Wet Mounts and Vaginal Smears in Women's Health

In a person with a vagina's health exam, a wet mount is a slide made from a vaginal swab. It is also known as a vaginal smear. The purpose of a wet mount is to determine the cause of vaginitis. Wet mounts may also be a standard part of an annual gynecology exam.

Doctor holding cervical smear
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To prepare a wet mount, your healthcare provider will swab your vagina—usually during a pelvic exam—and roll the swab onto a slide. Some healthcare providers may also allow you to do the swab yourself. Then your healthcare provider can look at the wet mount under their office microscope to diagnose visible conditions such as bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, and trichomoniasis.

Wet mounts are not used to diagnose most common STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. However, these vaginal smears can give your healthcare provider important insights about your reproductive health.

Clarifying the Difference Between Wet Mounts and Pap Smears

Wet mounts and Pap smears may both start with a swab, but they're very different types of tests. Wet mounts are read in the office setting by a healthcare provider. They are used to detect three to four specific types of infections, such as those mentioned above. Reading wet mounts requires training, but it is still relatively easy to perform.

Pap smears, on the other hand, aren't used to detect STIs. Instead, they're used to detect pre-cancerous cervical changes that are associated with HPV. They are a test for cancer and pre-cancerous conditions. In addition, although the cervical swabs are taken in your healthcare provider's office, they are read by specially trained pathologists (or computers.) The cellular changes are much more subtle than the changes that healthcare providers look for on a wet mount.

The other important difference between Pap smears and wet mounts is that Pap smears are swabs of the cervix. Wet mounts are swabs of the vagina. They're not only used to diagnose different types of conditions, but they also contain samples of cells from different places.

One thing that both wet mounts and Pap smears have in common, however, is that they're typically done alongside other STI tests. Neither test stands on its own for managing a person with a vagina's sexual and reproductive health.

3 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. Paladine HL, Desai UA. Vaginitis: Diagnosis and Treatment. Am Fam Physician. 2018;97(5):321-329.

  2. Frobenius W, Bogdan C. Diagnostic value of vaginal discharge, wet mount and vaginal pH - an update on the basics of gynecologic infectiologyGeburtshilfe Frauenheilkd. 2015;75(4):355–366. doi:10.1055/s-0035-1545909

  3. American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Cervical cancer screening.

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.