One day, while talking about toilet training with my niece — who was 3 at the time — she informed me, “You have to wipe front to back. You should know that, because you’re a girl.”
While you might be thinking that this pro tip is common knowledge, Dr. Jacqueline Metz of Southfield Pediatrics says, “The importance of wiping front to back should be emphasized early and often.”
It’s one of the key things to teach kids about how to wipe their butts properly. But there are also other tips and pointers to keep in mind – whether your child is in the throes of potty training or has been wiping for years – to ensure your child’s health.
After all, Metz has seen her young patients suffer the consequences of not wiping correctly. Here, she offers advice on how to teach your kids the right way to come clean.
Common mistakes many wipers make
Wiping after pooping may not be something you think about often, but making sure you do it properly is important for your health.
“It’s especially important because certain bacteria are present in the bowels, such as E. coli. They are helpful and healthy for your GI tract,” Metz explains, “but if you wipe back to front, you’re introducing those to the urinary tract, which causes infections.”
As my niece pointed out, it’s something that makes logical sense for girls, given the anatomy layout. However, it still applies to boys, because they’re also at risk for irritation, missed spots or other complications.
Metz says not wiping front to back is common in children just starting out with toilet training. However, there are other mistakes to consider, as well.
For example, people can use too much toilet paper, the wrong products – weak toilet paper and wet wipes in particular – or, in some cases, be too vigilant about wiping. All of these mistakes can lead to health issues such as infections and even contribute to your plumbing bill.
“A small amount of toilet paper gives better control than a large amount, and too much toilet paper can clog drains,” Metz explains. “The recommended amount is to measure from the wrist to the elbow, then fold it over to cover the hand.”
So listen to the Charmin commercials when they say less is more: They’re actually right.
The question of wet wiping
In addition to cutting down on your toilet paper use, Metz and other professionals urge you to ditch the “flushable” wet wipes. First off, they’re terrible for the environment. A study conducted in the UK after an enormous “fatberg” – i.e., a “revolting sewer maintain made of wet wipes, grease and other gunk,” as Friends of the Earth reports – was found in the sewers. It revealed that over 90 percent of sewer blockage on the continent was due to wet wipes.
In addition to polluting our oceans, it turns out that these toilet paper alternatives are actually bad for our bums.
“Wet wipes are not necessary,” Metz says. “They often contain fragrances and chemicals that can cause irritation and predecessors to infections in and around the genital area.”
She does say that in early toilet training, wipes can be used to clean up some big messes. That said, don’t let children get used to them or use them every time they go to the bathroom.
If kids are still experiencing irritated rears after ditching the wet wipes and using the right amount of toilet paper, it could be they’re being too hard on themselves – literally. Teach kids to be gentle when wiping and limit how much they wipe.
Over-wiping and rough wiping can cause dry skin or small abrasions that may bleed and be painful, Mental Floss notes.
However, this same article, which cites Delaware dermatologist Curtis Asbury, notes that a bit of wetness can be helpful in cleaning up. If you aren’t up to exploring the world of bidet attachments, though, “lightly moistening a wad of durable toilet paper should do the job,” it notes.
Wiping lessons made easier
“Learning how to wipe will be the last step of toilet training, and (kids) should already be pros at the other steps,” says Metz. So, once your child has mastered sitting on the toilet, flushing, washing hands, etc., you can encourage him to wipe on his own.
Just like the other steps, there are ways to make this new process easier. First of all, Metz advises investing in a proper training toilet (or even a training urinal for boys) and a strong, absorbent toilet paper. Having the proper tools for the job makes it easier to accomplish.
Next, make sure you are talking your child through what she’s doing the same way you did with the other steps.
“Verbally express the process and routine,” says Metz. “Say, ‘OK, if you’re done, then take the paper and measure it from your elbow to wrist. Now fold it, wipe front to back and check it.’ It’s important to teach kids to check the paper,” she adds, to ensure that it comes back totally clean.
Keep repeating the steps until they’re confident they have wiping down.
It is usually easier for children to reach their bottoms when standing up, she adds. While teaching them to wipe, you can explain that people can wipe sitting down or standing up, depending on what is easiest for them.
So, to review: Lighten up on the toilet paper, ditch the wet wipes, be gentle, equip yourself to teach and be sure to verbally walk kids through the nitty-gritty process of getting their bottoms clean.
This post was originally published in 2019 and is updated regularly.