A feminine pH balance should be slightly acidic and healthy.
The normal flora or healthy bacteria in the vagina thrive when the pH level is balanced.
These harmless bacteria, along with vaginal discharge, keep the vagina clean and infection-free.
This article explores the definition of pH levels, the normal pH of the vagina, and how it relates to normal flora.
It also discusses symptoms of an unbalanced pH as well as home remedies to help keep levels balanced.
If you suspect it’s unbalanced, easy-to-use at-home tests are available.
Normal pH Level
pH stands for potential hydrogen. pH levels are based on a scale of 0 to 14 and measure acidity or alkalinity. Numbers lower than 7 are acidic, while higher numbers are alkaline (basic).
The pH scale ranges from 0 (acidic) to 14 (basic):
- Less than 7 = acidic
- 7 = neutral
- Greater than 7 = basic
pH levels vary throughout the body. The vagina’s pH is naturally acidic and usually ranges from 3.8 to 4.5.
pH Levels of Common Substances
For a greater perspective, below are the levels of a few common substances:
- Stomach acid: 1
- Lemon juice: 2
- Vinegar: 2.2
- Orange juice: 3.3 to 4.2
- Pickles: 3.5 to 3.9
- Coffee: 5
- Pure water: 7
- Seawater: 8
- Baking soda: 8.3
- Ammonia: 11
- Soapy water: 11 to 12
- Lye: 13
Symptoms of Unbalanced pH Levels
Before discussing the pH balance of the vagina, it’s important to discuss normal vaginal flora.
Normal flora is made up of healthy microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast, and other fungi.
Think of it as a mini-ecosystem in the vagina that is critical for maintaining a healthy pH balance.
A pH level of 3.8 to 4.5 is ideal for the normal flora to thrive.
Medications, diet, hormones, and lifestyle factors can disrupt the balance.
pH levels greater than 4.5 create an environment in which harmful bacteria can grow more easily.
This can lead to bacterial vaginosis (BV).
Symptoms of vaginal infections that can lead to imbalanced vaginal pH include:
- Redness, a rash, swelling, or itching around the vagina or labia
- Burning with urination or during sexual intercourse
- Strong, unpleasant odor or fishy smell
- Green, gray, or yellow discharge
- Chunky texture
- It may be more noticeable after menstruation (period) or intercourse.
Atrophic vaginitis, thinning of vaginal tissue, may also cause burning or discomfort. This is more common in perimenopausal or menopausal women due to decreased estrogen levels.
At-home vaginal pH tests are also referred to as feminine screening kits and are similar to those used in the doctor’s office. Some include litmus paper, while others use a vaginal swab. You collect the sample at home, comparing your results with an easy-to-read pH color chart.
Similar tests provide a report of your vaginal microbiome. However, they are packaged and sent to a lab.
Follow Directions Carefully
Follow the directions for these at-home tests carefully to ensure accurate results. Many are invalid if they are done too soon after sexual intercourse or a menstrual cycle.
What Do the Results Mean?
- A pH above 4.5: pH levels above 4.5 may indicate that you have an infection such as bacterial vaginosis. In this case, your healthcare provider will want to do an exam and possible testing to plan your course of treatment.
- A normal or slightly low pH: If you have itching, burning, or redness, and your pH is normal or slightly low, it could be a yeast infection. If you’ve had yeast infections in the past, your healthcare provider may recommend trying an over-the-counter (OTC) medication.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe something to help keep the vaginal pH balanced. However, these are some of the things you can do on your own in the meantime.
Probiotics are part of the normal flora in the body, including the vagina. When they are out of balance, harmful bacteria or yeast can arise and cause an infection.
Lactobacilli are an example of helpful bacteria in the vagina’s flora.
Lactic acid, produced by lactobacilli, creates an acidic environment that helps prevent harmful bacteria from growing.
Antibiotics are great for killing off bacteria that are making us sick.
But did you know they can kill good bacteria in the process?
As a result, the vaginal pH increases and becomes more alkaline, leaving a perfect environment for pathogens to grow.
Bacteria can lead to bacterial vaginosis (BV).
Fungus such as Candida albicans can cause a yeast infection.
Eating a well-balanced diet that’s high in fiber is one of the best ways to keep probiotics at healthy levels. Probiotics occur naturally in fermented foods such as:
- Kombucha (fermented tea)
- Kefir (fermented dairy drink)
- Sourdough bread
- Fermented sauerkraut
- Miso soup
If you are not getting enough in your diet, your healthcare provider may suggest oral supplements or vaginal suppositories. Keep in mind that these supplements have debatable efficacy and more research is needed.
