Are Vaginal Douches Safe or Not?

Douches can upset the natural balance in your vagina

Vaginal douching is the process of rinsing the vagina by forcing water or another solution into the vaginal cavity. The solution can include water and vinegar or water and baking soda.

Vaginal douches are available over the counter from several manufacturers. Some products are infused with a fragrance. They are also available by prescription to treat certain conditions or prepare for procedures.

Some women have the best of intentions (and the highest hopes) for using a vaginal douche. This article explains why their motivations are misguided and why douching can actually be unhealthy. It also points out which aftereffects of douching warrant a call to the doctor.

Woman's red underwear hanging from line
ballyscanlon / Getty Images

Why Do Some Women Use Vaginal Douches?

Women use douches for a variety of reasons that are often grounded in myths or misinformation:

  • To rinse away any remaining menstrual blood at the end of a period. This isn't necessary; the blood will be discharged on its own.
  • To avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) following sexual intercourse. However, douching is neither a contraceptive nor a preventive measure against STDs. It can, in fact, increase the risk of developing an infection.
  • To reduce vaginal odors. Women with an unusual vaginal odor should see their healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis, as this may be a sign of infection. Using a douche may only complicate the condition.
  • To feel "cleaner." This is a matter of opinion, but the national Office on Women's Health says the "body naturally flushes out and cleans your vagina."
  • To follow a healthcare provider-prescribed treatment for chronic yeast infections or chronic bacterial infections. This is the only viable, recommended use.

Douching Is Unhealthy

Besides being ineffective for most purposes, douching can lead to certain health problems. Regular vaginal douching changes the delicate chemical balance of the vagina and can make a woman more susceptible to infection.

Douching can reduce the beneficial bacteria in the vagina and lead to overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Researchers have found that women who douche regularly experience more vaginal irritations and infections, such as bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections.

Douching can also introduce new bacteria into the vagina, which can spread up through the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes. Regular users of vaginal douches face a significantly higher risk of developing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a chronic condition that can lead to infertility or even death if left untreated.

Douching and Pregnancy

Douching can create myriad problems for women who wish to get pregnant or already are:

  • It can make it harder to get pregnant. In one study, women who douched at least once a month had a harder time getting pregnant than those women who did not douche.
  • It increases the risk of an ectopic pregnancy. This is when a fertilized egg attaches somewhere other than the uterus, usually inside a fallopian tube. Untreated, this type of pregnancy can be life-threatening.
  • It raises the risk of giving birth prematurely. In turn, this can cause health problems for both the mother and her baby.

For all these reasons, douching is no longer recommended to routinely clean the vagina. The only safe and healthy way to clean the vagina is to let the vagina clean itself

How Does the Vagina Clean Itself?

The vagina cleans itself naturally with its own mucus secretions. The mucus flushes away vaginal discharge, blood, and semen. It sounds simple because it is.

When bathing or showering, use warm water and gentle unscented soap to cleanse the outer areas of the vagina. Feminine hygiene products such as soaps, powders, and sprays are not necessary and may lead to irritation of sensitive tissues.

When to See Your Healthcare Provider

Rather than douching, see your healthcare provider if you have any of these symptoms:

  • A foul odor from your vagina
  • Painful urination
  • Vaginal burning
  • Vaginal discharge that is different from your normal discharge, such as thick and white, cottage cheese-like, or yellowish-green
  • Vaginal itching
  • Vaginal pain

These symptoms can signal a number of different conditions, from yeast infections to bacterial infections, STDs, and urinary tract infections, most of which are treatable with prescription medication.

If you suspect you have a vaginal infection, contact your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment.

Summary

Rinsing the vaginal cavity may give the illusion of cleanliness, but it's much more likely ot be harmful than helpful. The naturally acidic environment of the vagina protects it from infection.

Douching can upset the balance by allowing harmful bacteria to flourish. This bacteria can lead to an infection known as bacterial vaginosis and/or a yeast infection. For all reasons, it's best to allow the vagina to clean itself; it doesn't need help.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What can I use to get rid of sudden vaginal odor?

    Sometimes an unusual odor can be traced to a dietary change. If you’ve been eating something different or started a new supplement, stop consuming it for a few days and see if there’s a change. A persistent odor with discharge may be a sign of infection. In this case, see your healthcare provider right away.

  • Why is douching bad for you?

    Douching changes the chemical balance in your vagina, which leaves you susceptible to various types of infection. It can also damage your fallopian tubes and raise the risk of a future ectopic pregnancy.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office on Women's Health. Douching.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Vaginitis.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pelvic inflammatory disease. Basic fact sheet.

  4. Baird DD, Weinberg CR, Voigt LF, Daling JR. Vaginal douching and reduced fertilityAmerican Journal of Public Health. 1996;86(6):844–850. doi:10.2105/ajph.86.6.844

  5. MedlinePlus. Vaginal diseases.

  6. Cleveland Clinic. Feminine odor problems? What every woman needs to know.