You might be doing it wrong—and that can lead to health issues (really).

By Jessica Migala
February 11, 2021
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Do you know how to wipe your butt? It's a surprising question, we know, but doing it the wrong way has health implications. Failure to wipe correctly could leave you vulnerable to a urinary tract infection or aggravate any existing rectal issues, like hemorrhoids or anal fissures.

That's why we turned to a gynecologist (who actually gets asked about this quite often) and a gastroenterologist to give us the scoop on wiping after you poop. Here are the right and wrong ways to do it, plus some helpful tips and tricks.

Wipe front to back

You've probably heard this directive since you were a kid, and it's really important. "This means wiping in the direction from your urethra to your anus," Alyssa Dweck, MD, a gynecologist in Westchester County, New York and author of The Complete A to Z for Your V, tells Health. "There's far more bacteria in the rectal area; that's why you want to avoid dragging the toilet paper the other direction toward your urethra. Bringing this bacteria up front can contribute to a urinary tract infection." Wipe front to back whether you've urinated or had a bowel movement.

Choose the right TP

The best type is soft, white toilet paper that hasn't been dyed and isn't scented. Thin, scratchy toilet paper, scented toilet paper, and recycled TP can cause irritation or even an allergic reaction. Not everyone will have a reaction if they don't use the best toilet paper—"some people can use sandpaper to wipe themselves and they'll be fine," Dr. Dweck says. But if you can help it, go with the right kind.

Stand—or sit

Don't worry about whether to sit or stand when you wipe. What you choose is a matter of preference and mobility, Monica S. Borkar, MD, a gastroenterologist with NorthShore University HealthSystem in Glenview, Illinois, tells Health. Whatever position is most comfortable and gives you access is the right one.

Do the reach around

After wadding up a ball of toilet paper (or neatly folding a few sheets), "reach either behind you or between your legs, if that's easier" to make the front-to-back wiping motion, Dr. Borkar advises. Keep wiping until all the poop is gone and you feel clean. "Always take your time with these techniques; this is one of the most important things you can do for your health on a daily basis," she says.

Don't scrub

If you have hemorrhoids—swollen veins that may bulge out from the anus—you might feel as if you need to vigorously rub with TP to get rid of all residue. "Hemorrhoids create folds and make it tough to clean the area," Dr. Dweck says.

So here's how to deal with that. Many people find that they have to poop in the morning—it's a natural reaction to getting up and having breakfast, and drinking coffee helps move things along, too. In that case, you might be able to plan on pooping and then taking a shower before you get started with your day. It's something that Dr. Borkar suggests to patients who have hemorrhoids. "External hemorrhoids often cause pain, itching, or bleeding, so showering with warm water after a BM is a good option," she says. Gently dry the area with a soft towel after your shower.

If hopping in the shower won't work, people with hemorrhoids still have options, says Dr. Dweck. First up is a bidet, if you have one available to you; it's a bathroom appliance that gently sprays water on you after you pee or poop. Or use a peri bottle to squirt water on your anus, which moistens things up and makes it easier to wipe. A quick sitz bath (where you sit in a couple inches of water) can also work, and they make versions that go over your toilet, which can be especially helpful for mobility issues. Another option is Balneol, a mild cleansing lotion. Apply a bit to the toilet paper and then wipe, moisturizing your anal area and whisking away any traces of stool.

Be gentle around anal fissures

Another anal-area problem that might make wiping your butt a challenge is an anal fissure. These are small tears in the lining of the anus, typically caused by hard stools from constipation, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Like a hemorrhoid, symptoms of an anal fissure include itching, bleeding, and pain, says Dr. Borkar. If you have a fissure, she recommends using a medicated pad or wipe after a BM.

Skip the store-bought wipes

Unless advised by your doctor because you have hemorrhoids or a fissure, avoid wipes. You might like wipes for that fresh butt feeling, but they can cause their own problems. "I see so many people who have irritation and rashes around the vulva and perianal area from using wipes," Dr. Dweck says. This area can be especially sensitive to ingredients like fragrances in scented products, she says. If you are using wipes for a medical reason, choose unscented products made for sensitive skin, advises Dr. Borkar.

Wiping issues to tell your doctor about

If you feel as if you just can't get clean after a BM, call your doctor, Dr. Borkar advises, especially if this is something new and lingering. (Also, if you ever see blood on the toilet paper after wiping, check in with your MD. You can't assume the cause is a hemorrhoid until your doctor has told you so.) This stuff can feel embarrassing, but remember that your doctor is here to help you, and she's heard it all before. Ultimately, wiping is a common concern. "If you're dealing with any issues wiping, you're not alone," Dr. Dweck says.

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