The best way to wipe your butt, according to experts
Curtis Asbury, MD sees it all the time. A patient comes in with a spotted, red, itchy rectum and insists he is not doing anything unusual. Peering into their aching buttocks, Asbury nods solemnly, then delivers news that most people never expect to hear.
“You don’t wipe properly,” he said.
A dermatologist practicing in Selbyville, Delaware, Asbury has seen an increase in the number of people coming to express their dissatisfaction with their rectal hygiene. Whether it’s because of wrong parenting instructions during potty training or wiping down on instinct, some of us just don’t maintain one of our bodies’ most potentially dirty crevices. And the consequences can be irritating.
“It’s called perianal dermatitis,” Asbury told Mental Floss, describing the type of topical irritation that plagues people who wipe poorly, rarely or too zealously. In an attempt to clean their rear end, some people rub so hard that the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons gave a Last name to the resulting sensitivity: Polished anus syndrome, or PAS.
Fortunately, the key to avoiding PAS and other rectal misadventures is relatively simple. Here are some pro tips for getting a clean butt.
ABANDONING WET WIPES
For starters, Asbury recommends people stop using pre-moistened cloths, which are heavily marketed to promote a sparkling cavity. The use of the wipes has been associate with allergic reactions to methylisothiazolinone, a preservative used to inhibit bacterial growth when products are on store shelves. “Even all-natural products can cause problems,” he says, because any type of chemical in the wipes usually isn’t rinsed off immediately.
Does that mean you should use dry toilet paper instead? Not enough. “It’s definitely healthier to cleanse your body with water,” says Asbury. “No one takes a dry piece of paper, rubs it on their skin, and thinks it’s clean.” Even the Greco-Romans (332 BCE-395 CE) knew this, as a historical account of the philosopher Seneca revealed that they used a wet sponge attached to a stick as an after-toilet practice. Of course, some ancient cultures have also been wiped out with pebbles and clam shells among other bad ideas, so maybe we should stick to contemporary advice.
INVEST IN A BIDET
Asbury is an advocate for the stand-alone or complimentary toiletry accessory that projects a stream of water between your cheeks to flush out residual fecal matter. While bidets are common in Europe and Japan, the West has been slower to embrace this superior method of post-poo cleansing; others might be reluctant to tap into existing household plumbing to provide fresh water, even if the DIY installation is easy enough. For these patients, Asbury has developed an alternative method.
TRY PAPER TOWELS AND WATER
“What I tell people to use is Viva, a very soft and thick paper towel made by Kleenex,” he says. “You get a bottle of water and you leave it near the toilet and wet the paper towel.” Regular toilet paper is generally too brittle to withstand a soak, while normal paper towels are too harsh for rectal purposes. Viva is apparently fair. (And no, Asbury is not a brand ambassador, and Kleenex doesn’t endorse this alternative use either.)
With that tip comes a major caveat: Viva wipes cannot be rinsed off and could very well clog your pipes if you try to flush them down the drain. When Asbury recommends the technique, he advises people to throw used towels in the trash. If you find the idea appalling and provided your butt isn’t already red from a bad wiping strategy, lightly dampening a wad of durable toilet paper should do the trick.
DRY WELL BUT GENTLY
Once you’ve wiped it down enough to see clean paper, take a dry square and blot off any excess moisture. Whether it’s wet wipes or bidets, some people don’t mind this step, but “it would be weird not to dry,” Asbury says. Sometimes the humidity can lead to intertrigo, which is an irritation of the skin folds, or a fungal infection.
You also want to have a soft touch. “I see people rubbing hard,” Asbury says. “It only makes the problem worse.” Excessive wiping can lead to micro-tears in the anal tissue, causing bleeding and discomfort.
WIPE IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
Make sure to go back and forth, pushing the waste away from the groin. Women have traditionally been advised to keep poop away from the vaginal canal and prevent urinary tract infections. While Asbury hasn’t found specific studies to back up this advice, he still thinks it’s probably more hygienic. There is also something to be said about sitting down while wiping, as ergonomically it can keep your perianal area open. But if you’re uncomfortable going to the bathroom to dry yourself off, standing should be enough.
Assuming you’ve done all of this and still feel uncomfortable, Asbury warns that it could be something else. “If you don’t feel clean, there could be issues with your sphincter,” he says. Weak muscles can cause leaks. But usually it’s the wipers that have a hard time getting everything they need. For those who are difficult to clean, Asbury recommends switching to a bidet.
“It’s cold at first,” he said. “But you get used to it.”