Why Your Belly Button Smells And What To Do About It

Photo: progressman / shutterstock
woman holding up sweater showing belly button

We know that the armpits, genital areas, and other areas that tend to get a little funky during the day need some extra TLC when it comes to showering. Most people also take extra care to wash their face and scrub their scalp.

But when was the last time you took a moment to clean your belly button?

The belly button is a strange body part. Once the umbilical cord is cut when you’re born, the belly button pretty much serves no use. But we’re stuck with it and have to take care of it regardless, and neglecting it can actually lead to a host of issues including a smelly belly button.

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Why does my belly button smell?

There are several issues that could be the cause of a stinky smelling belly button.

1. Poor hygiene

Fun fact: the belly button is home to 2,368 types of bacteria. And just like the bacteria that accumulates around your armpits, that bacteria can start producing a smell if not cleaned thoroughly.

People with innie belly buttons are especially prone to acquiring an offensive belly button odor when things such as lint, dirt, and dead skin cells get caught in the belly button, causing that bacteria to multiply.

2. Sweat

As you’ve probably experienced with your armpits, sweat can make you smell pretty foul. The smell from sweaty armpits happens when certain bacteria that live in your armpits come into contact with sweat.

As there are bacteria also living in your belly button, the same thing can happen there.

3. An infected belly button piercing

Any fold or hole in your skin is prime real estate for bacteria to collect. Not only is your belly button a sort of hole in and of itself, but adding a hole for a belly button piercing doubles your chance of an infection.

4. Candida infection

Candida is a type of yeast that lives on the skin and inside the body. In normal numbers, candida isn’t harmful or even noticeable. But an overgrowth of candida can cause an infection.

Most women know all too well how terrible candida infections in the vagina, called yeast infections, can be. But candida can also cause infections elsewhere in the body, such as the belly button.

Candida infections in the belly button are called candidal intertrigo. It’s common after surgery, particularly after surgery to fix an umbilical hernia.

5. Cysts

There are a few different types of cysts that can affect the belly button area.

Epidermoid cysts are small lumps that develop under the skin due to an excess of trapped keratin. They’re filled with cheesy-like, white keratin debris, and are usually painless.

Pilar cysts are small bumps that develop on the surface of the skin. They’re also benign.

While these two types of cysts don’t pose any serious health risks, they may become infected, which could cause your belly button to smell.

Sebaceous cysts form in the sebaceous gland which produces the oil found on your hair and skin. When this gland or its duct gets blocked, it can cause a sebaceous cyst filled with keratin to form. If the cyst oozes, it may produce a smell.

Sebaceous cysts can be cancerous in some situations, so it’s best to see your doctor if you’re unsure.

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How to Fix A Smelly Belly Button

If your belly button smells, the first thing to do is figure out the cause of the smell. That will help you take the right course of action when it comes to fixing the problem and preventing it in the future.

Clean your belly button properly.

“There is a technique to cleaning the belly button. It involves soap and water and gentle probing,” Dr. Claire Cronin, Executive Chair of Specialties at Atrius Health, explains in “Worcester Medicine.”

Wash your belly button area with soap and warm water, and consider gently using a Q-tip to really get in there.

“Care must be taken not to scratch the inside of the skin, which can cause infections,” Cronin says. "Apparently alcohol should not be used in order not to disturb the delicate pH balance of the area.”

Dry your belly button thoroughly after showers or baths.

Bacteria thrive in moist (sorry) environments, so be sure to always pat your belly button dry — yes, all the way in there — after showering to discourage bacteria overgrowth.

Avoid tight clothing.

Tight clothing can irritate infections, cysts, cuts, and other trauma to the skin that’s already formed. While you’re dealing with the smell from your belly button, stick to loose clothing to give your skin room to breathe.

Take proper care of piercings.

Always be sure to care for your piercing exactly as directed to avoid infection.

When to See a Doctor

If you’re not sure of the cause behind your smelly belly button, it’s best to make an appointment with your doctor who can help you figure out what’s going on.

While many reasons for a smelly belly button are harmless and can be cleared up with a good washing, there are some signs, such as pus coming out of your belly button, that the smell coming from your belly button is an indication of something more serious.

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Micki Spollen is an editor, writer, and traveler. Follow her on Instagram and keep up with her travels on her website.