a close-up image of baby hands with the text overlay saying "the mystery of smelly baby hands"

Stinky Baby Hands: Why Your Baby’s Hands Smell Like Cheese

Those adorable tiny fingers, exploring their world with complete curiosity. But how can such sweet little hands have such a strong scent to them? Are you not washing them properly or was it something they ate? Why your baby’s hands smell like cheese is a common question among parents, and the culprit of stinky baby hands is surprisingly easy to explain. In this blog post, we’ll dive into why a baby’s hands smell bad and what you can do to keep them fresh and clean. 

From the moment they’re born, babies use their hands for exploration and self-soothing. Hands are babies’ first tools for sensory learning about the world around them and they play a big part in their early development and growth.

As fascinating as that is, that doesn’t mean that babies’ hands always smell as sweet as they do. Sometimes those little digits can get downright pungent!

But what makes them stinky? Let jump in to find out!

Why Your Little One Has Stinky Baby Hands

Baby hands can smell bad because they are frequently clenched, often moist with milk residue, drool, or even sweat which creates an ideal crevice for bacteria to grow and emit a sour odor. 

Usually a bit of an odor isn’t anything to be concerned about and is actually quite normal. However, if you’re worried that the smell is too strong or it’s accompanied by other symptoms, be sure to consult a healthcare professional. 

If you’re trying to solve the mystery of your baby’s smelly hands, keep reading to understand the different factors that can contribute to the smell.

Clenched Fists

One of the biggest reasons small babies, including newborns, can have stinky hands is because they spend a good portion of the day with their hand close in a tiny ball.

a small baby lays on its back looking up at its mom who is holding their tiny hands

Because newborns don’t stretch their hand out very often, air doesn’t reach the tiny wrinkles and crevices within their closed fists.

Any moisture, drool, milk, and even lint or dust will just sit in there creating a stinky concoction that remains moist until it gets properly cleaned and dried. 

Milk Residue, Spit-Up and Drool

Babies are very orally curious little ones. They are constantly bringing their hands to their mouth and finding enjoyment or soothing from sucking on their fingers and fist.

If they’ve recently eaten, the spit-up or milky drool gets all over their slobbery hands. This milk residue can then linger on their hands for quite a while contributes to the unpleasant smell.

Sweat and Moisture

Babies tend to get moisture built up in those adorable little creases and folds. Chubbier babies may get stinky in more places than just their hands.

Neck rolls, baby armpits, and even behind their ears can smell a little cheesy!

Moisture coupled with sweat or milk or drool creates an environment for bacteria to thrive which then leads to a less-than-pleasant scent.

Bacterial Growth

As I mentioned earlier, moist areas become a bit of a breeding ground for bacteria. When this bacteria grows, it starts to produce an odor (and can even lead to skin irritations if not looked after). 

Environmental Factors

Babies are naturally curious and love to explore their surroundings by touching everything in site.

Whether it’s tummy time for your baby or they’ve been hanging in different play areas around the house, dirt, pet fur, dust and other substances can get on their hands and into those little wrinkly palms.

Improper Hygiene

This one sits on the shoulders of the caregivers. Since small babies aren’t crawling around yet, playing at the playground, or even touching solid foods, many parents think that their hands don’t need to be washed unless it’s baby’s bathtime.

All of the substances that we covered above just sits in the little crevices of their hands growing bacteria (and smell).

Caregivers should get into the habit of cleaning and drying infant hands regularly to get rid of any residue and avoid your infant having bad smelling hands. 

Why Do Baby Hands Smell Like Cheese?

Babies’ skin, although delicate and soft, can also be a breeding ground for different types of bacteria when moisture and other substances are trapped. But why does this make baby’s hands smell like cheese? 

If you think about it, the hands of small babies are balled up tight for a good portion of the day and therefore does not get much air flowing across the skin’s surface. The closed hand traps in moisture, allowing bacteria to thrive. 

Now I’m no scientist, but it all has to do with bacteria. Bacteria naturally exists on the surface of our skin, but when trapped in a moist area, the bacteria grows. As the bacteria increases, it can release compounds that contribute to an odor that resembles the sour scent of cheese. 

