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Having an unpleasant belly button smell can be caused by dirt or bacteria that accumulates on the inside, an infection, or a skin condition like a cyst. If you’ve cleaned the area and still feel the smell, see your doctor.

Your belly button is pretty far south of your nose. If you happen to notice an unpleasant smell coming from that region, you might wonder what’s going on.

The simplest explanation for belly button odor is hygiene. In this hollow area, which is where the umbilical cord attached you to your parent while you were in the womb, the little belly button indentation is likely to collect the following if you don’t keep it clean:

  • dirt
  • debris
  • bacteria
  • other germs

Sometimes a stinky belly button can be a symptom of a condition that needs medical attention, such as an infection or cyst. Look for other symptoms that come along with these conditions, including:

Causes of a smelly belly button can range from improper hygiene to an infection.

Improper hygiene

Your belly button has its own tiny ecosystem. A 2012 research review showed that your belly button may be home to 67 bacteria types. Fungi and other germs can also get trapped inside your belly button region. Germs feast on substances that get trapped in your belly button, such as:

  • oil
  • dead skin
  • dirt
  • sweat
  • other debris

Then the germs and bacteria multiply. They create the foul smell, just as they make your armpits smell when you sweat. The deeper your belly button is, the more dirt and germs can build up inside it. An unpleasant odor comes from the mix of:

  • bacteria
  • dirt
  • sweat

The good news is that it’s easy to resolve the odor with some good hygiene habits.


Candida is a type of yeast that likes to grow in environments that are:

  • dark
  • warm
  • moist

Your groin and underarms are examples of the environments above. Your belly button also provides the perfect habitat for these tiny creatures, especially if you don’t keep it clean.

One 2014 study showed that you’re more likely to develop infections (like the kind you could develop if you don’t keep your belly button clean), including yeast infections, if you have diabetes.

Diabetes mellitus is a condition characterized by hyperglycemia, or an above-normal blood sugar level. This hyperglycemia reduces your immune system’s ability to fight off infections.

Recent surgery to your abdomen, such as surgery to fix an umbilical hernia, can also increase the risk of infection in your belly button area.

The skin near a belly button piercing can also develop an infection. Any time you create a hole in your skin, bacteria can get inside. Here are some tips for managing a belly button piercing with an infection.

If you develop a skin infection, you might see pus leaking from your belly button. Sometimes the pus will smell. Other symptoms include not only pain, but also redness or discoloration, and swelling in the area.

Any symptoms of infection need to be checked out by your doctor, including:

  • pus
  • redness or discoloration
  • fever

Epidermoid and pilar cysts

An epidermoid cyst is a bump that starts in your top layer of skin, and a pilar cyst starts near a hair follicle. Both cysts contain cells inside a membrane. They produce and secrete a thick sludge of keratin.

If one of the cysts gets large and bursts, the discharge will drain from it, which will be:

  • thick
  • yellow
  • foul-smelling

It’s also possible for these cysts to develop infections. Your doctor can diagnose and provide treatment for these types of cysts.

Sebaceous cysts

Epidermoid cysts and pilar cysts are sometimes mistakenly referred to as sebaceous cysts. However, sebaceous cysts are much less common than epidermoid cysts and pilar cysts.

Sebaceous cysts originate in your sebaceous glands. These glands normally produce sebum, a waxy and oily lipid mixture, for skin lubrication and protective properties.

Sebaceous cysts fill up with sebum and can develop infections. If you have a sebaceous cyst condition, different treatments are available depending on your needs and your doctor’s approaches.

You don’t need to contact your doctor for hygiene conditions. Once you clean your belly button, the smell should improve.

Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice a discharge from your belly button, though. It could be a symptom of infection.

Also call your doctor if you have other symptoms of infection, including:

Your doctor will examine your belly button and might collect a sample of the discharge.

The sample will go to a lab, where a technician will check it under a microscope or perform other sample testing to see what components are in the discharge.

Treatments will depend on the cause of the odor.

For an infection

Keep your belly button clean and dry if you develop an infection. Also avoid wearing tight clothes. Sweat and dirt can build up under clothes that cling to your skin.

Your doctor might recommend using an antifungal or antibiotic cream, depending on which type of germ caused the infection. They might also prescribe oral antibiotics instead.

If an area of skin near a piercing develops an infection, follow these steps:

  • Remove the jewelry.
  • Soak a cotton ball in a mixture of antimicrobial soap and warm water, and gently wash your belly button with it. Try to keep the area clean and dry at all times.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing because it can irritate the affected area.

If these methods aren’t effective, you may need to schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Shop for antifungal cream and antibiotic cream online.

For a cyst

You don’t have to treat a superficial skin cyst unless it bothers you or develops an infection. A dermatologist can get rid of the cyst by:

The easiest way to prevent bacteria and dirt from collecting in your belly button is to clean it every day. Here’s how:

  1. Put a little bit of antibacterial soap on a washcloth when you’re in the shower.
  2. Using your index finger underneath the washcloth, gently wash the inside of your belly button.
  3. After you get out of the shower, pat your belly button dry.

Afterward, don’t use too much cream or lotion in or around your belly button. They can encourage an environment where fungi and bacteria can grow more easily.

If you have a belly button piercing, keep it clean and dry. Wet a washcloth with a mixture of antimicrobial soap and water, and gently wash around the piercing.

Shop for antibacterial soap and antimicrobial soap online.

Your outlook depends on the cause of the odor.

You can quickly resolve hygiene conditions by washing your belly button every day. With proper treatment, an infection should clear up within a few days. Here are more tips for managing body odor.