When something is wrong is your vagina, it's usually easy to tell — it's uncomfortable! You might assume that an infection is the culprit, but that's not always true: your vaginal pH is important, too.
You might remember pH from chemistry class — it's a measurement of how acidic or basic a substance is. Typically, changes in estrogen levels, infections, and changes in your vaginal microbiome lead to an unbalanced vaginal pH.
We know there's a lot to know when it comes to your sexual health, so we've gathered some important information on factors that can change your vaginal pH balance, as well as strategies to help rebalance your internal environment when needed — plus what not to do.
Normal Vaginal pH Levels
The body has a remarkable ability to maintain itself in the correct pH range, and that includes your vagina. The typical pH level in your vagina is between 3.6 to 4.5, which is a slightly acidic environment.[1, 2]
Although your vaginal pH changes throughout the month ever so slightly (becoming lowest during high-estrogen periods of your monthly cycle), there are two periods of peak estrogen — during ovulation, and again at the end of menstruation. A woman's vaginal pH also changes during breastfeeding and post-menopause.
Signs & Symptoms of Vaginal pH Imbalance
If your vaginal chemistry becomes unbalanced, the cause is usually an invading organism (bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other pathogens), an unbalanced vaginal microbiome, pregnancy, or using feminine hygiene products, such as douches. A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can also cause a proliferation of yeast, which can change the pH.
How do you know if your pH is off? Vaginal symptoms of a pH imbalance include:
- Burning, including during sex or urination
- Unusual vaginal discharge (watery, foamy, or chunky)
- Unpleasant vaginal odor (fishy)
There are vaginal pH tests that you can buy at your local pharmacy to check your pH in only a few seconds using a special strip. Alternatively, your healthcare provider can test your pH in their office.
How to Balance Vaginal pH
Generally, prevention is the best medicine when it comes to your vaginal health. The following natural remedies can help restore vaginal pH and the vagina’s ecosystem.
Many people think of probiotics as gut supplements, but they also play an important role in your vaginal health.[5, 6] As beneficial microbe species, probiotics boost the number naturally present in the vagina, and help protect your body against harmful organisms.
More than 50 species of beneficial microbes live in the vagina, most commonly Lactobacilli.
Several studies have shown that Lactobacillus species deter organisms, including those that cause bacterial vaginosis, (BV) a condition involving bacterial overgrowth that may throw off your pH balance.[7, 8]
Orally consumed probiotics migrate to the vagina after being excreted through the rectum, so you do not need to use vaginal suppositories. If you're not sure which supplement to pick, check out our article on how to choose the best probiotic.
Yogurt & Probiotic Foods
Cultured yogurt contains beneficial bacteria that are similar to those found in probiotic supplements, but be sure to choose either raw or organic varieties. Raw and organic non-dairy kefir is another excellent probiotic food.
Did you know that yogurt is effective at preventing UTIs?
When 120 children were given Lactobacillus acidophilus, the most common species found in yogurt, it was as effective as a commonly prescribed medication at preventing recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs).
This suggests probiotics may have a prophylactic effect — deterring harmful organisms and keeping your vaginal ecosystem healthy.
Although research has not looked at whether probiotic foods alter pH imbalances, presumably the research on probiotic supplements — which does show a relationship — extends to foods such as yogurt; however, you may not get high enough levels from food alone.
If you do try yogurt, choose a natural plant-based, cultured variety, such as one made from coconut or almond milk — and avoid sugar-sweetened ones. You can even make your own probiotic yogurt!
Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
Organic raw apple cider vinegar (ACV) has antibacterial properties, which allows it to deter bad microbes that can interfere with normal vaginal pH. ACV also contains probiotics that promote the growth of healthy microbes.
Check this! Apple cider vinegar is perfect for warding off infectious microbes.
Lab research shows that ACV is effective against several infectious microbes.[9, 10] While it can deter Candida, a major culprit behind fungal infections that upset the vaginal pH, ACV was actually found to be more effective against other harmful organisms such as E. coli.[9, 10]
One home remedy for vaginal infections involves using a tampon soaked in vinegar or douching with vinegar to lower vaginal pH. While using a vinegar-soaked tampon may help and should not cause harm, avoid douching as it upsets the vaginal ecosystem. You can also add a few tablespoons of ACV to a warm bath.
While these ideas can temporarily help with pH, keep in mind that your vagina will naturally restore itself once you find and address the cause of any imbalance.
Eliminate Feminine Hygiene Cleaning Products
Be wary of feminine hygiene products that are scented or claim to clean your pelvic area.
