I’m a Gynecologist, and This Is How You Should *Actually* Be Washing Your Vulva

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Photo: Getty Images / the_burtons
In pre-pandemic times, I had a recurring monthly appointment for a Brazilian wax. During the pandemic, however, that appointment is not possible. And my other attempts at down-there grooming have not been particularly successful. Shaving always leaves me with irritated bumps and when I drunkenly tried to give myself a bikini wax last week it did not, as you can imagine, end well.

Why am I giving you so much information about my bits? Well, if you're a person with a vulva you may have also found that your grooming practices have changed. (Especially if you're also like me and ask questions like, do I actually need to shower every day?) With this new hair down there it really got me wondering—how are you actually supposed to wash your vulva?

Just so we're all on the same page, let's define what the vulva actually is. "The vulva is the [genital] area outside of the vagina," says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a practicing OB/GYN and professor at Yale School of Medicine. It includes your labia—the inner and outer folds of skin that surround the opening of the vagina—as well as your clitoris, mons pubis (the little rounded area above your pubic bone and clitoris typically covered with hair), and the perinium (the strip of skin between your vagina and your butthole). "This tissue is about the most sensitive area in the body—the vagina and the vulva together—so we want to treat it gently," says Dr. Minkin.

To that end, while it's a good idea to wash your vulva as part of your regular bathing routine, you don't need to do that much to be hygienic. "Keep the area clean—if plain warm water does the job, that's great. Don't do any significant amount of scrubbing," Dr. Minkin says. You don't even need to use cleansers or soap, especially since that might irritate the delicate skin of your vulva and vaginal opening. (If you're on your period and feel like you need something more than just warm water, Dr. Minkin says it's okay to use a pH-balanced wash.) And skip the loofahs and washcloths, please, unless you want your vulva to be all, way harsh, Tai.

"It's important to note that everybody is a little bit different," says Alyssa Dweck, MD, FACOG, a gynecologist in New York. She says that some women can be totally fine washing with whatever cleanser they use on the rest of their body. But, she says, the standard is to avoid vigorous scrubbing and harsh soaps because they aren't necessary and can cause irritation. (Wipes can also be okay in a pinch, she says, but they definitely shouldn't be something you use a lot—and avoid ones with alcohol or fragrance.)

If you're looking for a step-by-step on how to clean your vulva, Staci L. Tanouye, MD, a Florida-based OB/GYN, recently offered some guidance on TikTok:

  1. Wash your whole body (including the triangle of the mons pubis) with a mild soap.
  2. Let the soapy water run down over your vulva, but avoid scrubbing or applying soap directly to the area.
  3. Use your hands and some water to clean between the folds of your labia (specifically, the space between your outer and inner lips).
  4. Gently pull up the clitoral hood (the fold of skin covering your clitoris) and use your hands to clean around it with water.

There's also no one-size-fits-all rule as to how often you need to wash your vulva, Dr. Dweck says. Some people, like a spin instructor who is teaching multiple classes a day, may need to wash several times a day, whereas a writer who spends most of her day on her couch staring at a computer is probably good with once a day. Dr. Dweck says that some people are okay with washing their vulvas even less frequently than that. No two vulvas are the same.

Another thing to note: If you're using a fragranced soap to clean your vulva because you're trying to cover up a strong odor, Dr. Dweck recommends seeing your OB/GYN just to make sure nothing else, like an infection, is going on. Additionally, she says that you should never put things like water or soap inside your vagina—it can lead to irritation and is also unnecessary because your vagina keeps itself clean. It's 2020, and hopefully by now we all know that douching is bad.

"I think the main takeaway is you know, you know, don't get out the scrub brush and scrub [your vulva] like a maniac," Dr. Dweck says. All you really need is to rinse with some warm water.

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