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How to Clean Your Belly Button, Which Might Smell Pretty Terrible

Chances are, you need to spend a bit more time giving yours a scrub.

Of all our body’s many nooks and crannies, the belly button is largely ignored. Sure, we know it’s there, have an idea of whether it’s an innie or outie, pluck the occasional mass of lint from it, and give it a passing scrub in the shower. But it does not have a place in the hierarchy of body parts that need attention. This should change. If you work out regularly or just, you know, sweat, a smelly belly button is not an unlikely scenario. Given the challenges of getting a good sniff at your mid-section, you won’t be the one to catch a whiff — and a nose full of navel stank is not something you want for your partner. So, knowing the ins and outs of innies and outies, how to clean your belly button properly, and what to do if it needs a little more love is important. 

Why Belly Buttons Smell…

Like your other recesses, your navel is a warm, moist bowl of sweat, dead skin, and grime — the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive. In fact, there are twice as many species of bacteria in the average belly button as there are species of North American birds, according to a 2012 study. 

For the most part, these bacteria are harmless. With regular cleaning, the level of bacteria inhabiting your belly button should be low enough that there won’t be an odor. But left unchecked, the bacteria could multiply and become dense enough to result in a yucky smell — at least for whoever is tearing your shirt off in a fit of passion. 

Let’s suppose for a second that you’ve been avoiding bathing like a medieval European. In that case, the bacteria buildup could be significant — and even cause a fungal infection. One such infection is candidal intertrigo — the armpit, groin, and belly button version of a vaginal yeast infection. In addition to the smell, an infected belly button could appear red and scaly. In some cases, blisters will form.

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Another possible cause for a stank belly button is an infected cyst under the skin. This causes the area to become red, inflamed, sore, and tender to the touch. If it seeps pus, then the smell will be more than unpleasant, to put it nicely. 

How to Clean Your Belly Button Properly

Washing regularly is a pretty effective way to prevent the buildup of the dead skin, sweat, and oils your body is naturally depositing into your navel. 

When showering or bathing, use warm water. With mild soap and a washcloth, gently clean around and just inside your belly button. Rinse with warm water. When you get out, dry it with a corner of your towel or cotton swab, making sure to get all the water out — as excess moisture can aid bacteria.

What to Do If Your Belly Button Really Smells

Bathing regularly should be all you need to keep the stink away. But for more extreme belly button smells, you may want to go nuclear.  

“If you have a more persistent odor issue, clean inside your navel with a Q-Tip dipped in hydrogen peroxide,” recommends Chunbai Zhang, Chief of Employee and Occupational Health, Puget Sound VA, and Assistant Professor of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. “Do it once a day for as long as the smell remains.”

Use the cotton swab to rub the surfaces inside your belly button gently. If the swab comes out dirty, replace it, and keep going with a fresh one (or more) until it comes out clean. Once you’ve cleaned it out, shower and repeat the soap and washcloth routine, making sure to completely dry it after. 

Avoid applying moisturizer, as extra stuff in there will give bacteria more opportunity to grow.

Belly Button Hygiene: Serious Issues to Be Aware Of

Infection and other issues like a cyst could require a doctor’s attention. Look for symptoms like discharge, swelling, redness, itching, pain, or a lump, which could be symptoms of a more severe condition. And if the belly button smell continues for more than 10 days, Dr. Zhang says to seek advice from a medical professional.