There is perhaps nothing more universal than using the bathroom.
Everyone has to deal with poop and pee — and, if they’re physically able, wiping themselves off afterwards (or so we hope) to seal the deal. The endeavor seems pretty straightforward, but you might be surprised to learn that you could be doing it all wrong.
For example, we recently learned that some men don’t wash their buttocks after defecating or while showering; others baffle their friends during a podcast interview with them controversial sweeping technique. #Howtowipe has been viewed over 9.4 million times on TikTok, where you can find it video after video from experts from different backgrounds who learned what many of us thought we were doing correctly.
People with vaginas definitely have more to consider than people with penises when it comes to healthy wiping. Nevertheless, anyone can make some of the biggest wiping-related mistakes, no matter what’s in their pants.
Here you will find answers to some of the most pressing questions you may have about how to properly wipe after using the toilet.
What is the best direction to wipe after urinating and defecating?
No matter what comes out, you’ll always want to wipe from front to back — something that’s especially vital after pooping, said Dr. Allison Rodgers, an OB-GYN and endocrinologist at Fertility Centers of Illinois.
Everyone should follow this advice, but it’s especially important for people with vaginas.
“Our rectum and stool contain a lot of bacteria that can harm the vagina and urethra, where urine comes out,” says Rodgers, who posted on TikTok about the subject. “I think a lot of people, not because they try, but unintentionally, get stool from their rectum to their vagina when they wipe from back to front.”
In other words, she advises going from “clean to dirty.”
The reason why people with penises don’t have to worry too much about which direction to wipe is because the distance between their rectum and urethra is much greater, so it takes a chaotic wipe to get the stool to the vulnerable areas. let reach.
Also, the penis “isn’t a warm, moist, and dark cavity that bacteria like to live in,” Rodgers said, “so it doesn’t matter much.”
Even better news for penis owners is that they usually don’t need to wipe after urinating. Stool has a lot of bacteria, but urine has little or no bacteria. “It’s waste material, but it’s not particularly gross,” Rodgers said, “so people with penises can shake it off.”
People with vaginas should still wipe after urinating, since “shaking off” isn’t as effective, but the front-to-back method definitely applies.
When it comes to the swipe, Rodgers suggests doing whatever is most comfortable and will help you feel the cleanest.
What can happen if you don’t wipe properly after using the bathroom?
Millions of bacteria live naturally on your skin, including vaginas, penises and rectums. Most are harmless, even beneficial to the microbiome. But some can cause infection and illness, especially if you use the same piece of toilet paper more than once (which you absolutely should never do) – so keep reminding yourself of the front-to-back rule.
Again, people with vaginas need to be extra careful.
“There’s a delicate balance between good and evil in the vagina,” Rodgers said. “There is always good Lactobacillus, which are normal bacteria that keep your vagina healthy. But if a lot is killed, bad bacteria can grow and get there through things like wiping incorrectly.”
Unhealthy germs can also get a chance to grow in the vagina if you take certain medications or do things like douching — the process of cleaning the inside of the vagina with water or other liquid mixtures — which raise the pH levels of the vagina and normal, healthy organisms. Doctors tell you never to showeras this can lead to problems such as infections.
One consequence is bacterial vaginosis: the most common vaginal infection treatable with antibiotics, Rodgers said.
Dr. Anish Sheth, chief of gastroenterology at Penn Medicine Princeton Health, told BuzzFeed News urinary tract infections can also arise after improper wiping. For people with penises, “there is probably no risk of infection,” he added.
Not wiping correctly can also mean that you are wiping too much or too little.
Going overboard with wiping can cause irritation or “microtrauma,” as Rodgers put it, to the delicate skin of the vulva or rectum. Sheth said irritation of the skin around the anus can cause external hemorrhoids to flare up, leading to itching, pain and bleeding. (Hemorrhoids are inflamed or swollen veins in the rectum or anus.)
It’s also possible for little bits of poop to get stuck in the hair around the anus and stay there if you don’t wipe thoroughly, Rodgers said: “It can be incredibly irritating to the skin, and then you have an itchy butthole — and that’s embarrassing .
If at some point you experience irritation from wiping, Rodgers recommends using petroleum jelly or creams Originate that can “act as a barrier, so when you poop, it’s easier and doesn’t irritate your skin as much.”
But sometimes less is more, Sheth said, “You don’t have to scrub the area. Soft wipes, about two or three, should do the trick. If you tend to be irritated, use water or wet toilet paper.”
Why are more wipes sometimes needed to get clean after defecating?
Every poop experience is unique, so sometimes it takes a little more effort to get clean, which is usually not a bad thing.
That’s why it’s worth investing in a high-quality toilet paper, Rodgers said, because if you have to wipe more than usual, you’ll have softer tissue that won’t irritate you. But even the most luxurious toilet paper can make your genital area feel raw if you overdo it.
In more serious scenarios, consistently soiled wipes after pooping can mean internal hemorrhoids are bulging out of the anus, which can be painful and make it more difficult to get clean, Sheth said.
But if you’re lucky, you might occasionally experience what Sheth calls the “holy grail of bowel movements” – “the clean sweep in which the first wipe leaves no residue whatsoever.”
Do you have to sit or stand while wiping after using the bathroom?
Ask a handful of people this question and you might be surprised to learn that the answers vary widely. In an informal 2018 poll of more than 3,000 people conducted by Men’s Health, 35% of men said they wiped standingwhich is similar to the 34% seen in a Reddit poll including both men and women. (There’s even one BuzzFeed video you can watch that outlines the debate.)
There’s no set medical advice on what position to swipe in, but there’s no denying that it’s helpful to spread your cheeks wide while sitting, Rodgers said. (Try not to sit for too long before you’re done, as you’ll increase your risk of hemorrhoids; sitting for long periods of time can put extra pressure on the rectum, which can cause your hemorrhoids to swell.)
The only downside is that your hand can get very close to the toilet water depending on the design of your toilet – just another thing to consider.
If you prefer to wipe in a crouch, aka floating above the seat if you’re using a traditional toilet, you can still get the job done.
What are some alternatives to toilet paper?
Since toilet paper is the norm, it is not a requirement. There are some equally effective or even more effective alternatives you can try if you’re looking for a cleaner, more comfortable, or more environmentally friendly bathroom experience.
Bidets, for example, are highly recommended. Bidets are self-contained sanitary facilities designed to wash the genital and anal area with a gentle stream of water (actually a shower for your butt). You can also buy one bidet attachment for your toilet.
You can also use flushable wipes, but you may want to wipe with a dry piece of toilet paper afterwards to prevent bacterial growth from leftover moisture, Rodgers said. Despite being advertised as “flushable”, these wipes should never be flushed and can cause damage sewage damage.
Wet wipes can also cause irritation in some people. “If you want to try them, especially after a bowel movement, I would use sparingly, throw them in the trash, and if irritation occurs, stop using them,” Rodgers said.
And if it is not yet clear, always wash your hands after using the toilet!