The Great Bathing Debate

It’s been a hot topic of conversation for the past month or so since mentioning to a group of girlfriends (fellow mothers) that I bathe my boys every single night and feel horribly guilty on the rare “off” days when they manage to skip by without a full and proper wash down. Fact being, I was the only one in the group who felt daily baths totally necessary. The more I asked around, the more I saw that I was in fact in the minority in regards to views on such a ritual. I explained how gross and grimy they are at the end of the day. “Yep, my kids too” they laughed. How even the sheets show what we failed to scrub away on the days they get by without one. How I literally can’t stop myself from envisioning dragging a sopping wet cloth across their dirty little faces while they are mid way through a playdate, begging me for an extra hour in the sun, caked in dirt. Stained with jelly. Fingernails lined with mud.

What I gathered was that most people I know, with kids about the same age, do not feel an end of the night bath or shower is vital to their children’s overall well being. Which of course made me come to question mine entirely. Especially because on certain days, seeing to it that four boys are bathed with brushed teeth and combed hair before bed itself is overwhelming. And for me it’s not about the germs. In fact those who know me know that I almost painfully lax when it comes to such things. For me I would argue that it’s more about a sense of comfort and routine that comes with soaking in the tub after a hard day’s play. About clean slicked hair and freshly gleaming cheeks smelling sweet as I tuck them in. Not to mention the nice little break it offers me just when I really need it most. Sometimes a full hour I can sit and answer emails or make phone calls while they splash happily around in the bathroom. But then again, I am a life long bath lover myself. I take one every morning in the winter just to warm and / or wake myself up. When I have a head ache, or a heartache, or just an altogether hard or stressful day the first thing I want to do is draw a bath and sit there in silence in steaming hot waters. So I suppose it’s also a form of therapy for me as well when I start to consider that just about any ailment that strikes has me in the back of my head thinking, “nothing a warm bath can’t help.”

As for frequency, when I questioned various friends about their own household habits they all confessed to “about three times a week” to “maybe every other day” to once “or twice” a week for babies. And then my friend Julie sent along an article, after our conversation during a playdate recently, sharing this link (actually written by Lauren, a much valued occasional contributor here. Hi Lauren!) in which I figured the subject was well worth its own post here as well.

Excerpt for example: “But back to the question of bathing. Search for “how often should I bathe my child” and you will find varying opinions. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that children aged 6 to 11 should bathe at least once or twice a week, or after they have been playing in dirt or mud, have been swimming in a pond, lake, ocean, or pool, or when they get sweaty or have body odor while others, like pediatrician David Geller, says that swim in a pool or lake counts as the bath.

For newborns, the story is even less clear. Despite the fact that babies are born with a natural skin protectant which is also full of immune properties (vernix), it is considered routine for hospitals to administer a baby’s first bath within hours of the baby’s birth. Delaying baby’s first bath for at least a couple of days is reasonable– wiping with a wet cloth around the neck and diaper area should be sufficient in keeping baby clean.

It all seems pretty straightforward; wash your kid if he stinks or is visibly dirty, but otherwise we can relax a bit on being clean as a whistle. Wash hands regularly with good old-fashioned soap and water and spot clean with a washcloth between baths, and I’m willing to bet everyone will be happier (and healthier). After all, haven’t we all heard the saying, “A little dirt doesn’t hurt?”

The answer is no, of course not.” – Via The Washington Post


So, let’s hear it. What’s you take on the bath debate? When, why, and how often?

20 Responses

  • Interesting. I feel the same way about baths, to the point that after a long and especially shitty day, I find myself looking at my tub longingly, trying to measure the impact my second bath for the day might have on the drought.

    And, yes, my son also takes a bath every day. Not a hair wash, not always, but a nice soak. Since he was mere weeks old. I think the ritual is nice. I think the warm water and then the cool air prime him for sleep. Plus he smells dreamy during story time.

    I am the lone every-day-washer among my friends, too. I’m ok with staying that way.

  • My kids love their bath and bathe basically every night – with the occasional off night if we come home late or our routine is changed for some reason. Daddy does bath, usually, which gives me a chance to take a break, clean up dinner, or call my mom. They linger – baths often take 45 minutes – play, talk, discuss tomorrow. Our baths are not so much about being clean – but I do feel a bath every other day would be necessary to at least avoid dirt under their fingernails! I have taught children in very low income areas and it is sad to see how infrequently some children bathe/are bathed. It’s not the germs or dirt that bothers me, but the lack of a simple, humble routine – a caring parent taking care of a child in an extremely basic, yet necessary, way… Once, I cut one of my student’s nails (after asking him, of course) because, for whatever reason, no one at home was doing it. For me personally, when I am feeling particularly stressed of anxious – I draw a hot bath (as hot as I can take), lock the door – and let my body go limp in the water. It is soul healing.

  • Oh man, I never have given it much thought to be honest. Very interesting piece! You’ve definitely got me thinking.. . I washed my oldest almost everyday for his first couple years of life. I just brought him into the shower with me every morning. Sometimes I’d scrub him, other times he’d just get a warm rinse as he played at my feet. Now, I am expecting baby number five, and my kids all get washed twice a week. Much easier for me. Except for toddler… She hops in the shower with me more often, and sometimes, when she’s rubbed her oatmeal in her hair she ends up getting showers more than once a day. My kids all shower rather than bathe. I’ll admit, I’m a germ freak. I feel like the tub has to be freshly scrubbed before a bath. I know, silly me. Oh, also, one of my daughters has eczema, and I’ve found bathing daily causes her skin to be way dryer, so twice a week it is for her! Anyways, I sure have a lot to say for not having thought about this topic before, hey!? I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. I don’t think you need to feel guilty unless your kids are completely neglected and smell horrible. We all just do what works best for us!

