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A soap suds enema is one way to treat constipation. Some people also use it to treat fecal incontinence or clear their bowel before a medical procedure.

While there are many types of enemas, a soap suds enema remains one of the most common types, especially for constipation. It’s a combination of distilled water and a small amount of soap. The soap mildly irritates your bowels, which helps to stimulate a bowel movement.

Keep in mind that soap suds enemas are typically only used for cases of constipation that haven’t responded to other treatments, such as laxatives. Don’t use a soap suds enema unless directed by a doctor.

Read on to learn more about soap suds enemas, including how to make one and potential side effects.

You can easily make a soap suds enema at home. The key to a safe home enema is to ensure that all of your tools are sterilized to reduce your risk of infection.

Follow these steps to make a soap suds enema:

1. Fill a clean jar or bowl with 8 cups of warm, distilled water.

2. Add 4 to 8 tablespoons of a mild soap, such as castile soap. The more you add, the more irritating the solution will be. Your doctor can guide you on which strength will work best for you.

3. Test the temperature of the solution using a bath thermometer. It should be between 105 and 110°F. If you need to warm it up, cover the container and place it in a larger container holding hot water. This will slowly warm it up without introducing any bacteria. Never microwave the solution.

4. Place the warm solution in a clean enema bag with attached tubing.

You can give a soap suds enema to yourself or someone else. Regardless, it’s best to have a medical professional show you how to properly administer one before trying it on your own.

Before getting started, gather all of your supplies, including:

  • clean enema bag and hose
  • water and soap solution
  • water-soluble lubricant
  • thick towel
  • large, clean measuring cup

It’s best to do this in your bathroom, since things can get a little messy. Consider putting down a towel between where you’ll be doing the enema and the toilet.

To administer an enema, follow these steps:

  1. Pour the prepared solution into a sterile enema bag. This solution should be warm, but not hot.
  2. Hang the bag (most come with an attached hook) somewhere nearby where you can reach it.
  3. Remove any air bubbles from the tubing holding the bag with the tube facing down and opening the clamp to allow some fluid to run through the line. Close the clamp.
  4. Place a thick towel on the floor and lay down on your left side.
  5. Apply plenty of lubrication to the nozzle tip.
  6. Insert the tube not more than 4 inches into your rectum.
  7. Open the clamp on the tubing, allowing the liquid to flow into your rectum until the bag’s empty.
  8. Slowly remove the tube from your rectum.
  9. Carefully make your way to the toilet.
  10. Sit on the toilet and release the fluid from your rectum.
  11. Rinse the enema bag and allow it to air dry. Wash the nozzle with soap and warm water.

It doesn’t hurt to have a trusted friend or family member nearby in case you need help.

Tips for children

If a pediatrician recommends that you give your child a soap suds enema, you can use the same process outlined above with a few modifications.

Here are some considerations for giving an enema to your child:

  • If they’re old enough to understand, explain to them what you’ll be doing and why.
  • Make sure to follow the solution guidelines recommended by their doctor.
  • Hang the enema bag 12 to 15 inches above your child.
  • Don’t insert the nozzle more than 1 to 1.5 inches deep for infants or 4 inches for older children.
  • Try inserting the nozzle at an angle so it points toward their navel.
  • If your child says they’re starting to cramp, stop the flow of fluid. Resume when they no longer feel any cramping.
  • Make sure the solution moves slowly into their rectum. Aim for a rate of a little under half a cup per minute.
  • After the enema, have them sit on the toilet for several minutes to ensure that all of the solution comes out.
  • Take note of the consistency of their bowel movement after the enema.

Soap suds enemas generally don’t cause many side effects. But some people may experience:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain

These should subside shortly after releasing the solution from your rectum. If these symptoms don’t seem to be going away, call your doctor right away.

Enemas are typically safe when done correctly. But if you don’t follow your doctor’s instructions, you could end up with some complications.

For example, if the solution is too hot, you may burn your rectum or cause severe irritation. If you don’t apply enough lubricant, you run the risk of potentially injuring the area. This is particularly dangerous because of the bacteria found in this area. If you do injure yourself, make sure to thoroughly clean the wound.

Call a doctor as soon as possible if any of the following occur:

  • The enema doesn’t produce a bowel movement.
  • There’s blood in your stool.
  • You have ongoing pain.
  • You continue to have a large amount of fluid in your stool after the enema.
  • You’re vomiting.
  • You notice any changes in your alertness.

Soap suds enemas can be an effective way to treat constipation that doesn’t respond to other treatments. Make sure you feel comfortable administering an enema before trying it on your own. A doctor or nurse can show you how to safely do it for yourself or someone else.