Bath basics

Bath basics
It’s bath time! How to bathe your child and gradually teach them to bathe on their own.

Although most children love taking baths, it’s usually not necessary to bathe them every day. Here are a few tips to help guide you through bath time.

If your child is under 12 months old, read our fact sheet on bathing your baby.

How often should a child be bathed?

Most children do not need a bath every day. Unless your child has gotten dirty from playing or eating, taking 2 or 3 baths a week is sufficient until puberty. However, make sure to wash their face and neck every day, and their hands before every meal.

This doesn’t apply to young children who suffer from eczema. Specialists generally recommend they take a lukewarm bath every day, lasting no more than 10 minutes, unless otherwise advised by their doctor.

Preparing the bath

Don’t use cotton swabs to clean your child’s ears. Use a washcloth to wash the outer part of each ear and the skin around it. If your child puts their head under water, wipe off their ears immediately.
  • Make sure the bath water is not too hot before putting your child in the tub. A temperature between 34°C and 37°C is usually ideal.
  • Don’t overfill the tub. The water shouldn’t be higher than your child’s belly button.
  • Avoid using bubble bath and bath oils. These products will irritate their skin and mucous membranes, and are especially irritating to your little girl’s vulva.
  • Choose a mild, unscented soap, not an antibacterial soap. Children have sensitive skin, and antibacterial products can be too harsh.
  • Place a non-slip mat at the bottom of the bath to prevent your little one from sliding around.
  • Make sure you have everything you need on hand (e.g., towel, soap, toys) before putting your child in the tub.

Washing the genital area

For boys

If your child’s foreskin is still attached to the glans, clean only the visible part with water. You can gently pull back the foreskin to clean any discharge that is not visible, but never force it.

Dead cells that look like whitish secretions may appear at the tip of the foreskin. Wipe off the secretions, but do not attempt to remove what is under the foreskin. This whitish substance, called smegma, is neither pus nor dirt. It’s a natural secretion that helps the foreskin separate.

By age 3, most boys have a foreskin that will completely retract. If you are able to pull back the foreskin without forcing it, retract it and use lukewarm water to remove any secretions that have accumulated there. When you’re done, pull the foreskin back over the penis. A buildup of secretions under the foreskin can cause inflammation and, in some cases, cause the foreskin to tighten.

When your child is 5 or 6 years old, teach him how to clean his penis on his own.

For girls

After your daughter’s bath, gently part the lips of her vulva. Wipe away any whitish secretions that may be present, using a wet washcloth or bath mitt. Don’t use soap.

At what age can a child learn to wash themself?

Don’t be alarmed if your child swallows a bit of soapy water during bath time. They’ll most likely just find it tastes bad and spit it back out. Give them a little water to drink to help further dilute the soap. Don’t let too much soap get into the bath water.

Your child can start learning how to wash themself by the time they’re around 2 years old. For example, you can ask them to wash certain body parts they can easily reach, such as their arms and legs.

By age 3, your child is able to wash some body parts with your help.

By age 4, many children are able to wash themselves, with supervision. Double-check to make sure they’ve washed everything and help them with some of the hard-to-reach areas, such as their back. You should also make sure they’ve completely rinsed off all the soap.

By age 5, most children are able to wash themselves completely on their own. However, children this age should never be left alone in the bathtub.

By age 6, most children are able to wash and dry their own hair without help. Even if your child is able to wash their own hair, never leave them unattended, and make sure their hair is thoroughly rinsed.

Bath safety
  • Supervise your child at all times while they’re bathing, even if there’s very little water in the tub.
  • Place a non-slip mat at the bottom of the bathtub to prevent your child from sliding around.
  • Never allow your child to play with the faucet, as they could get seriously burned.

Things to keep in mind

  • Unless they are dirty from eating or playing, children don’t need to take a bath every day.
  • Children have sensitive skin, so it’s best to use unscented soap and avoid antibacterial soap and bubble bath.
  • By age 5, most children are able to wash their bodies on their own, and by age 6, they can also wash their hair with supervision.
Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Dr. Anne-Claude Bernard-Bonnin, pediatrician
Research and writing: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: April 2024


Sources and references

Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, use search engines to find the relevant information.

  • CHU Sainte-Justine. Living with Eczema. A Practical Guide to Help You Understand Eczema and Better Treat It. 2022.
  • Centre de pédagogie appliquée aux sciences de la santé. L’ABCdaire du suivi périodique de l’enfant de 0 à 5 ans : guide de référence du praticien. 2012.
  • Doré, Nicole, and Danielle Le Hénaff. From Tiny Tot to Toddler: A practical guide for parents from pregnancy to age two. Quebec City, Institut national de santé publique du Québec.
  • Labbé, Jean. “Bulletins pédiatriques : votre enfant de la naissance à 5 ans.” Quebec City, Université Laval faculty of medicine. 2022.
  • Eczema Society of Canada.
  • Canadian Paediatric Society. Caring for Kids. “Your baby’s skin.” 2022.
  • Talbot, Gisèle. La batterie d’évaluation Talbot. Montreal, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 1993, 185 pp.
  • Vekemans, Gaëlle. L’ABC de la santé des enfants. 2nd ed., Montreal, Les Éditions La Presse, 2016, 413 pp.