Douching is washing or cleaning out the vagina with water or other mixtures of fluids. In the United States, about one in four women 15 to 44 years old douche.1 Doctors recommend that you do not douche. Douching can lead to many health problems, including problems getting pregnant. Douching is also linked to vaginal infections and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The word "douche" means to wash or soak. Douching is washing or cleaning out the inside of the vagina with water or other mixtures of fluids. Most douches are sold in stores as prepackaged mixes of water and vinegar, baking soda, or iodine. The mixtures usually come in a bottle or bag. You squirt the douche upward through a tube or nozzle into your vagina. The water mixture then comes back out through your vagina.
Douching is different from washing the outside of your vagina during a bath or shower. Rinsing the outside of your vagina with warm water will not harm your vagina. But, douching can lead to many different health problems.
No. Doctors recommend that women do not douche. You do not need to douche to clean your vagina. Your body naturally flushes out and cleans your vagina. Any strong odor or irritation usually means something is wrong.
Douching also can raise your chances of a vaginal infection or an STI. If you have questions or concerns, talk to your doctor.
It is best to let your vagina clean itself. The vagina cleans itself naturally by making mucous. The mucous washes away blood, semen, and vaginal discharge.
If you are worried about vaginal odor, talk to your doctor or nurse. But you should know that even healthy, clean vaginas have a mild odor that changes throughout the day. Physical activity also can give your vagina a stronger, muskier scent, but this is still normal.
Keep your vagina clean and healthy by:
Washing the outside of your vagina with warm water when you bathe. Some women also use mild soaps. But, if you have sensitive skin or any current vaginal infections, even mild soaps can cause dryness and irritation.
Avoiding scented tampons, pads, powders, and sprays. These products may increase your chances of getting a vaginal infection.
No. Douching before or after sex does not prevent STIs. In fact, douching removes some of the normal bacteria in the vagina that protect you from infection. This can actually increase your risk of getting STIs, including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Learn ways to prevent STIs.
No. Douching removes some of the normal bacteria in the vagina that protect you from infection. This can increase your risk of getting STIs, including HIV. Douching also does not protect against pregnancy.
If you had sex without using protection or if the condom broke during sex, see a doctor right away. You can get medicine to help prevent HIV and unwanted pregnancy.
No, you should not douche, bathe, or shower. As hard as it may be to not wash up, you may wash away important evidence if you do. Douching may also increase your risk of getting STIs, including HIV.
Go to the nearest hospital emergency room as soon as possible. The National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) can help you find a hospital able to collect evidence of sexual assault. Your doctor or nurse can help you get medicine to help prevent HIV and unwanted pregnancy.
No. Douching does not prevent pregnancy. It should never be used for birth control. If you had sex without using birth control or if your birth control method did not work correctly (failed), you can use emergency contraception to keep from getting pregnant.
If you need birth control, talk to your doctor or nurse about which type of birth control method is best for you.
Douching can make it harder to get pregnant and can cause problems during pregnancy:
Trouble getting pregnant. Women who douched at least once a month had a harder time getting pregnant than those women who did not douche.8
Higher risk of ectopic pregnancy. Douching may increase a woman's chance of damaged fallopian tubes and ectopic pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancy is when the fertilized egg attaches to the inside of the fallopian tube instead of the uterus. If left untreated, ectopic pregnancy can be life-threatening. It can also make it hard for a woman to get pregnant in the future.
Higher risk of early childbirth. Douching raises your risk for premature birth. One study found that women who douched during pregnancy were more likely to deliver their babies early.9 This raises the risk for health problems for you and your baby.
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This fact sheet was reviewed by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) staff.