Home Navel Lint Belly Button Lint Causes, Why Does It Smell, How to Clean Lint in Your Belly Button

Belly Button Lint Causes, Why Does It Smell, How to Clean Lint in Your Belly Button

by Dr. Joe Morales

Belly button lint, dirt or navel gunk can leave you with a smelly belly button. If not cleaned well, the lint can even cause a navel infection. But why does lint collect in the belly button? How can you clean it or even prevent it?

What is belly button lint?

Belly button lint, also known as navel lint is the collection of fluffy fibers that are found in a person’s navel. Many people often notice the presence of a small lump of fluff in their navel cavity when they wake up in the morning, and in the evening at the end of their daily activities.

Belly button lint

Belly button lint

For many years, people have wondered why the belly button lint appears. According to a 2001 study conducted by Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki of the University of Sydney, Australia, it was established that the navel lint comprises of stray fibres from a person’s clothing, which have combined with body hair, and dead skin cells.

The study also established that contrary to popular belief, the lint found in the navel comes from the person’s underwear and not from the tops or shirts as many people believed.

The fibres found in the navel move from the underwear to the belly button through the friction generated by the body hair against the underwear.

Where does belly button lint come from?

After conducting three years of navel lint research, a chemist (Georg Steinhauser) was able to discover the origins of the navel lint.

The research involved studying over five hundred pieced of fluff that were obtained from his belly button. After conducting chemical analysis on the fluff pieces, he established that the lint was made up of cotton derived from clothing.

The cotton in the navel had been wrapped using sweat, flecks of dead skin, dust, and fat.

What causes belly button lint?

Lint can be described as the small bits of dust and fiber, which accumulate around your clothes, and which often end up in your navel.

While conducting his research on navel lint, Steinhauser discovered a kind of body hair, which appeared to trap the lint pieces from the clothes, and once there trapped, the pieces were pushed towards the navel.

The hair had two factors, which led him to make this particular conclusion. Firstly, the hairs that were located appeared to have tiny scales, which acted like hooks, and which latched onto the lint and fibres found on the shirts.

Secondly, the hairs were seen to grow in a kind of circular pattern around the navel area, and this is what led to the collection of all the captured lint around the navel region.

To test his ideas, the chemist shaved the belly button area, and he was able to notice that the lint no longer gathered in this region. However, when the hair grew back, the same problem was experienced.

How does lint get in your belly button?

The question on how lint gets into the belly button can be answered by taking a look at the different types of belly buttons that are in existent.

People with bulbous belly buttons will often be fluff free. However, those who have the indented belly buttons can collect enough fibre to knit a good scarf, particularly if they are not very keen on cleaning this area.

According to Neil Goldberg, a dermatologist, it is a matter of complicated physics. You will find that the humidity and the heat from the umbilicus, when combined with your natural skin folds are able to trap skin oils, water, dust, as well as clothing fibre.

Why does belly button lint smell?

The belly button lint smells due to the fact that the area around the belly button is closed. As such, the area happens to be moist, and warm, and therefore gets to trap bacteria, as well as oil.

Belly button gunk may smell bad

Belly button gunk may smell bad

When the oil and bacteria are trapped, it means that the area does not get any fresh air. Lack of fresh air therefore leads to the overgrowth of thrush or bacteria, and this can help explain the foul smell coming from the navel lint.

Apart from the presence of lint, there are a few conditions that can also lead to the presence of a bad odor on your belly. The conditions include:

Yeast infections

These are also known as fungal infections, and one of the most common signs of a fungal infection in the body is a foul odor coming from the naval area.

The smell is caused by Candida albicans, which is a fungus that resides in areas that are war and moist, such as the hole in the naval area.

Additional symptoms of a fungal infections include:

  1. Slight yellow discharge from the belly button
  2. Pain accompanying the liquid discharge from your navel area
  3. Presence of a foul smell, which does not appear to disappear, even after you have done thorough cleaning of the naval area

Bacterial infection

When there is bacterial activity inside the belly button, it causes symptoms such as the presence of a foul stink that is accompanied by a discharge, as well as warmth around the naval area.

If this area is left unwashed or uncleansed, bacteria may start to grow and thrive, and this will often cause a warm sensation along your belly. It is a problem that is very common among people who have innie belly buttons.

In addition to the bad odor coming from the umbilicus, there is a chance that you may notice a discharge that appears pus like.

Failure to clean the belly button properly, when the discharge s coming out will make the infection to become worse, and this may lead to you experiencing a lot of discomfort and pain in the areas bordering the wound.

