Why does my belly button smell?” – Have you ever asked yourself this question? I`m sure you did, at least once, since you are reading this article!


Stinky/smelly belly button is, in most cases, not a serious health threat but it may point to a certain medical condition. More often than not, it can be linked to poor hygiene, but there are cases when the belly button area produces a smelly discharge, poop or fish-like smell, itching or pain. (click here to find out more about belly button pain)

In the following paragraphs, we are going to cover the most common causes of a smelly belly button, ways to deal with it and a proper way to maintain a healthy belly button hygiene routine. But first:

Belly Button – Anatomy

Belly button, the navel (clinically known as umbilicus), is basically a scar on our abdomen. We generally don’t view it as a scar since we`ve had it for as long as we can remember but it is just that – a scar at the attachment of the umbilical cord.

The navel is so prominent and relatively consistent on the abdomen, it is used to visually separate it into four quadrants: right upper and lower and left upper and lower quadrant. (see abdominal quadrants here)

The Belly Button’s Rain Forrest

why-does-my-belly-button-smell---bacteria

To give you a better idea of what goes on in the belly button and why does it sometimes stink, we thought we’d share the results of a research study published on National Geographic Website.

The main goal of the study was to examine the microbial contents of 60 volunteers’ belly buttons. And the results were nothing short of amazing – the scientists discovered a total of 2.368 bacterial species, 1.458 of which may be completely new to science! Meaning an average belly button harbored around 67 species!

Unfortunately the goal of the study was not to answer the question “Why do our belly button smell,” but studies like these help us get a better understanding of ourselves and our bodies.

“Outies” And “Innies” – Anatomy and Smelly Belly Button

Accoring to a certain non-scientific poll, over 90% of all individuals have what is called a innie belly button (a belly button that faces inwards). The rest have an outie.

Now, even though an innie is considered more appealing visually (there are even surgeries designed to transform and outie into an innie), an outward facing belly button is less prone to bacteria growth therefore, less prone to bacteria-induced “foul odor” problem.

We are, of course, not suggesting you should get a surgery if you have and inward facing belly; this is just an anatomical curiosity…

Why Is Your Navel Smelly – Most Common Causes Of A Smelly Belly Button


Navel is generally a place where oil and dirt accumulates, so a “smelly situation” is not as surprising as it may seem at first.

Based on people’s complaints, we can divide this smell into two distinct categories:

  1. a strange, undefined smell, harder to pinpoint and
  2. a distinct foul smell, resembling poop, cheese or a fish gone bad

Either way, a strange smell (that comes back after you’ve cleaned your navel) is a clear sign that something is wrong and it would be best to get it checked out. Meanwhile, here are some of the most common causes of a smelly belly button:

  • Fungal Infection – from what you’ve read so far, you must think that the belly button is the perfect breeding ground for all sorts of infections… Well, you are not that far from the truth actually… The belly button is dark and damp and, as such, suitable for yeast infection growth. Most common symptoms of a belly button yeast infection are:
    • Itching – since the yeast infection will erode healthy skin cells, it may lead to itching. The best way to deal with this itching is to get an anti-itching cream
    • Redness – skin will often become red when irritated but this redness will go away as you start dealing with the infection
    • Discharge and Odor – a thick, white or yellowish discharge is usually a clear sign of a yeast infection, accompanied by a foul odor
  • Bacterial infection – belly buttons are prone to bacterial infections, especially when unclean and unwashed. These infections will often lead to a yellowish or even brown discharge, pain and unpleasant smell. A common way to identify a bacterial infection is a fouls smell that keeps coming back even after washing.
  • Infected belly button piercing – as surprising as it may seem, the infected navel piercing rate is quite high (in excess of 30%). Common causes are unsterylized piering equipment, touching your piercing with dirty hands and generally poor “piercing” hygiene. You will know your belly button is infected if you notice swelling, redness and tenderness around the piercing. Also, you might notice a rash and a foul-smelling discharge. Since the skin integrity has been broken, these infections can lead to more severe health problems and should be addressed as soon as you spot them.
  • Diabetes – Diabetics are prone to infections in general, not only in the navel region. Also, the infections last longer and are more difficult to address and heal. Depending on the severity and duration, these infections may lead to a horrible smelling discharge, resembling fish or cheese gone bad.
  • Pregnancy – foul smelling belly button during pregnancy is nothing out of the ordinary and here is why. During pregnancy, obviously, the body goes through a number of changes – physical, psychological and hormonal, and as the hormones start going wild, the metabolism might speed up and result in increased perspiration. This extra sweat will find its way to the belly button and you may notice a certain odor. A quick fix is to clean your belly button twice a day using q-tips with rubbing alcohol.
  • UV ligh exposure – it is a well-known fact that UV light damages the skin. The extent of this damage will largely depend on the amount of time you spend exposed to the direct sun light. Overexposure can lead to skin damage which in-turn increases the risk for the development of infections.
  • Sebaceous cysts – sebaceous cysts are small, noncancerous bumps under the skin. They are most common on face, neck and on the trunk. These bumps are usually small, reddish with a tiny blackhead opening at the very top of the cyst. Most common way of treatment for these cysts is just to leave them alone. In some rare cases, your doctor will make a small incision and drain them. Even if you do not attempt to drain them, they will sometimes leak with a foul-smelling, thick, yellow pus.
  • Urachal abnormalitiesUrachus is a remnant of a channel wich connected our bladder and belly button during the first trimester of pregnancy. This channel usually goes away completely around the 12th week of pregnancy. In some rare cases, urachus does not go away and leads to a condition known as patent urachus. Patients with PU are more prone to belly button infections which are accompanied by a strong-smelling discharge.

Why Does My Belly Button Smell After A Tummy Tuck?

tummy-tuck---smelly-navelIt is important to note here that the smell does not appear right after the surgery, patients usually notice it after a few days (even months or years!). When this happens, we usually suspect one of two things:

  1. Retained sutures – if you notice a foul smell coming from the navel region few weeks or months following the tummy tuck surgery, chances are there are still some remaining sutures that need to be removed. You should contact your surgeon and sort it out.
  2. Navel contraction – sometimes, due to scarring, the navel opening might contract and essentially become too tight so you just skip over it when washing yourself. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to give it a little stretch and allow yourself to access it and give it a thorough, deep cleansing.

Treating Belly Button Smell

Treating is not the same for all patients, it will largely depend on the underlying cause (this is why we always advise seeing a doctor). For example:

  • if urachus is the problem, you must undergo a surgery to remove it
  • infections are usually treated with topical creams and/or ingestible medication
  • diabetes will require lifestyle changes and
  • cysts will usually be better off left alone

A Proper Way To Clean Your Belly Button

In addition to pointing to a more serious health condition, a smelly belly button can be plain embarrassing; this is why most people don’t even talk about it and, in some cases, adopt poor hygiene habits.

After reading this article, you won’t be able to make any more excuses ’cause we are going to give you a full navel cleaning routine:

  • Preparation – it is always a good idea to gather all the necessities before you begin the cleansing process. Nothing is set in stone here, but you can start with water, baby oil, alcohol, a cotton swab (q-tip) and an astringent
  • Dip and clean – dip the cotton swab into your desired cleaning solution and swab your navel. Repeat several times until you get all the dirt out and your navel is nice and clean
  • Remove solution – after you remove the dirt, repeat swabbing your belly button with a clean cotton swab until your navel is nice and dry
  • Aftercare – after you’ve cleaned your belly button, you should apply a skin care ointment or a cream to nurture and care the skin you’ve just treated!


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