Bum wiping techniques and thong hygiene

Dear Alice,

I am curious to know whether there is any right and wrong ways to wipe one's ass! Is wiping sufficient or should it be cleaned with water thereafter? I've heard that people use water to clean, which is regarded as more hygienic in foreign countries.

How safe is wearing a thong in terms of hygiene after a bowel movement? I wonder because a thong literally sits right on the anus. Are there any products available commercially for genital hygiene?


Dear Teenager,

When it comes to anal hygiene and preventing infection, there are definitely good and not-as-good ways to wipe. Dry wiping after a bowel movement isn’t always the most hygienic, yet it's the most widely available method of cleaning up in the US. That being said, there are a number of techniques that can be used to reduce the spread of germs and infection. You’re right that some other countries do use water to clean after using the bathroom. In fact, bidets are gaining popularity in the U.S and are sometimes used to clean the anus instead of toilet paper. To answer the second part of your question in regards to thongs, your hunch is exactly right, in that they aren't the most hygienic undergarment. If you don’t clean properly, as it moves it can allow traces of fecal matter to travel towards the urethra. There are a number of products available on the market, but good old fashioned water may be your best bet if you're looking to avoid irritation. 

An interesting piece of trivia: the skin in this area is thin and easily irritated. Why? The anus is sensitive enough to know the difference between gas, solid, and liquid and it knows how to contain everything until the right time. It has a powerful sphincter that may stay tightly closed but stretch quite widely when necessary. All this versatility requires lots of nerve endings, which means the area is sensitive and requires more care. So how to take care of this spot of the body? While toilet paper is one option, you could also use perfume-free and dye-free moist towelettes. If you use them, it’s best to pat the area dry afterward to remove any excess moisture that may cause irritation. Whether wet or dry, here are some good wiping techniques to try:

  • Wipe from front to back. Wiping from back to front may spread fecal bacteria to the urethra and to the genitals which can cause infection. This risk is most significant for people with vaginas.
  • Be thorough. yet gentle. Too much friction may cause microtears, which are more prone to infection if fecal matter gets inside them.
  • If you can clean with water, do so. If you’re in a stall with a sink a good way to get clean is to moisten toilet paper and use it for wiping. It’s worth noting that toilet paper disintegrates in water so a little water can go a long way. When using this strategy, it’s a good idea to pat dry after.
  • Avoid using soap, as even the slightest soap residue may irritate skin and dry out the sensitive area.
  • If you have a bowel movement in a public restroom and can't clean up with water, you can cleanse more thoroughly when you get home.

A bidet either goes on top of or is part of a toilet and uses water to help you clean your genitals, buttocks, and anus. Since water is better at removing fecal matter and is more gentle than toilet paper, you may find that a bidet leaves your skin cleaner and less irritated. Another benefit of bidets is that they’re a more accessible option for those with mobility problems. Not only that, they’re considered more sanitary for your hands due to reduced contact with the area surrounding the anus. That being said, if you do decide to use bidets, make sure that the water doesn’t flow from back-to-front as this can pose the same risk of infection as toilet paper.

While bidets are great for cleaning the outside of the anus, it’s recommended that you avoid using it for douching. This practice, which cleans the inside of the vagina or anus, may lead to irritation, infection, and removal of good bacteria.

If you do choose to wear thongs, here are some tips to try to maintain good hygiene:

  • Avoid wearing thongs everyday as friction can lead to microtears in the skin that can accumulate bacteria  
  • Wear cotton thongs. Non-cotton undergarments don’t absorb moisture well, leading to conditions that are apt for bacterial growth. People who regularly wear non-cotton underwear are also more likely to develop yeast infections.
  • Avoid sleeping in thongs. Instead, let your genitals and anus breathe overnight.
  • Avoid wearing a thong when you have a genital infection or are prone to frequent genital infections.

Cheers to hygiene—bottoms up!

Last updated Jan 13, 2023
Originally published Oct 29, 2010

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