To ensure that you will not get a naval infection, you can do the following:

  1. When using soap to clean the belly button area, make sure to rinse your belly button thoroughly after the cleaning exercise
  2. After exercising, make sure you clean your navel area to guarantee that sweat will not begin to accumulate around it. The presence of sweat has been known to encourage the growth of bacteria, and this always results in a smelly belly button.
  3. After taking your shower, ensure that the navel area is cleaned properly to ensure that no moist is left behind

After surgery

You may notice that your belly button has a funny smell after you have undergone a surgery. The reason for this is because the surgical procedures often leave scabs on the skin surface.

Additionally, infections and discharge may come after a navel surgery such as a laparoscopy. Gall bladder and tubal ligation are also procedures that can make the belly produce mutton like smell.

During periods and pregnancy

There are women who report having a bad smell coming from their belly buttons when they are having their periods, or when they are pregnant.

You will find that during pregnancy or ovulation, the body metabolism tends to increase, and this makes the body to perspire a lot. Therefore, if the belly button is not cleaned properly, it may lead to a bad odor.

An infection of the navel may also cause an increased smell from it. For a woman who thinks that she could be pregnant, and the belly button area happens to be bruised or sore, they should ensure that they visit a dermatologist.


Another condition that has been known to worsen the condition of the belly button is high blood pressure or diabetes.

Diabetes, can for instance lead to a foul smell in the navel area, which resembles rotting fish or cheese. This discharge coming from the belly button may also appear like cottage cheese.

In some cases, you will find that a person is not only dealing with a bad smell from the belly button, but the smell could also be accompanied by pain, and a discharge.

How to clean belly button lint

Belly button lint is a common problem affecting people of all ages, including small babies. Given that the navel area is dark and damp, it provides an ideal breeding ground for all types of bacteria and yeast infections.

Apart from the lint from the clothes, soap, sweat, and all the other substances that are deposited in this area may help in the growth of lint, as well as assist bacterial growth, which may cause an infection to occur in the belly button.

In the case of an infection, you may experience mild pain in the belly button, a grayish or greenish discharge, redness, as well as mild pain. For yeast infections, you will find that they come about due to overgrowth of yeasts, and this will lead to the emergence of symptoms such as discharge, redness, and swelling.

In many cases, belly button lint is often blue in color. The reason for this is yet to be established. Irrespective of what could have caused the appearance of the lint, or belly button infection, you can use the following home remedies to correct the situation.

Warm salt water

You can use warm salt water to clean belly button lint. The heat emanating from the warm water helps in increasing the flow of blood to the area that is infected, and the salt helps in absorbing the moisture that is present in the belly button, and this helps speed up healing.

Additionally, the warm salt-water works like a disinfectant.

What to do at home

  1. Measure a single teaspoon of salt, and add it to a single cup of warm water. Ensure you mix this salt until all the salt has been dissolved
  2. Take a cotton ball and immerse it into this solution. You will then need to use the cotton ball to clean your belly button, before patting it dry
  3. You can also choose to apply an over the counter antibacterial cream, if you happen to have an infected belly button
  4. Ensure you clean the area at least once or twice each day

If you do not have the time to prepare a solution of your own, you can always purchase a readymade solution from your nearest drug store.

Ensure the affected area remains clean

To ensure you promote healing, as well as prevent the growth of bacteria around the belly button, there is a need to ensure that this place remains clean at all times.

For you to clean the navel, ensure you use an antibacterial soap when you are taking your bath or shower.

Once you are done with the shower, take your time to dry the belly button. If you have an antibacterial cream (water-based), you can dab a small amount of it to your navel at least three times each day

You should always use an ointment that is water-based, as the moisture contained in the other ointments may block your skin pores, and this can make it impossible for your skin to breathe properly.

Warm compress

If the belly button lint hurts, it is recommended that you consider using a warm compress. The warm compress will help in relieving any discomfort that you could be experiencing.

A warm compress is recommended as the heat coming from the water will help in reducing your pain, while ensuring that you heal at a faster pace.

What to do at home

  1. Take a piece of cloth and dip it in a bucket of warm water. You should ensure that you wring out all the excess water held by the cloth
  2. Place this cloth across your belly button, and let it stay there for a few minutes
  3. To ensure that the pain, and the lint goes away for good, you should try and repeat this process a few times each day

Tea tree oil

This is another highly effective remedy for dealing with belly button infections as well as lint. Tea tree oil is an essential oil, which comes with antiseptic, antifungal, and antibacterial properties.

