How to Clean Your Belly Button and Prevent Infection

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Your belly button is pretty easy to forget. This abdominal scar marks the spot where your umbilical cord was once attached. Post-birth, it doesn’t offer any real function.

But the navel can be a breeding ground for dirt, sweat, bacteria, and a variety of unpleasant substances, particularly if you’ve had this spot pierced. In fact, the average belly button harbors more than 67 kinds of bacteria.

Why Does My Belly Button Smell?

Discharge and smells can be a result of several different factors, though slight navel odors are typically normal. If you have a combination of foul smell and discharge, it could be a sign of:

  • A fungal infection or yeast infection of the belly button.
  • A bacterial infection of the belly button.
  • A wound or bruise around or within the belly button.
  • A simple build-up of sweat and belly button dirt.

Belly Button Infection

Belly buttons that are crusted, inflamed, or itchy may be infected.

Infected belly button symptoms

Common symptoms of a belly button infection or allergic reaction to a piercing include:

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  • Red, itchy skin around the navel.
  • Foul smells.
  • Swelling.
  • Yellow, green, or dark-colored discharge.
  • Persistent pain, particularly around a piercing.
  • Blistering around the navel or piercing.

Rarely, people can develop stone-like masses inside the belly button. Known as omphaliths or umboliths, these growths can fill the entire navel and lead to infection, inflammation, and ulcerated skin.

For these reasons, it’s important to keep your belly button as clean as possible.

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Who’s at risk?

You’re at higher risk of problems if you have an “innie” belly button or if you have your belly button pierced. That’s because deeper belly buttons and piercings are more apt to become infected.

How to Clean Your Belly Button

  1. The first step to a clean belly button may seem obvious, but it bears mentioning. A shower with plain old soap and water should remove lint, dirt, and some bacteria. You don’t need to scrub, but you should make sure the shower washes away obvious grime.
  2. If you have an “outie,” lucky you: Your belly button is probably pretty clean. Those with deeper navels may need to get a little more aggressive about cleanliness. Dip your finger or a soft washcloth in a solution of saltwater (about a teaspoon of table salt in a cup of warm water) and gently massage the inside of your navel. This should loosen stubborn germs that can cause odor. Then rinse with plain water and pat it dry.
  3. Resist the temptation to apply lotions or creams to your belly button. The extra moisture can contribute to bacterial or fungal growth.

How to Clean a Belly Button Piercing

If you have a navel piercing, you’ll need to pay special attention to your belly button. You can use the same saltwater solution mentioned above:

  1. Wet a clean cloth in the solution and apply it to the area as a warm compress several times a day. This should remove any discharge or crust and allow you to gently move the jewelry through the piercing.
  2. Pat it dry when you’re finished.

Remember, if your belly button still smells and doesn’t respond to these approaches, you should visit your doctor. If you develop redness, swelling, pain, or discharge, your belly button could be infected. This is especially likely if you have a navel piercing. In this case, you may require antibiotics or other treatment and should visit UPMC Urgent Care right away.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on July 27, 2015.

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