Let’s be honest: we’ve all had our share of interesting scents ‘down there’.
But what happens when your discharge smells like vinegar?
Is it normal?
Is it a sign of something more serious?
As it turns out, a vinegary or acidic vaginal smell is a pretty common concern, and there are a bunch of reasons why it might be happening.
So let’s find out the causes of vinegar-smelling discharge — and share some expert-backed tips for getting rid of it.
In this article: 📝
- What causes vinegar-smelling discharge?
- Why does my discharge smell like apple cider vinegar?
- Why does my period smell like vinegar?
- Why do I have vinegar-smelling urine?
- What does unhealthy discharge smell like?
- How to get rid of vinegar-smelling discharge
What causes vinegar-smelling discharge?
The short answer? Bacteria.
A light vinegar smell in your discharge can be a sign that your vaginal bacteria are doing their job, so if it’s a subtle pickle scent, chances are, it’s all good!
But if you’re smelling a strong scent of vinegar in your discharge, there could be an overgrowth of bacteria.
There are a few things that can tip the balance of vaginal bacteria, like:
- Wearing tight or non-breathable clothing
- Using scented products in the vaginal area
- Douching (your vagina has it’s own cleaning routine)
- Sexual activity and/or not using condoms
And, in extreme cases, bad vaginal odors can also be symptoms of:
It’s worth noting that not all instances of vinegar-smelling discharge are a cause for concern.
In fact, many women experience this scent at some point in their lives, particularly during pregnancy.
If that’s the case, it could be something else, like:
Bacterial vaginosis (also known as BV) is a common condition when you have an overgrowth of bacteria in your vagina.
BV can bring along some not-so-pleasant stuff, like a weird-smelling discharge — sometimes vinegary.
If you think the culprit to your vinegar-smelling discharge is BV, it’s best to get in touch with your doctor.
Yeast infections could be another reason for your discharge smelling like vinegar.
Candida albicans, (fancy fungus name for something so annoying) is the main culprit behind most yeast infections — we all have candida in our nether-regions, but it’s the overgrowth that can cause yeast infections.
A few things can throw candida into imbalance, like antibiotics, diabetes, illness, immune disorders, and changes to your vaginal pH or hormone balance (thanks to birth control, menopause, breastfeeding, pregnancy, and douching, to name a few).
Yeast infections are very common — up to 75% of women have had a vaginal yeast infection at some point in their life — and, while they can be passed through sexual contact, they’re not actually considered sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), because sex isn’t the only way you can get a yeast infection.
As for treating yeast infections, there are some decent antifungal meds you can usually get over the counter, but it’s best to have a chat with your doctor first.
Trichomoniasis (aka trich) is an STD caused by a parasite — it’s also reasonably common, with around 2.5 million people who have trich in the US, according to a 2018 study.
It can cause a variety of symptoms for women, including a greenish-yellow discharge that may have a strong, not-very-pleasant odor that’s usually fishy, but could be vinegary for some people.
Other symptoms of trichomoniasis can include itching, burning, or redness of the vaginal area, and pain during sex or urination.
Weirdly, when it comes to trichomoniasis, men are more likely than women to have no symptoms (the patriarchy hard at work again).
But, according to the CDC, only around 30% of people with trich even get symptoms — another reason to get yourself regularly tested if you’re sexually active.
The good news is that trich is treatable, but you do need to speak with your doctor.
If you don’t clean your vagina regularly, bacteria and other microorganisms can get overgrown, which could make your discharge smell like vinegar, or even cause other symptoms, like discomfort.
But when we say “clean your vagina”, we’re not talking about getting a loofa up there or even douching (please don’t vaginally douche unless your doctor says so).
Simply rinse your vulva (not your vaginal canal) with warm water — you can use a specially-formulated, pH-balanced feminine wash, too, if you like — using your hands (no sponges or scrubbers, please), and pat dry with a towel.
A few other things you can do to help maintain your vaginal pH balance:
- Don’t put water directly into your vagina — it’s another way bacteria can get in.
- Wipe from front to back, so you don’t get any bacteria from your anus into your vagina.
- Wear breathable underwear (like cotton or bamboo) that isn’t too tight — non-breathable underwear can hold excess moisture, which is bacteria’s favorite place to thrive.
- Stay hydrated! Peeing regularly is a great way to ‘flush’ out excess or nasty bacteria before they have a chance to stick around.
- If you can, pee after sex — sex is one of the easiest ways bacteria can be introduced to your vagina.
- Don’t leave tampons in for too long — 8 hours is the absolute maximum. Leaving a tampon in can read to some very horrible bacteria to find their way into your body, which can lead to toxic shock syndrome (TSS), which is deadly, but, thankfully, rare.
It’s usually nothing to worry about, but if you’re feeling discomfort or the smell is bothering you, have a chat with your doctor — they might suggest probiotics or hormone treatments to help manage the symptoms.
