How Should I Clean the Skin After Someone With Incontinence Has an Accident?

A fellow caregiver asked...

How should I clean the skin after someone with incontinence has an accident?

Expert Answer

As Founder and Director of Circles of Care, Ann Cason provides caregiving, consulting, and training services to individuals and public and private organizations involved in eldercare. She is the author of Circles of Care: How to Set Up Quality Home Care for Our Elders.

Use the right supplies and a consistent approach. It's important to get the skin both clean and dry after an incidence of bladder or fecal incontinence. Many older people will need help with this because they lack the mobility to do a thorough job, or they may feel embarrassed and want to dispense with the cleanup quickly and ineffectively.

Try storing a cloth bag of supplies in the bathroom, and a second one that you can grab to take with you when you go out (or just stash it in the car). In it, keep:

  • Some extra incontinence pull-ups or panties

  • Wet wipes (such as children's diaper wipes or other wipes made for the skin)

  • A body wash that doesn't have to be rinsed (these can be bought in medical-supply stores or drugstores that carry medical supplies; they often feature aloe vera as an ingredient)

  • A washcloth

  • Cornstarch or powder (optional)

First, wipe the area clear with the wet wipe. Then partly wet the cloth with warm water and apply some of the rinse-less soap. This product saves you work and time. Pat the area dry with the dry part of the washcloth. Some people like to apply a cornstarch-type powder -- usually sold as baby powder -- to aid drying.

Let the person know what you're doing at each step: "Now I'm going to use a wet wipe." Offer to let them participate, if they can: "Would you like to clean over your privates yourself?" (Go over the area again if necessary.)

Replace with a clean, dry incontinence product.