How Long After Surgery Before You Can Take a Bath

You just had surgery and nothing sounds better than a nice, relaxing bath. But your surgical team told you to avoid bathing and swimming. Why is a bath a bad idea immediately after surgery? And when can you safely take a bath again?

Depending on the type of surgery, plan on waiting between 12 to 48 hours after your procedure before taking a shower, and about two weeks before taking a bath. You may need to wait longer after certain procedures. Your surgeon will let you know if this applies to you.

This article explains why bathing is restricted after surgery, how to clean your body after surgery, and how long you should wait before taking a shower or a bath.

a woman running a bath

Alistair Berg / Getty Images 

Why Bathing Is Restricted After Surgery

There are many reasons for bathing restrictions after surgery.

They include:

  • Preventing bacteria from entering the body and leading to a post-operative infection
  • Preventing the incision line from becoming wet, soft, and opening
  • Preventing the glue, adhesives, or Steri-Strips that are holding the incision closed from falling off too soon

A bath means any soaking activities, including swimming or using a hot tub. It also includes any other activity that would allow your incision to be soaked with water that does not come out of a clean tap (such as wading in a stream).

Mud or Oil

In addition to not soaking your body in water, you need to avoid:

  • Spa treatments that involve soaking in or being rubbed with mud or clay
  • Any treatment that includes being washed or soaked in water that has had scents or oils added
  • Massage oil treatment that's rubbed 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 participate in this type of event before your incision has completely closed and fully healed.

Swimming

Swimming poses more of an infection risk than bathing. That's because your bath water is made of clean tap water, while other kinds of water are not.

Bacteria in pools, hot tubs, rivers, streams, ponds, and other bodies of water could cause a significant infection in a wound that isn't fully healed.

How to Clean Your Body After Surgery

Even while you are still not ready to bathe or swim, you need to clean your body on a regular basis while you are recovering from surgery.

Your doctor may recommend that you:

  • Take a shower
  • Take sponge baths

Until you can safely soak in water, this will decrease the risk of complications with your incision.

Treat your incision sites with care by washing each one gently as directed by your surgical team. Use mild soap and rinse well.

How Long to Wait to Bathe

How many weeks you should wait after your surgery will depend on the type of surgery you had.

In all cases, refer to the discharge materials you were given after surgery. They 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 tell you exactly when it's safe to take a bath.

Here is a general sense of what you can expect.

Laparoscopic Surgery

Laparoscopic surgery is minimally invasive. This means the surgeon uses small incisions (cuts) to perform the procedure.

You can take a bath and swim once the tape strips that are holding your incision together have fallen off and the incision has completely closed. Make sure the skin is fully healed and that there is no redness or bleeding before you start taking baths.

Open Surgery

Some surgeries are open procedures. The surgeon has to make a larger cut to perform the surgery.

If you have had open surgery, you will need 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 fully closed and healed before you can swim or take a bath.

Some surgeries require staying away from baths for an extended period of time.

  • If you have a cast on your leg, you should not soak it in a bathtub or immerse it in any type of water.
  • After a hysterectomy, you should avoid taking baths or swimming for at least four weeks.

Summary

After you have surgery, your surgeon will tell you how long you need to wait before taking a bath or going swimming. You should not take a bath or go swimming until your wound is completely healed.

Avoiding baths and swimming after surgery helps prevent infection. It also helps you heal faster by keeping the incision from getting wet and soft and preventing the glue or adhesive holding the incision closed from falling off too soon.

If you have questions about when it's safe for you to take a bath or go swimming after surgery, check with your surgeon's office.

A Word From Verywell

After surgery, it's important that you protect your incision. This means changing dressings as directed, keeping it clean, and not immersing it in water or other material while it's still healing. A prolonged soak can weaken newly healed tissue, so make sure it is fully healed before you start activities like baths, swimming, or mud cleanses. 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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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. Toon CD, Sinha S, Davidson BR, Gurusamy KS. Early versus delayed post-operative bathing or showering to prevent wound complications. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;(7):CD010075. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD010075.pub3

  2. American College of Surgeons. Wound home skills kit: surgical wounds.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Hysterectomy: recovery and outlook.