Clean Your D*mn Belly Button

There are twice as many species of bacteria in the average belly button as there are species of North American birds.

by Matt Schneiderman
Originally Published: 
Matt Henry Gunther/The Image Bank/Getty Images

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 doesn’t 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 smelly belly button odors are coming from and how to clean your belly button. But it can be difficult to tell when you have a belly button that smells bad. 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 Does My Belly Buttons Smell?

Like your other recesses, your belly button 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 largely harmless. With regular cleaning, the level of bacteria inhabiting your belly button should be low enough that there won’t be an odor. Left unchecked, however, the bacteria could multiply and become dense enough to result in an itchy belly button with a bad smell.

Let’s suppose 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, and belly button. Basically, it’s 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. This can cause 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

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. When cleaning your belly button, 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 a cotton swab, Make 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 your belly button from stinking. But for more extreme 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,” says Chunbai Zhang, MD, Chief of Employee and Occupational Health at the Puget Sound VA and a professor of medicine at the 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 out your navel, shower and repeat the soap and washcloth routine, making sure to completely dry it after.

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

Serious Issues to Be Aware Of With Smelly Belly Buttons

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 signs of a more severe condition. And if the belly button smell lasts for more than 10 days, Dr. Zhang says to seek advice from a medical professional.

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