last reviewed: 10/03/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

There’s nothing like a shower to make you feel refreshed and ready to face the day. But you may not know that your vagina is actually designed to clean itself.

Read on to discover how to maintain good vaginal hygiene, including what you should avoid and when to see a doctor.

Do I need to clean my vagina?

First, let’s look at what we mean by ‘vagina’. Because your vagina is actually internal. It’s a tube of muscle inside you that runs from the neck of the womb (cervix) to your vaginal opening.

Your external genitals are called the vulva. These parts include your vaginal opening and lips (labia), your clitoris, the tube you wee from (urethra) and your pubic mound.

So, while you can (and should) wash your vulva, you shouldn’t wash inside your vagina. Your vagina keeps itself clean with ‘secretions’, also known as vaginal discharge. It contains a delicate balance of bacteria to keep it free from infection and it’s important not to disrupt this.

What’s the best way to clean my vagina?

It’s a good idea to gently wash your vulva (not vagina) every day. When you’re on your period, you may want to do it more often.

You’ll want to avoid causing irritation in this sensitive area, so try following these tips:

  • use water and either an unperfumed soap or a soap-free product (or soap substitute) if you have sensitive skin – it’s not necessary to use a vaginal wash
  • gently wash your vulva with your hands, making sure you don’t get soap and water inside your vagina
  • it’s best not to use a washcloth or sponge, as these can be rough on delicate skin
  • wash the area between your vaginal opening and anus – the ‘perineum’ – too
  • wash from front to back – this avoids transferring bacteria from your anus to your vulva, which could cause an infection
  • after washing, pat your genital area dry with a clean towel

Cleaning your vagina – dos and don’ts

There are some other things to bear in mind to help keep your vagina and vulva healthy:

  • it’s normal for your vagina to have a slight smell, and this can vary at different points in your menstrual cycle, so don’t worry about it
  • washing your vulva with plain soap or a soap substitute is best, but if you do use wipes, make sure they’re fragrance-free and designed to be used on the vulva
  • perfumed products, antiseptics, gels and sometimes even unperfumed soaps can affect the healthy bacteria and pH levels in your vagina and cause irritation
  • don’t use vaginal ‘douches’, which flush water up into your vagina – they wash out all the healthy bacteria, which is important for sexual health
  • avoid vaginal ‘steaming’ – made popular by some by celebrities, it involves steam entering your vagina, but there’s no evidence that it’s beneficial and it can be harmful

When to speak to your doctor

If you’re worried about the way your vagina smells or the smell is strong or unpleasant, you may have an infection. Other warning signs include itching, irritation and unusual vaginal discharge.

Talk to your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms, as you may need treatment.

Key points

  • your vagina is self-cleaning – it contains a delicate balance of bacteria that helps keep it free from infection
  • you should wash the area around your vagina (vulva) once a day with water and plain, unscented soap or a soap substitute – but not inside your vagina
  • perfumed soaps, gels, antiseptics, ‘douches’ and ‘steaming’ can all affect the bacteria and pH levels in your vagina, which can lead to irritation or infection
  • talk to your doctor if you’re worried about the way your vagina smells or you have pain or unusual discharge – you may have an infection that needs treatment
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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.