What causes vaginal odor?

Abnormal vaginal odor can be caused by infection or inflammation. When the normal vaginal bacteria levels are imbalanced, this can lead to vaginitis.

Specific causes include:

  • Bacterial vaginosis: An infection that occurs from an overgrowth of normal of vaginal bacteria. The most common cause of vaginal odor.
  • Trichomoniasis: A sexually transmitted infection.
  • Rectovaginal fistula: A rare condition in which an opening between the rectum and vagina allows feces to leak into the vagina.
  • Vaginal cancer: Symptoms include heavy vaginal discharge that can have a strong odor.
  • Cervical cancer: Symptoms can include a strong (bad-smelling) discharge. Cancer is a rare cause of abnormal vaginal odor.

However, temporary vaginal odor is common, and often resolves on its own. This can be due to hormonal changes, or even diet. For example, foods with a strong odor, such as garlic or fish, can cause odor changes in the vagina.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/09/2018.


  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Vaginitis. Accessed 12/13/2018.
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine. Bacterial Vaginosis (Vaginosis). Accessed 12/13/2018.

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