How Long After Surgery Before You Can Take a Bath

a woman running a bath
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You just had surgery and nothing sounds better than a nice, relaxing bath. But wait! Your doctor told you to avoid bathing and swimming, so when can you safely take a bath? Why is a bath a bad idea immediately after surgery?

When It Is Safe to Bathe After Surgery

Plan on waiting at least two weeks after your surgery to take a bath unless your surgeon has given you specific instructions otherwise.

A bath means any soaking activities including swimming, using a hot tub, or any other activity that would allow your incision to be saturated with water that does not come out of a clean tap.

There are multiple reasons for this: preventing infection, preventing the weakening of the incision line as it becomes wet and soft, and preventing the glue or adhesives holding the incision closed from falling off prematurely.

In addition to not submerging your body in water, do not have spa treatments that involve soaking in or being rubbed with mud or clay, any treatment that includes being washed or soaking in water that has had scents or oils added; even massage oil should be avoided on your new incision.

Fitness races called "mud runs" often include an obstacle course type event that may include crawling or wading through mud. Do not even consider participating in one of these events before your incision has completely closed. The safe answer is this: if you are in doubt, don’t do it.

How You Should Clean Your Body After Surgery

To be very clear, "not bathing or swimming for two weeks" doesn't mean avoiding cleaning your body on a routine basis. It means that you should take a shower or a sponge bath until you can safely soak in water without risking complications with your incision. Ideally, you will take a shower with gentle soap, treating your incision sites with care by washing each one gently with mild soap and rinsing well.

How many weeks you should wait after your surgery will depend on the type of surgery you had. If you have a cast on your leg, soaking in a bathtub would be a bad idea, as would bathing or swimming if your incision has not healed, regardless of the type of procedure that you had. 

If your incision isn't completely closed, or there is an obvious gap in your incision where an area of the incision hasn't closed, do not soak in a bath or go swimming. There is a serious infection risk with swimming—even more so than with bathing—as your bath water is made of clean tap water.

For a few additional weeks, do not swim in anything but a chlorinated pool. There are far too much bacteria in hot tubs, rivers, streams, ponds, and other bodies of water that could cause a significant infection in an open wound.

When You Can Take a Bath and Swim After Surgery

After laparoscopic surgery, also known as minimally invasive surgery, you can take a bath and swim once the tape strips holding the incision closed have fallen off and the incision has completely closed. If your incisions have fully closed, you can take a bath without fear of hurting your incision. If they have not, you are at risk of allowing bacteria into your body.

If you had an open procedure, with the larger traditional incision, you will want to wait until your surgeon removes the staples holding the incision closed before you take a bath. This typically happens about two weeks after surgery. If you have any gaps in your incision, you must wait until they are closed to swim or take a bath.

Some surgeries require postponing bathing for an extended period of time. After a hysterectomy, for example, the patient should refrain from taking baths for a minimum of six weeks, and the same is true for swimming.

In all cases, refer to the discharge materials you were given after surgery, which should include your surgeon’s specific instructions for bathing. If there are no instructions regarding baths, call your surgeon’s office; the staff should be able to provide a specific time frame.

A Word From Verywell

When in doubt, protect your incision. If you aren't sure it is safe to take a bath, go for a swim or hop in a lake don't do it. In general, if your incision has completely closed you can submerge it in water. The risk is largely present when your incision is still closing but remember that a prolonged soak can weaken the newly healed tissue.

It would be wise to avoid potentially contaminated water, such as ponds, lakes and even community hot tubs until you have completely healed from surgery and are back to all of your normal activities.

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