Shocking reason women used Lysol disinfectant on their genitals revealed

spraying lysol on crotch
Doctors warn the outdated practice is unneccesary and dangerous. Photo credit: Getty.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given most of us a greater appreciation for disinfectants than ever before. Many of us are frantically spraying and wiping down surfaces with harsh cleaners to kill off germs and bacteria, while trying to avoid getting any of the chemicals on our skin. 

Apparently that's a far cry from the use it used to have. According to a BuzzFeed report, mid-20th century women would regularly use harsh disinfectants on their genitals in order to be "better wives".

US disinfectant Lysol was the number one selling 'feminine hygiene' product in the early to mid 1900s - sold as both a douche and a female contraceptive. 

A series of vintage advertisements show just how bizarrely the household cleaner was marketed. One 1930s Lysol poster depicts a beautiful woman with the caption: "She was a jewel of a wife... with just one flaw". 

"She was guilty of the one neglect that mars many marriages. LYSOL helps avoid this." 

Reading between the lines that neglect was having a vagina with a regular PH balance, resulting in a genital odour which repulses husbands. 

According to historian Andrea Tone, the sentiment was echoed by prominent European 'doctors' who issued extensive Lysol testimonials. Later investigation by the American Medical Association showed that these experts did not exist.

Tone also explained in her 2001 book Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America it wasn't just supposed cleanliness the disinfectant was used for. Many women thought disinfecting their genitals was a reliable form of contraception, with references to "odours" or "germs" alluding to sperm. 

Keeping your body "germ-free" or maintaining your "dainty feminine allure" meant preventing pregnancy, writes Tone. 

But unsurprisingly, the use of Lysol on the vagina and vulva was highly dangerous. The antiseptic soap's pre-1953 formula contained cresol, a phenol compound reported in some cases to cause inflammation, burning and even death. By 1911 doctors had recorded 193 Lysol poisonings and five deaths from uterine irrigation.

Yale University's clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences Dr Mary January Minkin tells BuzzFeed that the outdated and dangerous cleaning regimes would have done more harm than good. 

"Women never need to institute a 'cleaning' regime for their vagina, as long as they aren't having any problems," said Dr Minkin.

"Many women think they have to scrub their vulvas and vaginas, but they don't. Sometimes they end up using soaps with 'extra cleaning power' and those can be toxic to the vagina. 

"Sometimes people also think they need to douche regularly to 'clean out the bacteria,' but that is not true."