Vaginal discharge is a normal – if slightly irritating – part of having a vagina. While the sight of it in our underwear is way less unnerving than it used to be (did anyone else panic the first time they encountered it?), it’s still not exactly welcome.
And it turns out, if TikTok is to be believed, that vaginal discharge is pretty powerful stuff – capable of err, bleaching fabric? Let’s investigate.
Ovira, a brand that sells period cramping relief devices, regularly shares clips about female reproductive health on their TikTok account. Last week, they shared a video of some discoloured underwear with the text, “Your vagina has a PH level of 3.8 to 4.5 which is acidic enough to bleach fabric.”
You can watch the clip, which already has 10.5 million views, here:
Needless to say, the video has resonated with many people who were never educated about vaginal discharge growing up (AKA all of us).
One person commented, “Why has my mom never told me that. I used to hide my laundry thinking I had some kind of terminal illness,” while another added, “I grew up thinking something was wrong with me… would have been nice to know as a teen.”
Perhaps our favourite comment was “The feminine urge to send this to my bf,” because honestly? Same.
But hang on a minute, can vaginal discharge actually bleach our underwear? GLAMOUR chatted to Mr Clive Spence-Jones, a consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician at The Portland Hospital, and Zahra Ameen, a consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician at the Cadogan Clinic, to find out.
Can vaginal discharge ‘bleach’ fabric? If so, how does it work?
Mr Clive Spence-Jones explains, “Vaginal discharge is a fluid that is secreted from the small glands in the vagina and cervix to help remove old cells and keep the reproductive tract healthy,” adding that, “The amount of vaginal discharge produced can vary day to day and depends on where someone is in their menstrual cycle. With ovulation, the discharge becomes thin and stringy and may have a streak of blood for a day or two.”
He continues, “The most common form of vaginal discharge is a white discharge which is usually clear or milky; it may have a subtle musky scent, but it is not unpleasant smelling. This can mark underwear as the acidity of the fluid can interact with the fabric’s dye, resulting in white spots or patches.
“Brown or bloody discharge, usually noticed as spotting between periods, and yellow or green discharge, which is not normal and could indicate an abnormality such as an STI, can also leave brown or coloured stains on the fabric.”
Zahra Ameen adds that, “Vaginal discharge is naturally acidic – with the pH level ranging from 3.5-7. The composition of this can fluctuate, depending on age, menstruations, hormone changes, sexual behaviours, and also the use of drugs such as probiotics and antibiotics causing its imbalance.
“Bleached patches on underwear is nothing to worry about and is very normal and is caused discharge reacting with the dye in the fabric.”
Should I be worried about vaginal discharge?
According to Clive Spence-Jones, “The most common indication that something is wrong is an increase in vaginal discharge that has a strong and foul odour often resembling a fishy smell. Discharge that is yellow or green and is accompanied by pain, itching and inflammation is also an indication that you may be suffering from an infection.
If your discharge has a different texture, colour or smell than what is normal for you, then you should see your doctor as soon as possible. Symptoms including unexplained weight loss, pain in your abdomen, increased urination and a fever could also indicate an underlying problem, so it is important to see your doctor as soon as possible in those cases.”
If you are concerned about vaginal discharge, it’s always recommended to book an appointment with your GP to discuss diagnosis and treatment. You can find your local GP here.