The Incredible World of Navel Fluff

Part 1: The Collection

Featuring the world's biggest collection of one person's
navel fluff (lint), as certified by Guinness World Records.

Some people gaze into their navel for inspiration: I look into mine and see navel fluff. Also known as navel lint, it is that fascinating fluffy substance that forms mysteriously in the belly buttons of special people.

I've been collecting navel fluff (just my own) since 1984, and upon learning of this, people usually ask "Why?". To this I answer "Why not?". In my mind, the worth of any collection depends on the following factors (in which my collection rates well):

  • Uniqueness - millions of people collect stamps and coins, but as far as I know nobody else collects navel fluff. That makes my collection unique!

  • Rarity - the navel fluff of Graham Barker is produced in very limited quantities by only one person and is not easily obtainable by others (not that anyone would want to).

  • Completeness of collection - I've been collecting my navel fluff consistently for around 20 years and have seldom missed a day's harvest. This makes my collection almost complete, a bit like having the full set of a country's currency.

  • Good condition of items - like uncirculated banknotes or stamps, my navel fluff is in mint condition. When harvested, I remove any body hair from the fluff then store it immediately in a jar, where it remains uncontaminated.

As you can see, when judged by the standards applied to other collections, my navel fluff collection is of great worth, even priceless. Now cast your eyes upon the photo below and behold the unique sight of my priceless collection.

My navel fluff collection
 

In the beginning

It was on the 17th of January 1984 that I found myself under-occupied in a youth hostel in Brisbane. The night was steamy and stormy - too wet outside and too hot inside to do very much, and my attention drifted to my belly button. There it was ... fluff! I must have seen it before that night, but this occasion was the first time I ever picked it out and wondered about it. I became curious about how much navel fluff one person could generate (enough to stuff a cushion, maybe?), and the only way to find for sure was to collect it and see. My first piece of navel fluff was stored in an empty film canister, and the collection had begun.

I've read that if you do something every day for three weeks it becomes an ingrained habit, and thats what happened with collecting navel fluff. The ritual of removing fluff from my navel and putting it in a jar prior to my daily shower soon became a habit, and now that I've been doing it so long it would take some effort to stop. As the photo shows, the volume collected is disappointingly small for such a long time, and I doubt I'll ever have enough to stuff a cushion, but it may be handy for something one day.

Where does navel fluff come from?

Michael Biesecker wrote an interesting article on navel fluff in the 19/4/95 edition of Technician, accessed via North Carolina State University library. In it he discusses the widely held belief that navel fluff forms when very tiny pieces of fibre break off the inside of clothing. These tiny fibres gather in the belly button and amalgamate into balls of lint.

He observes that the colour of navel fluff varies amongst different people, and that those who habitually wear clothes of a similar colour tend to produce fluff related to that colour. However, those who wear a variety of colours usually end up with fluff of a grayish blue colour similar to the lint found in the lint filters of clothes driers. This colour is most likely an average of all clothing colours worn.

Those with hairy stomachs tend to generate more fluff, as abdominal hair is alleged to assist with dislodging fibres from clothes then collecting and channelling them into the navel. Also those with larger bellies often experience greater volumes of fluff - possibly due the tendency of large stomachs to possess deeper navels, thus a larger space for the lint to lodge in.

But how does it accumulate in the navel? Dr Donald E. Smith remarks that navels may possess a moist and sticky secretion that catches whatever lands nearby. On the other hand, Dr Bhupendar S. Gupta, whose doctorate is in the study of textile fibres, attributes the accumulation of navel fluff to the stomach's "microclimate" - where the flow of air between clothing and the abdomen carries small lint particles that get lodged in the navel.

Probably the best investigation into navel fluff was conducted by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki of the University of Sydney. He devotes a whole chapter to it in his popular science book "Q&A With Dr K" (Harper Collins Publishers 2001). The role of abdominal hair in dislodging and channelling clothing fibres is confirmed, but he also suggests the type of washing machine can also play a role. Apparently top-loading machines are not as gentle as front-loaders, leading to greater quantities of dislodged fibres, many of which remain in the clothing and cause greater accumulation in the navel. He also found that a well developed "snail-trail" - hair connecting the pubic hair to the navel - also encourages lint in the belly.

