Our periods can throw us some real curveballs at times — no surprise there!
Cravings, menstrual cramps, exhaustion, and everything in between can feel overwhelming. Sometimes it feels like we should really have a better understanding of something that we experience so frequently during our lives. But what about the things that aren’t exactly talked about?
Sometimes it’s hard to ask questions like “why does my period blood smell?” Even if you’re talking to a professional it can feel intimidating to bring up. There are a lot of questions we might leave unasked but this doesn’t have to be one of them. Your period blood could smell for a variety of reasons and shouldn’t be a source of embarrassment for anyone.
So, let’s talk about it!
Why Do Periods Smell So Strong?
One of the many unwanted gifts that Aunt Flo brings with her every month is a funky odor that tends to linger down south of the border. You might not always smell it, but when you do get a whiff, it’s less than pleasant.
To be clear, periods smell! This is perfectly normal, and that’s no secret, but you might be wondering why. When you scrape your knee or cut your finger, for example, the blood usually doesn’t have any smell at all. So why does that time-of-the-month bring a particularly unpleasant odor?
Well, the truth is that our vaginas are home to many different bacteria, and when that bacteria mixes with blood, it produces odor. It’s really just that simple.
When you scrape your knee or get a cut on your finger, you wipe the blood off almost immediately, and it’s fresh blood, meaning it hasn’t been sitting around for a while. But period blood stays in the vagina for a much longer period of time and is exposed to the bacteria in the vagina, and that’s where you get that odor.
You may also notice that it doesn’t always smell the same. The amount of bacteria in the vagina fluctuates, which can change the smell of your period. A light change is usually nothing to worry about, but if all of a sudden, your period smells a little funky, you may want to talk to your doctor.
If your doctor says all is well and the smell is still really bothering you, you can use a pH balanced vaginal cleanser to help with the odor during your period.
Here’s a look at the various kinds of smells you may notice during your period:
Don’t worry if your period smell shifts slightly. It’s normal to experience any of the following types of smell during your period.
Yes, sometimes your period makes your panties smell like you’ve been storing a bucket of pennies down there. The smell is caused by the iron in your period blood and is usually not cause for concern.
(Don’t forget that us ladies tend to lose iron every month via period blood, so be sure to eat your veggies and take a multivitamin!)
Toward the end of your period, the metallic odor is usually caused by pH changes that are taking place in your vagina and normal vaginal discharge. Many women tend to experience this issue when they wear tampons, because the tampon sits against your vaginal walls and absorbs that discharge.
The metallic smell should not persist much longer after the period ends, but if it does, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor.
Sweaty Gym, Onion-y, or Salty Smell
Have you ever experienced these less than favorable and unique odors during or even after your period? If so, you’re not alone!
While these smells are generally among the most common odors we tend to experience as women, they are also highly manageable with a good hygiene routine and the right products during your period. You can keep these types of smells at bay by changing your pad or tampon frequently and taking regular showers during your period.
We’ve all experienced that awkward fishy smell before, and although many people are under the impression that it’s perfectly normal, the truth is that this smell is often related to an infection, such as bacterial vaginosis.
Bacterial vaginosis (or BV) is a common vaginal infection caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina. BV produces a fishy smell, which is more pronounced during menstruation, as blood increases the vaginal alkalinity.
You might also experience white or gray vaginal discharge when not menstruating in addition to the fishy smell. Doctors diagnose bacterial vaginosis using a wide range of tests and commonly prescribe antibiotics for treatment. You can also use things like boric acid suppositories to treat BV without using antibiotics.
Okay, so when we say sweet, we don’t mean freshly baked cookies sweet. We mean robust and earthy. But don’t fret — a sweetish tinge isn’t any cause for concern as this is just due to bacteria. Your vaginal pH is an ever-changing bacterial ecosystem, and sometimes, this means your period just might smell a little sweet.
Another common smell you may experience during or after your period is a mild rotten smell. This smell results from tissues and blood exiting the vagina, combining with bacteria on the outside of the vagina. You may notice this smell if you leave a tampon in for too long or don’t change your pad often, or if you wear the same pair of period panties all day.
If problematic symptoms don’t accompany this smell (itch, discharge, etc.), it’s typically not a medical concern. You can easily reduce this smell by changing your pad, tampon, or period panties more often, and gently cleansing your vaginal area when you shower.
Tips For Preventing Future Odor
Once you’ve eliminated the unusual vaginal odor, keep these tips in mind for preventing another odor problem later:
- Maintain a healthy and balanced diet. Shoot to eat a balanced diet with plenty of lean proteins, fresh veggies, fruits, and whole grains. A balanced diet makes for a healthy body — and that includes your vagina.
- Consider probiotics. Probiotics — which are good-for-you bacteria — can help maintain the pH balance of your vagina. Probiotic-rich foods include kombucha, yogurt, and unpasteurized sauerkraut. You can also look into taking a probiotic supplement for your vaginal health.
- Drink plenty of H2O. Staying hydrated is good for more than just your beautiful skin. It can help your vagina’s overall health, as well, by encouraging healthy sweating and fluid release.
- Avoid douches and scrubs. You might think that they will help to eliminate bad bacteria, but they will also eliminate the good bacteria. Let your body naturally work out the bacteria ratios and skip these unnatural washes.
- Cut out tight clothes. Clothes that are too tight don’t allow your vagina and groin area to breathe. Getting plenty of oxygen downstairs is vital to maintaining good vaginal health.
- Always wash your lady bits after sexual intercourse. Sex introduces new bacteria, as well as foreign substances like spermicide and lube from condoms. Be sure to wash after sex to help maintain natural bacteria levels.
- Wear cotton underwear. Cotton underwear can help to wick away excess moisture from discharge and sweat. Avoid synthetic fabrics as they are not as good at doing this.
Don’t be scared to really get to know your vagina in all its fragrant glory! The better you understand the different smells that are associated with your period, the more prepared you’ll be when something goes amiss.
After all, our vaginas do so many wonderful things for us. It’s about time we start understanding what they’re really all about and what they are trying to tell us when they produce a less than flattering smell.
Sarah Nelson is a nurse with 15 years of experience working with a variety of patients. She has a Masters of Science in Nursing and has spent a large portion of her career working exclusively with women in an OB/GYN setting.
Nursing is a passion for Sarah but she also enjoys writing and sharing her expertise online with people who need helpful information. Treating patients well and helping them learn more about their own bodies is a key essential to a healthy lifestyle that Sarah truly believes in.