My discharge smells like vinegar, am I pregnant?
While changes to your discharge could be linked to pregnancy, it’s not the only potential cause.
If you think you might be pregnant, your best way to get an accurate answer is to take a pregnancy test the day after your next period is due.
And if you are pregnant (congrats!), usually, a slight vinegar smell in your discharge is nothing to worry about — but if it’s a strong smell or you have any discomfort or unusual-colored discharge, speak with your doctor.
Diet and exercise
It seems like almost anything can affect your vaginal discharge.
According to recent (but admittedly small) studies, your diet and exercise regime could cause “fluctuations” in your vaginal microbiome.
One study from 2011 suggested that there could be a link between diet and carbohydrate quality and the risk of bacteria vaginosis (BV).
And some foods with a “strong odor” could also make your vagina smell off — we all know about asparagus and stinky pee, but even foods like garlic and fish could bring the funk.
Why do I have white discharge that smells like vinegar?
Usually, slightly acidic, tangy, or vinegar-smelling discharge that’s white or clear is perfectly normal.
But if your white discharge smells like vinegar in a big way, it could be a sign of a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis.
If you think it could be a yeast infection or BV, speak with your doctor, especially if you have any other symptoms, like itchiness, burning, swelling, or burning.
Why do I have brown discharge that smells like vinegar?
The vinegar smell could be totally normal, if it’s subtle — but if it’s a stronger smell, the brown discharge lasts for longer than a week, or you have any discomfort, see your doctor, since it could be an infection.
If it’s brown discharge that smells like vinegar (or smells like anything else), make sure you haven’t left a tampon or menstrual product in your vaginal canal.
Why do I have yellow discharge that smells like vinegar?
A slight shade of cream and a lightly vinegary smell in your discharge could be signs that your vaginal health is totally normal.
But if it’s a darker shade of yellow, you have any discomfort or swelling, or the smell is particularly pungent, chances are, it’s a bacterial infection or an STD.
If you have any of those symptoms, take a trip to see your doctor asap — more often than not, treatment is available.
Why does my ovulation discharge smell like vinegar?
A slightly sour or vinegar smell to your discharge during ovulation is perfectly normal.
Some of our Peanut Community have noticed their discharge smells lightly fermented, sour, or acidic during ovulation.
Women of reproductive age have a vaginal pH value that’s slightly more acidic (between 4.0 and 4.5) than those of women who have been through menopause or girls who haven’t had their first period (usually higher than 4.5)
This is because, according to this 2021 study “a lower pH value (more acidic) … can protect vaginal mucosa from pathogenic organisms”, like bacteria, viruses, parasites, chemicals, and toxins.
So during ovulation, your vagina is doing its best to keep the bad stuff out when you’re at your most fertile — pretty clever stuff.
But if you notice any strong smells, changes in color, or discomfort (aside from ovulation cramps), have a chat with your healthcare provider, since it could be an infection.
Why does my discharge smell like apple cider vinegar?
Apple cider vinegar can smell tangy, sour, or like fermented foods — much the same smell as vinegar.
So if you notice your discharge smelling like apple cider vinegar, if it’s mild, it’s probably totally normal.
But if it’s a strong smell, or you notice any other symptoms, like discomfort or changes to the look of your discharge, there are a few potential culprits:
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Yeast infection
- Poor feminine hygiene
- Changes to hormone levels
- Changes to vaginal pH levels
And as always, if you’re at all concerned about your vaginal health (or your health in general!), speak with your doctor — there’s nothing to be embarrassed about, they’ve heard it all before, it’s their job!
Why does my period smell like vinegar?
Usually, menstrual blood smells a little metallic, but it can also mix with the natural bacteria and odors in your vagina.
So if your discharge smells like vinegar, you might think your period smells like vinegar.
It might just be a slight vinegar smell to your period (which is usually pretty normal), but if it’s particularly strong, or if you’re experiencing other symptoms, like itching or burning, it’s a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider.
And make sure you’re regularly changing your period products — especially tampons and menstrual cups, which should only be used for up to 8 hours at a time.
Why do I have vinegar-smelling urine?
How about vinegar-smelling pee?
Well, it might be that the vinegar smell from your discharge is mixing with your urine, so if it’s a strong smell, you notice any changes to the look of your discharge, or you have any discomfort, reach out to your doc.
But if your discharge is hunky-dory and your pee is still kicking up a stink, it’s more likely to be either:
- Dehydration: If your pee is dark-colored, it’s probably dehydration. When was the last time you had some water?
- UTI (urinary tract infection): If you have any pain or burning while peeing, you’re peeing more often (or you feel like you need to pee but don’t get any relief), or your urine is cloudy or bloody, it could be a UTI.
If you think it’s a UTI, see your healthcare provider — they can help.
What does unhealthy discharge smell like?
Healthy discharge — that is, discharge from a vagina with a normal pH balance with no infections — usually doesn’t have a strong smell.
