October 05, 2021

Why Does My Belly Button Smell? Why and How to Clean It.

Boy in swim trunks touching his belly button.

Your belly button (or navel) is the scar where your umbilical cord was attached when you were in the womb. While it doesn’t have any function after you’re born, you still need to take care of it like you do the rest of the skin on your body. 

Since your navel is pretty far from your nose, if you’re able to smell an odor coming from it, that’s something you should investigate. Even if you don’t smell it but others close to you can, you should take action.

What makes a belly button smell and what can you do about it? This article explains. 

Causes of Belly Button Odor

There are three main causes of belly button odor:

  • Accumulation of dirt and debris. Simply put, a belly button full of gunk will eventually start to smell. And that gunk can be things other than belly button lint. Your belly button is home to many types of bacteria. You may also have fungi (like the yeast called Candida) and other germs in there. Combine that with dead skin cells and the natural oils from your skin and you’ve got the recipe for an unpleasant odor.
  • Infection. As noted above, your belly button has its own dark, warm, moist ecosystem of microorganisms. If any of them start to grow out of control for any reason, you can develop an infection. People with diabetes mellitus may have a higher risk of developing an infection in their belly button area, as do patients who recently had surgery in that area, such as to correct an umbilical hernia. Having a belly button piercing also increases your risk of infection. 
  • Cysts. It’s possible to develop different types of cysts in your belly button. These include epidermoid cysts (which develop on the top layer of skin), pilar cysts (which start near a hair follicle), and sebaceous cysts (which are less common and develop in sebaceous glands). 

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How to Prevent Belly Button Odor

The best way to prevent belly button odor is to keep the area clean. To do that, you can apply antibacterial soap to a washcloth or your finger and gently clean your belly button when you take a shower or bath. It’s important to be gentle, as vigorous scrubbing can irritate the skin, which may increase your risk of infection. If your belly button is particularly dirty, you can dip your finger into some table salt and gently massage your belly button before rinsing it thoroughly. 

When you get out of the shower, be sure to pat your belly button dry. 

It’s also a good idea to avoid using lotions or other skincare products around your belly button. They may create an environment that increases the risk of infection.

When to Contact Your Doctor About Your Smelly Belly Button

Most cases of stinky belly button resolve after a few gentle but thorough cleanings. You should contact your doctor if that doesn’t help, or if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Redness or discoloration in or around your belly button
  • Swelling in the area
  • Discharge of pus or fluid from your belly button
  • Pain in your abdomen
  • Fever

Belly button infections can be treated with antibiotic/antifungal creams. Your doctor also may prescribe oral antibiotics if appropriate. Belly button cysts can be drained, injected with medication, or removed entirely as needed. 

Your doctor will also recommend that you avoid wearing tight clothing that can irritate your belly button area, particularly while you’re being treated for a belly button issue.  

If you don’t have a Baptist Health doctor, you can find one using our online provider directory

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