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confused pierced girl

What's That Smell?

Pierced and modded folks - have you ever moved your plugs or nose ring (or any other piercing) and noticed a strange, distinctive smell? For most people, that smell is cheesy and a bit putrid. What is this smell? Do I have an infection?

What you're smelling is actually a pungent mix of bacteria, skin sells, and a substance that your skin naturally secretes called sebum. Mixed together with a bit of sweat and daily activity - you get what's colloquially known in the piercing community as "piercing funk." For some people, this "funk" will appear as a whitish crust or paste-like substance on your jewelry in question.

Pierced Ear

But what does this mean? Does it mean I have an infection?

Not necessarily - it mostly just means you should practice better hygiene. Piercings should be cleaned at least once a day (but not too much!), and not just with a quick rinse off in the shower. For example, for those of you wearing plugs, make sure to remove your jewelry and gently clean around your stretched lobes with a mild soap... But the same goes for any removable piercing. Make sure you clean the actual jewelry thoroughly while it's out, as well.

A few extra tips that might help - don't touch your piercing with dirty hands or insert dirty jewelry back into your piercing. Make sure a fresh piercing is completely healed before you change it out. And try to change your bed sheets and pillow covers frequently.

A "funk" that appears on your piercings is totally normal (in the way that toe jam or belly button lint just happens over time). HOWEVER, If you are experiencing pain, a greenish-yellow discharge (instead of pale white), a bump or ring that forms in and around your piercing, or a persistent smell that doesn't disappear after a thorough washing, it's time to visit your piercer or medical professional for a second opinion.

Jewelry material matters:

We're picking on plugs here because there are typically more options in terms of jewelry composition for this piercing... But this is true for any piercing/jewelry combo. It's important to put the right stuff into your body and to listen and look for signs of what your body does and doesn't like.

Your skin/piercings create piercing funk because your piercing isn’t receiving oxygen around your jewelry. Materials like acrylic, silicone, and metal are not porous, so as your body tries to heal up around the piercing, this funk is the end result. Just because these materials aren't porous doesn't mean you can't wear them! It just means you might experience an excess of this "funk" and should pay a bit more attention to your hygiene routine.

Organic plugs like natural stone, wood, or bone are ideal - they are porous materials (meaning tiny, microscopic holes exist throughout their structures) that let oxygen enter and exit your piercing. 

How to clean your piercings:

Cleaning your piercings is simple! For stretched ears, take a nice hot shower and gently wash your anatomy with a mild soap. Spend a few minutes massaging your ears to help with blood flow. Last but not least, take a clean cloth and gently wipe down your piercings - you can also use a mild soap on your jewelry to help clean.

For non-ear piercings, a gentle salt soak can do wonders for piercing funk! For hard-to-soak areas like nipple piercings, you might have to dip your entire anatomy into a small bowl of saline solution. 

Remember: avoid harsh chemicals like peroxide, alcohol, or potent oils like tea tree oil. A simple, saline wash or salt bath will suffice! To learn more about cleaning, check out our blog on sea salt soaks here.


  • U

    Thank you so much, 10/10 on the information really helped me out :)

    Unlucky Charm on

  • D

    Very good information I learned a lot thank you.

    DOLLY cupp on

  • K

    Very helpful information!! I’ve had my plugs (7/8) for 5 years an I’ve been stretching my lobes for 16 years and I’ve always struggled with the “funk smell” I thought I was washing too much cause I usually wash mine once a week. Nope! Me and a few of my close friends have multiple piercings so I’ll be passing the word along to them. Thanks again!

    Katina Miller on

  • D

    I have been using alcohol, peroxide and vitamin E oil for two years ( since I started my stretching journey) wondering WTF that smell is. I would clean my ears every 2 or 3 days wondering what that smell is? Now reading this I see I have been doing this all wrong. Thank You

    Dré on

  • V

    I used to use a shot glass on my nipple piercings. Worked like a charm and I could sit and do things at least :)

    Veronica on

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