Some of our Peanut Community have said their healthy discharge smells slightly sour, musty, or tangy.
But unhealthy discharge tends to have a stronger scent, such as:
- Sweet, like molasses or gingerbread — this can mean that your vaginal pH levels are becoming more alkaline, which could be an early sign of an infection or something else.
- Ammonia, like bleach — you could be dehydrated or have a UTI.
- Vinegar — if it’s light, it’s probably normal, but if it’s strong, it could be an infection or imbalance in your vaginal pH.
- Sweat — it’s likely to be just sweat, so rinsing your vulva should do the trick.
- Metallic — your period could be due, but if it’s not, talk to your healthcare provider.
- Onions — this could be from certain foods, an infection, or STD, so check in with your doctor.
- Fishy — it could be an infection, like BV or trich. Chat with your doc.
- Rotten meat — make sure you don’t have a tampon or menstrual cup left in for more than 8 hours. If that’s not the case, speak with your doctor asap.
- Poop — speak with your healthcare provider asap.
If you’re at all concerned about your discharge smell, you’ve noticed a color or texture change, or you have any itching, burning, or redness, always talk to your doctor.
Does infection smell like vinegar?
But usually, with an infection, you’ll often get other symptoms, like itchiness, a burning sensation, redness, or swelling.
If you think you have an infection, speak with your doctor, they can help.
Does bacteria smell like vinegar?
While bacteria don’t really smell like vinegar by themselves, they can cause vinegary smells as bacterial infections.
But different bacteria can cause different smells — sweet, fishy, eggy… the list goes on.
So if you notice a strong vinegar smell in your discharge (or any other strong smell), it could be caused by bacteria, so it’s worth talking with your doctor to get back to your normal aroma.
Does fungus smell like vinegar?
Yes, some types of fungus can produce a sour or vinegar-like odor when they overgrow, even in your vagina.
One type of fungus that can make your discharge smell like vinegar is candida albicans, which can cause yeast infections.
If you think you have a yeast infection, there are over-the-counter treatments available, or you can have a talk with your doctor.
How to get rid of vinegar-smelling discharge
Want to get rid of the pickle-smell?
Yeah, we don’t blame you.
Here are a few things you can do to ditch the stink:
- Practice good hygiene: Rinsing your vulva (not your vaginal canal) with warm water, using your hands is one of the easiest ways to start to treat vinegar-smelling discharge. While it might not always completely get rid of it (if it’s an infection, for example), it’s a good start.
- Wear breathable clothing: Tight, non-breathable clothing can trap moisture and lead to unpleasant odors. So opting for clothes that allow air to circulate around your vagina, like cotton underwear and loose-fitting pants, could help get things back to normal.
- Don’t douche! Douching can disrupt your pH balance (and the balance of bacteria) in your vagina, so it could actually be the cause of your vinegar-smelling discharge
- Visit your healthcare provider: If you have persistent vinegar-smelling discharge and you don’t know why, see your healthcare provider. They can help determine the cause and recommend the best treatment.
Can I use white vinegar for vaginal odor?
No, don’t put white vinegar (or any kind of vinegar) in or around your vagina or vulva.
Vinegar is acidic and can disrupt the natural pH balance of the vagina, which could cause more bacteria to thrive, leading to an infection.
While white vinegar has been studied as an “effective mycobactericidal disinfectant”, and it has been touted as a home remedy of BV, it might get rid of your vaginal odor for now, but it might cause a worse infection to take its place.
The best way to treat vaginal odor is to talk to a healthcare professional.
Does apple cider vinegar help pH balance in the vagina?
No, applying apple cider vinegar to your vagina or vulva won’t balance your pH levels.
Some home remedy treatments include using apple cider vinegar for yeast infections by applying it directly to the vulva, douching with it, soaking in a bath with it, and soaking a tampon in it then inserting the tampon — these usually recommend diluting the apple cider vinegar in water, but they are not scientifically backed as treatments for BV or yeast infections.
Even while diluted, apple cider vinegar is an acid, so it can skew your vaginal pH balance to be too acidic, potentially killing off the good bacteria, too.
This 2019 study looking at the various claims of apple cider vinegar agrees that it could be effective in killing bacteria, fungi, and viruses, but it also “showed severe toxicity effects even at concentrations low as 0.7%” and that more research is needed.
We don’t know about you, but we’re not keen on having anything described as having “severe toxicity effects” anywhere near our nether regions.
So for now, until there’s more research, it’s best to stick to putting apple cider vinegar on your salad, not your body.
Ultimately, if you’re experiencing vinegar-smelling discharge, you’re certainly not alone — it’s a surprisingly common concern, with lots of different causes.
In general, keeping your discharge smelling fresh is all about practicing good hygiene, wearing breathable clothing, staying hydrated, and avoiding douching.
And if you’re experiencing persistent or severe symptoms, it’s always best to see your healthcare provider