Should You Clean Your Belly Button?


You wash your hands, your face, your underarms, and behind your ears (maybe), but do you clean your belly button? Often a neglected body part, the belly button tends not to be at the forefront of personal hygiene conversations, but perhaps it should be.

Your Belly Button, Navel, and Umbilicus

People have many adorable names for the belly button, but it is clinically known as the umbilicus or navel. Your belly button is a scar, remnants of those nine months when your umbilical cord was your only source of sustenance and you hung out in a waterbed all day. Though every belly button is unique as a result of how the area heals after parting ways with the umbilical cord, they are often categorized into one of two common types: the “innie” and the “outie.” Approximately 90% of the population has an innie or a depression, but for those who boast an outie, they are simply carrying the protrusion as a result of extra scar tissue.

Whatever type of belly button you enjoy, you likely think of it as a benign part of your existence, if you think of it at all. But think again…

Belly Button: The Bacteria Zone

Like much of the grotesque and objectionable parts of the world, the most shocking features of your belly button cannot be observed with the naked eye. Among the lint, dead skin, dried sweat, and dirt, your belly button is a jungle of “microbial biodiversity.” Yes, yours! Everyone’s for that matter. Even those with the most pristine hygiene habits carry hundreds of living bacteria with them. Like a kangaroo’s pouch, your belly button is a carrier and home to a unique assortment of bacterial and perhaps even fungal friends. We bet you’re no longer wondering if you should clean your belly button, but keep reading.

A North Carolina State University team of researchers took it upon themselves to dig a little deeper into your belly button. Their Belly Button Biodiversity (BBB) project has garnered national attention. In the first of the project’s belly button experiments, these pioneers swabbed 60 belly buttons only to find over 2,300 different species of bacteria across the specimens. Then, as any good researcher would do, they published their work a scientific research journal, specifically PLOS ONE.

Perhaps most surprising from this study was the finding that only eight of the over 2,300 species of bacteria could be considered common as they were present in 70% of of the individuals sampled. Each belly button sample, therefore, could be considered as unique as a fingerprint!

Should You Clean Your Belly Button?

Now that you are privy to the microscopic beings crawling around your belly button, you are likely certain that it is imperative that you clean your belly button, but again, we ask for your patience. It is a fact that the vast majority of bacteria live in harmony with us. The team at the BBB project describes most bacteria as “either good, or simply present.” So it’s not vital to your well-being to wage war on the microcosm that is your belly button, but perhaps it is worth a quick scrub there and again – even if just for your piece of mind.

For many, however, the act of cleaning their belly button produces some weird sensations.

Belly Button: The Erogenous Zone

Your belly button is an erogenous zone, or an area of heightened sensitivity and home to thousands of nerve endings. Many people describe a distinct sensation – from tingles to minor discomfort – when their belly button is touched with the tip of a finger or Q-tip.  This is result of the belly button and gentals’ common tissue origin, a connection that for some people still exists. So if you’re one of those who squirm at the touch of your belly button, just be gentle when soaping up.

Okay, Now You Can Go Clean Your Belly Button

For a step-by-step guide to clean your belly button, click here. Just remember, good old soap and water will do. Alcohol and other drying agents can throw off the delicate pH of the area. Perhaps most importantly, we have officially found another good use for the Q-tip in belly button cleaning routine!

To keep up with the Belly Button Biodiversity Project and other fascinating body projects (including the armpit life), go ahead and bookmark their site.

Fun Facts

Of the 2,300 strains of bacteria found in the BBB’s first belly button study, 1,458 were considered “new to science!”

One participant’s belly button swap included bacteria that had previously been found only in soil in Japan, where he had never been.

Your belly button might say more about you than you originally thought.


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