To wash or wipe? Experts say washing may be better, more hygienic

Amarachi Okeh

A Consultant Public Health Physician at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, Prof. Tanimola Akande, says washing with water, rather than wiping with tissue paper, is more hygienic after defecating.

Nevertheless, the question about the best option of cleaning remains a big debate, as many health experts have expressed divergent views on the issue.

According to experts, the decision to wash or wipe is oftentimes dependent on individual preference, which is also sometimes also influenced by religious affiliation.

However, Akande, who is a professor of public health stressed that washing the anus after using the toilet makes for better hygiene, irrespective of religious obligation.

Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, the public health expert stated that wiping the anus with tissue does not guarantee that the residues are cleaned off, especially because of the invisibility of faecal matter to the naked eyes.

To wash or wipe. Image source: Cleveland Clinic

“Even when you wipe and it appears that there’s nothing on the tissue, that does not suggest that there is no residual faecal matter there.

“It may not be visible to the eyes but if you wash it, it takes care of it. More so, if you wash with soap.”

Addressing the concerns women may have about faecal matter getting into the urinary tract, the professor said washing should not be done carelessly so that it does not flow into the vaginal opening.

“If it is just urine, you wipe it off but if it has faecal tissue, it is good to wash. It should not be done carelessly.

“There should be a kind of way that the person should know how to wash. Although what some people do is that they wipe and when they are taking their bath, they do the washing;but like I said that may do for those who are able to change their pants but they don’t know that that is not hygienic enough.”

Allybocus Akbar writing in, an open access journal, stated that water is considered more hygienic since all faeces and urine are washed off and leaves no bad smell in underwear; whereas wiping does leave residual smell, behind no matter how much one scrubs with toilet paper.

“Water washes away faeces particle that may get stuck in hairs around our bums, which is not the case for wiping.

“In women during their menses, water is recommended by doctors as being more hygienic than wiping to avoid the risk of infection after pooping. Washing the butt and genitals with water will keep them free of germs thus preventing infection in case of injury oranal intercourse,” Akbar wrote.

He however noted that some people do complain that washing leaves the feeling of wetness in underwear, which is quite uncomfortable. For this, water followed by drying with tissue is the solution, Akbar suggested.

However, Michael Asuzu, also a professor of public health and community medicine, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, says he is indifferent about the method used by an individual to clean up after using the toilet, stressing that as long as the individual does it well and does not contaminate themselves and the environment, whatever method used is good.

“Whichever of them anybody wants to do is alright, as long as you do it properly. If you use tissue paper to wipe your ass, you wipe it, until you wipe out all that is there and then you go and wash your hand, so that there’s nothing left there to contaminate your hands, your pants or whatever.

“If you are washing with water, you wash it so that the water doesn’t contaminate your dress and you wash your hands as well.”

According to Asuzu, avoiding contamination of any sort to the person and the environment is the greatest issue with both methods. He posited that none of the two methods is superior to the other.

“The issue is that you want to not have the faeces contaminate your hands or your clothes. That they are disposed where they don’t contaminate water, they don’t contaminate soil. So whichever way you do that, that’s fine.

“The purpose of cleaning up after toilet is so that any contamination by your skin around the anus is cleaned up and disposed, such that itdoesn’t contaminate things, your clothes; and when you finish of course your hand is contaminated when you are doing this, no matter how clean you do it.

“Each of these methods has problem with all of these things I have said. So the extent to which you are able to do that without contaminating any of these places, each of them is good.”

The health experts however agreed that the use of soap to wash one’s hands after using the toilet is essential to prevent contamination.


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