Ask Esquire: Help! My Navel Stinks. How Should I Clean It?

Managing the gunk that grows in your belly button prevents the funk.

So urgent is this request that we got the query in person. Recently, at Esquire HQ, a very concerned clean person came over to drop this bomb: “You don't know the smell of a navel? It's the worst!” 

For a moment, we sat there dumbstruck, but soon remembered that we are experts in all things grooming, style, culture, and navels, and so we lied: “Yeah! The worst! So bad! Uhm...”


A Weird Question About Navels

He was talking about not just any ol' navel, but a particularly dirty navel, which we couldn't understand, because, to be honest, we don't spend a lot of time gazing at our navels, much less sniffing them.

And also there are these things called baths. Doesn't a regular scrub down manage the dirt in your almost-hole?

Anyway, the concerned clean person wanted to know: “Hey Esquire, what is the proper way to clean your navel?”

He had sub-questions, too: “Do you use baby oil, soap, or powder? Do you poke it with an instrument? And what if you poke it too hard, will it create a hole in your tummy?” 

What. “Hey Concerned Clean Person, we have to stop you right there,” we said. “Because you can't put a hole in your body by poking it! Right? Riiiight?” 

A Dirty Investigation On Navels

What's your belly button like? Is it like a bowl or a mug or the face of a Pug? Whatever it looks like, its crannies and crevices are perfect for collecting sweat, dead skin, debris, lint, yeast, and more stuff. Says a research from the Belly Button Biodiversity project, the navel has an average of 67 bacterial species. And these, if left to multiply, will eventually become a soup of funk.


Here's the answer to why it stinks: You didn't wash it. Bacteria is awesome. It can break things down into a soup of smells, so the more things you have on your bowl-mug-Pug, the greater the chance of the creation of funk. 

Sometimes, there is even a weird discharge, which is usually caused by a skin infection, which is usually caused by being dirty. Again, you didn't wash it. 

A Real Life Mom On Navels

As luck would have it, we have a new mom in our team, so we asked her about the proper way of cleaning the navel of a baby, because if it's good enough for a mother bear and her delicate baby, then it must be good enough for our stink receptacles. 

To clarify, this method is for a navel without an umbilical cord (She asked. Also, if you still have yours, first, wow, and second, we think you should go to a doctor now!). “We use cotton buds with a bit of water. You can also use the fat ones,” she shared. “And if he just took a bath, dry the belly button with cotton buds.”

First, there are fat ones? Also, what about poking? Can you dig around your navel like a treasure hunter? New mom nixed this idea in favor of a gentle wiping action. “And if you're using a pointy Q-Tip, use the sides.” Got it.  

What We Did To Our Navels

In the zombie fog of early morning, we remembered that a very concerned clean person is waiting for guidance. We fished out a stick of Mumuso cotton buds (we got 500 pieces for a song, and they came with star-shaped container) and doused its head in this French micellar water that we have on hand for testing grooming stuff like this. 

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Then we gazed at the navel and went to work. First, we did that gentle wiping action. But that didn't feel satsifying. So, as men do, we employed force, poking around with greater intention. 

We jabbed into our belly button as hard as we could to test out that crazy hole theory, but a thick layer of fat prevented harm. Big Macs protect us. (Here is also where we'll say that you shouldn't tempt fate by jabbing your belly button.) 

Guess what? When the bud emerged from our navel, there were two gray specks of whatever on its head. Two things: Our idea that regular bathing is enough to take care of your tummy hole was incorrect. More important, did we smell the dirt before throwing it out?   

More Ways to Deal With Navels

Well that worked, but you know what else helps? Washing. We stand by it. Not forgetting the nooks and crannies of your body like the belly button, arm pits, butt crack, and the in-between areas of your toes when you lather up will contribute to your cleanliness.  

For the navel, in particular outties, use a wash cloth and soap. Also, because wet places increase potential for bacterial growth, always dry it after your shower or bath. 

What about oil and powder, as concerned clean person suggested? These things, including lotions, are like sweat and dirt, and would be better not applied on the belly button—unless you want to cultivate a funky farm.

And if you still need help in the smell department, there are also these new scents.

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Clifford Olanday
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