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Possible Causes of Fishy Vaginal Odor

Medically reviewed by Mary Rani Cadiz, MD · Obstetrics and Gynecology

Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Jun 24, 2022

    Possible Causes of Fishy Vaginal Odor

    Having a fishy vaginal odor can be uncomfortable and concerning. This is often noticeable because of vaginal discharge or as a result of a bacterial infection. The most common cause of this fishy odor is vaginitis, or a vaginal infection or inflammation.

    The smell of the vagina varies throughout the menstrual cycle. However, if you are experiencing redness, burning, or itching sensation, or any unusual vaginal discharge, you should visit your OB-GYN.

    Read on to learn all about fishy vaginal odor and how it can be prevented.

    What causes fishy vaginal odor?

    Here are a few reasons or causes that could lead to fishy vaginal odor.

    Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

    A UTI is an infection in the bladder, kidneys, urethra, or ureters – commonly known as the urinary system. Most commonly, you are likely to see the infection in the bladder and urethra, your lower urinary tract. Women, compared to men, are at greater risk to develop a UTI. 

    A UTI can cause foul or strong-smelling urine along with burning sensation, itchiness, or pain. A UTI can be one of the reasons behind fishy vaginal odor as the vaginal discharge may be mixed with the strong-smelling urine.


    Vaginitis is an infection of the vagina, commonly caused by bacterial infection. But, it can also be the result of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) called trichomoniasis or a yeast infection.

    A fishy smell can be due to vaginitis. Consult your doctor or an OB-GYN to treat this vaginal infection.

    fishy vaginal odor


    Trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted infection that is spread via sexual contact due to a parasite. This may be avoided by using a condom or being in a monogamous relationship. This parasite gives rise to a foul or fishy vaginal odor.

    This condition can cause a foul vaginal discharge that can be green, gray, or yellow in color. According to the Mayo Clinic, it can cause genital pain, vaginal spotting, itchiness, redness, and burning while urinating or having sex.

    Therefore, whenever you are experiencing any vaginal issue, contact your doctor immediately. 

    Cervical or vaginal cancer

    Sometimes the foul smell or fish vaginal odor can be a symptom of cervical or vaginal cancer.

    Aside from vaginal bleeding or spotting during sexual contact, it may present with watery, light pink or copious gray to dark brown vaginal discharge. It has a peculiar fishy smell. It is advisable to have an annual Pap test to check if there are any problems in the cervix.

    Visit the OB-GYN immediately to detect any underlying health condition that causes the fishy vaginal odor.

    Bacterial Vaginosis

    Bacterial vaginosis is a common condition brought about by bacterial overgrowth in the vagina. Usually, penile-vaginal intercourse with a new partner is the cause of this condition. Also, women who are not sexually active can also get bacterial vaginosis.

    This is because the usual bacteria causing the infection are normally found in the vagina and surrounding areas. It becomes problematic when there is an imbalance of bacterial growth.

    Hormonal changes like in menopause, stress, and pregnancy can also result in bacterial vaginosis.

    These are a few factors for why your vagina smells like a fish. Get medical help to treat the foul smell and prevent it in future. You can try these preventive measures as home remedies to treat foul vaginal smell.

    Ways to get rid of fishy vaginal odor

    Adopt good vaginal hygiene if your vagina smells like a fish

    Adopt a safe and healthy vaginal hygiene practice to prevent vaginal infections and foul odor. You can try the following tips for good vagina health.

    • Wipe your vagina starting from the front to back or top to bottom. This prevents fecal matters from entering the vagina and the urinary tract.
    • Apply a mild, fragrance-free soap gently only on your vulva.
    • Wash your underwear with good quality and unscented washing powder. 
    • Wash your vulva properly with water if you experience a foul or fishy vaginal odor.
    • Use fresh underwear daily and in case of excess sweating, change your underwear.
    • Use a soft washcloth to wipe down the genital area properly while taking a shower. 
    • Take a shower whenever you feel excess sweat build-up. Sweat can change your vaginal odor.
    • Avoid over-washing your perineal area, as too much cleaning can also kill the good bacteria (Lactobacillus).

    Do not try to insert a soap in your vagina as it can affect your vaginal pH, potentially leading to allergies and an unpleasant or fishy vaginal odor and infections.

    Use internal menstrual products, if you’re comfortable with it

    During periods, some women may notice a stronger vaginal smell. Hormonal changes can be one of the reasons to cause a smell similar to ammonia or iron. Some internal menstrual products can trap the smell, compounding the effects.

    As the moisture of maxi pads and reusable cloth pads can cause a foul smell, it can also develop an infection. Therefore, one may use internal menstrual products like menstrual cups to prevent foul vaginal odor. However, it is important to remember to regularly clean and sanitize the cups between uses and before storage.

    Vaginal care after sex to ease fishy vaginal odor

    Some people notice fishy vaginal odor immediately after sexual intercourse. This can be a sign of bacterial vaginosis. Not everyone will notice the foul odor. 

    Sometimes vaginal fluid interacts with semen, causing the vaginal odor. Also, some lubricants can affect vaginal pH, affecting the smell of vagina.

    Use these tips after vaginal intercourse to reduce vaginal odor:

    • Avoid scented or flavored lubricants
    • Use a condom to prevent contact between vaginal fluids and semen
    • Wash your vulva with water

    Consume probiotics to help improve fishy vaginal odor

    Probiotics are healthy bacteria beneficial for the overall body, including vaginal health. Consuming probiotics can help prevent some vaginal infections. Also, it can reduce the risk of abnormal vaginal odor as it restores the vagina’s normal pH.

    Use probiotics like sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, kimchi, tempeh, kefir, and yogurt to enhance your vaginal health along with overall health. Also, these probiotics keep your urinary tract healthy and infection-free.

    Avoid wearing tight clothes as this can aggravate fishy vaginal odor

    Tight-fitting clothes can trap sweat and other substances around the vagina, including:

    • Semen from a previous sexual encounter
    • Sweat
    • Dead skin

    This causes infections and foul odor. Therefore, ensure your jeans or any bottom wear and even underwear isn’t too tight.

    Now when it comes to fishy vaginal odor, you know what can be the reasons behind it. Ensure you visit your OB-GYN and get proper treatment. 

    Also, try to adopt these home remedies to keep the vagina fresh and smelling better.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Mary Rani Cadiz, MD

    Obstetrics and Gynecology

    Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Jun 24, 2022

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