Once the newness wears off it’s pretty common for babies to start smelling a little funky and their hands are no exception. Since many parents are likely struggling with stinky baby hands I thought it would be a great topic to look at today!
Baby hands smell because they are constantly exposed to dirt, saliva, milk, sweat, and other things as baby’s explore their surroundings, put things in their mouths, and suck on their fingers. To get rid of the smell, focus on washing the hands with soap and water throughout the day rather than using wipes or hand sanitizer.
While washing hands sounds easy enough, we all know how much of a struggle it can be to wash a baby’s hands and keep them from putting things in their mouth! Read on to learn all about the different kinds of smells that you might find on your baby’s hands and then a good routine to help keep them smelling fresh and clean!
Why do baby hands smell?
There really isn’t a big, scientific explanation for why your baby’s hands smell.
After all, your hands would smell too if you constantly sucked on your fingers, drooled breastmilk or formula on them, touched everything in sight (and tried to eat it), clenched your fists all the time to get them good and sweaty, and then never washed them.
Over time that saliva, sweat, dirt, and other questionable substances will accumulate and start to get stuck in between fingers, under fingernails, and inside the various cracks and crevices of your baby’s hands and wrist.
So it really shouldn’t be a surprise as to why those hands are so stinky. Really, it’s just a matter of staying on top of it.
By the way, babies don’t just have stinky hands. If your baby’s feet stink too then you need to check out this resource with 8 helpful remedies!
Let’s check out some of the most common smells you are likely to encounter and why.
Well, this one is easy – it’s sweat!
It’s super common for your baby’s hands to smell like sweat because they:
- Ball their fists up for long periods of time
- Are bundled up inside swaddled and other clothing that prevents airflow
- Never wipe their hands off on their shirt or pants when they start to feel sweaty (if you don’t do this as an adult you are lying!)
So, nothing to worry much about on this one!
This one goes hand in hand with the sweat.
Basically, all of the extra moisture and heat created by sweaty hands is a perfect breeding ground for lots of different kinds of bacteria. It doesn’t take long for accumulated sweat to start smelling like vinegar if you aren’t careful!
If you allow dirt, grime, and sweat to accumulate in your baby’s cracks and crevices for too long then it will eventually turn into a white, cheese-like substance that smells like, well, cheese.
In addition to the smell, this kind of accumulation can also create some serious rashes and irritation to form underneath the cheese and it can be very painful for your baby to deal with if left unchecked for too long. One of the most common areas to find this is on the neck because it’s so hard to keep those folds and crevices clean!
I’ve actually written up a whole article all about baby neck cheese and what to do about it!
This might sound a little funny, but it’s actually relatively common for your baby to smell like maple syrup for one reason or another.
Now, don’t freak out, but there is such a thing as ‘Maple syrup urine disease (MSUD)’ which is a very serious disorder that affects some babies because it prevents the body from breaking down certain amino acids. Once those amino acids start to collect in your body, it can make sweat and urine smell sweet like maple syrup.
Importantly, this disease is an incredibly rare, inherited disorder than is usually caught very early on with normal screening.
Now that you have calmed down, I’ll tell you that the most common reason your baby’s hands smell like syrup is that they have been eating some sweet snacks and getting it all over their fingers. Yes, really. Another reason could be that you have been eating a lot of fenugreek and it is getting to your baby through the breastmilk. In that case, however, you would probably smell way more like syrup than the baby!
Again, not normally a big concern!
Again, this one shouldn’t be a surprise.
Babies often smell like milk in one way or another because they are either being breastfed or drinking whole cow’s milk once they are about a year old. Since newborns are pretty bad at doing most things, they tend to let breastmilk dribble down their mouth and neck pretty often. Since older babies are often jerks, it’s just as likely that they have intentionally poured the milk onto themselves, others, and most of your floor and furniture. Even if they are pretty good at drinking milk, they are probably sticking their fingers in their mouth and getting old milk on them that way, too!
Once that milk settles into the cracks and crevices of your baby’s hands, it’s all over until you’ve washed them with soap and water.
If your baby’s hands smell like onions then what you probably really smelling is sulfur.
Sulfur is a compound that is pretty commonly released by lots of different kinds of bacteria so if you are smelling it on your baby then the dirt and gunk has been on there for long enough for the little buggers to start colonizing!
