Caregiving: How to Give a Bed Bath
Why is bathing your loved one important?
Bathing keeps the skin healthy and can help prevent infections. It's a good time to check the skin to look for sores or rashes. Bathing also helps your loved one feel fresh and clean.
The amount of help your loved one needs when bathing depends on how well he or she can move. You may be caring for someone who has short-term trouble with self-care because he or she is recovering from an illness or a surgery. Or you may be taking care of an older person who has memory problems. The person may not 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 will need much more of your care 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 once or twice a week. Or the person may prefer a partial bath at the sink or with a basin every day.
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.
For older adults, you can give a bed bath 2 or 3 times each week. Bathing more often may put the person at risk for skin problems, such as sores. Younger people can bathe more often if they want to and they have no problems with blood flow.
Let your loved one clean himself or herself as much as possible. As you help to undress and bathe the person, act straightforward but relaxed. Bath time can be awkward and embarrassing for you and your loved one. This may be especially true if you are caring for an opposite-sex parent. If you don't act embarrassed or upset, your loved one may feel less self-conscious or embarrassed.
How do you give a bed bath?
Gather your materials
To give a bed bath, you will need:
- Four or more washcloths or bath sponges.
- Three or more towels.
- Two wash basins (one for soapy water, one for rinsing).
- Soap (a bar of soap, liquid soap, or wipes).
- "No-tears" or baby shampoo or no-rinse shampoo.
- Body lotion.
- A waterproof cloth to keep the bed dry.
- A table or stand to hold the materials.
Get ready for the bath
- Ask the person if the room is too warm or too cool, and change the temperature if needed.
- 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.
- For privacy, make sure the door is shut and the blinds or drapes are closed.
Some things to remember
- After you or your loved one washes 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.
- As you help your loved one wash, check the skin for redness or sores. Pay special attention to areas with creases, such as beneath the breasts or the folds on the stomach. Also look at the groin area and bony areas, such as the elbows and shoulders.
How to help with or give the bath
- Fill two basins with warm water. One is for soaping up a washcloth and wringing it out. The second basin holds clear, warm water for rinsing off the soap with a washcloth.
- Wash and dry your hands.
- Use the back of your hand to test the water to make sure it's not too hot.
- Think about whether to wear gloves, especially if the person has been vomiting or has had diarrhea. It's a good idea to wear a mask if the person has a contagious illness, such as the flu.
- Let the person undress and wash as much as he or she is able. Remove clothing only from the area you are going to wash. For example, uncover an arm, wash and dry it, and then put it back into a shirt or gown.
- 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. Get the washcloth ready for your loved one to wash himself or herself. Or you can gently wash the person if he or she can't do it.
- 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.
- Wash one leg, and then the other.
- Wash the feet and in between the toes.
- Help the person roll on his or her 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 on his or her 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 "no-tears" or baby shampoo or a no-rinse shampoo. Look carefully at the scalp for any redness or sores.
- 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: December 9, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Gayle E. Stauffer, RN - Registered Nurse
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine