Row of pads showing the different period blood colours: red, pink, dark brown, orange, grey and black.

You may have already come across bright red, light red, or dark brown period flow. But what about pink, yellow, orange, grey or even black? Menstrual blood comes in all sorts of colours, smells, and textures — even sometimes including clots. So, what do they mean and how to know what’s normal? We’ve got you covered!

No two period days are necessarily the same, and it’s totally normal to experience different types of flow. One day it might be a really heavy flow, and a couple days later, only some light spotting

Period blood varies not just in intensity but also in colour, smell, and texture, and paying close attention to it can tell you a lot about what’s going on inside your body. Think of it like a message from your uterus, saying another menstrual cycle has begun and letting you know what’s up. 

But your flow doesn’t just change from day to day and cycle to cycle– it may look and smell different at different the stages of your life, from when you get your very first periods to menopause and every other in between.

And while changes in our menstrual flow are usually nothing to worry about, learning more about what exactly period blood is made from and the colours, smells, and textures you can expect can help you spot when something is off. 

What should period blood feel like?

To better understand the different textures that menstrual flows may have, it’s helpful to know what they are made up of. It’s basically a few different parts: blood (sometimes with clots), vaginal fluid, and the cells and fluid from the uterus lining. [1] Oh, and don’t forget about the unfertilised egg your body is letting go of — just don’t expect to spot it, it’s so small not even a magnifying glass would help! 

Each of these parts feels different, from liquid to gooey, and depending on how much there is of each, you’ll end up with a different menstrual flow texture.

What about period blood clots?

Menstrual blood clots are basically clumps of solid blood and tissue – that might feel and look like thick blobs of strawberry jam! They can be deep red and sometimes almost black. About 50% of us get period blood clots on a regular basis, [2] so it’s completely normal if you have them too, especially on your heaviest days. 

But if you’re often noticing large blood clots that are bigger than a coin (about 2.5cm across), you may want to mention this to your doctor or gynaecologist in case they’re a sign of any health issues.

Is there cervical mucus in period blood?

Cervical mucus is a fluid that contains antibodies to help protect your cervix from bad bacteria and viruses. [3] It changes texture at different phases of the menstrual cycle, and it can be stringy, like raw egg whites around your period. Cervical mucus may mix with menstrual blood, and when it does, the result is a jelly-like and slippery texture in your flow.

Some contraceptives can cause cervical mucus to thicken, so if you’ve recently started on hormonal contraception, you might notice that kind of texture in your period blood more often. There’s usually nothing to worry about if you spot this, but remember that you know your body better than anyone else, so if something doesn’t feel right, it’s best to talk to a medical professional.

What is the meaning of the different colours of period blood?

Menstrual blood flows out of the vagina at different speeds. It’s usually very quick at the start of a period and loses pace as the days go by. Blood that sticks around in the uterus for long enough reacts with oxygen (a process known as oxidization), which makes it appear darker. 

This means it’s normal to experience different menstrual blood colours at different times during your period. You might start with bright red blood on day 1 or 2, and then it could become a dark red on the heaviest days, before getting more brownish towards the end. 

Every colour has a meaning and a few may even warn you when something is wrong... we’ve got the lowdown.

Bright red period blood

Though it may be horror movies’ favourite shade, there’s nothing scary about bright red blood when it comes to your period. It’s actually quite typical during the first few days of the menstrual cycle. That’s when your uterine lining is shedding faster and your period blood is moving quickly out of your vagina: the faster the flow comes out, the brighter the red.

Dark red or brown period blood

Generally speaking, you might experience a dark red or even brown flow towards the end of your period. This is just menstrual blood that took longer to leave your body and has had more contact with oxygen while in your uterus and vagina.

What if I get brown discharge but no period?

Sometimes your discharge can also appear brown due to traces of blood left behind from your period – it’s a completely normal thing that many of us go through every cycle! But if you experience this regularly, you may want to learn more about brown discharge.

Light pink coloured period blood

There are a few explanations for light pink-coloured menstrual flow, although it’s often just a little period blood mixed with discharge.

In some cases it may be spotting, or specifically implantation spotting (which is an early sign of pregnancy).

Sometimes extremely light periods seem to be pink because there’s so little flow! This tends to happen particularly to people on hormonal contraception.

But light pink blood can also be explained by lower levels of the hormone oestrogen, which helps to stabilise the lining of your uterus. Less of this hormone means you may have irregular, lighter flows during your cycle. This is why people going through perimenopause may notice irregular, pink periods.

Orange or yellow period blood

Period blood may seem orange or yellow-tinged if it has mixed with yellowy discharge (a similar story to how pink flow can come about). Orange is one of the rarest colours of flow, so you‘re not likely to see this too often.

