A Color Guide to Vaginal Discharge

Vaginal discharge may be many colors and consistencies and may change throughout the month. The color of discharge may be red, brown, white, clear, yellow, green, or pink.

Most vaginal discharge is normal, but sometimes certain colors may also be an indication of a problem that needs treatment.

Learn more about the different colors of vaginal discharge, what causes them, and when you need to see a healthcare professional.

The word “woman” is used in this article to refer to people who identify as women and have typical reproductive organs of a cisgender female. We recognize that some people who identify as women do not have the same anatomy as that depicted in this article.

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What Is Vaginal Discharge?

Vaginal discharge is a fluid that comes from the vagina. Discharge helps keep the vagina clean by removing dead cells and bacteria from the vagina. Discharge may be:

  • Thick or thin
  • Pasty, elastic, or watery
  • Clear or cloudy
  • Bloody
  • White, yellow, green, pink, brown
  • Odorless or have a bad odor

Discharge During and Around Menstruation

Discharge may vary across the menstrual cycle. During ovulation, the discharge may be slippery or thin. Shortly before a period, the discharge may become thicker and white. In the days just before and after a period, discharge may be colored red or brown.

Discharge changing color may also be an indication of a problem like an infection.

Red or Brown Discharge

Red or brown discharge can be due to menstrual activity, menopause, infections, or even cervical cancer.

Irregular Menstrual Cycle/Spotting

Red or brown discharge can appear at various times in the menstrual cycle. Some women may experience discharge or spotting in the days before and after their periods start and finish.

Spotting may also occur at other times during the menstrual cycle. Spotting may range from pink to red to brown in color and may occur outside times bleeding is usually expected.

This spotting is often lighter than a period and may not require the use of sanitary protection.

Menopause

When women approach menopause in their mid-40s, they undergo changes to their menstrual cycle as well as their hormone levels.

Women may find their periods are lighter or heavier, shorter or longer. Some women may also experience spotting and discharge between periods. Discharge may be red or brown. This can be normal.

Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer begins in the cervix. The large majority of cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV).

Typically, early-stage cervical cancer has no symptoms. But discharge may be a sign of cervical cancer. This discharge may be:

  • Brown or pink
  • Watery
  • Pale
  • Have blood
  • Smelly

White Discharge

White discharge can be a sign of normal vaginal health and lubrication, but it may also indicate the presence of a yeast infection.

Normal Lubrication

The glands found in the cervix make clear mucus. This is normal for women who are of childbearing age. This mucus may turn white when exposed to the air upon exiting the body.

The amount of this discharge may increase during ovulation, pregnancy, or during a period of sexual arousal.

Yeast Infection

Yeast infections happen to more than 1 million women in the United States every year. They are caused by the presence of a form of yeast called candida.

Symptoms of a yeast infection include:

  • Itchy vagina (internal genital anatomy) or vulva (external genital anatomy)
  • Redness and swelling in the vulva and vagina
  • Burning feeling when urinating
  • Cuts or cracks in the vulva

These symptoms may also be accompanied by a discharge that is white, thick, and usually has a consistency like cottage cheese.

Yellow and Green Discharge

Yellow and green discharge is abnormal and may be indicative of an infection.

Trichomoniasis

Also called "trick," trichomoniasis is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is the most common STI in the United States that is curable. Roughly 3.7 million people have trichomoniasis in the United States.

Up to 70% of people infected with trichomoniasis don't have symptoms, which makes it easy for the infection to spread. If symptoms do occur, they often happen five to 28 days following exposure to the infection.

Symptoms may include the presence of a vaginal discharge that is:

  • Thin
  • Foamy
  • Greenish
  • Yellow
  • Foul-smelling

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea, also called "the clap," is a sexually transmitted infection. It may be symptom-free or may cause discharge that is yellow and cloudy.

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is the most common STI. It also may be symptom-free or cause a discharge from the vagina that is yellow, white, green, and/or foul-smelling.

Pink Discharge

Discharge that is pink may be due to sexual activity or implantation bleeding in early pregnancy.