It is very important that you don't douche or otherwise "deep clean" the vagina, whether with baking soda or vinegar or anything else. Douching actually removes good bacteria that maintain balance. Douching, wipes, and sprays not only introduce chemicals down there, but they can also interfere with your natural vaginal pH and health.
Your body cleans itself naturally when you maintain good health, and the vagina is no exception.
As evidence that the vagina has its own self-balancing mechanisms, consider this study: when researchers tested a gel that claimed to balance pH, they found that it did not change vaginal acidity.
Use 100% Organic Cotton Menstrual Products
Tampons are reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ensure that they don't promote the growth of harmful bacteria and are generally safe to use.
Synthetic tampons can throw off the balance of good and bad bacteria!
While the vaginal ecosystem is very resilient, synthetic-fiber tampons can cause problems.
More absorbent than cotton, synthetic fibers can concentrate toxins more and throw off the balance of good and bad bacteria, which could contribute to imbalanced pH.
We recommend that you use 100 percent cotton tampons and pads for the best vaginal and overall health.
Consume Less Sugar & Starch, Eat a Plant-Based Diet
Sugar and simple starches promote an overgrowth of yeast (such as Candida albicans) and can contribute to infections. Furthermore, a diet rich in sugars and starches can lead to more sugar molecules in the vagina, prompting harmful organisms — especially yeast — to grow.
Wow! Did you know that simple starches and sugar create an overgrowth of yeast?
Researchers think this is one of the reasons for high rates of yeast infections in people with poorly controlled diabetes. You should eat a plant-based diet to promote overall health. Limit how much starch you consume at each meal by dividing it into several meals. This helps to control sharp elevations in blood sugar. And make sure you consume enough fluids throughout the day!
Use Natural Lubricants
Some lubricants contain oil-based compounds that may damage vaginal cells when used in the vaginal canal (not when taken orally). Vaginal glycerol use allows bad bacteria, viruses, and yeast to enter the body — increasing the rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and infections.
Instead, choose a water-based lubricant that does not alter your vaginal pH or find ways to increase your body's natural lubricants.
Causes of Vaginal pH Imbalance
To effectively manage imbalanced pH, it is important to know the cause of the problem.
Although it may seem like you are cleaning out the problem, douching can actually make things worse.
Avoid using beauty products — including soap, wipes, and sprays — or anything other than warm water to clean your vagina. Even mild soap can affect the vaginal microbiome, cause infection, and irritate the vagina.
Research shows that vaginal pH rises when estrogen peaks during a woman's menstrual cycle, which means it's higher during ovulation as well as during and just after menstruation.
Take note: Your vaginal pH will increase during your menstrual cycle.
Blood has a neutral pH (around 7), which is above that of the vagina. During menstruation, blood and cervical mucus entering the vagina temporarily increase the pH above 4.5.
After your menstrual period ends, the vagina will usually return to its baseline condition.
Bacterial Vaginosis & Other Vaginal Infections
Bacterial vaginosis, the most common vaginal infection, is caused in part by a change that makes the vaginal environment less acidic than it should be.[7, 13] Harmful bacteria take over and prevent beneficial microbes from making enough lactic acid.
Some researchers are investigating how altering the vaginal pH may work as a natural remedy for vaginosis, with mixed results.
Lactobacilli, the main good bacteria, help keep the vagina acidic and when bad bacteria invade, the pH is too low for their liking. Treating a bacterial vaginosis infection can rebalance the mix of microorganisms in the vagina, thus restoring an optimal pH. When treating vaginosis, be wary of antibiotics, which can kill off good and bad bacteria, often leading to vaginal yeast infections.
Semen has a basic pH (much higher than the normal pH of the vagina), so exposure to sperm during sex can temporarily throw off your vaginal pH balance.
Although the vagina has correction mechanisms, you can prevent this exposure by using a condom.
Condoms also reduce the risk of infections, such as Trichomonas vaginalis (an STD caused by a parasite), gonorrhea, herpes, and bacterial vaginosis.[13, 15] Many condoms contain chemicals that can irritate the vagina. There are vegan, organic varieties that are ethically made and chemical-free!
Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
In some cases, hormonal and lifestyle changes from pregnancy and breastfeeding may increase your risk of vaginal infections. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that there are one million cases of bacterial vaginosis in pregnant women each year.
During breastfeeding, estrogen levels decline which can raise your vaginal pH to levels that can make it easier to get infections. During this time, make sure to eat well, get enough sleep, and avoid excessive sugars, all of which can negatively affect your immune system, and possibly your vaginal pH.
