An Age-By-Age Guide To Your Kid's Hygiene

Because bath time can range from delightful to dreadful, we wanted to know just how often kids need to bathe and when they can do it themselves. Here is what a few experts have to say about your kid's hygiene.

Child wearing goggles behind shower curtain
Photo: Getty

Remember when Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis practically broke the internet by admitting they don't bathe their kids every day? A lot of parents were not on board with the celebrity parents' tub timetable, while others nodded in solidarity. Indeed, parents have fierce opinions when it comes to their kiddos and hygiene, and that's totally fair! How often to bathe Baby is something we all try our best to get right—if there's even a right answer. Because one could argue babies don't get dirty when they're newborns, but then they never stay super clean once they're eating solid foods. By their first birthday or so, you may find your toddler hates taking a bath, so bath time only happens when you're up for the struggle.

Eventually, your child won't need you to sit by their side at bath time, intently watching their every splash. When can kids bathe themselves safely and effectively? Yeah, we're curious too, especially after coming across a Reddit thread that had parents discussing how to get older kids to remember to bathe on their own. And when are kids old enough to shower? To get answers to all our burning personal hygiene questions for kids of all ages, we turned to some pediatricians for advice.

Baby Bath Time

Let's start with tackling the issue of how often a newborn baby needs to be bathed. As many new parents know, your baby's first bath often happens in the hospital—in a controlled setting. Bathing your baby for the first time at home (alone!) can feel intimidating for sure. It's important to note that sponge baths are best for newborns, especially to keep the umbilical cord dry until it falls off and heals. After that milestone, you'll want to buy a baby bath that is well reviewed and keep safety top of mind. This includes making sure the water isn't too hot. "Make sure your home's water heater is set at a maximum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit," advises Poj Lysouvakon, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Chicago Medicine.

As far as how often to bathe a baby, the American Academy of Pediatrics says three times a week should suffice. Of course, there will be the occasional (or frequent) diaper blowout that requires an extra bath, or an evening when you really need to kill some time. Splashing in the tub is exactly what you all need sometimes, so this is a general guideline. But over-bathing can dry out the baby's skin, Dr. Lysouvakon cautions. Too many baths can also disrupt the community of organisms known as the microbiome living on the skin, which may confer health benefits to your baby. He also recommends using mild soap and moisturizing after a bath.

Toddler Bath Time

By the time your child can sit up on their own (Dr. Lysouvakon says bath seats are not safe since they can tip over) it's OK to switch to a bathtub. Stay right by the tub to be sure your adventurous little one doesn't stand up in the bath or try and convert it into a slip 'n slide. Never leave a child alone in the bath because as KidsHealth.org warns, it only takes a few seconds for a child to slip and potentially drown, even in a very small amount of water.

Meanwhile, if your tot is tantruming when it's time to get clean, toddler bath toys can sweeten the pot, er, tub, so be sure to keep duckies and float boats on hand. And remember that kids this age do not need to bathe every day so you'll get days off from the protesting.

Kids Bath Time

At some point, your child is old enough to bathe themselves. When exactly that happens, "depends on the child's maturity and desire for privacy," says Dr. Lysouvakon. "Some kids can bathe as early as 5 or 6 years of age, but many experts recommend solo bathing at 8 years of age. Using a non-slip mat in the bathtub can help prevent accidents."

Whenever your child is ready, the game switches from helping them clean themselves to reminding them to incorporate bathing into their routine. Many parents on the Reddit thread on the topic of kids' hygiene advise setting an alarm on a child's phone or leaving a note in the bathroom to remind them about bathing. This may be especially important at first, and for the first several years after your kiddo takes on more responsibility for their own personal hygiene. Of course, as one parent joked about having to remind kids to bathe, "I will never understand this…what I would give for a ten minute uninterrupted shower."

The good news is that according to the American Academy of Dermatology, kids between the ages of 6 and 11 do not require a daily bath or shower—in fact, bathing once or twice a week is fine. However, if your child is involved in sports or gets dirty, they may need a daily wash. You may want to help a younger child with making sure the water isn't too hot and review which products to use where—because shampoo isn't the best body wash. "Many kids find themselves playing and 'forget' the cleaning part," says pediatrician Trish Hutchison, M.D., FAAP, and author of the book You-ology: A Puberty Guide for Every Body.

Teen Hygiene

Good hygiene is a topic your teen may be reticent to discuss with you as their body changes. Dr. Hutchison suggests explaining that sweating—and smelling—is a natural process we all experience, so there's nothing to be embarrassed about. They just need to shower like they see you doing. The AAD recommends daily showers for kids who have started puberty, although a tween or teen who plays sports may require more than one bathing session to stave off the stink. Dr. Lysouvakon adds that cultural considerations and type of hair will also play a role in how often to bathe and clean hair.

Whatever is best for your family, by middle and high school, many kids are self-motivated to take charge of their personal hygiene. If you still find yourself having to remind them to bathe, just be respectful of their privacy—no peeking your head around the shower curtain to make sure there's enough soap in there. And if all else fails, as White Plains, New York-based pediatrician Dr. Eric Levene says, "'You smell—take a shower' is not a bad thing to say." Because they'd rather hear it from you than their peers.

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