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How to Clean Your Belly Button, Which May Not Smell Great

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

Face it: 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 smelly body parts that need attention. This should change. If you work out regularly or just, you know, sweat, you should put the time in to figuring out where these odors are coming from and how to clean your belly button.   Given the challenges of getting a good sniff at your mid-section, you probably 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 and regularly cleaning your belly button properly is important. Here’s everything you need to know. 

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, our entire body is swarming with all types of bacteria but they’re, for the most part, 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 an itchy belly button with a bad smell — at least for whoever is getting a noseful. 

Let’s suppose, however, 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. Candidal intertrigo is an infection that occurs around the armpit, groin. Basically, a 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.

Another possible cause for a smelly belly button is an infected cyst under the skin, causing 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. 

The Key to Cleaning Your Belly Button

Belly buttons are small, meaning that cleaning them shouldn’t be a huge ordeal. Washing up on a regular basis is a pretty effective way to prevent the buildup of the dead skin, sweat, and oils your body is naturally depositing into your navel. 

Warmer, as opposed to colder, water works better as a disinfectant. With mild soap and a washcloth, gently clean around and just inside your belly button. Rinse. Repeat. 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.

Smelly Belly Buttons: 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.