How Long to Wait After Surgery Before Bathing

When You Should Shower, and When You Can Take a Bath and Swim After Surgery

Woman, aged 59, running a bath in front of a large window.
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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? 

When is it 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.  In this case, 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.

 

Do not have spa treatments where you soak in or are rubbed with mud or clay, any treatment that includes being washed or soaking in water that has had scents or oils added, and even massage oil should be avoided on your new incision.

Now, just to be very clear, "not bathing or swimming for two weeks" doesn't mean that you should not be 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 a gentle soap, treating your incision sites with care by washing each one gently with a 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 bath tub 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.

 

To be clear, 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.

 

Don't even think of swimming in anything but a pool for a few additional weeks--there is far too much bacteria in rivers, streams, ponds, hot tubs, and other bodies of water that could cause a significant infection in an open wound.

The safe answer is this: if you are in doubt, don’t do it.

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.

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