  • Ha! This is the best post. I’m going to totally call myself out and admit to a minimum of twice a week. They go to bed dirty often. For a long time it was because my post surgical back just couldn’t handle bending over the tub. It still can’t some days. But like you, I do get a solid hour of relative peace when they are in the bath, playing. In any event, I’ve been known to hand-sweep the sand out of their bed and kiss their little grimy faces goodnight. And somehow, they always seem to wake up a little cleaner than they went to bed. Ha. I should mention that I hose them off often too… after the beach or park, for example. They’re not too stoked on that though…

  • I’ve never really given that much thought to the topic. I did used to do baths more regularly for each of my boys when they were babies. Mostly to help soothe, calm them down and to keep as part of a regular bedtime ritual. But, once they both started sleeping through the night, I let that fall by the wayside. Now we mostly have them take a bath or shower when they’re dirty. So in the summer it’s nearly every day and in the winter it varies from every other day to every two days. My 7 year old regularly takes showers on his own, but he still enjoys having a bath with his younger brother. So every once in a while (usually when I have a lot of laundry to put away) I let them play around in the bath and I’ll admit it is a great way to keep them occupied, clean and happy.

  • My daughter gets a bath once a week to 10 days, with a shampoo once every 3 weeks or so. (side note: lately, she has developed a massive fear of having her head shampooed, starts crying hysterically the second I reach for the bottle. Is this a thing?? and if so, please tell me it ends!) I am sure once summer comes that will increase, but I am also of the camp that a splash in the kiddie pool counts as a bath (especially if you add bubbles!). I do however, give her face, neck, ears, hands and feet a wipe down before bed every night.

  • Ah, i have to confess we never really bath our kids. The boy is 4 years old and gets a bath once per month. The baby is 8 month and bathed once in her life… The boy really hates it. Also at the swimming pool he really dont like to go into the water. I hope it will disappear with time. But we clean the kids with water and wash cloth just without the bath – so they are not dirty and sticky… 😉

  • lol, this cracked me up! I have friends who definitely do the nightly baths, but that is so not our story! I shoot for getting it done at least twice a week, and it’s usually more in spring and summer because they are playing outside more, but its just so time consuming- I’m amazed people can get it done everyday- it’s an all afternoon evening affair at our home!

  • Thanks for opening up this discussion, Jess! Honestly, I think if a bath relaxes your boys and gives you time to yourself every night, you should do it! Obviously it’s whatever works for your family. I find a daily shower or bath so enjoyable and relaxing, but my boys don’t always agree, and it’s sometimes better not to force it!

  • Generally I give my kids a bath once or twice a week. I’ve never given it too much thought. I know a lot of people do daily baths but that would be impossible for me. This is definitely one of those things that has no right or wrong answer, just whatever works for your family.

  • I think clean hands feet and face are enough. Except we do baths every night only because their bottom gets most clean this way which unfortunately seems to be a thing. Wiping butts for little ones and all. Not wiping well enough, etc…

  • I should say that I do not have children of my own, but as someone with very sensitive skin I would go very easy with the cleaning, also in terms of what I’d actually clean them with. Also true for teen agers: I feel like the acne I’ve had since I was 15 has cleared up a lot since I STOPPED washing my face so harshly, and often. Just something to consider maybe!

  • I can remember growing up that my brother and I bathed twice a week, as a rule. On Tuesdays and Saturday nights. Reason being, that church was on Wednesday and Sunday. I am sure there were days my mom gave up a bath, because we needed it, but generally twice a week.

    I have my own two now, and we do not go to church. In the winter my daughter bathes maybe three times a week… more some weeks, if her or I am bored and need a break from one another. She often jumps in the shower with me as well. My son is 6 months old and gets a bath 2-3 times a week.
    In the summer I am sure this might change if I feel they are dirty and could use the bath.

  • Sometimes I would think about this topic and wonder what other parents actually do. Thanks for writing! I only give my three year old a bath once a week, and that is when we wash her hair too. She does not like to be dirty and uses wipes or cloth napkins to clean up through the day. We always wash hands when returning from the outside and remove shoes. Sometimes that even includes a foot bath in the sink too, if coming from park/wearing sandals. ^_^
    I am certain once she is in toilet training this will definitely change, as potty accidents happen. I wish we both took baths every night because it always so relaxing but we just don’t get around to it.

  • I love the evening ritual of bathing my children and often take a magazine and a cup of tea with me. Baths don’t happen every night, sometimes we just run out of time in our day, but at least 2-3 times a week. I also like to use bath time as a daytime playtime if we are having a particularly rough day, especially in the middle of winter and it is too cold to get outside. A nice bubbly bath is the perfect sensory play to relax the kids and it gives me time to reset myself.

  • I have a Japanese wife so we bathe daily. I have learned recently, however, that people who bathe daily have the same amount of bacteria as people who bathe every other day. This is because they are destroying good, protective skin.


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