Vaginal discharge is a mixture of different fluids, and the odor can vary based on what’s happening in your body. Dehydration, food cravings, and dietary changes can all affect the odor of your discharge.

Sometimes, the odor will fade on its own, and simple hygiene habits can keep things fresh down there. But if the smell doesn’t go away, you may need to talk to your doctor.

Sweating

No matter what those soap commercials might suggest, your vagina is supposed to have a little odor down there. It can range from a slightly tangy smell — think pickle or sauerkraut, for example — to a more earthy and sweet scent like molasses. These are normal odors caused by the healthy bacteria living in your vagina that create lactic acid and other substances that keep it healthy.

However, sweating can make your vagina smell like ammonia because of the way it breaks down urine. Sweat is released from eccrine glands all over the body and can mix with certain bacteria found in the groin area to create an ammonia-like odor. Wearing loose, cotton underwear can help avoid this odor and also staying well hydrated is key since sweating can lead to dehydration.

Another reason your vagina might smell like ammonia is if you’re having urinary tract issues, such as a UTI. This could also cause a thick, cottage cheese-like discharge, which can be a sign of an infection. If you suspect this is the case, see your ob-gyn to get treated with antibiotics.

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If you’re experiencing a strong, chemical-like odor, it’s likely due to bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV is a common infection that can produce a fishy or musty odor and is often paired with a thin white or gray discharge. If you suspect this is the case, seek treatment from your ob-gyn with an antibiotic that will cure BV and prevent it from returning.

Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

Women’s bodies are full of bacteria, some of which can smell funky. This is normal, and a sour or tangy smell (think yeasty bread) is often produced by one of the good bacteria, lactobacilli.

However, the odor can change when the balance of bacterial flora is disrupted. If you notice a fishy or ammonia-like scent, this could be an indication of a urinary tract infection. Urinary tract infections can be uncomfortable and, in some cases, painful for women. If you suspect a UTI, talk to your doctor.

Another cause of a foul odor is when you’re dehydrated. A lack of water can cause the waste material in your urine to become concentrated and sour, which can make your vulva smell like ammonia. Dehydration can also be caused by certain lubricants and spermicides, which can alter the pH level of your vagina.

A metallic smell can also occur in the vulva, and it’s usually a sign of period blood that contains iron. Bleeding between periods or spotting during sex can also cause the odor, and these symptoms should be checked by your doctor to make sure they’re not caused by an infection or STI, like chlamydia or gonorrhoea.

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Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

If the odor is strong and does not go away, you may have BV. BV is an infection that occurs when the wrong bacteria overtakes the good bacteria in your vagina. This can cause your vulva to have a fishy or ammonia-like smell. BV can also cause itching and burning during urination.

If you have BV, you may also notice other symptoms such as white or gray discharge that is thin and sticky. You may also have an increase in the size of your vulva, a change in your genital shape, or a loss of sensation during urination or intercourse.

Luckily, BV is easy to treat with over-the-counter antibiotics such as metronidazole or clindamycin. These antibiotics can help reduce the number of bacterial growth in your vagina and get rid of the ammonia-like odor. Taking these antibiotics as directed will help relieve your symptoms.

To prevent BV, clean your vulva daily with warm water and unscented soap. Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing around your vulva and use cotton underwear rather than synthetic materials. It’s also a good idea to drink plenty of water so you stay hydrated. You can also try using a feminine hygiene product that is specially designed for your intimate area to help keep it healthy and pH balanced. Products such as Canesfresh Daily Foaming Wash are formulated to protect your vulva, maintain your pH balance, and help eliminate odor.

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Pregnancy

In a normal healthy vagina, you may notice a tangy or sour smell from the bacteria in your vulva. This is because the bacteria produce hydrogen peroxide and lactic acid which are known to give off these scents.

During pregnancy, this odor can become stronger than usual due to hormonal changes and the fact that your body is producing more urine. When the urine mixes with other sweat and the fecal odor of the baby, it can create an ammonia-like odor.

The vulva has many sweat glands called apocrine glands that are similar to the ones found in the armpits. These glands can also release a pungent body odor when they become over-excited, which is sometimes caused by tight underwear and shapewear. In addition, if you haven’t been drinking enough water or have an acidic diet, this can also affect your genital odor.

Vaginas are made up of a delicate balance of good and bad bacteria, and any disruption to this could lead to an infection. If you notice a strong chemical or ammonia smell, see your healthcare provider to make sure the odor isn’t from urinary tract infection, BV, or another problem. In most cases, your doctor will recommend regular cleaning with lukewarm water and unscented soap and avoiding scented soaps and feminine products that can destroy the healthy bacteria in your vagina.