Why Does Your Belly Button Smell?

    Updated 15 February 2021 |
    Published 24 April 2019
    Fact Checked
    Reviewed by Dr. Andrei Marhol, General practitioner, medical advisor, Flo Health Inc., Lithuania
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    Your belly button, or navel, tends to collect germs, sweat, and dirt. In fact, your belly button can even grow dozens of different bacteria.

    Belly button infections 

    Like other parts of the body, the belly button can gather bacteria or fungi over time. This may trigger an infection, creating a funky smell in your belly button. People who have an “innie” belly button or a pierced navel may develop these infections more easily. Making sure your belly button is clean will help prevent any unpleasant smells and keep it healthy. 

    Belly button cysts

    Cysts are liquid- or pus-filled growths that may feel hard or soft. If a cyst becomes infected, it can cause fluid to leak from the belly button. There are different types of cysts depending on what led to their formation. 

    Newborns and older kids can develop urachal cysts. The urachus is the tube that connects the fetal bladder to the umbilical cord. Although the urachus usually closes before a baby is born, sometimes it fails to seal completely. In this case, a cyst may form on it later in life. Other symptoms may occur, such as abdominal pain, a fever, and pain when urinating. 

    Other types of cysts — sebaceous (from sebaceous glands), epidermoid (from surface skin cells), and pilar (from hair follicle) — can also result in belly button discharge. If you think you may have a cyst, never try to burst it on your own. Instead, seek advice from a health care provider.

    Poor hygiene

    One of the most common causes of belly button odor is poor hygiene. The belly button can trap sweat, dead skin, and dirt. Many people forget to wash their belly buttons regularly, so germs tend to develop there. To keep a clean and healthy belly button, maintaining your overall hygiene is important. 

    Your skin houses trillions of bacteria that naturally develop and are usually harmless. The belly button’s folds of skin give the bacteria a great environment in which to grow. Bacteria have no odor, but if they get too densely packed, the decomposition of waste products can create a specific belly button smell. 

    Newborn belly button smell

    A newborn baby is covered with amniotic and birth canal secretions and may not smell pleasant. After a bath (excluding the umbilical cord), this odor goes away. After delivery, the umbilical cord attaching the baby to the mother will be cut. Because the cord’s blood supply is cut, it starts to dry and wither. A purple-blue stump may remain until it completely falls off. Then, the belly button may surface as early as the third day after birth; however, it usually takes up to two weeks to appear. The cord stump/belly button may smell unpleasant at first, but this smell will fade once the residual cord stump falls off completely.

    Smelly navel risk factors 

    You’re more likely to experience a smelly belly button in the following circumstances: 

    • if you have diabetes 
    • if you recently had a belly button piercing 
    • if you are overweight

    Preventing a smelly button 

    • Washing your belly button at least once a day prevents a buildup of the dead skin, sweat, and oils that your body produces naturally. Showering or bathing daily can also help prevent skin problems and unpleasant odors. Especially after sweating a lot, such as in hot weather or after strenuous exercises, make sure to wash your body well.
    • Using warm water and soap, gently clean in and around your belly button. Rinse the soap with warm water and dry your belly button with a clean towel.

    Cleaning your belly button

    If you’re noticing an odor from your belly button, you may need to clean the area more thoroughly. Here are the steps:

    • Depending on the sensitivity of your skin, you can use water, a saltwater solution, or hydrogen peroxide to clean your belly button.  
    • Dip one side of a cotton swab into a cleansing agent and gently wipe your belly button. Delicately work your way across the belly button, being careful not to rub inside the navel and cause irritation. 
    • If your navel still seems dirty or smelly, start the process again with a new, clean swab. When you’re done, make sure to remove any excessive cleansing agent from your navel.
    • Apply a small drop of baby oil to replace the natural oils you may have wiped away.
    • If your belly button feels dry, gently apply some ointment in and around the center of your navel. Then, remove any excess ointment with a swab. 

    Washing your belly button should stop the unpleasant smell if it’s from a buildup of dirt and germs. However, if the odor persists even after cleaning, you may want to see a health care provider. If you develop redness, swelling, aching, or discharge, your belly button may be infected. This is especially problematic if you have a navel piercing. If needed, a health care provider may prescribe antibiotics or other treatment to help you feel better.


    “Umbilical Care.” Raising Children Network, 10 Oct. 2017, raisingchildren.net.au/newborns/health-daily-care/hygiene-keeping-clean/umbilical-care. “How to Clean Your Belly Button and Prevent Infection.” UPMC HealthBeat, 27 July 2015, share.upmc.com/2015/07/how-to-keep-your-bellybutton-navel-clean-the-right-way/. “Infected Piercings.” NHS Choices, NHS, 16 Apr. 2020, www.nhs.uk/conditions/infected-piercings/. “Skin Cyst.” NHS Choices, NHS, 15 Apr. 2020, www.nhs.uk/conditions/skin-cyst/. “Urachal Cyst.” Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/5425/urachal-cyst. Hulcr, Jiri, et al. “A Jungle in There: Bacteria in Belly Buttons Are Highly Diverse, but Predictable.” PloS One, Public Library of Science, 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3492386/. “Body Odour (BO).” NHS Choices, NHS, 10 Jan. 2019, www.nhs.uk/conditions/body-odour-bo/.

    History of updates

    Current version (15 February 2021)

    Reviewed by Dr. Andrei Marhol, General practitioner, medical advisor, Flo Health Inc., Lithuania

    Published (24 April 2019)

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