The pH levels of your vagina may need to be tested for a number of reasons. If you’re experiencing symptoms such as itching, burning, unpleasant odours or unusual vaginal discharge, for example, you may be suffering from Thrush or Bacterial Vaginosis (BV). A pH test can help to diagnose a condition of this type.
There are two ways to check the pH of your vagina. The first is to use a home vaginal pH test. These over the counter kits include a strip of pH paper and a colour chart designed to help you determine your vaginal pH results. To perform the test, simply insert the the pH test strip and place it against the wall of your vagina for a few seconds before then comparing the new colour of the strip to the chart provided. A healthy vagina should be acidic, with a pH between 3.5 and 4.5 - this would show as a yellowish mustard colour on the test strip. If your vagina is presenting a pH higher than 4.5, your natural flora could be imbalanced and you may be suffering from an infection such as BV. This quick and simple test can help you decide if you think you need to seek your doctor’s advice.
If you don’t feel comfortable performing the test yourself, or you are concerned about specific symptoms you are displaying, book an appointment with your doctor. As well as performing a vaginal pH test, they may also carry out other kinds of checks. A cotton bud may be wiped over the discharge inside your vagina to test for BV, while a urine test may be carried out to rule out the possibility of a range of other infections including STIs.
It’s important to remember that before checking the pH of your vagina, or any other vaginal examinations or tests that your doctor may want to perform, you should avoid sex, douching and using tampons for at least 24 hours beforehand. You should also only check your vaginal pH when you’re not on your period.
What is the normal pH of the vagina?
Typically, your vagina should have a pH level of between 3.5 and 4.5 - this is roughly the same level of acidity as orange juice. For a little context, zero on the pH scale is the most acidic a substance can be, while 14 is the most alkaline. Battery acid has a pH of 0 and oven cleaner has a pH of 14. Of course, while a pH of around 4 is usually considered a normal vaginal pH level, it’s worth noting that the ‘normal’ pH will differ for every woman. The stage in the menstrual cycle you’re currently at, your age and whether or not you’re going through the menopause can all affect your vagina’s pH.
Other factors can also change the resting pH of your vagina, such as douching, the use of some heavily-scented soaps and washes and prescription antibiotics. Your pH will also significantly change before and after sex.
Knowing whether or not your vaginal pH is at a normal level can be difficult, but if you notice symptoms such as vaginal itching, unusual discharge, an unpleasant fishy odour and/or a burning sensation while urinating, this could be an indication of an imbalance.
How to restore the pH balance in your vagina
If you’re displaying symptoms of an unbalanced vaginal pH - perhaps caused by BV, Thrush or another condition - your first port of call should be your doctor. Douching or an excessive use of heavily-scented soaps will only serve to temporarily mask symptoms and could in fact throw off your pH balance even more. Once the cause of the imbalance is diagnosed, medication may be prescribed to help fight any infections.
If you don’t have an infection but believe that your vagina still might be overly alkaline, there are a number of quick and easy ways to restore your pH level. For example, you could take daily probiotics to help increase the good bacteria and allow the vagina to restore itself. You may also want to consider using a gentle, soap-free feminine hygiene wash on a regular basis. This wash can be applied directly to your vulva during a shower and it contains prebiotics that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your intimate area.
As well as avoiding heavily-scented soaps and douching, using a condom during sex is also a good idea when you’re trying to maintain a normal pH level. This physical barrier will not only help to protect you from STIs, it will also prevent semen - which is typically alkaline - from disrupting your vaginal pH levels.
Finally, simple changes to your diet can also help to restore and maintain your natural vaginal flora. For example, the addition of a daily portion of fresh yogurt can help to ensure you consume your daily quota of vitamin D and calcium, as well as increasing the amount of the beneficial bacteria, Lactobacillus in your vagina. This can help in not only restoring the pH balance in your vagina, but also in keeping it at a healthy level going forward.