Does a “fishy” smell always mean an infection

Does a “fishy” smell always mean an infection?  

Not all vaginal odours are caused by an infection.  Every female has a natural vaginal scent that originates from the vagina. It’s normal for your vagina to have a slight odour. 1,2 Vaginal odour may vary throughout your menstrual cycle and may be especially noticeable right after having sex. Though it may be tempting to douche or use a vaginal deodorant to decrease vaginal odour, these products may actually increase irritation and other vaginal symptoms. 1

Poor hygiene or tight-fitting clothing or fabric that doesn’t breathe can cause sweat and bacteria to get trapped which can cause and result in an unpleasant odour.2

A strong vaginal odour, “fishy” smell, might be abnormal and could indicate a problem. If your vagina or the area around it is itchy, red or sore, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider. 1,3

Minimise your vagina odour.3

  • When showering or bathing, wash your vulva with warm water and mild or unscented soap. Make sure the water isn’t too hot and remember to rinse off all the soap
  • Wash all new underwear before you wear it and then use a small amount of mild unscented detergent for routine washing
  • Rinse laundry well or use the extra rinse cycle on your washing machine to remove all of the detergent
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing

The vagina cleanses itself naturally. The cells in the vagina keep it at a normal pH (pH level of 4.5) so you should NEVER douche or use any sprays in your vagina, unless your healthcare provider prescribes it.3

DISCLAIMER: This editorial has been commissioned and brought to you by iNova Pharmaceuticals. Content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

Name and business address of the holder of the certificate of registration: iNova Pharmaceuticals (Pty) Ltd., Co. Reg. No. 1952/001640/07, 15e Riley Road, Bedfordview. Tel. No. 011 087 0000. For further information, speak to your healthcare professional. Further information is available on request from iNova Pharmaceuticals. IN2970/18


  1. Mayo Clinic. Vaginal odor. Symptoms. [online] 23 March 2018 [Cited] 5 November 2018. Available from URL:
  2. Center for Young Women’s Health. What causes it to smell “down there” (my vagina)? [online] 17 April 2015 [Cited] 5 November 2018. Available from URL:
  3. Center for Young Women’s Health. Vulvar and Vaginal Care and Cleaning. [online] 19 April 2017 [Cited] 5 November 2018. Available from URL: