Douching? Don't! The Vagina Does a Good Job of Cleaning Itself

What Is Douching?

Douching is the act of cleaning the vagina. It is not external cleaning of the vulva. Douching involves internal cleansing of the vagina itself. People from different cultures use different techniques and products to douche. Some use plain water, others water and vinegar. Still, others employ various antiseptics or other solutions. Douching may involve simply rinsing with the cleaning liquid. It could also include forcing liquid at high pressure into the vagina using a bag or other device.

Depending on what techniques and products are used, the potential risks of douching will vary. Plain water and simply rinsing are the safest bet. Still, even this mild type of douching is not recommended by most physicians. In contrast, douching with any technique that is likely to force liquid through the cervix and up into the uterus is known to be particularly risky.

Douching has been associated with an increased risk of several reproductive health conditions, including:

  • Bacterial vaginosis
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Endometriosis
  • Preterm birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Ectopic pregnancy 
Vinegar, Japan
Takao Onozato / Aflo / Getty Images

Why Shouldn't I Douche? Is Douching Bad?

People who douche often think that douching is good for them. However, the evidence suggests otherwise. Research suggests that douching is bad for your health because it disturbs the normal chemical and microbial balance of the vagina. This can potentially lead to BV or other bacterial infections. Douching also may force pathogens up through the cervix causing uterine infections.

Douches don't only disrupt the vaginal flora. The chemicals used in many over-the-counter and homemade douches may irritate or inflame the skin. This could make an existing infection worse. But, unfortunately, it could also make a person more susceptible to a new infection.

Many people douche because of a strong or unusual vaginal odor or discharge. This can be particularly dangerous if those symptoms result from an infection such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, or trichomoniasis. When someone has such an infection, douching can force the organisms into the uterus, where they are more likely to cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is an infection linked to infertility.

In fact, douching is a major cause of secondary infertility. Secondary infertility occurs when a couple who have successfully become pregnant in the past are no longer able to conceive a child. Douching also increases the risk of ectopic pregnancy. As such, it's an activity that it's probably better to avoid.

But My Vagina Smells Funny!

If your vagina has developed a strong or unpleasant odor, the answer isn't douching. Instead, you should talk to a healthcare professional. A change in vaginal odor can be a sign of certain STIs or other vaginal health problems. Douching not only isn't a way to treat STIs, but it can also actually make them worse. In contrast, a doctor can help you figure out how to handle vaginal odor in a healthy way. That could involve anything from STI treatment to changing the kind of underwear you wear.

If your vaginal odor changes, it's important to find out why. A change in odor doesn't necessarily mean you have an STI. However, you'll probably want to treat it if you do. Doing so will address the problem, if there is one, at the source. That's a better choice than just masking the change with perfumes or temporary fixes. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is douching bad?

    Douching can disturb vaginal flora, the bacteria that normally live in the vagina, and help keep it healthy. Unfortunately, this can lead to conditions such as bacterial vaginosis (BV), which can cause itchiness, vaginal discharge, and odor.

  • What should I do instead of douching?

    If there isn't a particular issue you're trying to solve by douching, do nothing! The vagina doesn't need cleaning on the inside.

    People sometimes douche to treat vaginal odor. Instead of douching, try to discover the reason for the odor. It could be a sign of a condition that shouldn't be ignored, so speak to a healthcare professional who can help you find treatment.

2 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. Office on Women's Health. Douching.

  2. Brotman RM. Vaginal microbiome and sexually transmitted infections: an epidemiologic perspective. J Clin Invest. 2011;121(12):4610-4617. doi:10.1172/JCI57172

Additional Reading

By Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Elizabeth Boskey, PhD, MPH, CHES, is a social worker, adjunct lecturer, and expert writer in the field of sexually transmitted diseases.