The vagina is a very delicate organ whose microbiome can be affected by different changes faced by a woman’s body. The health of this naturally self-cleaning organ is maintained by the balance of its normal flora. Douching with water or other introduced fluids can offset this balance. 

The vagina’s microbiome is composed of various microorganisms. Lactobacilli are the most cultured organisms in the vagina and also make up its normal flora. These organisms provide a defense against invading pathogens through the production of lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide. This defense becomes an effective barrier and protects the body from bacteria-causing infections and changes in pH balance.

Unhealthy bacteria can form when vaginal pH moves from its acidic state into an alkaline state. The imbalance between ‘good’ bacteria, lactobacilli, and ‘bad’ bacteria, anaerobes can put your vaginal health at risk. Hormonal imbalance, irritants, and foreign agents can also contribute to the disruption of the normal vaginal flora.

What Is Douching?

Woman holding a vaginal douche

Douching is the practice of cleaning the inside of the vagina with water, vinegar, or various combinations of pre-packaged fluid mixtures of baking soda, antiseptics, iodine, and fragrance. 

The practice is done using a douche, which is a tool that introduces the preferred fluid into the vagina. The fluid trickles out of the vagina after the cleaning process. 

Many people engage in this practice for hygiene purposes with the belief that cleaning the intra-vaginal tissue rids the intimate area of unwanted odors and washes out semen & menstrual blood.

Is Douching With Water Safe?

Research does not indicate any benefits of douching with plain water or douching with salt water. Douching can predispose the body to infections, such as bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, and irritation.

Some people are under the belief that douching with water only cannot be harmful. Douching with water can act as a vehicle for the transport of unwanted pathogens into the vaginal canal. The overwhelming growth of these pathogenic agents can undermine the effects of hydrogen peroxide-producing lactobacilli strains needed to defend the vagina. 

The disruption of the vaginal biome can cause the facilitation of different infections due to the imbalance that can be formed between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria. Due to these risks, most physicians recommend only cleaning the vulva and the external vaginal surroundings with warm water and mild unscented soap. 

Reasons People Douche & Their Root Causes

Many people douche due to pH imbalance, odor, and infections but what could be causing these issues? Here are a few considerations:

pH imbalance can occur through menstruation and/or intercourse and can lead to vaginal odor and discharge. The vagina is self-sufficient but requires maintenance and adequate care to avoid unwanted odors as well as infections.

Vaginal odors can be a result of infections, diet changes, and poor hygiene. Also, vaginal odors are not always threatening. The vagina does not contain sweat glands, but its external structures, such as the vulva can sweat and may be accompanied by a mild odor perhaps after an exercise session. If you are experiencing excessive sweat or strong odors, it is best to speak to your physician.

What To Do Instead Of Douching?

There are no proven benefits to douching; therefore, proper hygiene will be the best defense. Unscented products are recommended for such a sensitive area to avoid irritation. If you are considering douching due to frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs) or odor, here are some things to consider.

  • Wear comfortable undergarments, cotton preferably, and not ill-fitted.
  • Avoid scented feminine hygiene products. The harsh chemicals from these scented products can cause an unhealthy vaginal microbiome.
  • Stop your vaginal steam or consult a physician prior. The scents from the process or the improper cleaning of the equipment could be agents that can introduce harmful bacteria into your vagina.
  • Urinate before and after sex.
  • Wipe from front to back to avoid the transfer of bacteria from the anal area into your vagina.

It is always advised to speak to your physician regarding concerns.

What Is The Verdict?

a symbol of vaginal health

Douching is not recommended and most often not needed. Many people douche because they feel it is a needed extra step in their hygiene routine. It is unnecessary and can lead to unwanted effects. 

If you douche due to an odor issue, you should review the above recommendations as well as contact your physician. Relax and let your vagina do the cleaning.