Sometimes, orange period blood could signal an issue like bacterial vaginosis or even a sexually transmitted infection (STI). So, if you see orange in your liner or underwear and are experiencing other changes like itching around your vulva and vagina, it’s probably best to get checked out by a doctor.

Black period blood

Sounds like something out of a sci-fi story, huh? Well, in reality, what may seem like “black” blood on your pad or period pants is just really dark brown menstrual blood, so it’s not scary at all! Some people say it can even look like coffee grounds. It’s normal to spot “black” period blood in the last few days, or even at the beginning of your period when your flow can contain old blood from your last cycle. [4] The biggest takeaway is that black period blood is not harmful in any way, so there’s no need to worry about it.

Grey period blood

Although it may seem like an unlikely colour, grey period blood can happen if menstrual flow mixes with grey discharge, which can be a sign of an infection such as bacterial vaginosis

In some cases, pieces of grey tissue accompanied by heavy bleeding can be a sign of miscarriage. Pregnancy can already be a worrying time as so many changes are happening with your body – but if you ever feel like something isn’t right, it’s always a good idea to talk to a medical professional. It’s your body, so trust yourself and consider getting a check-up if you’re pregnant and come across a grey flow.

Menstrual blood smell and body odour during periods

Menstrual flow normally does have a slight smell and typically, it’s metallic due to the iron in our blood. This can mix up with body odours such as the one from sweat, especially if the weather is hot or you’ve been exercising on your period. And although that’s completely normal, some women+ like using intimate wipes throughout the day to stay fresh. If that’s not your preference, at least changing your period product after a workout is always a good idea to keep any odours at bay.

Bad-smelling periods: when menstrual blood smells fishy or foul

It’s common to be hyper-aware of our own bodies and to sometimes feel like other people can smell our menstrual blood, but in reality, they can’t... not friends, or family, or strangers on the bus! The only person who notices your period blood smell is you, so try not to worry too much about it. Remember that just like it’s normal for vaginas to have an individual scent, so is it for menstrual flow. But if you’re familiar with your normal and still one day notice very strong or foul-smelling period blood, watch out! It could be a sign that something’s off.

If you use tampons, first check that you haven’t accidentally forgotten about one and remove it immediately if you have. Otherwise, menstrual flow that smells bad, fishy, yeasty, or rotten could be a sign of:

  • changes to your vaginal pH
  • a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) such as chlamydia
  • a vaginal infection like bacterial vaginosis (BV) or thrush (particularly if it smells yeasty like bread)

Since there are many causes for period blood odour, the most reliable way to get to the bottom of the problem is to make an appointment with your doctor or gynaecologist. They will be able to help you solve the mystery and offer the right solution to fix it if needed.

I’ve noticed that my vagina and discharge smell different after my period

It’s normal for your V-Zone (that’s everything to do with your vagina, vulva and the V-shaped front of your body that you can see) to smell a little different post-period. It‘s all to do with the pH, which is the scale of how alkaline or acidic something is. While your vagina usually has a low pH, meaning it is quite acidic, blood has a higher pH of around 7.4. Your period blood can cause the pH of your vagina to be a little higher during and just after you period, which explains why it may smell a little different than what you’re used to.[5]


At the end of the day, whether your menstrual blood is pink, red, brown, black or anything in-between, it’s all just a part of living with periods. Sometimes we have clots, sometimes we don’t. And it can smell different from one cycle to the next. What’s important is that you pay attention to your flow to get familiar with your normal. The more you get to know your body, the easier it’ll be to know when it's something to worry about and get the help you need.

If you’d like to learn more, why not read up all about living with periods or what period products are right for you?

Medical disclaimer

The medical information in this article is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please consult your doctor for guidance about a specific medical condition.




[References]

[1] Yang H, Zhou B, Prinz M, Siegel D. Proteomic analysis of menstrual blood. Mol Cell Proteomics. 2012 Oct;11(10):1024-35. doi: 10.1074/mcp.M112.018390. Epub 2012 Jul 20. PMID: 22822186; PMCID: PMC3494145.

[2] Santos IS, Minten GC, Valle NC, Tuerlinckx GC, Silva AB, Pereira GA, Carriconde JF. Menstrual bleeding patterns: A community-based cross-sectional study among women aged 18-45 years in Southern Brazil. BMC Womens Health. 2011 Jun 7;11(1):26. doi: 10.1186/1472-6874-11-26. PMID: 21649903; PMCID: PMC3118185.

[3] Suarez SS, Pacey AA. Sperm transport in the female reproductive tract. Human Reproduction Update. 2006 Jan 1;12(1):23-37.

[4]  https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/period-blood#brown/

[5] Wagner G, Ottesen B. Vaginal physiology during menstruation. Ann Intern Med. 1982 Jun;96(6 Pt 2):921-3. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-96-6-921. PMID: 6807162.

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