You’d think that the business of wiping would be pretty straightforward, but how do you know you’re doing it right?

There’s actually a lack of consistent knowledge out there when it comes to bathroom hygiene. The right technique can have an impact on your health and comfort.

Not wiping properly can raise your risk for urinary tract infections (UTIs) and spread bacteria that can make others sick. Improper wiping can also cause anal discomfort and itching.

Read on for all the wiping-related information you’ve been hesitant to ask about, including whether wiping back to front is really that bad, how to clean up after diarrhea, and what to do when there’s no paper.

It depends. While it might feel easier than wiping front to back, this motion could increase your risk for transferring bacteria to your urethra.

If you have a vulva

If you have a vulva, your urethra and anus are living in pretty tight quarters. This means your chances of spreading bacteria to your urethra, which can cause a UTI, are a lot higher.

Unless you have physical limitations that prevent you from doing so (more on this later), it’s best to reach around your body, behind your back and through your legs. This position allows you to wipe your anus from front to back, ensuring that feces is always moving away from your urethra.

If you have a penis

If you have a penis, you can wipe your anus back to front, front to back, up, down, and all around if you want. Whatever feels best and gets the job done.

Your bits are further apart, so the spread of feces to your urethra is much less likely.

You’ll want to handle your backside with extra care when you have diarrhea. Frequent runny bowel movements can irritate the already delicate skin around your anus. This can make wiping uncomfortable.

Turns out, wiping isn’t even the best move in this case. The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders recommends washing rather than wiping when you have anal discomfort.

If you’re at home, you can:

  • Wash in the shower with lukewarm water, especially if you have a handheld showerhead.
  • Soak in a sitz bath of warm water for just a minute or two. Any longer could irritate the skin more.
  • Use a bidet if you have one.

If you’re dealing with diarrhea on the go, you can wash the area with wet toilet paper instead of wiping or use fragrance-free wet wipes made for sensitive skin.

Some wet wipes contain perfumes and chemicals that can dry out or irritate the skin, so make sure to check the ingredients. You can buy hypoallergenic wipes online.

If dry toilet paper is your only option, aim to use a gentle patting motion instead of rubbing.

Reaching around to get a good front-to-back wipe isn’t comfortable or accessible for everyone. If that’s the case for you, there are other techniques and products that can help.

If it’s easier for you to reach between your legs instead of around the back to wipe, then go for it. Just be sure to wipe front to back if you have a vulva, and take extra care to make sure you get everything.

If mobility issues or pain prevent you from bending or reaching, there are products that can help.

You can buy toilet paper aids with long handles that hold toilet paper on the end or tong-style products that grip the toilet paper between the prongs. Some even come in small carrying cases so you can use them on the go.

Bidets are basically toilets that spray water at your genitals and bottom. They can also be used as shallow baths for washing your nether bits. They’re pretty standard in bathrooms in Europe and Asia. They’re finally starting to catch on in North America.

There’s no consensus on whether a bidet is better than toilet paper. But if you find wiping difficult or have chronic diarrhea because of a condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome, bidets can be a lifesaver.

Research also suggests that bidets may be the way to go if you have hemorrhoids and pruritus ani, a fancy term for itchy anus.

Traditional bidets can be pricey to buy and install, especially if you get one with a lot of bells and whistles.

However, if your heart is set on a bidet and you’re willing to forgo luxuries like a derriere dryer or deodorizer, there are less expensive alternatives. You can buy bidet attachments for as little as $25.

Even if you do it several times a day, wiping can be a tricky balancing act. You want to make sure you’re clean, but you don’t want to overdo it and rub yourself raw.

Here are some general tips for keeping your nether regions squeaky clean:

  • Take your time, making sure you don’t leave any lingering mess. Your tush will thank you later.
  • Opt for dabbing over wiping or rubbing when using toilet paper.
  • Splurge on some extra-soft toilet paper. If you need to, you can save it for occasions that require extra cleanup.
  • Use wet toilet paper if your anus is irritated or tender.
  • Carry hypoallergenic wipes with you if you frequently have diarrhea or loose stools.
  • Stay away from scented toilet paper. It can irritate the delicate skin between your cheeks.

Giving yourself a thorough cleaning after using the bathroom is one of the more important things you do for your health on a daily basis.

A good wipe doesn’t just keep you feeling and smelling fresh, but also keeps down your risk for certain infections.