This is similar to the way some smelly feet also resembles odourous cheese!

Hands aren’t the only body part to get a little stinky because of this. Parents often complain that their baby’s neck rolls, armpits, feet, and even behind the ears can start smelling a little sour. 

All thanks to cheesy smelling bacteria! If we can keep that bacteria at bay, your baby’s hands will start to smell better.

How to Help Your Baby’s Hands Smell Better

Keeping your baby’s hands odor-free is a fairly straightforward task. Here are some simple tips to help you maintain those  little fingers sweet-smelling and not sour!

Regular Hand Washing

Just the same as adults, regular hand washing is key to keeping foul odors off of babies’ hands.

Use warm water and a mild baby soap to gently clean all the crevices of your baby’s hands. Don’t forget to wash between their fingers and under the nails when necessary. 

a young baby is being held on its tummy by its caregiver over a kitchen sink to wash the babys hands

Thorough Drying

After washing, be sure to pat your baby’s hands dry with a soft clean towel. Allow them to grasp the towel to gently dry their palms to avoid leaving any moisture behind.

Wipe Down Before and After Meals

If your baby is already onto eating solids, wash their hands before each meal and wipe them down again afterwards. This will help remove any food residue that could contribute to an odor lingering in the creases.

Clean Toys and Surfaces

If your baby is at the age where they want to explore and touch everything, make sure you regularly clean their toys, play mats, and other objects they come into contact with. This will help prevent dirt, dust and bacteria accumulating on the surfaces they touch.

Air Circulation

This one isn’t as easy with a newborn baby, but try your best to give your baby’s hands a chance to breathe.

Practice gently opening their palm to stretch those tiny fingers out. 

Avoid the constant use of baby mitts or cuffs. And don’t over-bundle them to prevent excessive sweating and moisture build-up.

Always choose breathable fabrics when dressing your baby to allow air circulation.

Trim Nails Regularly

Keeping your baby’s nails short and clean will prevent dirt and residue building up underneath them.

If you dread manicure day, be sure to check out How to Clip Baby Nails (While Awake) for the best tips to confidently trim your little one’s nails every time!

Monitor for Skin Irritations

Sometimes, skin irritations or even minor infections can be the culprit for unusual smells. Always keep an eye out for any redness, rashes, or signs of discomfort on your baby’s hands and follow up with a healthcare professional with any concerns.

How to Clean Your Baby’s Hands Properly

Using a mild soap and warm water is best. Hold your baby close to a sink to wash thoroughly between fingers and in the crevices of their palm. Remember to always dry their hands completely.

Newborns’ hands are sometimes a bit trickier to open as they often have clenched fists so try to gently encourage their fingers to spread out by rubbing from their wrist towards their palm with your thumb. Be careful not to use force.

Gently uncurling their fingers may help get a proper clean. If that doesn’t work, try stroking the back of their hand to see if their fingers will stretch out.

Wash their hands when they have a full tummy as they’ll be more relaxed and their hands often open up more than when they’re hungry and tense. 

How to Clean Your Baby’s Hands On the Go

When you’re out with your baby, it can be hard to find a comfortable sink to wash their tiny hands in. You’re stuck doing your best with what you have. 

Whether you’re taking your newborn to a restaurant or having a relaxing afternoon with your baby at the park, it’s always a good idea to clean their hands since babies are notorious for having their hands in their mouths.

Cleaning your baby’s hands on the go can be a breeze with just a bit of preparation.

Toss a clean washcloth or a pack of baby wipes into your diaper bag. This can be a game-changer!

a baby lays on its back getting one hand cleaned with a baby wipe

With these simple-but-handy essentials tucked into your diaper bag, you’re always equipped to handle those messy little hands.

Whether it’s teething season or just exploration of the world around them, a thorough wipe down with a baby wipe or a damp washcloth is all it takes to get those hands feeling fresh and clean.

With both of these options, don’t forget to dry their hands to reduce any trapped moisture.