Sex

Some women may experience light spotting following sex. Spotting can range in color from pink to red to brown. Spotting after sex may be due to irritation of the vagina not being lubricated enough during sex. However, it can be due to abnormal changes or infections, so it is worth discussing with your healthcare providers.

Implantation Bleeding

Implantation bleeding occurs in the period following fertilization of sperm in an egg. In the week or two after a fertilized egg implants into the lining of the uterus, some women may experience spotting or light bleeding.

This spotting can be pinkish to rusty brown in color and is often very light.

Gray Discharge

Gray discharge is abnormal and can be indicative of an infection.

Bacterial Vaginosis

Also known as BV or Gardnerella vaginalis, bacterial vaginosis can be spread through sexual contact. The infection may be accompanied by a discharge that is white, gray, and/or has a fishy odor. BV may also be accompanied by itching or a burning sensation in the vagina.

Clear Discharge

Clear discharge is normal and can be experienced at various times throughout the menstrual cycle.

Ovulation

During ovulation, the body produces a discharge that may be clear and stretchy. This is an indication of fertility and is normal. Some women may choose to wear a panty liner during this stage of the cycle.

Sexual Arousal

The body may produce a clear discharge during periods of sexual arousal. This discharge can act as lubrication during intercourse and other sexual activity. This is normal.

Pregnancy

It is normal to have discharge during pregnancy, and some women may find they have more discharge than usual.

In pregnancy, healthy discharge is clear to white and shouldn't smell bad. In the final week of pregnancy, it may also contain mucus or blood.

When to See a Doctor

Any time you are concerned about your health or are worried about your discharge, you should speak with your doctor.

You should contact your doctor if you experience changes in your discharge that may be due to an infection. Symptoms include:

  • Changes to color, odor, or consistency
  • Itchiness
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Blister or sores on the vulva or vagina
  • Burning with urination

When to Seek Immediate Care

You should immediately call your doctor if you have vaginal discharge accompanied by:

  • Pain in the pelvis
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Fever

You should also contact your doctor if you have discharge and think you have been exposed to an STI.

Summary

Vaginal discharge helps keep the vagina clean by naturally removing dead cells and bacteria.

White or clear discharge is generally considered normal, unless accompanied by a foul-smelling or fishy odor and unusual cottage cheese–like texture. Yellow and green discharge usually indicates an infection.

Red and brown discharge varies; it may be due to your menstrual cycle or menopause, but it can also indicate infections or other conditions. Similarly, pink discharge may be due to menstruation, but it can also be an early sign of pregnancy.

If you are concerned about your discharge, or have questions about your health, you should speak with your doctor.

A Word From Verywell

Everyone with a vagina experiences discharge, and it can be safe and normal to have discharge every day. What's "normal" in terms of amount and color varies from person to person; some people may have a lot of discharge, and some may have a little. If your discharge appears abnormal to you, it doesn't hurt to talk to a doctor. They can help you become more familiar with your "normal."

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the cause of vaginal discharge?

    Vaginal discharge can be a normal sign of vaginal health. It may also be indicative of infection, menopause, or cancer.

  • What does it mean when you start to have discharge?

    From puberty, the body begins making discharge. This is normal, a sign of healthy development, and means menstruation is on the way soon.

  • Is it OK to have discharge every day?

    Clear to white discharge is normal and healthy, and can happen every day. Some people may find the amount of discharge they have can vary from day to day depending on the time in their cycle.

  • How can I stop excessive discharge?

    There is no reason to try and stop or prevent normal healthy discharge. This is an important part of vaginal health and keeps the vagina clean.

    You can prevent abnormal vaginal discharge by:

    • Wearing cotton underpants during the day
    • Not wearing underwear at night
    • Wiping from front to back after using the toilet
    • Bathing daily
    • Not douching
    • Not using feminine hygiene spray or deodorized toilet paper, pads, tampons, or bubble bath
  • What does chlamydia look like?

    Chlamydia is a common STI. It may cause itching, swelling, redness, and a vaginal discharge that is white, green, yellow, and/or foul-smelling.

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17 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.
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