We know how to clean other parts of our body. But when it comes to the vagina, cleaning becomes a mystery.
What’s the best approach? Do you need to put something in there to clean it? Or do you need a cleaner for it? What about douching with Hydrogen Peroxide or even steaming?
Today we’ll discuss how to properly clean down there… while touching on cleaning “tips” you must absolutely avoid.
Understanding our body and caring for it is a key component feminine health and wellness. And to enjoy prolonged vaginal health, we must learn how to clean our vaginas correctly.
First, A Recap Of How The Vagina Works
Our vaginas are awesome. Experts are constantly amazed by its self-cleaning mechanism. And how it’s able to perfectly handle everything from menstruation, childbirth, sex, and even menopause.
This ability of the vagina to take care of itself is essential for our feminine health.
How does the vagina clean itself?
By carefully maintaining a delicate balance of bacteria and pH levels. Disrupting this delicate balance is the root cause of all vaginal issues. It leads to issues like bacterial vaginosis (BV), vaginal odor, yeast infections, and dryness.
But how exactly is the vagina self-cleaning?
As you may know, the vagina contains a community of bacteria, and this is also known as vaginal flora. The flora helps maintain a slightly acidic environment (a pH of around 3.8-4.5).
This acidity prevents harmful bacteria and yeast from overgrowing and causing infections. It’s simple, but it works.
That’s why you don’t need to manually clean the inside of the vagina. It handles that by itself.
“Your vagina is like a self-cleaning oven,” says Dr. Jen Gunter, an OB/GYN and author of The Vagina Bible.
Another way that the vagina cleans itself is by producing discharge. Vaginal discharge is a secretion that transports bad bacteria, old cells, and menstrual blood out of the vagina. Thus leaving the inside clean and healthy.
This is why radical ‘solutions’ like douching (or using scented soaps internally) can do more harm than good.
Because they disrupt this natural balance of bacteria in the vagina, leading to vaginal health problems. This disruption, again, is the root cause of all vaginal infections.
But if we can’t clean the inside, what about the outside of the vagina?
Cleaning the Outside: focusing on the vulva
The internal part of the vagina doesn’t need manual cleaning, as we have seen.
But the external genital area — the vulva — requires regular washing. It contains hair follicles and sweat glands. And sweat, if not cleaned, will create a perfect environment for breeding bacteria that cause odor and infections.
That’s why we need to clean our vulva often. Here’s how to do it right:
- Clean with warm water: Warm water is usually enough to remove sweat and kill bacteria. If you must use soap, choose mild, unscented soap brands. Fragrant soaps or body washes disrupt the balance of healthy bacteria, leading to irritation or infections. For a safer option, use warm water only.
- Rinse Thoroughly: After soaping, rinse well with warm water. Soap residue can cause irritation and discomfort. So make sure that when you use soap you rinse away all the foam.
- Gently Pat Dry: Use a clean, soft towel to pat the vulva dry. Leaving the area moist can lead to bacterial growth. And that can lead to odor and infections.
- Frequency: Wash the vulva at least once a day. Wash even more if you sweat a lot during hot weather or after a workout.
But let’s face it. Not everyone has the luxury to wash the vulva several times a day. We have work and things that keep us super busy.
In that case, here are some alternatives for cleaning the vulva and maintaining your personal hygiene:
- Use Unscented Wipes: Feminine hygiene wipes are a good alternative. But make sure they’re unscented, hypoallergenic, or specially-formulated for feminine hygiene. They can help to refresh and clean the vulva area. Remember, they should only be used externally. Do put them into the vagina.
- Damp Cloth: If wipes aren't available, a clean, damp cloth or towel can also do the job. Ensure the cloth is rinsed well and does not have any soap residue. After wiping, use a clean, dry towel to pat the area dry.
- Portable Bidets: There are handheld, portable bidets available in the market. They can be filled with warm water and used to clean the vulva. They also come in handy after pooping or peeing. Helps to keep the nether regions squeaky clean without messing up your hands or fudging with rolls of toilet paper. Bidets are a better alternative to wipes.
- Changing Underwear Regularly: Staying dry downstairs is important. That’s why if you sweat a lot, you should try changing your underwear more often. Dry underwear helps to maintain hygiene and comfort. That’s why it’s great advice to carry extra underwear whenever you step out. Nothing is more frustrating than needing a change and not having extra with you.
- Use of Cotton Underwear: Cotton is breathable and good at absorbing moisture. Wearing cotton underwear can help keep the area dry and clean.
Remember, these alternatives should not replace a proper cleaning. So as soon as you have an opportunity for a full bath or shower, take it.
Avoiding Pitfalls: The Don'ts of Vaginal Cleaning
Knowing what to avoid is as important as knowing what to do. Here are some “tips” around the internet to steer clear of:
- Don't Use Deodorants Down There: Deodorants are generally chemicals. And these irritate the vagina, leading to dryness, burning, and potential infections. Your vagina has a natural mild scent, which can change through your menstrual cycle. A strong, fishy odor could be a sign of infection. In that case, you should consult a healthcare provider or use proven treatments to clear things up. But do not attempt to mask the odor with deodorants.
- Avoid Over-Cleaning: Overzealous cleaning upsets the natural pH level of your vagina. And imbalances lead to vaginal issues like odor, dryness and infection.
- Steer Clear of Harsh Materials: Avoid using loofahs or sponges on the vulva, as these can cause micro-tears and irritation.
Hormones and Your Vagina: Keeping Up with the Changes
The vagina changes throughout our lives.
It changes during your menstrual cycle, during pregnancy, after childbirth, and even as we age. And these changes are controlled by our hormones to a large extent.
Why is it important to learn how hormones affect the vagina?
Because hormones directly affect the balance of bacteria and pH levels in the vagina.
For instance, estrogen levels drop during menstruation. And that makes the vagina less acidic and potentially more prone to infections.
Menopause also causes a drop in estrogen levels. And that can lead to vaginal dryness and an increased risk of urinary tract infections.
Being aware of these changes can help you take care of your vaginal health better.
Maintaining good vaginal health hygiene is important. That's an important step to staying free from vaginal infections.
- Gunter, J. (2019). The Vagina Bible: The Vulva and the Vagina—Separating the Myth from the Medicine.
- Brotman, R. M., Ravel, J. (2016). Ready or not: the molecular diagnosis of bacterial vaginosis. Clin Infect Dis.