Many women worry about their vaginal cleanliness, with marketing for certain toiletries doing nothing to quell the fear that the vagina smells like onion or something even worse. The majority of females have a normal, natural vaginal odor, which doesn’t have to smell like that bunch of flowers pictured on the feminine hygiene product. Numerous products are available to keep women’s private parts clean and smelling fresh. However, sometimes you just smell awful down there. What’s causing it?

What Causes My Vagina to Smell Like Onion?

The vaginal environment is a delicate balance of healthy bacteria and natural secretions, which maintain a pH of 4.5. The bacteria/fluid mix produces certain odors, most of which are perfectly normal and can be detected from about a foot away. However, sometimes a disagreeable smell can indicate an underlying problem. The warning signs include stronger, unpleasant odors, and additional pain, burning or itching in the vaginal area. If you have any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your healthcare provider.

If your vagina smells like onion, it is important to identify the causes of your problem. This include:

Certain foods

An unusual vaginal scent may be the result of certain foods consumed, such as onions, or a change in vaginal bacterial flora, as these bacteria emit various odors. If you have eaten too many odor-producing foods, you may have to wait for the smell to go away by itself, which can take a week or longer, depending on how much of the food you’ve had. Garlic, onion, asparagus, and curry may all increase the risk of body odor.


The genital area sweats a lot, and when perspiration combines with vaginal fluid, this increases the odor, and can be quite unpleasant. To reduce the smell, wear breathable clothing, and change your clothing following exercise.

Some medications

Antibiotics may interfere with the vaginal bacteria, resulting in discharge and odor changes. Antihistamines may also alter the vaginal smell by reducing secretions in your vagina, drying it out. Finally, herbal therapies and essential oils may also affect the genital area.

Bacterial vaginosis

If the normal bacterial ecosystem in the vagina is disturbed, bacterial vaginosis, an overgrowth of the bacteria Gardnerella vaginalis, can result. Bacterial vaginosis is characterized by a strong fishy smell and thin, grey, runny discharge. Some women may detect a strong odor after sex, as contact with semen can exacerbate the condition. However, although bacterial vaginosis is irritating and may increase the risk of other infections, it is easily dealt with using antibiotics.


Trichomoniasis is a very common sexually transmitted infection in men and women caused by a parasite termed Trichomonas vaginalis. Common symptoms in women include changes in the appearance and smell of vaginal discharge, itching, and pain during sex or urination. Trichomoniasis may infect anyone who is sexually active, particularly those who have multiple partners and/or don’t use adequate protection.

Changes in hormone levels

The amount of vaginal discharge produced varies with the menstrual cycle, but hormonal therapies, contraceptive pills and vaginal creams may affect the discharge and the vaginal pH. Furthermore, the reduced estrogen levels during the menopause can make women susceptible to bacterial vaginosis and fungal infections.

A forgotten tampon

A tampon left in for a few days may give rise to a vagina smells like dead animal – not nice! On the plus side, this problem does resolve itself quickly once the tampon is removed. Left-in tampons have, in rare cases, been known to cause serious infections; if you suspect this, arrange to see your doctor as soon as possible.

How to Deal with Unpleasant Vaginal Odor

  • Don’t ever douche your vagina to get rid to the smell. This can interfere with the bacterial flora and spread infection.

  • Furthermore, don’t insert anything (e.g. soap, essential oils) into the vagina to clean it. The vagina is very good at maintaining its own environment and doesn’t need any help.

  • If you’re worried that your vagina smells like onion, and you don’t have any other symptoms, try drinking more and cutting out smelly foods.

  • Probiotics may help to re-establish the usual balance of bacteria. For good hygiene, wash the external region of the genitals (the vulva and labia) with mild soap. If the smell continues after you’ve taken these measures, discuss the issue with your healthcare provider.

Preventing Bad Vaginal Smells

To prevent a vagina smell like onion, don’t douche, or use perfume-scented tampons, as these may have chemicals that upset the vagina.

To further minimize odor, try the following tips:

  • Wear comfortable cotton underwear that lets your private area breathe.

  • Keep your pubic hair well groomed.

  • Avoid tight clothing.

  • Take a shower following exercise, or any activity that makes you sweat.

  • After showering, ensure you thoroughly dry yourself all over before getting dressed.

What Others Say About Dealing with Bad Vaginal Odor

“I had this problem with a vagina smells like body odor (armpit smell). I visited two doctors and took the tests – both results were normal, with no infection or disease detected. The doctors told me that this was most likely a chemical imbalance in my body, because of my diet, weight gain, age, or other factors. They recommended that I eat yoghurt to settle my digestive system, but since I don’t eat yoghurt, I took the Acidophilus probiotic pill instead. This can be purchased anywhere, and for me, it worked like a dream! When I stop taking the pills, I notice a difference in my vaginal smell.”

“I couldn’t understand why, but I sometimes my vagina smells like onions. Then, purely by accident, I identified the problem. One week, I cooked boiled potatoes, sprouts and carrots, instead of my usual onion stews. All the nasty smells and gas from my vagina completely went. The smell was probably traveling through my vaginal wall into the open. I self-diagnosed myself and concluded that I have fructose intolerance, so am unable to digest onions. Maybe my ancestors didn’t eat onions or any other foods containing fructose, so my enzymes don’t function properly, and foods with fructose just ferment and produce sulfur gas in the small bowel.”


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