Caregiving: How to Give a Bed Bath


Bathing a person regularly is an important way to help keep their skin healthy. It can help prevent infections, and it's a good time to check for sores or rashes.

The amount of help a person needs when bathing depends on how well they can move. You may be caring for someone who is unable to care for themself because they are recovering from an illness or a surgery. Or you may be taking care of a person who has memory problems and can't remember how to bathe. Or you could be caring for someone who has a long-term inability to move, such as a person who is paralyzed. This person may need much more help when bathing.

A person who has to stay in bed for a short time and who can move a little may be able to take a shower with some help. Or the person may prefer a partial bath at the sink or with a basin. A person who can't move well or who can't move at all needs a bed bath. This is often called a sponge bath, but washcloths are often used too. You can give a full bath in bed without getting the bed sheets wet.

How often a person bathes can depend on their condition and their wishes. If you can, try to let the person choose when they bathe. Younger people who have no problems with blood flow can bathe more often if they want to. Older adults may only want a bed bath a few times each week. Bathing more often may put the person at risk for skin problems, such as sores.

Let the person clean themself as much as possible. As you help to undress and bathe them, try to be as relaxed as possible. If you are calm and don't seem embarrassed, they may feel more comfortable.

Preparing for a bed bath

To get ready to give someone a bed bath, start by gathering materials. You will need:

  • Washcloths.
  • Towels.
  • Two wash basins (one for soapy water, one for rinsing).
  • Soap (a bar of soap, liquid soap, or wipes).
  • "No-tears" or no-rinse shampoo.
  • Body lotion for dry skin.
  • A waterproof mat or sheet to keep the bed dry.
  • A table or stand to hold the materials.

Ask the person if the room is too warm or too cool, and change the temperature if you can. Make sure that the bed is high enough so that you don't hurt your back. If it is low, it is okay to put your knee on the bed to reach over and bathe the person.

Place a waterproof mat or sheet under the person to keep the bed dry. And for privacy, make sure the door is shut and the blinds or drapes are closed.

Helping with the bed bath

When you help someone bathe you may have a chance to check the skin for redness or sores. Pay special attention to areas with creases, such as beneath the breasts or in the folds on the stomach. Also, look at the groin area and bony areas, such as the elbows and shoulders.

Start by filling two basins with warm water. Use the first basin for soaping up a washcloth and wringing it out. Use the second to hold clean water for rinsing the soap off. Use the back of your hand to test the water to make sure it's not too hot. You don't have to wear gloves, but it might be a good idea if the person has been vomiting or has had diarrhea. And it's a good idea to wear a mask if you or the person has an illness that can spread, such as a cold or the flu.

  • Wash and dry your hands, and put on gloves if you choose to wear them.
  • Let the person undress and wash as much as they are able. Cover the person with a towel, exposing only the body parts being washed. For example, uncover an arm, wash and dry it, and then put it back under the towel.
  • Wash with the washcloth and soapy water or wipes, and then rinse using another washcloth and the clear water.
  • Start with the cleanest areas of the body and finish with the areas that are less clean. After you wash an area, turn the washcloth so you can use a new, clean part of it for the next area. Use a new washcloth when you need one.
    • Wash the eyelids, starting from the inside and moving out.
    • Wash the face, ears, and neck.
    • Wash the arms one at a time, and then the hands.
    • Wash the chest and belly, including the belly button. To wash under skin folds, first lift and flatten the skin. And then dry the skin.
    • Wash one leg, and then the other.
    • Wash the feet and in between the toes.
    • Help the person roll on their side so you can wash the back side. (If you can't roll a person by yourself, get someone to help you so that you don't hurt your back.) Then help the person roll onto their back.
    • Pour out the water (which by now may be cold) and replace it with fresh warm water.
    • Using a new washcloth, clean the genital area first and then the anal area.
  • Remove gloves if you are wearing them. Change the water and wash the hair. You can use water and a no-tears or no-rinse shampoo. Look carefully at the scalp for any redness or sores.
  • Rinse the hair with clean, warm water.

When you are finished with the bath, apply an unscented body lotion to protect the skin and keep it from becoming dry. Don't put lotion on areas that can become moist, such as under the breasts or in the folds of the groin. Help the person as needed to finish dressing. Put away your supplies and wash your hands.


Current as of: August 6, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.