What Is Belly Button Lint?

The smoother your skin and flatter your belly, the less likely you are to get belly button lint.
The smoother your skin and flatter your belly, the less likely you are to get belly button lint. (Pietro Zuco)

Whether you call it belly button lint, navel fluff, or navel lint, if you find a furry little ball in your belly button, you’ve got it! Doctors and scientists have examined the fluff balls, so their cause, composition, and potential health risks are known.

The Cause and Composition of Belly Button Lint

In 2002, Sydney University’s Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki won an Ig Nobel prize for his internet research into belly button lint. He collected data from 4799 survey respondents, including their weight, whether their navels were “innies” or “outies,” and the type of washing machine they used. He examined samples of belly button lint under an electron microscope to analyze its composition and properties.

Dr. Kruszelnicki found navel fluff consists of body hair, clothing fibers, and skin cells. Its most common color is blue-gray, similar to dryer lint, because that’s the most common clothing color. However, skin tone also plays a role in lint color. Light-skinned people have paler lint than dark-skinned people. Women, on average, get less navel lint than men because they tend to have less body hair. Slender women who wear skin-tight clothing tend to get more lint because their clothes rub against the navel. Slightly overweight, hairy men accumulate the most lint because they have hair to contribute to the mix and because a slight paunch rubs against clothing fibers, allowing them to collect. Extremely hair people actually don’t get more belly button link, presumably because the hair blocks lint from entering the navel. Anecdotal evidence suggests wearing a navel ring reduces accumulation of lint. If you have an “outie,” you’re less likely to get lint than if you have an “innie.”

Other scientists have expanded the composition of belly fluff to include lotion residue, soap, perspiration, dirt, and bacteria. According to research conducted at North Carolina State University, at least 67 types of bacteria call the human navel home.

How to Remove Belly Button Lint

The color of belly button lint relates to your clothing color. (Matt Smith)
The color of belly button lint relates to your clothing color. (Matt Smith)

Dr. Kruszelnicki concluded navel lint was harmless. However, most health professionals recommend regularly cleaning your navel because the bacteria-laden lint can stink, lead to an infection, or (rarely) form a nasty stone-like mass called an omphalith or umbolith that requires medical care to remove.

  • According to dermatologists, the best way to remove belly button lint is to routinely clean your belly button when you bathe. Warm, soapy water should dislodge the fluff.
  • For stubborn lint, dampen a cotton swab with rubbing alcohol and use it to gently coax out the fluff. Don’t do this more than once a week because alcohol dries skin and can cause uncomfortable itching or cracking if over-used.
  • If your belly button smells really bad, oozes pus, or feels like it contains a hard mass, it’s best to see a doctor.

Preventing Lint

What if you never want to see belly button lint ever again? There are some steps you can take:

  • Wash and dry new clothes and towels prior to use. Cotton and other fluffy natural fibers are notorious lint-formers. In most cases, the dryer can collect the lint so you don’t have to.
  • Shave your belly. It’s extreme, but if you hate lint…
  • Avoid wearing clothes with a waistband that sits over your belly button. Friction guides the fuzz to your navel.

Belly Button Lint Fun Facts

  • Some people don’t have belly buttons, so they never get belly button lint! For example, model Karolina Kurkova lost her navel from a childhood surgery. She’ll never get to pick her belly button and examine the lint.
  • Picking your belly button, to the point where it forms a scab, can become a compulsion. Unfortunately, the risk of infection is greater than scab-picking on most other body parts.
  • Graham Barker holds a Guinness World Record for the biggest collection of a single person’s navel fluff (his own).
  • Poking your belly button might make you want to pee. The nerve endings in the navel connect to other nerves in the abdomen. This is also why the belly button is an erogenous zone.

Read More

Karl Kruszelnicki (2001). “The Great Bellybutton Lint Survey“. Q & A with Dr K.