The Average Belly Button Is Filled With 67 Kinds of Bacteria: Here's How to Clean Yours

It gets pretty gross in there!

Like it or not, low-rise jeans are back on the scene, and that means belly buttons are on display once more. Yet experts say that the average navel is far less hygienic than you might imagine. In fact, it's filled with roughly 67 species of bacteria. Eww.

To the delight of that thriving colony of bacteria, most people wash their belly buttons less frequently—and less effectively—than they should, which can lead to an unpleasant odor, or even an infection.

Wondering how to keep your navel clean? Read on to learn about the shocking study that exposed the dirty truth about your belly button, and to find out how to bring your navel hygiene up to code.

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Your belly button is crawling with bacteria.

belly button
Dmytro Zinkevych / Shutterstock

According to a 2012 study published in the journal PLOS One, your belly button is likely teeming with bacteria, both common and novel. The researchers behind the study enlisted 66 men and women to swab their belly buttons with a Q-tip, and found that the average navel contains 67 different species of bacteria.

Perhaps more shockingly, the team found a total of 2,368 species of bacteria in all. "We got many more species of bacteria than we expected," Rob Dunn, PhD, lead author of the study and an associate professor of biology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh told NBC News.

However, certain bacteria types were ubiquitous across participants—eight of the most common bacteria types were identified in 70 percent of all of the group. These included Staphylococci, Micrococcus, Bacillus, and more.

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Most belly buttons aren't cleaned often enough.

Woman using soap in the shower.
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Unlike most other skin surfaces on your body, the inside of your navel is tucked away, making it less exposed to air, water—and soap. It also tends to trap sweat, dirt, dead skin, and more, making it an ideal environment for bacteria to grow.

Compared to other body parts, the navel also often gets overlooked during showers and baths. Though some experts recommend doing a deep belly button cleaning once per week, few people follow that bacteria-busting regimen.

Here's how to clean yours.

young black man leaning against shower wall with head in spray
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Most of the time, people with an "innie" belly button can plan on cleaning it just as they would any other part of the body: with soap and water. However, if you notice an unwanted smell emanating from your navel or feel otherwise less-than-fresh, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) has another suggestion: "Dip your finger or a soft washcloth in a solution of saltwater (about a teaspoon of table salt in a cup of warm water) and gently massage the inside of your navel," they advise, adding that this should loosen stubborn, odor-causing germs. They suggest then rinsing with plain water, patting the area dry, and avoiding putting lotions or creams on this part of your body.

Those with navel piercings may also need a special cleaning routine to avoid infection. Soak your belly button while bathing, wash the piercing with mild antibacterial soap, and be sure to remove any additional crust or debris with a cotton swab or sterile gauze pad. Rinse again, then dab the area with a clean piece of gauze soaked in saline solution.

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Here's when to call the doctor.

The doctor examines the patient with belly exam.
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Though a smelly belly button is unlikely to indicate a serious health concern, UPMC notes that if the problem persists after adopting a new cleansing routine, it's best to visit your doctor. In particular, "if you develop redness, swelling, pain, or discharge, your belly button could be infected," a problem most common in people with navel piercings. If this happens to you, your doctor should be able to prescribe antibiotics or other treatments to alleviate your symptoms.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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