Have you heard about vaginal douching with vinegar? Are you, by any chance, douching to maintain your vaginal health?
As it turns out, vaginal douching is not as good for your vagina as you may think. With many questions to answer, let’s talk openly about how to keep your vagina clean and happy.
What is vaginal douching?
Vaginal douching describes the practice of washing your vagina by flushing water or other fluids inside the vagina. It appears to be a relatively common practice in the US since almost one in five women between 15 and 44 years old douche every week [1-2].
There is, however, a difference between washing yourself daily and vaginal douching.
Vaginal douching is a term used to describe the practice of cleaning the ‘inside’ of your vagina by forcing water into your vagina. Whereas taking a daily shower means washing the ‘outside,’ or your vulva.
Anatomy lesson: vulva and vagina are often used interchangeably, but they represent two different parts of your genitals.
What’s in the vaginal douche?
There are many vaginal douches sold as over-the-counter products, and you can easily find them in stores, pharmacies, or online. Many contain a pre-packed mixture of water and vinegar. Sometimes the vinegar is replaced by baking soda or iodine, or another chemical antiseptic.
You can also DIY your vaginal douche and make it at home.
Homemade vaginal douche recipes usually contain vinegar or baking soda that’s meant to clean the inside of the vagina.
Do I need to douche?
You don’t need any form of douching, including douching with vinegar, to keep your vagina clean and happy.
Vaginal douching is often mistakenly used to:
- Resolve bacterial vaginosis (BV)
- Protect against sexually transmitted infections
- Clean menstrual blood
- Remove vaginal odor
But what you may not realize is that vaginal douching causes more harm. More importantly, it will not help with any of these problems.
Is douching with vinegar safe?
Vaginal douching is not good for your vaginal health and may cause more harm than benefits.
Here’s why: the vagina is colonized by microbes known as the vaginal microbiome. In healthy premenopausal women, the vaginal microbiome is typically low in diversity and dominated by Lactobacillus species (yup, same as what you’ll find in a vaginal probiotic).
Friendly Lactobacillus bacteria are associated with health since they can protect us from unfriendly bacteria and sexually transmitted infections by lowering the vaginal pH below 4.5.
They also have a protective role in miscarriage and preterm birth [3-4].
When douching with vinegar or antiseptics, you can cause chemical damage to the vaginal microbiome. Douching also washes away the good Lactobacillus bacteria, leaving the space open for disruptive bacteria or yeast to grow.
By washing out the beneficial lactobacilli, you increase your vaginal pH, making it more alkaline, and remove the natural mucus that your vagina secretes [5-7].
Imagine your vagina as the rain forest, and a terrible fire is destroying it and leaving empty space without life. Well, the douching is this fire wiping everything on its way. Do you really want to do this?
Once you wash away the protective bacteria and mucus, you open the door for the development of a number of complications such as:
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Yeast infections
- Vaginal dryness
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Pelvic inflammation
- If you are pregnant, even preterm birth
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommend that women do not douche .
Can I use vaginal douching to get rid of BV, yeast infections, or unpleasant vaginal odor?
As we mentioned earlier, douching may make these issues worse. Not better.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV), yeast infection, and vaginal odor are often related to overgrowth of disruptive bacteria such as Gardnerella vaginalis, Atopobium vaginae, and Prevotella. Or Candida, in the case of yeast infections.
These disruptive microorganisms may cause the unpleasant vaginal odor. In these cases, vaginal douching could do more harm than good and prolong the infection. If the odor is very strong and out of the ordinary, consider talking with your healthcare provider.
If you notice any of the following, it’s best to consult with your healthcare provider:
- Unusual for you smelly or colored discharge
- Painful urination
- Pain and discomfort during sex
- Any redness or burning sensation around your vagina
When it comes to vaginal odor, remember that odor is normal and unique for each woman. You don’t need to use vaginal douching for it. Simply cleaning the vulva with water is enough to keep yourself clean and fresh.
The vagina is also a self-cleaning organ, thanks to its own mucous secretion. So your daily routine should be only ‘outside’ washing and shouldn’t involve any douching.