Dirt, bacteria, fungus, and germs can get trapped inside your belly button and start to multiply, which can cause an infection.

If you develop a belly button infection, you might notice white, yellow, brown, or bloody discharge seeping out of it. That discharge might also have an unpleasant smell.

Here are a few causes of belly button discharge, along with advice on how to treat them.

Causes of belly button discharge include:

Bacterial infection

The average belly button is home to 67 different types of bacteria, according to a 2012 study. If you don’t clean the area well, these bacteria could cause an infection. Belly button piercings can also get infected.

Bacterial infections cause a foul-smelling discharge that can be yellow or green. You can also have swelling, pain, and a scab around your belly button.

Yeast infection

Candida, a type of yeast that typically grows in damp, dark areas of the body, causes a yeast infection called candidiasis. It can occur between skin folds, such as in your groin area and under your arms.

Yeast can also take up residence in your belly button, especially if you don’t keep it clean and dry.

Candidiasis in your belly button causes a red, itchy rash on your belly button and may also cause a thick, white discharge.

People with diabetes are at a higher risk for all types of infections. This includes candidiasis, according to a 2019 study.

Surgery

If you’ve recently had abdominal surgery, such as hernia repair, you might notice pus draining from your belly button.

If this happens, call your doctor. It could be a sign of an infection that needs to be treated.

Urachal cyst

When you were developing in your mother’s womb, your bladder was connected to the umbilical cord by a small tube called the urachus. This is how urine drained from your body.

Usually, the urachus closes up before birth, but sometimes it fails to close properly.

A fluid-filled growth called a cyst can form on the urachus, and the cyst can get infected. One symptom of this infection is cloudy or bloody fluid leaking from your belly button.

Other symptoms of urachal cysts include:

Epidermoid cyst

An epidermoid cyst is a bump that can form in your belly button as well as on other parts of your body. Epidermoid cysts are the most common type of cysts found on the skin.

The cyst walls are similar to the skin surface or the upper segment of a hair follicle. The cyst cavity is filled with keratin, a type of protein normally found in the nails, hair, and skin.

Epidermoid cysts are sometimes mistakenly referred to as sebaceous cysts. However, this usage is incorrect, since epidermoid cysts don’t involve the sebaceous glands.

There may be a blackhead in the center of the cyst. If the cyst is infected, a thick, yellow, and foul-smelling discharge will drain from it. The cyst might also be red and swollen.

See your doctor if you have discharge. It could be a sign of infection, especially if you’ve recently had surgery.

Other symptoms of an infection include:

Your doctor will examine your belly button. Looking at the area may be enough for them to diagnose the cause of your discharge.

Your doctor might also remove some of the discharge or cells from your belly button and send the sample to a lab. A technician will look at the cells or fluid under a microscope to see if you have an infection.

The cause of the discharge determines the treatment.

To treat an infection

Keep the skin of your belly button clean and dry.

Use an antifungal powder or cream to clear up a yeast infection.

For a bacterial infection, your doctor might recommend using an antibiotic ointment. Some infections may require oral antibiotic treatment, incision and drainage of the cyst, or both.

If you have diabetes, work with your endocrinologist to make sure your blood sugar is well managed.

You can book an appointment with an endocrinologist in your area using our Healthline FindCare tool.

To treat a urachal cyst

Your doctor will first treat the infection with oral or topical antibiotics. The cyst might need to be drained as well.

Once the infection has cleared, treatment involves removing the cyst with laparoscopic surgery. Your doctor will perform this surgery through a small opening in your abdomen.

To treat an epidermoid cyst

Your doctor might inject medication into the epidermoid cyst to bring down swelling or make a small cut in it and drain out the fluid. Another option is to remove the whole cyst with surgery or a laser.

To keep your belly button healthy and to help prevent infections:

  • Wash daily with a mild antibacterial soap and water. Use your washcloth or sponge to get inside your belly button and clean out any dirt that’s inside. You can also use a saltwater solution to clean your belly button.
  • After you bathe, dry the inside of your belly button completely.
  • Don’t put any creams or moisturizers inside your belly button. Cream can clog up the hole and encourage bacteria or yeast to grow.
  • Avoid tight clothes, which can irritate your belly button. Instead, wear loose, comfortable clothes made from natural fibers such as cotton and silk.
  • Avoid piercing your belly button. If you do get a piercing, keep the area clean to help prevent infection.

Your outcome depends on the cause of your belly button discharge and how well you care for it.

See your doctor if you have any symptoms of infection, such as redness, swelling, and foul-smelling drainage.

After careful evaluation, they’ll decide whether it’s necessary for you to receive treatment with an antibiotic or antifungal medication. These treatments will help clear up the infection quickly.