To get rid of this, be sure to scrub your baby’s hands with soap and water and consider using something with a little antiseptic quality.
How to clean baby hands to get rid of the smell
In general, the solution to this problem is not super complicated.
Wash your baby’s hands with soap and water!
The thing is, though, is that babies are jerks and usually won’t let you wash their hands without a fight. Also, there are probably a million other things going on that need your attention and prevents you from washing your baby’s hands 100 times each day. It’s okay – it’s the same way in my house!
While it might be tempting to simply grab a little hand sanitizer (or hand sana as my children affectionately call it), this is really just a short term fix and not a long-term solution.
To prevent your baby’s hands drying out from frequent washing, I suggest using a very mild, natural soap that avoids ingredients that dry out the skin while also providing moisturizers to boot. Since your baby is going to stick those hands right back in their mouth after you wash them you also want this soap to be as safe as possible!
Personally, I recommend something like this soap here made by Everyone (feel free to check out the stellar reviews on Amazon and pick up some for yourself!). It’s got a fantastic ingredients list, won’t break the bank, and smells amazing without using synthetic fragrances.
Seriously, check out their amazing scent selection!
How often should you wash your baby’s hands?
If you are having issues with stinky hands, the answer is probably just more often than you are right now.
I know that’s a dumb answer, but it’s the truth! Rather than relying on bathtime (depending on your personal bath schedule) I think that you should plan to wash your baby’s hands with soap and water at least three times per day. That could be every time you change her outfit, after meals, or whatever makes sense with your schedule!
How to clean under baby nails
Newborn babies have incredibly thin fingernails that easily break and tear which means that they don’t typically have a chance to get much underneath them.
Once your baby starts to grow up a little, however, those nails will start to grow in normally and become even harder to cut or clip because babies hate that sort of thing! To keep things easy for you, focus on using a soft-bristle nail brush on your baby’s hands during your hand washing routine. Just keep it by the sink, bath, or wherever you are normally doing your thing.
If you aren’t sure what kind of brush I’m talking about, they look like this.
As long as you get the right style (soft bristles) you probably can’t go wrong with many of those options. As long as there is soapy water involved, they will gently remove dirt and yuck from underneath your baby’s fingernails without causing them pain or discomfort!
What about lint between baby fingers?
If you notice this happening with your baby, don’t worry, it’s normal.
Once babies start becoming mobile, they are typically crawling on the floor on their hands and knees. Since their fingers are leading the way, it’s super common to find lint, hair, and sometimes other questionable things wrapped up around their fingers. Since their hands are also usually pretty sweaty and they never wipe them on anything, all of this stuff just stays there until you wash their hands!
How to keep a crawling baby’s hand clean
Once they start crawling, hands get dirtier!
Like I just mentioned with the lint, your baby’s hands are bound to get stuff on them pretty quickly. While you could try to get fancy with gloves or something, honestly, I don’t think it’s worth it. You’ll just need to accept the fact that your baby is going to have dirty hands, put them in their mouth, and move on.
The better way to attack this question is to address the environment that you are putting your baby into. Be sure that your baby is only crawling around in places where the floor is free of debris and has been cleaned. This could mean vacuuming, carpet cleaning, or even sanitizing parts of your floor (much easier with hardwoods or tile). If you can keep those areas clean, your baby will be much better off!
What about baby hand sanitizer?
So I already mentioned that there is simply no substitute for washing baby hands with warm, soapy water.
With that being said, it’s not always practical to stop and wash your baby’s hands because of what is going on or where you are. When you are out and about, for instance, it might even be impossible. In these situations, I recommend picking up a high-quality hand sanitizer that specifically avoids any ingredients that could irritate sensitive baby skin.
My family absolutely LOVES The Honest Company’s hand sanitizer sprays. They come in wonderful scents, feature natural ingredients, and easily fit into the car, diaper bag, or even a pocket.
These are finally back in stock and you can grab a single on Amazon or get a 12-pack directly from The Honest Company by clicking on the image below.
Notice that I said SPRAY and not just sanitizing gel, by the way. These sanitizers come in a little spray bottle which makes them super convenient for spraying down shopping carts, restaurant high chairs, and all kinds of other things that you might worry about. Seriously, we never leave home without them.