Bathing After Surgery

Swimming, Showering and Bathing After Your Surgery

Surgery Images, Surgery Patients Images,
A Closed Incision. © Getty Images/Barrett Forster

Question: I recently had surgery and I would love to take a bath. When is it safe to take a bath without hurting my incision?

Answer: Plan on waiting at least two weeks after your surgery to take a bath (or swimming!) unless your surgeon has given specific instructions otherwise. How soon after surgery you can take a bath depends upon 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.

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

Showering is safe as soon as you can stand long enough to shower safely.  For some, a shower chair is helpful if standing is difficult in the early days of recovery.  Showering should be done with moderately warm water, not hot water, as hot water can be irritating to the incision.  It is also important to use mild soap.  Try to avoid harsh soaps and scrubbing the surgery site, treat your incision as you would a baby's bottom, it needs to be treated with TLC and never scrubbed. A cleaner incision is not necessarily a healthier one, as many cleansers are harsh and irritating to healing skin. 

Keep in mind that chlorinated water is more irritating to the skin than bath water.  If your incision burns or itches after swimming, showering with a gentle soap can help remove the chlorine and minimizing irritation. 

After laparoscopic surgery, also known as minimally invasive surgery, once the tape strips holding the incision closed have fallen off and the incisions no longer have any signs of opening, you can take a bath without fear of hurting your incision.

These incisions are typically smaller than the traditional incision used to perform surgery, and tend to heal more quickly, so bathing is an option earlier for patients who have minimally invasive procedures.  

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, which typically happens about two weeks after surgery.

Some surgeries require postponing surgery for an extended period of time. After a hysterectomy, for example, the patient should refrain from taking baths for a minimum of six weeks.

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 happy to provide a specific time frame.

To be clear, if the wound has not completely closed-- if there are any gaps in the incision where it remains open-- it is not safe to take a bath or swim. If you have concerns about swimming or taking a bath, it is safer to delay these activities rather than taking a chance on developing an infection. 

References

Patient Discharge Handout. The Ohio State University Hospitals. Accessed at http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/patientcare/healthcare_services/weight_management/obesity/surgical/after_surgery

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