Why Won't Your Teen Take a Shower?

Imagine this: Some parents get frustrated because their teen spends hours primping in the bathroom before leaving the house. Meanwhile, other parents can’t convince their teen to take a shower.

If you're in the latter group, then you know that dealing with a teen who refuses to shower can be confusing and embarrassing. On one hand, you can hardly force your teen to get in the shower if they don’t want to. But if your teen doesn’t shower regularly, they may face some serious social and physical consequences. Before you decide how to intervene, consider the reason behind your teen’s disinterest in bathing.

This article probes some of the reasons teens may give for not showering, how to address the issue of poor hygiene with your teen, and how being a good role model could be the most persuasive tactic of all.

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Reasons for Lack of Showering

Your teen has their reason for not showering. Fundamentally, it could stem from:

Lack of Knowledge

Some teens simply don’t recognize the importance of taking a shower. Your teen might not know that after puberty, he’s going to get sweaty and smelly if he doesn’t shower.

It can be hard for some teens to make the transition to treating their bodies more like adults rather than children. So while it wasn’t a problem to skip a bath at age 7, at age 13, they may exhibit body odor if they don’t wash regularly. Even teens who do shower sometimes don’t recognize the need to use soap or wash their hair.

If you suspect your teen’s reluctance to shower stems from a lack of knowledge, it’s a sign you need to talk about puberty. Discuss how physical changes, like increased perspiration and the emergence of body hair, means that taking a daily shower is important. Explain to your teen that skin bacteria feed on sweat, which leads to body odor. Showering can help anyone stay clean and smell fresh.

Your Teen Has Better Things to Do

Many teens would rather spend their spare time playing video games or chatting with friends rather than worrying about hygiene issues. Taking a shower can feel like it gets in the way of all the other things they want to do.

Teens can also be superb procrastinators. Your teen may promise to take a shower after school. Then, after school, they might say they prefer to shower after dinner. And then as bedtime approaches, they may say they’ll shower in the morning.

If your teen’s refusal to shower seems to stem from laziness, you may need to treat the issue just like any other responsibility. Set limits and provide consequences.

Mental Health Issues or Cognitive Delays

Occasionally, the refusal to shower could be linked to certain types of mental health problems. For example, teens with serious depression may lack the interest and energy to shower. But taking a shower won’t be the only problem they’ll struggle with; depression could also lead to academic and social problems.

In some cases, traumatic experiences can trigger hygiene issues. A teen who has been sexually abused, for instance, may refuse to shower because they fear their abuser might approach.

Teens with developmental disabilities or cognitive delays may also struggle with hygiene issues. A teen may not understand the importance of showering. Or he may struggle to remember the steps involved in caring for his health.

Seek Help, If Necessary

If you think your teen’s refusal to shower may stem from a mental health issue, seek professional help. Talk to your teen’s doctor or contact a mental health professional.

How to Address Poor Hygiene

Take these steps to enlighten your teen about poor hygiene:

Be Direct

Talking to teens about hygiene issues can be tricky. If you're not careful about the way you broach the subject, your teen may grow defensive. It's also unwise to drop subtle hints that your teen smells bad or has oily hair. Leaving deodorant in their room or making jokes about their body odor won’t be helpful.

Instead, state your observations directly. Say something like, “Your hair looks oily today. You need to wash it" or “You have body odor. That tells me you need to take a shower.” It's possible that your teen may grow defensive anyway. They may become embarrassed but react by lashing out and saying something cruel like, "Look who's talking. You smell bad all the time.”

Point out Potential Problems

The importance of good hygiene goes beyond appearances. Point out your observations and share the potential problems that can result from poor hygiene. Say something like, “You haven’t showered in three days. That’s not healthy.”

Poor hygiene could lead to a variety of health problems and social problems. Teens who don’t shower may be at risk for certain types of skin infections. A smelly teen may have trouble making and keeping friends. They may be teased or bullied for looking unkempt. And this could take a serious toll on their self-esteem.

Share your concerns by expanding their focus; they may think no one notices. Say, “I'm afraid other kids will notice you aren’t showering” or “I don’t want you to get picked on because you smell bad.”

Address Other Hygiene Issues

Teens who refuse to shower often experience other hygiene issues as well. For example, talk to your teen about the importance of wearing clean clothes and changing after exercising. Similarly, encourage your teen to wear deodorant. Let them pick out the kind they prefer; it could be a good silent motivator.

Smelly feet can also be a problem with teens, especially teen athletes. Encourage your teen to wash their feet in the shower and then wait until their feet are dry before putting on socks and shoes. Wearing cotton socks and alternating shoes can keep smells to a minimum.

Establish Hygiene Rules

Tell your teen that you expect them to every day—just as they do chores, finish their homework, and eat dinner every day. Showering should be part of their routine. To encourage this positive behavior, let your teen enjoy privileges like watching TV or entertaining themselves with electronics.

Now you have a "takeaway," meaning that if your teen refuses to take a shower, or claims they are too busy, take the privileges away. After a few days, your teen may realize that it's in their best interest to comply with your wishes.

Resist the temptation to nag your teen. Repeatedly telling them they need to shower could cause them to dig in and fight your best efforts, just for the heck of it. Ironically, nagging could also make your teen more dependent on you. The goal is for them to be able to take care of their hygiene when you’re not there to remind them about it. So make sure they know it’s their responsibility to shower and that there will be consequences if they don’t.

At the same time, give your teen the flexibility to choose when they shower. Just like adults, some teens may prefer an early-morning shower to jar them awake. Other may appreciate the calming influence of water before they go to bed. Unless there is a compelling reason for them to take a shower when you say so, their ability to set their own shower schedule should increase the likelihood of them getting into a regular routine.

A Word About Rules

It's been said that "rules work best" when there is consistency, follow-through, and predictability.

Be a Good Role Model

If you wear the same outfit for days on end, or you skip showering on weekends, it's fair to expect your teen to question your own hygiene habits. Be a good role model and you’ll communicate more than you ever could with a two-hour lecture.

If you can, let your teen see you washing your hands, sanitizing the kitchen, cleaning the bathroom, and undertaking other "cleanliness counts" tasks. Your actions will communicate that you value cleanliness—and enjoy the aftermath.

Humor May Help

"Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent ages as much as 20 years."—Comic Henny "Henny" Youngman

Summary

You may be mystified by why your teen refuses to take a shower. In fact, your teen may not understand it themselves. It's possible your teen doesn't take hygiene seriously, they have too many things vying for their attention, or that they're dealing with an emotional struggle. To communicate the importance of good hygiene, be direct, point out the potential problems of poor hygiene, and establish consequences if your teen defies you. Being a good role model should help make your case, too.

A Word From Verywell

It's common for many parents to look at their disgruntled teen and swear they don't recognize the person standing in front of them anymore. At the same time, no one knows your teen better than you do. So if you're grappling with a stubborn teen who refuses to shower, remember that you may have to try several persuasive tactics before you find the one that motivates your teen to "hit the shower." Along the way, you don't have to tell your teen that parenthood is a lifelong gig—that you're committed to the job for life. The message will come through loud and clear as you guide them with smart advice and the benefit of your love and patience.

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