Wellness·6 min read

The Colors and Consistencies of Vaginal Discharge, and What They Mean

A person sitting on the toilet with their underwear around their ankles.
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May 27, 2022

You know who has really good communication skills? Your vagina. And she speaks in the form of vaginal discharge — the fluid vaginas produce to get rid of dead skin cells and debris. It’s what keeps ‘em healthy and clean. But sometimes discharge can come in different colors and consistencies. Which can tell you whether or not you should call up a gyno. We looked into what each vaginal discharge color means, when you might see more or less vaginal discharge throughout your monthly cycle, and other related symptoms to keep an eye on.

the different colors of vaginal discharge and what they mean
Design: theSkimm

What does normal vaginal discharge look like?

Clear or white discharge is considered healthy. But the amount and consistency can vary from person to person. How much discharge you see also depends on factors like hormones, your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and sexual activity. And there may be times when you see no discharge at all.

Vaginal discharge colors, explained 

The color of your discharge can tell you a lot about your vaginal health. It can sometimes act as a red flag for when you’re dealing with an infection or STI, or it can mean nothing at all. Here’s what it means if you have…

Clear vaginal discharge 

Considered healthy. The amount that it discharges can fluctuate, but that’s totally normal. For instance, you might see more discharge after exercising or when you're turned on. And the texture may vary depending on where you are in your cycle, thanks to hormones. Example: You might see clear, watery discharge before you ovulate and clear, sticky discharge afterward. 

Creamy white discharge 

Also considered healthy. However, if you notice a chunkier texture (think: cottage cheese), that can be a sign of a yeast infection.

Gray discharge 

A common symptom of bacterial vaginosis. Which happens when there’s an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina.

Yellow discharge 

It’s complicated. As long as you have no other symptoms, pale yellow discharge is usually a sign of healthy lubrication. But if you’re seeing bright yellow or a yellow-green hue, it could be a sign of an STI. Like chlamydia, gonorrhea, or trichomoniasis. So make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. 

Green discharge

It could be a sign of an STI like gonorrhea, or an infection like BV. And a reason to see a doctor or head to urgent care right away. 

Pink discharge 

Pink or light pink discharge might just mean the start of your period. Or the end of it. Or it could be an indication of implantation bleeding during early pregnancy. It can also be due to bleeding from small tears in the vagina after sex.

Red discharge 

It happens during your period, and can come in a few different shades like bright red or rusty brown. But if you’re seeing red between cycles, it could be irregular spotting or a sign of infection. Red discharge might also indicate a miscarriage. If you think it could be a miscarriage or infection, see your doctor right away.

Brown discharge 

It’s common at the end of your period, and usually nothing to be concerned about. But if you see brown discharge between periods, it could be a sign of an infection. And seeing your doc about it might be best. 

Black discharge 

Black discharge is most likely old period blood that has taken longer to come out. Quick science lesson: The longer blood is exposed to oxygen (and the slower your flow is), the darker it gets.  Other possible reasons for black discharge are a retained object (like a forgotten tampon), a missed miscarriage, or implantation bleeding.

Watery discharge

Typically fine. Vaginal discharge can appear watery during ovulation and sexual arousal. 

Clumpy discharge

It may be a sign of an infection or STI. So give your doctor a call.

Why does my vaginal discharge smell? 

Vaginal discharge, just like vaginas in general, have smells. Period. But as long as your discharge doesn’t smell particularly strong, fishy, or generally off, you have nothing to worry about. If it does smell off to you, check in with your doctor. 

Is it normal to see discharge before my period? 

One hundred percent. Higher levels of white or cloudy vaginal discharge is common between ovulation and the start of your period. It increases because the hormone, progesterone, is released during this time. Basically, it's your menstrual cycle doing its thing.

Is discharge a sign of pregnancy?

It could be. Discharge alone can’t tell you if you’re pregnant (you’ll need a pregnancy test for that). But your body does produce more progesterone during pregnancy. Which may increase the amount of clear discharge. It also helps protect you from infections while you’re pregnant. 

Is it normal to have discharge every day?

Yup. Unless you have unusual colors, textures, or smells (see the list above), it’s nothing to worry about. But if you have concerns, check with your doctor. 

What should I do about vaginal discharge?

If you’re experiencing healthy discharge (reminder: white or clear and no abnormal textures or smells), just sit tight. But if the discharge bothers you, wear a pad or an underwear liner. There are also a few ways to maintain your vaginal health, and prevent excessive and discolored vaginal discharge from developing. Like:

  • Wear underwear made of breathable fabrics (like cotton)

  • Don’t douche 

  • Don’t use feminine sprays or scented products in the vagina

  • Wipe from front to back 


Vaginal discharge is often your body’s way of keeping your vagina healthy. And it’s totally normal. But when it turns certain colors, that can be a sign that something’s off. If that happens  and you aren’t sure what’s causing it, your best bet is to see your doctor and get it checked out. 

Updated on Jan. 10 to reflect new information.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not constitute a medical opinion, medical advice, or diagnosis or treatment of any particular condition. 

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