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Let’s address a very important elephant in the room first. Feminine washes, while yes, meant for your nether regions, are not, we repeat are not, meant for use inside the vagina. “The vagina is a self-cleaning organ, meaning that by the discharge and different types of organisms—yeast and bacteria—the vagina keeps itself clean,” explains Dr. Heather Irobunda, an OB-GYN in New York City. Any sort of douching—AKA cleansing inside your vagina—can lead to irritation and infection, she cautions.
Where feminine washes can be helpful is for cleaning the vulva, the external area of the vagina. Feminine washes are good for removing debris and sweat, such as any vaginal discharge that’s caked around the labia minora, clitoral hood, or in the pubic hair, says Dr. Tamika Cross, an OB-GYN in Houston. Still, even though there is a lot on the market, many experts warn against using a feminine wash because it can disrupt the natural bacteria in the area, potentially increasing the risk of bacterial infections.
The point is, if you are going to use one, there are a few super important criteria to keep in mind when choosing a feminine wash. Namely, make sure that it’s fragrance-free and ideally has as minimal of an ingredient list as possible, again, to avoid the potential for irritation, says Dr. Cross.
Here, a few of the best feminine washes that fit the bill.
Best Overall: SweetSpot Labs Microbiome Balancing Full Body Cleanser
Can be used all-over the body
Both Cross and Dr. Jessica Shepherd, a Chicago-based OB/GYN and the Chief Medical Officer of Verywell Health recommend this option, a formula that checks all of the boxes. It’s fragrance-free and 99% naturally derived, a boon for Cross, while Dr. Shepherd lauds all of the brand’s offerings for being pH balanced. It’s super gentle, yet is effective enough to be used all over the body, a great one-stop-shop.
Key Ingredients: Antimicrobial peptides, green tea seed, leaf extract | Size: 8 ounces | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Foaming: The Honey Pot Company Sensitive Foaming Wash
Reviewers say sometimes the bottle's pump jams
This extra-gentle formula from The Honey Pot Co. also ticks all of the boxes of things gynecologists say to look for in a feminine wash, namely no sulfates, parabens, or fragrance. It’s pH-balanced and instead relies on things such as apple cider vinegar, lavender water, and grapefruit seed extract, all in a formula that foams up nicely, a major boon for those who love suds.
Key Ingredients: Apple cider vinegar, lavender water, and grapefruit seed extract | Size: 5.51 ounces | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Moisturizing: Good Clean Love Balance Moisturizing Wash
Contains glycerin; avoid if prone to yeast infections
If you’re prone to dry skin all over, including your vulva, the last thing you want is a feminine wash that’s going to strip out more moisture. Enter this pick, a water-based formula made with organic aloe, that not only relieves odor but also combat dryness and discomfort, too.
Key Ingredients: Aloe, calendula, lavender | Size: 8 ounces | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Wipes: Lola Cleansing Wipes Packets
Portable and practical
Dr. Shepherd is a fan of feminine wipes, noting that they can be used to help decrease sweat in the external vaginal area (a boon for post workouts when there’s no time to shower). She likes these, an all-natural option made of a bamboo viscose material. These are also individually wrapped, great for travel or when you’re on the go.
Key Ingredients: Water, gluconic acid | Size: 12 packets | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for All-Over Use: Cora One Wash Balancing Body Cleanser
Can be used all-over the body
Fragrance- and dye-free
Naturally-derived scent isn't for everyone
TBH, most body washes can be too harsh to use on your most sensitive spots, but not this one. Extra gentle and mild, it’s free of all the things you don’t want in a feminine wash, though it does contain a combo of argan, sunflower, and shea oils to help hydrate the skin around your vulva. While it’s free of synthetic fragrance, it does have a naturally derived scent, a blend of sandalwood, lavender, raspberry, and orange.
Key Ingredients: Aloe, sunflower seed oil, niacinamide (vitamin B3) | Size: 8 ounces | Byrdie Clean: Yes
If you feel like you have a lot of build-up on the external, vulvar area, a feminine wash can be helpful, though gynecologists caution that you should never use it inside your vagina. Make sure the one you choose is fragrance-free, like the SweetSpot Labs Microbiome Balancing Full Body Cleanser (view at Ulta), a multi-tasking formula that can be used all over the body, vulva included. Instead of a wash, wipes are a nice alternative, portable and convenient for when you’re on the go. Try the Lola Cleansing Wipes Packets (view at Lola), which tout a formula that is gentle, fragrance-free, and natural.
What to Look for in a Feminine Wash
“Using products that have the wrong pH, especially in your vaginal area, can lead to yeast infections and/or irritation,” says Dr. Shepherd.
Both doctors we spoke with cite this as the most important criteria, given that fragrance is one of the most common irritants.
What do feminine washes do?
Once more, for the cheap seats in the back: They should only be used on the external, vulvar area, never inside the vagina, caution both doctors we spoke with. They can, however, be a good way for women who are on the go, busy moms, or those who exercise frequently to help minimize sweat and a general feeling of discomfort, says Dr. Shepherd.
How often should you use a feminine wash?
So long as you choose a gentle formula that’s free of potential irritants such as sulfates, dyes, and fragrance, you can use one daily, says Dr. Cross.
Are feminine washes safe?
Again, theoretically yes, as long as the above criteria are met and it’s never actually used inside the vagina, says Dr. Shepherd.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. While she doesn’t use feminine washes, she does occasionally reach for feminine wipes after a workout or to freshen up on the go.