When taking care of personal hygiene, we don’t often think about our bellybuttons. But just like the rest of your body, they need to be cleaned. In fact, a 2012 study found that 67 different types of bacteria are in the average bellybutton.

Most bellybuttons have crevices that can collect dirt and breed bacteria. Aim to clean yours about once a week.

How you clean your bellybutton depends on what kind you have:

How to clean your innie bellybutton

Before you take your next shower:

  1. Dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and gently rub the surfaces inside your bellybutton. If the swab gets dirty, throw it away and start a new one.
  2. Once the cotton swab comes out clean, use a fresh one dipped in water to rinse the alcohol out of your bellybutton so it doesn’t dry your skin.
  3. Following your shower, gently dry the inside of your bellybutton with another clean, dry swab or the corner of a towel or washcloth.

If you use body lotion, keep it away from your innie bellybutton. In the innie environment, the moisture from the lotion could promote bacterial growth and make your bellybutton dirty again.

How to clean your outie bellybutton

Since an outie is more accessible than an innie, the cleaning process is much easier. In your next shower:

  1. Lather up a washcloth, and gently scrub your bellybutton. Rinse off the soap.
  2. After your shower, dry your bellybutton thoroughly.
  3. Massage some lotion onto your bellybutton.

How to clean your pierced bellybutton

If your piercing is recent, follow the instructions your piercer gave you for the proper cleaning regimen to avoid infection.

If your bellybutton piercing is fully healed:

  1. Follow the cleaning instructions for the type of bellybutton you have, innie or outie.
  2. Gently wash the pierced area with a cotton ball that’s been soaked in a solution of 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt in 8 ounces of boiled water that’s been cooled.

If you don’t want to make the solution yourself, you can buy an isotonic saline solution at a drugstore or online.

If you don’t clean your bellybutton, a number of problems could occur. These can include:

  • Yeast infection. Most bellybuttons are a breeding ground for bacteria since they’re a dark, moist area where skin often rests against skin. As a result, you could get a yeast infection in your bellybutton.
  • Smell. Even if you don’t develop a yeast infection, the accumulation of sweat, dirt, dead skin cells, and lint can cause your bellybutton to smell.
  • Omphaloliths. As dead skin cells and sebum — the oil secreted by your skin — accumulate in your bellybutton, they can form an omphalolith over time. Also known as a navel stone, they’re made of the same materials that form blackheads. The surface of a navel stone will turn black from oxidation. Naval stones aren’t typically pressured out like a blackhead, but removed with tweezers.

Although most people don’t spend much time thinking about their bellybuttons, it’s not a bad idea to clean yours every week or so. Cleaning your bellybutton can help you avoid potential infections, smells, and other results of poor hygiene.

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