Effectiveness of Probiotics
While studies have shown mixed results about the effectiveness of probiotics, the majority are in favour of their use.
Probiotics are considered safe and may offer benefits to improve overall health and balance vaginal pH levels.
Garlic is known to have antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Some studies show that it can help fight off vaginal infections. When eaten as part of a healthy diet, garlic is generally safe.
Oral garlic supplements are available. It’s best not to use garlic directly in or around the vagina.
Check with your healthcare provider before taking garlic supplements. High amounts can increase the risk of bleeding and may interfere with the effectiveness of some medications.
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)
Many people add ACV to their health routine for its antibacterial and antifungal effects. If that is something you’d like to try, it should be taken by mouth. You can drink diluted apple cider vinegar or take it in a supplement form. Direct use on the vagina, even diluted, is not recommended. It may be harmful to the vaginal tissue and pH balance.
Drinking plenty of water helps flush toxins and regulate the vagina’s ecosystem. Dehydration can lead to itching around the vagina or worsen yeast infections.
Have you seen bottles of alkaline water at the store and wondered if it’s better than regular water? Currently, there is no evidence that drinking alkaline water benefits vaginal health. It’s best to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of pure water.
How Much Water Should You Drink?
Ideally, women should get about 2.7 liters, or 91 ounces, of water per day.
Wondering if you are getting enough?
Here are some signs you need more water:
- Feeling thirsty
- Yellow, dark yellow, or orange urine
- Overly tired
- Hungry often
- Flaky or dry skin
- Bad breath
Stress increases cortisol, which disrupts the acid-base balance in the vagina. Some stressors are beyond our control, so managing them is the next best choice. Coping techniques include:
- Regular exercise
- Healthy diet
- Getting enough sleep
- Deep breathing
- Practicing enjoyable hobbies or activities
- Avoiding smoking
- No drug abuse
- Limited or no alcohol
Eat Less Sugar
Increased sugar in the body can lead to higher pH levels or fuel yeast growth. Avoid or limit excess sugar in foods and drinks such as:
- Refined bread or pasta
- Ice cream
Natural Sugars in Fruit
Eating natural sugars from fruit is healthy in small portions (unless otherwise directed by your healthcare team). However, they still contain sugar and can affect vaginal pH. Make a note of how they affect your body and adjust accordingly.
Douching means cleaning the inside of the vagina with water or a solution. Women often think they are supposed to douche. However, most healthcare providers do not recommend it because it can cause pH imbalances and disrupt the normal flora.
Douching may also worsen an infection by pushing the bacteria into the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. This can lead to a serious health problem called pelvic inflammatory disease.
The Vagina Cleans Itself
The acidic environment, normal flora, and secretions keep the inside of the vagina clean. Secretions wash away blood, semen, and excess discharge. To keep the outside clean, just use warm water on the outer areas when bathing.
Wear Breathable, Cotton Underwear
Synthetic fabrics trap sweat and moisture, which allows bacteria and yeast to grow. Wearing breathable, cotton underwear provides airflow. It’s also a good idea to change promptly after swimming or sweating to keep the area dry. Both reduce the risk of vaginal and urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Barrier Protection During Sex
Semen has a pH level between 7.1 and 8. Having unprotected sex briefly increases the pH of the vagina. An increased pH is helpful when trying to conceive a baby because it helps protect the sperm. Barriers such as condoms protect the vagina from exposure to the higher pH of semen.
When to Call Your Healthcare Provider
Contact your healthcare provider if you have:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Abdominal or pelvic (lower belly between hips) pain
- Tried home remedies and symptoms do not resolve within a few days
- Noticed you are developing symptoms frequently
A healthy vagina has an acidic pH level that helps good bacteria (normal flora) thrive. Along with discharge, pH levels and normal flora keep the vagina clean and balanced.
At-home tests are available to test vaginal pH levels if you suspect they are unbalanced.
Call a healthcare provider if you have a fever or pain.
If your discharge is green, gray, or yellow, has an unpleasant “fishy smell,” or a chunky, cottage cheese consistency, call your provider.
There are a few things you can try at home preventively if symptoms are mild, or you are waiting on an appointment.
Call your provider if symptoms persist after a few days of home remedies or if symptoms change or get worse.
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A Word From Verywell
Experiencing uncomfortable vaginal symptoms such as rash, swelling, pain, unusual discharge, or unpleasant odor can feel embarrassing.
However, fluctuations in pH balance are very normal and happen to most people at some point (or many points) in their lives.
Don’t let embarrassment keep you from seeking proper care, as waiting could cause your symptoms to worsen.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. Healthy Supplies Shop is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of healthy supplies shop and we do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.