A sitz bath is a warm, shallow bath that cleanses the perineum, which is the space between the rectum and the vulva or scrotum. A sitz bath can be used for everyday personal hygiene. It can also provide relief from pain or itching in the genital area.
You can give yourself a sitz bath in your bathtub or with a plastic kit that fits over your toilet. This kit is a round, shallow basin that often comes with a plastic bag that has long tubing on the end. This bag can be filled with warm water and used to safely fill the bath via the tubing. The basin is slightly larger in size than a standard toilet bowl so it can be easily and securely placed underneath the toilet seat to allow you to remain seated while taking a sitz bath. The kit is available in most big-box stores and pharmacies.
A sitz bath doesn’t require a doctor’s prescription. Some people use sitz baths regularly as a way to cleanse the perineum. In addition to its use in cleansing, the sitz bath’s warm water increases blood flow to the perineal area. This can promote faster healing. A sitz bath also relieves itching, irritation, and minor pain.
Common reasons why you might want to consider using a sitz bath include:
- You recently had surgery on the vulva or vagina.
- You’ve recently given birth.
- You recently had hemorrhoids surgically removed.
- You have discomfort from hemorrhoids.
- You have discomfort with bowel movements.
Both children and adults can use sitz baths. Parents should always supervise their children during a sitz bath.
Doctors sometimes prescribe medications or other additives to put in a sitz bath. An example is povidone-iodine, which has antibacterial properties. Adding table salt, vinegar, or baking soda to the water can create a soothing solution. You also may take a sitz bath using only warm water.
In the bathtub
If you’re taking a sitz bath in the bathtub, the first step is to clean the tub. Mix 2 tablespoons of bleach with one-half gallon of water. Scrub the bathtub and rinse thoroughly.
Next, fill the tub with 3 to 4 inches of water. The water should be warm, but not hot enough to cause burns or discomfort. You can test the temperature of the water by placing a drop or two on your wrist. When you have found a comfortable temperature, add any substances your doctor recommended for the bath.
Now, step into the tub and soak your perineum for 15 to 20 minutes. Bend your knees or, if possible, dangle your legs over the sides of the tub to keep them out of the water altogether.
When you get out of the bathtub, gently pat yourself dry with a clean cotton towel. Don’t rub or scrub the perineum, as this may cause pain and irritation.
Finish by rinsing the bathtub thoroughly.
Sitz bath kit
A plastic sitz bath kit fits over the toilet. Rinse the bath with clean water before using it. Then, add very warm (but not hot) water along with any medications or solutions recommended by your doctor.
Place the sitz bath into the open toilet. Test it by trying to move it side-to-side to ensure it will stay in place and won’t shift. You can pour warm water in before you sit down, or you can use the plastic bag and tubing to fill the tub with water after you’ve sat down. The water should be deep enough so that it covers your perineum. Soak for 15 to 20 minutes.
If you used the plastic bag, you can add warm water as the original water cools. Most sitz baths have a vent that prevents water from overflowing. The water conveniently overflows into the toilet and can be flushed.
When you’re finished, stand up and pat the area dry with a clean cotton towel. Avoid rubbing or scrubbing the area when you do this.
Get the sitz bath ready for its next use by cleaning it thoroughly. Many kits come with cleaning instructions and solutions. If your kit doesn’t come with cleaning instructions and a solution, you can clean your sitz bath by scrubbing it with 2 tablespoons of bleach mixed with one-half gallon of hot water. Once you have scrubbed your bath, rinse it thoroughly. Although there are no guidelines for when to replace your sitz bath, always check it for signs of cracking or weakened areas before and after use.
Risks and aftercare
A sitz bath carries very little risk of harm because it’s a noninvasive treatment. The most common adverse event associated with sitz baths is infection of the perineum, but this rarely occurs. This may happen if you are caring for a surgical wound and don’t clean the tub or plastic bath thoroughly.
Stop taking sitz baths and contact your doctor if pain or itching worsens or if your perineum becomes red and puffy.
If sitz baths bring you relief, your doctor will probably recommend taking three or four per day until the source of the itching, irritation, or pain is healed.
After you’ve had a sitz bath, you may immediately return to normal activities unless your doctor has told you otherwise.