What to do at home

  1. Combine five drops of tea tree oil using a single teaspoon of coconut or olive oil
  2. Take a cotton ball and use it to apply the tea tree oil to the area that is affected
  3. Allow the essential oil to stay on your belly button for a minimum of ten minutes before you can wipe it off
  4. It is recommended that this treatment be followed three times each day, until the belly button becomes healthy

Rubbing alcohol

To clean your navel and get rid of the belly button lint, you can always rely on rubbing alcohol. Rubbing alcohol has antiseptic properties, which you can use in sterilizing your belly button.

The alcohol will also help ensure that you get relief from pain or any irritation you could be experiencing

What to do at home

  1. Take a small amount of rubbing alcohol and place it on a cotton ball
  2. Use the cotton ball to rub the alcohol into the belly button
  3. Ensure you reapply it after every few days to get rid of the lint completely

White vinegar

White vinegar is highly effective in treating a belly button that has a discharge. It is acidic in nature, and this helps in fighting infections, while ensuring that the infections will not spread to other areas.

What to do at home

  1. Take two parts of water and add in a single part of white vinegar
  2. Obtain a cotton swab and dip it into the solution before applying it in the belly button
  3. Allow the solution to remain in the belly for at least ten minutes
  4. You can rinse off your belly button using warm water, before you can pat it dry
  5. Make sure to repeat white vinegar solution for at least two times each day

Aloe vera

Aloe vera is an all-purpose gel that can also be used in dealing with lint, as well as belly button infections.

The gel, which is extracted from an aloe leaf, comes with soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, which help in promoting quick healing, while at the same time helping ease any pain that you may be experiencing

What to do at home

  1. Take an aloe leaf and cut it open to extract the gel contained in the leaf
  2. Apply the gel to your belly button, and leave it there to dry out on its own
  3. After a while, use a wet tissue to clean the belly button, before patting it dry with a towel
  4. You should ensure that you repeat this process a few times each day, until this infection goes away


It is a natural antiseptic, which comes in handy when trying to clean belly button lint. It also acts an antibiotic agent, which can be used in treating belly button infections

What to do at home

  1. Use water and a little turmeric powder to prepare a paste. You should take this paste and apply it over your belly button, ensuring to leave it there until it is completely dry. Use a wet tissue to wipe it off, and ensure that the belly button remains dry all through the day. Repeat application two times each day to keep the lint at bay
  2. Alternatively, you can combine a single teaspoon of turmeric powder with a little honey, and a single cup of milk. Ensure you drink this concoction each day before heading to bed. It helps in promoting internal healing


It comes with antiseptic, hydrating, and anti-inflammatory properties. The properties are vital as they assist to soothe irritation and itching that may come from having a belly button infection or lint.

The herb has also been known to assist speed up the healing process

What to do at home

  1. Obtain and crush three calendula leaves. Extract the juice from the calendula flowers, and apply it over your belly button lint. You should apply the calendula juice at least two times each day
  2. If you cannot find fresh calendula, you have the option of using either the ointment or the lotion. All you need to do is apply over the infection or lint

Indian lilac

Indian lilac is also referred to as neem, and comes in handy when dealing with different types of infections.

It contains anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, which assist in reducing itching, and provide relief from pain.

What to do at home

  1. Prepare a paste using neem leaves, and then apply it over your belly button. When preparing the paste, you may consider adding a small amount of turmeric powder to it as well. Allow the paste to stay on your belly button for twenty minutes before rinsing the area with warm water. Always pat the belly button area after cleaning it
  2. Alternatively, add a few drops of neem oil to a carrier oil before applying on your belly button

Additional tips

  1. Do not scratch or pick an infected belly button, or a belly button with lint, as this can make the condition to worsen
  2. If the belly button is infected, stay away from swimming pools, as the chlorine in the pool water may make the condition to worsen
  3. When cleaning the belly button, or when applying an ointment, you should use a swab or a cotton ball instead of relying on a piece of cloth or towel
  4. Refrain from touching your belly button
  5. Make it a point to include garlic in your daily diet, as it can help in preventing infections in small children as well as adults
  6. Eat foods that have a high vitamin C and zinc content. Such foods will assist quicken the healing process
  7. When sleeping, take care not to apply pressure to your belly button
  8. Always ensure that you take measures to control your blood sugar levels
  9. If you decide to have your belly button pierced, make sure you follow all the aftercare guidelines provided by the physician

If after following these remedies and tips you fail to notice any changes on the belly button lint or infection, make sure to visit your GP as soon as possible. It helps to consult with a physician to determine whether there is an underlying cause that has not yet been diagnosed.

Sources and references

  1. http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/why-do-you-get-lint-in-your-belly-button
  2. http://www.abc.net.au/science/k2/lint/
  3. http://www.coasttocoastam.com/gen/page666.html
  4. http://www.feargod.net/fluff.html

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