The Healthiest Way to Wipe After a Bowel Movement

Wiping thoroughly and washing your hands after a bowel movement are the two most important ways to prevent odor and the spread of pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria.

For people who have solid bowel movements, this will mean wiping with toilet tissue. Others may need alternate ways to clean the anus and rectum, including a bidet, a syringe ball, or wet wipes. This could be due to rectal pain, an injury such as anal fissures, surgery, or hemorrhoids.

This article discusses the best ways to wipe, along with other solutions when wiping isn't an option. It also explains proper hand washing technique, as well as ways to deal with irritated skin.

Hands holding toilet roll
Peter Cade / Getty Images

The Right Way to Wipe

After comfortably passing a stool, always wipe from front to back. Avoid any skin-to-skin contact with stool. Simply reach behind your back and between your legs, using plenty of crumpled or folded toilet tissue. Wipe backward from the perineum, the space between the genitals and anus, moving toward and past the anus.

Use additional wads of toilet tissue as needed until the paper is mostly clean. Never scrub the skin around the anus, called the perianal area, as this can cause microtears in the skin. Bacteria can enter through these small tears.

People who are unable to reach around behind their backs (because of weight, injury, or arthritis) can reach between the legs instead. They still need to wipe front to back, not back to front.

Wiping from front to back is especially important for people with a vagina. This is because it prevents fecal matter from entering the urethra, the opening where urine exits the body. Accidental exposure to fecal matter is one of the leading causes of this type of urinary tract infection.

If this happens, gently rinse the urethral area with cool water. However, do not spray with a strong shower or flow. If you do, the water can force the microbes further up the urethra. Drink plenty of fluids for the next couple of days to help flush any remaining bacteria from the urinary tract.

Recap

The most important thing to remember about wiping after a bowel movement is to do so from front to back. This helps you to avoid urinary tract infections. Avoid scrubbing the sensitive area around your anus, too, because it can spread bacteria into the tiny tears in the skin.

How to Wash Your Hands

Hand washing is also a vital part of bathroom hygiene. Good hand washing can prevent the transmission of infectious organisms, such as hepatitis A.

Once you have wiped thoroughly and flushed, wash your hands with plenty of soap and water. Antimicrobial hand washes are useful but not necessary.

Despite what some may tell you, there is a wrong and right way to wash your hands. To wash your hands properly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following steps:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water and apply soap.
  • Lather by rubbing your hands together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails as well as your palms.
  • Scrub for at least 20 seconds. An easy way to time this is to hum the "Happy Birthday" song twice from start to finish.
  • Rinse your hands thoroughly under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or allow them to air-dry.

Recap

It's important to know proper hand washing technique. This, too, helps to prevent the spread of bacteria and infection. Be sure to wet and lather soap on all the parts of your hands, and scrub for at least 20 seconds before rinsing and drying.

When Wiping Is Not Enough

When diarrhea is persistent or severe, keeping the anus clean can be difficult. This is especially true if it is sore and red. In such cases, you can use baby wipes or wet wipes that are gentler on the skin. Or, wet toilet paper or a wet washcloth can usually do the trick.

If even gentle wiping causes discomfort, try using a ball syringe (which you can buy at most drugstores) to flush the area clean. Others opt to use a bidet or a hand shower to rinse fecal residue from the skin. Cool to lukewarm water can be especially soothing.

If you experience ongoing rectal pain between bowel movements, try soaking in a lukewarm tub. You can add Epsom salt and colloidal oatmeal, both of which can help to reduce inflammation. Avoid hot baths, however, as they can dry the skin. This may make the pain and itching worse.

When finished, dab the perianal area with a soft cloth and allow to air-dry. Apply some fragrance-free barrier cream to help lock in moisture.

Treating Anal Irritation

Wiping too much or too hard can lead to anal itching, a condition also known as pruritus ani. Pruritus ani is essentially an inflammatory response caused when delicate tissues near the anus have been stressed or compromised.

Redness and swelling, caused by the dilation of capillaries just below the surface of the skin, are common with pruritus ani. So is a persistent, often unrelenting, itch. Sitting for long periods of time, using harsh soaps, or scratching can only make things worse.

Remedies to try at home include emollient-rich barrier creams, some of which contain aloe vera, vitamin A, vitamin E, and other anti-inflammatory ingredients. Petroleum jelly is also a good option. Refrigerating the cream before an application is especially soothing.

Avoid fragranced soaps, lotions, toilet paper, and wet wipes. These are likely to cause irritation. Until symptoms resolve, it is also a good idea to avoid eating chili, curry, or other spicy foods.

Over-the-counter gels or creams containing steroids, such as hydrocortisone, should only be used under the direction of your healthcare provider.

You should see your healthcare provider if you have persistent itching with pain or rectal bleeding. There are a number of possible medical conditions, some of them serious, that can cause these symptoms. They include:

Recap

Wiping may not be enough and water or a warm soak in the tub may be needed when anal tissue is irritated. This can be treated at home with gentle creams. You may need to see a healthcare provider, though, if you experience pain or rectal bleeding that can suggest an underlying medical issue.

Summary

There's a right way to clean yourself after having a bowel movement, and there are good reasons for it. Always wipe from front to back in order to keep from spreading bacteria that can cause an infection, and don't forget the importance of good hand washing. This remains true even if you are a person who can't reach around behind your back.

If the skin at your anus is irritated, try using wet wipes. A bidet spray also can help clean the area without causing pain. You may want to soak in a lukewarm bath for more relief.

When itchy anal discomfort also comes with pain or rectal bleeding, be sure to see your healthcare provider. There may be an underlying cause that needs to be treated.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the correct way to wipe your bum?

    The right way to wipe your butt is from front to back. Using a wad of toilet paper, start at the perineum (the area between the genitals and anus) and wipe upwards, past the anus. Repeat as needed until the toilet paper is clean. 

  • Should you wipe your butt while sitting or standing?

    Either way is fine, as long as you feel comfortable and are able to clean yourself. There are no official statistics detailing how many people sit or stand to wipe their butts. Informal surveys suggest the majority of adults wipe while seated, while at least 30% stand up to wipe. 

  • What is a bidet?

    A bidet is a bathroom appliance that sprays water to clean your butt and private parts after using the toilet. Bidets are used across the globe instead of toilet paper and reduce skin irritation. 

    Traditionally, bidets are a separate unit in the bathroom that sits beside the toilet. Modern versions combine a bidet with the actual toilet or toilet seat. Some bidets use warm water, while other (less expensive) models use cold water. 

    After spraying your bum clean, you can air dry for a few moments or use toilet paper to dry yourself. Some bidets also include a blow dryer to dry faster.  

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Office on Women's Health. Urinary tract infections; 2017.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wash Your Hands; 2019.

  3. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. Anal discomfort and how to deal with it; 2019.

By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.