Monitoring your pH during pregnancy, breastfedding, or other unique times in your life can help you avoid infections.
Did you know that 1 million pregnant women are diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis every year?
Estrogen and the vaginal microbiome work together to maintain a pH of less than 4.5.
During menopause, the point at which a woman has not experienced a period for 12 months, estrogen levels decrease. This causes the pH to rise, somewhere between 4.6 and 5.3.
While these changes are normal, if you experience an increase in yeast infections or vaginosis, try natural remedies to help balance your estrogen levels or see your healthcare provider.
When to See a Healthcare Provider
If you experience persistent itching, burning, or unusual discharge, you might have an imbalanced vaginal pH.
If you have these symptoms for the first time, it is best to see your holistic gynecologist, doctor, or other trusted healthcare provider for further evaluation.
Even if you are familiar with the symptoms, make sure to see a medical professional if you start to feel worse or you don't feel better after a few days.
Points to Remember
A healthy vaginal pH is between 3.6 and 4.5, which is acidic. If the pH is too acidic or too basic, you may experience changes in vaginal fluid texture and color or a foul smell.
A number of factors can disrupt a healthy pH in the reproductive system, such as hormonal changes, pregnancy, breastfeeding, infections, and douching. In fact, pH and infections are closely linked, where pH imbalances can cause infections and vice versa — it's a chicken and egg situation.
On the other hand, several remedies and lifestyle changes can reduce imbalanced acidity and restore vaginal health. Avoid feminine hygiene cleaners and douches, and choose organic cotton pads and tampons, as well as water-based natural lubricants.
Since your vaginal pH is closely connected with a healthy vaginal microbiome, consider taking a probiotic supplement. I recommend Global Healing Center's Floratrex™, a superior 23-strain blend that includes multiple Lactobacillus species. Our blend also includes prebiotics — food for the probiotics.
Have you tried any remedies that helped vaginal pH imbalance? We'd love to hear what worked for you. Comment below!
- Miller EA, et al. Lactobacilli Dominance and Vaginal pH: Why Is the Human Vaginal Microbiome Unique? Front Microbiol. 2016;7:1936.
- Melvin L, et al. pH‐balanced tampons: do they effectively control vaginal pH? BJOG 2008 April;115(5):639-645.
- Panda S, et al. Vaginal pH: a marker for menopause. J Midlife Health. 2014 Jan-Mar;5(1):34-37.
- Nicole W. A question for women's health: chemicals in feminine hygiene products and personal lubricants. Environ Health Perspect. 2014 Mar;122(3):A70-A75.
- Castro J, et al. Reciprocal interference between Lactobacillus spp. and Gardnerella vaginalis on initial adherence to epithelial cells. Int J Med Sci. 2013;10(9):1193-1198.
- Cribby S, et al. Vaginal microbiota and the use of probiotics. Interdiscip Perspect Infect Dis. 2008;2008:256490.
- Homayouni A, et al. Effects of probiotics on the recurrence of bacterial vaginosis: a review. J Low Genit Tract Dis. 2014 Jan;18(1):79-86.
- Reid G, Burton J. Use of Lactobacillus to prevent infection by pathogenic bacteria. Microbes Infect. 2002;4(3):319-324.
- Yagnik D, et al. Antimicrobial activity of apple cider vinegar against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans; downregulating cytokine and microbial protein expression. Sci Rep. 2018 Jan 29;8(1):1732.
- Gopal J, et al. Authenticating apple cider vinegar's home remedy claims: antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral properties and cytotoxicity aspect. Nat Prod Res. 2017 Dec 11:1-5.
- The Facts on Tampons—and How to Use Them Safely. US Food and Drug Administration. Updated 12 Sep 2018. Accessed 7 Mar 2019.
- Man A, et al. New perspectives on the nutritional factors influencing growth rate of Candida albicans in diabetics. An in vitro study. Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 2017;112(9):587-592.
- Bacterial Vaginosis. Office on Women's Health, US Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed 4 Mar 2019.
- Menard J-P. Antibacterial treatment of bacterial vaginosis: current and emerging therapies. Int J Womens Health. 2011;3:295-305.
- Trichomoniasis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Department of Health and Human Services. Updated 31 Jan 2017. Accessed 7 Mar 2019.
- Nuriel-Ohayon M, et al. Microbial changes during pregnancy, birth, and infancy. Front Microbiol. 2016;7:1031.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.