Navel fluff image for right eye Navel fluff image for left eye

This is a pile of my 2005-7 fluff displayed as a stereo pair, and can be enjoyed in 3D if viewed using the cross-eye method. See the 3D Photography page for details.


 

Does every navel generate fluff?

Navels that stick out - outties - rarely collect lint. My research indicates that abdominal hairiness is the factor contributing most to lint generation, with depth of the navel coming second, so the hairier the stomach and the deeper the navel, the more lint is accumulated. Perhaps this is why navel fluff is most commonly found in amply proportioned males. Women get it too, but the numbers are fewer - most likely due to women (in general) having significantly less stomach hair than men, and generally smaller/shallower navels. I think the greater readiness of men to talk about and admit to such phenomena could also be a factor: women are more likely to find such matters distasteful!

Other factors also appear to contribute, such as the type of clothing and the amount of exercise undertaken, but I don't have enough data to quantify this. Anecdotal evidence indicates having a navel ring installed usually leads to more lint.


 

How much navel fluff is normal?

Not much! Over the last 20-plus years my navel has accumulated an average of 3.03 milligrams of fluff each day, with little variation between one day and the next. Weighing such small quantities with any accuracy requires a large sample collected over a long period, and I doubt that many people have done this, so its not known whether the volume of fluff generated by my navel is any indication of what is normal.

Why collect navel fluff?

Its certainly an unusual and different commodity to collect, but then its people's differences that make life in this world interesting. Collecting navel fluff consumes negligible time and space, and costs nothing, so I see it as harmless. There are many other people collecting unusual things, such as air sickness bags, false teeth, parking meters, postage-paid envelopes, sugar packets - you name it, there is probably someone collecting it. I think G K Chesterton summed it up well when he said "There are no uninteresting things, there are only uninterested people". May you be encouraged to collect unusual things!

The world's first internet survey of navel fluff

In the absence of formal research, I commenced an online survey on this page in 1999. It asked questions about age, abdominal hair, depth of the navel, whether or not lint was found in the navel, its regularity, quantity, colour, and whether the colour was consistent or varied according to clothing. There was also an optional section for comments and theories of navel lint formation - some of the more amusing responses are on the Comments page.

Over several years I received more than 5000 responses to this survey. I discontinued it because I literally had more results than I could handle, and also because Dr Karl Kruszelnicki of the University of Sydney published his results before I had got very far with mine. My survey may have been the first, but his was larger and more comprehensive, and he was able to process his data quickly (having a university physics department working with him would have helped). The general trends I was seeing in my own survey responses agreed with Dr Kruszelnicki's findings.

Fame and fortune!

This page has been honoured by its inclusion in Sturge's list of the insane and unusual, a collection of 100 of the most unusual sites on the web. (NB not sure if this page still exists, link didn't work last time I checked it). It has also been Pick of the Day on Vistar's Weird of the Web, useless site of the week on the Useless Pages, and has been featured in countless other websites.

Possibly the greatest achievement came in November 2000 when Guinness World Records officially recognised my collection as the world's largest collection of navel lint.

Following the world record, I received a lot of media requests for interviews. Not quite like Princess Diana and the paparazzi, but as near as I'm likely to (or want to) get to that extreme. A highlight was being flown to Los Angeles to appear on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, along with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Kylie Minogue (see the Tonight Show page for that story). I also appeared on the Australian talk show "Enough Rope with Andrew Denton", did a number of radio and newspaper interviews, and contributed to several books and magazines (see the History page for that).

Fame and fortune? Collecting navel fluff has certainly brought me some fame ... but I'm still waiting for the fortune! The trips to Los Angeles and Sydney for the TV interviews were mostly paid for, yet left me sufficiently out of pocket to offset the small amounts I earned from some of the book and magazine contributions. The real value has been in the wonderful experiences I have gained, the travel, and the fun and satisfaction of doing something quirky and unique. Becoming a world record collector has been a buzz - and all because of five seconds per day spent transferring my navel lint to a jar instead of letting it wash away under the shower.

The Collection

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Classic Comments

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The History

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The Tonight Show

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