Staying Clean During Your Period

Has your period left you feeling like a bit of a hot mess? This time, we don’t mean emotionally. We mean the stained underwear and blood smear on your thighs kind of a mess. The messiness that has many asking questions like, “I feel so dirty when I have my period. What can I do to help myself stay clean?”

The legs of a woman in a bathtub
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Menstruation Is Messy But Not Dirty

There is a very subtle but important distinction here:

  • Does your period make a mess? Yes
  • Are you dirty during your period? No.

It may make a big mess but there is nothing inherently “dirty” about your menstruation. Remember why you bleed every month. You bleed because you didn’t get pregnant. Your normal menstrual cycle is all about your fertility.

Many cultures and religions have attached negative attitudes to menstruation giving the impression that a person who is menstruating is dirty. Medically this is just not true.

Your menstrual flow is made up of blood and the lining of your uterus. These parts of your body are not dirty. Your menstrual flow passes from your uterus and out through your vagina.

Your Vagina Is Self-Cleaning

Some women feel that they need to clean out the menstrual blood from their vaginas. They do this by using a douche. This is where the concept of feeling “dirty” can actually hurt you.

Douching comes from the French word meaning “to wash” or to “shower.” When you douche you are spraying water or another solution into your vagina to rinse it out and make it “clean.” The problem is, your vagina is not dirty.

The way your vagina stays healthy is by maintaining a certain environmental balance or pH. Think of it like finding the optimal temperature in your shower, not too hot not too cold.

For the vagina, it needs to be more acidic than basic. Your vagina has a population of normal bacteria that along with hormones help to maintain a normal pH balanced healthy vagina. Your body knows how to make adjustments to keep this balance during and after your menstruation.

When you douche to clean out your vagina you are actually disrupting this delicate balance by changing the pH. When the pH changes it causes changes in the types of bacteria in the vagina. When this happens you can develop vaginal infections like yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis

Douching can also increase your risk of more serious infections like a pelvic inflammatory disease which can affect your fertility. Sure, you might feel fresh and have a perfumed scent after douching with a feminine wash but that won't last for very long and likely will cause you significant problems with your vagina.

When it comes to the mess of your period, leave your vagina alone. It can and will take care of itself.

Your Vulva Is Not Self-Cleaning

The blood smeared on your vulva (the outside of your vagina) and on your inner thighs is a different story. You may be tempted to use a special feminine hygiene product, such as a perfumed wash or pre-packed wipe promising to leave you fresh and clean.

You could use these on your thighs but be careful using perfumed products on your vulva. The fresh and clean feeling will be temporary and you run the risk of irritating the sensitive tissue of your vulva. These scented products could cause a rash or inflammation called vulvitis that can cause itching or burning and even pain with sex.

The best choice for cleaning your vulva is plain old water. If you really feel like you need to add something to the water try a very gentle unscented soap.

Collateral Damage

What about your underwear, clothes, and bedsheets? To remove menstrual blood stains, follow the same advice for removing regular bloodstains from your clothing. Rinse the items under cold running water to remove most of the stain. Then treat with a little soap.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Should I douche after my period?

    No. The vagina cleans itself out and maintains a healthy balance of microbes. Using a douche can actually result in removing healthy flora and change the pH of your vagina, which can make you more prone to an infection. There’s also a risk of having an allergic reaction or irritation from the douche ingredients.

  • Why is my period blood brown?

    Blood that is very dark red or brown usually comes later in your period because it is older blood that has slowly been discharged from the uterus. This blood has turned brown as a result of oxidation. 

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. Cleveland Clinic. Feminine Odor Problems? What Every Woman Needs to Know.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. What does the color of your period mean?

By Andrea Chisholm, MD
Andrea Chisolm, MD, is a board-certified OB/GYN who has taught at both Tufts University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School.