From the dos to the definite don’ts, here’s what you need to know about taking care of this often overlooked body part

Belly buttons – they’re a bit odd aren’t they? In a world where we either ignore or pierce them, it’s fair to say we often struggle to make sense of them, let alone know how to clean them. Why is it important? Consider this your safe space for exploring the ins and outs (pardon the pun) of your belly button. 

If you’re curious, you’re not alone. NHS surgical doctor Dr Karan Rajan’s TikTok video on the topic very much piqued the interest of his 5m+ followers. As a specialist in the area, who’s operated on a bevy of belly buttons, over the years he’s seen it all – the good, the bad and the smelly – and was keen to shed light on one rather unpleasant potential consequence of neglecting our belly button hygiene.

"Because of the shape of the navel, things like hair, oil, dirt, skin cells and fabric can collect in here and form natural jewellery, aka a belly button stone or omphalolith," he explains in the video. "This is an accessory you do not want. These are stinky and can cause infections."

The comments section, as always, didn’t disappoint (come for the TikToks, stay for the comments), with musings ranging from the surprised (‘Do people not wash them everyday?’) to the honest (‘I can’t even touch my belly button bro, it makes me so uncomfortable’) and the reflective (‘I forgot I had a belly button Lmao’).

Lmao indeed, but no judgement here.

If you’ve ever pondered (or are just starting to now) about how to keep your belly button clean, how to clean a belly button piercing and how to avoid the rather unsightly “natural jewellery”, you’ve come to the right place. We spoke to Dr Rajan and Dr Tosin Ajayi-Sotubo, GP, founder of Mind Body Doctor and presenter of TV show Embarrassing Bodies about their expert tips, as well as their dos and don’ts for keeping your ol’ belly button spick and span.

What may happen if you don’t clean your belly button?

Your belly button is prime real estate for housing everyday debris. "Like any part of the body, the belly button also needs to be cleaned as bacteria, sebum and dead skin cells can become trapped in and around it," says Dr Ajayi-Sotubo. "This can lead to rashes, inflammation and infections."

 "In rare cases, if these substances build up, this can form a stone-like mass called an omphalolith, which can become trapped inside the belly button," she adds. Dr Rajan agrees that these cases are pretty few and far between "but because I operate a lot on abdomens, I see them more than usual", he highlights in his TikTok video. A consistent belly button hygiene routine, though, is likely to reduce the risk of developing one.

How often should you clean your belly button?

There’s no hard and fast rule, but incorporating it into your regular hygiene routine is a good way to go about it.

"Daily showers help in removing a lot of the bacteria, sebum and dead skin cells," says Dr Ajayi-Sotubo. "However, you should also aim to do a specific clean, focused on the belly button once a week."

Find what works best for you and your lifestyle, whether that’s once a day or once a week. For example, if you work out a lot, it could be a good idea to clean it more frequently.

What’s the best way to clean your belly button?

Much like washing your face, it’s a good idea to avoid overstripping the skin around and inside the belly button. "Keep it simple," Dr Rajan tells us. "Soap and water is fine, and the use of a finger (with a short nail) will suffice.

"If the belly button is particularly deep, you can use a wet cotton bud as that’s what I do when cleaning people’s belly buttons before surgery," he adds. Go gently, particularly if you haven’t cleaned it for a while.

Soap-wise, something no-fuss is best. "Nothing fancy is needed," Dr Rajan says. "I’d avoid using products that contain alcohol, as it can dry out the skin if used repeatedly and may lead to redness. No seasoning required, so leave the salt for the dinner table."

Sensitive skin? Dr Ajayi-Sotubo suggests trying a mild soap. Look for ones that are fragrance-free for a gentler option.

Try: Johnson’s Baby Cotton Buds

• Contains 200 buds

• Plastic-free

• 100% paper sticks

• 100% pure cotton tips

These handy buds are a bathroom essential in our experience. They’re also plastic-free and come in recyclable packaging for welcome eco-friendly credentials.

Try: Little Soap Company Unperfumed Bar Soap for Sensitive Skin

• Size: 110g

• Unperfumed

• Certified B Corporation

• Suitable for vegans

• Recyclable

• RSPO certified sustainable palm oil

• Cruelty-free

Great for bath, shower and skin, this soap works a treat for all your top-to-toe needs. It’s also been formulated with sensitive skin in mind for a more caring cleanse.

How should your technique vary if you have an “outie” vs an “innie”?

Belly buttons come in all shapes and sizes, so you may want to make some small tweaks to your technique depending on the type you have.

"If you have an inward belly button (innie), a cotton bud with soap and warm water should do the trick," says Dr Ajayi-Sotubo, or your finger as highlighted earlier (again, though, make sure that nail is nice and short). The same goes for an “outtie” but "a clean cloth and warm water could be a helpful alternative", she adds.

And make sure to remember aftercare. "It’s important to thoroughly dry the area after washing with a towel," advises Dr Ajayi-Sotubo. "As areas left wet and moist can breed infection."

How to clean a pierced belly button?

If you have a belly button piercing and it’s healed, there are a few small steps that could be good to add on. "If you can remove the piercing when cleaning and ideally clean the piercing as well, that would be best," says Dr Rajan. 

If you have a new belly button piercing, it can take between six months and a year for it to heal. It’s important to keep it clean and dry to avoid infections. First, wash your hands with warm water and soap and dry them thoroughly. Next, gently clean the area with a sterile saline solution or soak a clean cloth in the solution and apply it to the area. Avoid over-cleaning as it can irritate the skin and slow down the healing process. 

What could be signs that you may have a belly button stone?

There are some telltale symptoms if you’ve developed an omphalolith, but not always. "They’re often associated with a foul smell, pain at the navel and sometimes discharge and redness around the area," says Dr Rajan. "Occasionally, though, they can be totally asymptomatic."

"An omphalolith can go unnoticed and there may not be any signs, unless there are secondary infections or ulcerations," Dr Ajayi-Sotubo tells us. "When a stone is found, they usually appear dark brown or black in colour."

If you think you may have a belly button stone, it’s best to book an appointment with your GP.

The takeaway

Now we have the need-to-knows, hopefully cleaning our belly button will become as natural as cleaning our teeth.

"Keep it simple," says Dr Ajayi-Sotubo. "You don’t need to overthink it. Clean it like you would any other part of your body and you shouldn’t encounter any problems."

Who knows, it could become a surprisingly satisfying addition to our cleaning regime.