A father leans over the edge of the bathtub and bathes his toddler.

How often does my toddler really need a bath or shower? (Plus other hygiene questions)

Every parent has their own attitudes about showering, which they may or may not relay to their children. You might remember how often you had to bathe as a child or what time of day you took a shower. Some of this you may have carried into adulthood, or you’ve come up with your own regimen based on your routine and comfort level. The same goes for how often we change our sheets, wash a pair of jeans, etc.

The thing is, as adults, we generally know not only what we’re comfortable with, but how long we can go without having a shower. And, of course, there are debates about what’s actually healthy and necessary. But when it comes to our children—particularly active and messy toddlers that still smell sweet—you might be wondering how often they really need to take a bath or shower. 

Answering this question is not only important for their hygiene, but also so that parents can maintain a routine where children can expect and understand when they’ll need to get in the bath. (For some toddlers, getting in the bath is the hard part, while for others, getting out is a challenge!) Let’s break it down.

How many times a week should I give my toddler a bath?

I bathe my toddler every day. Even though she’s not a huge fan of a daily bath, she expects it. Because she goes to daycare and may have food in her hair, marker on her hands, and several stinky diapers throughout the day, I want her to feel clean—and be clean—before bed. And, as some parents may know, a bath can relax children before bedtime. It’s no surprise that her mama is the same way!

In general, for healthy hygiene habits, toddlers only need a full bath two to three times a week, according to Harvard Health Publishing. This helps maintain cleanliness and hygiene, while also giving kids time to explore the water. Of course, for some parents, this can also help maintain sanity, as toddlers at bath time can be a force to be reckoned with. You can also wash their hair this often. 

Your toddler may not need a shower or bath every day, but what they do require every day is a clean face, clean hands, and a wash around their genital areas. This helps prevent rashes and irritation. If your toddler swims in a pool or plays in another body of water, you’ll want to shower them after, each time. 

A toddler sits in the bathtub, looking at a rubber ducky toy.

Can you give a toddler too many or too few baths?

Some parents may worry about whether they’re bathing their toddler too often or too little. The answer is, generally, it’s better to bathe them too much than too infrequently. And while there are concerns that bathing them too much could dry out their skin, studies say that washing children more often can actually help keep their skin moisturized. 

Did you know that a toddler’s skin is 10x thinner than an adult’s and therefore loses moisture more easily? And, while too much showering can really dry out an adult’s skin, bathing a toddler with dry skin or eczema more frequently can actually help reduce some of the redness, flakiness, and irritation that makes them itch, bringing back some moisture to their skin. This, of course, will depend on the products used. We’ll get to more on this later.

“But isn’t a little dirt good for their immune system?” 

For the most part, yes. Dirt on children probably bothers adults more than the child, and it can be good for them as well. We don’t mean that your child should be eating dirt or that we should “rub some dirt on it” when they get a cut. These are old wives’ tales that probably let parents off the hook too easily. 

Playing in the dirt or getting dirty is a way for children to build up their immune system. And, in general, getting dirty means that your toddler is playing outside, which can get them more Vitamin D—good for their overall health and well-being.

Finally, in terms of sweat, children, babies, and toddlers generally sweat less than adults. If they’re rather sweaty after a hot day or playing outside, then you might want to give them a bath. If they’re sweating excessively each time you go outside—even if the weather isn’t very hot—you may want to bring this up with their doctor. 

Toddler bathing tips

Now that we know how often your active toddler should bathe to stay clean and healthy, here are some other tips regarding bathtime:

  • Make sure bath toys are non-toxic and are cleaned of mold.
  • Clean the tub—especially a plastic tub—at least once a week.
  • If your toddler pees in the bath, don’t worry. If they poop in the bath, that’s another story. You’ll want to empty the bath and clean it thoroughly.
  • If you’re wondering whether to give a shower or a bath, toddlers can stay in the bath for several years before they start showering. But introducing them to a shower—especially getting their head under the water—is important for them to start getting used to. With proper guidance and supervision, around age two they can also practice putting their head underneath the water in the bathtub. (Which of course makes it easier to wash their hair!)
  • If your toddler is prone to ear infections, be careful when you rinse their hair. Some parents may wish to try earplugs.
  • You can start teaching your toddler about cleaning themselves in the bathtub. Ask them to help you wash their hair, pour a cup of water over their head, or scrub their arms.
  • Pay attention to which soaps and shampoos you use. 
  • To clean their genitals, you can use a warm cloth and a very gentle cleanser on their tush. Bubble baths and harsher soaps and shampoos can cause vulvovaginitis in toddlers. It’s a good idea to do their shampoo last for this reason, so they’re not sitting in that soap for too long. 

And remember: your toddler should never be left unattended for even a moment in the bathtub or shower. 

A mother towels off her toddler after bath time.

Other questions about toddler hygiene 

Determining how often your toddler should bathe is one question, but what about changing their bedding, toothbrush, pyjamas, and socks? After all, if you’re not bathing them every day, it’s only a matter of time before their sheets get dirty, right?

A good rule of thumb for your toddler’s bedding is to change it as often as you change yours. This should be ideally once a week or every 10 days. Bedding can collect a lot of germs, saliva, sweat, dead skin, and dust mites, which can theoretically make your toddler all dirty again after taking a bath. We like to make sure our toddler is going into her bed clean as much as possible. If you’re not bathing them but they’ve had a more active day, try a clean pair of pyjamas. 

Speaking of, consider changing your toddler’s pyjamas every two days or so—especially if they’ve had a meal or been playing in them. Chances are pyjamas will be covered with food by the second day. It also may depend on whether or not your child has had a bath before putting on fresh PJs, but this is generally preferable. 

Of course, if your child has been sick or had an accident, change their bedding and pyjamas ASAP.

Finally, socks. Toddlers’ feet can sweat a lot, even if they don’t sweat that much in general. And, if they’re in daycare all day, chances are they have their shoes on most of the day. In fact, your toddler may already be yanking their socks off the second they walk in the door. Being barefoot as much as possible is good for toddlers learning how to perfect their walking and running, but that’s not the reality we live in. So be sure to change their socks every day.

The bottom line: don’t fret, parents!

Of all the worries we may have as parents of busy, curious toddlers, don’t let wondering how often to bathe or shower them be at the top of the list. Chances are, if you’re bathing them two to three times a week, then you’re already bathing them a healthy amount. Plus, you know your child best and you have a good gauge on what works for you and them. 

All that being said, if you have concerns about their skin, bathing aversions (this is normal to a degree), genital health, or overall hygiene, be sure to speak to your child’s pediatrician.  

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