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How to Bathe an Elderly Person in Bed: Step-by-Step Guide for Caregivers

By Maurice

How to Bathe an Elderly Person in Bed

As a caregiver for an elderly person who is bedridden, you have the difficult and often thankless task of helping your elderly client or family member bathe while in bed. While this presents myriad challenges, it is probably easier and more manageable than you think. The following is a step-by-step guide to bathing an elderly person in bed.

Step One: Decide Which Method You Want to Use

There are essentially two ways to bathe an elderly person in bed. You can go the inflatable bathtub route, or do a simplified bed bath method, simply putting absorbent pads under your client or family member and using a bucket of water or spray bottle to give them a sponge bed bath.

The inflatable bathtub method involves spreading a tarp or plastic sheets on top of the mattress, then setting the deflated tub on top and helping the person lie on it. Once the person is in place, inflate the tub around them using an air pump (electric is best) or a hair dryer.

The inflatable tub is like an inflatable swimming pool in the backyard, but it’s smaller and it goes on top of the mattress.

Finally, you connect a hose to the inflatable tub and either use a shower wand (connected to a faucet) or a spray bottle to bathe the person in the tub.

This method is more enjoyable for the person bathing, but it can be more work for you as a caregiver. It can also present more chances of leaking or spilling water, depending on how much water you put in the inflatable tub.

Step Two: Gather the Right Equipment


Once you’ve decided which method to use, you need to gather the necessary equipment. You can’t properly bathe an elderly person in bed if you don’t have the right equipment, after all. There are a number of things that can help you through the process, including but not limited to the following:

Inflatable bathtub method:

  • Inflatable bathtub (including accessories — shower wand, inflatable pillow, drainage hose, etc.)
  • Tarp to protect the mattress
  • Washcloths
  • Towels
  • Soap and shampoo

Absorbent pad method:

  • Absorbent pads (disposable or reusable)
  • Spray bottle
  • Bucket
  • Washcloths
  • Sponge
  • Towels
  • Soap and shampoo

Step Three: Getting Started

Now that you have your equipment, it’s time to actually bathe the elderly person in bed. In doing so, you first need to help the person get into the right position so they can bathe. If you are using the inflatable bathtub method, this means having the person lie in the bathtub and inflating it around them.

Then you will add water to the tub and use a wash cloth or sponge to wipe them clean, using soap in the dirtiest areas of the body, usually those that are prone to sweating, like the armpits, as well as those that come into contact with human waste.

You want to be careful when helping the person bathe, so as not to make them feel as comfortable as possible. You should ask them before you clean the different parts of the body and give them as much privacy as you can. You also want to be gentle as you wash the skin. Elderly people have fragile skin that can bruise and tear easily.

At the same time, it is important to pay special attention to areas of the body that might have bed sores, where the elasticity of the skin has worn down, leaving it tender or even broken.

Here are some of the best videos for bathing an elderly person in bed:

How to give a Bed Bath in the Home

Bathing & Dressing

Step Four: How to Wash an Elderly Person’s Hair in Bed

After you have washed the person’s body(or before, depending on preference) , you will want to wash the hair, which can become quite dirty over time. You may find this process easier if you use the inflatable bathtub method, as it will collect all of the excess water used to wash the person’s hair.

Alternatively, if you are using absorbent pads, you may also want to use an inflatable hair washing basin, which forms around the person’s head, allowing you to submerge it in the water you use to rinse the hair.

Either way, you will want to make sure that enough water is used to rinse any soap, shampoo, or conditioner that you add to the hair to clean it. If you are not using running water through a shower wand, then you will want to use a spray bottle or a bucket of water to thoroughly rinse the hair.

Some caregivers like to use dry shampoo to clean the person’s hair in bed, and while that may work temporarily, eventually you will need to use regular shampoo and enough water to rinse it.

Step Five: Drying off, Transferring, and Cleaning up

Lastly, after your client or family member is all clean, you will need to help them dry off. You may need several towels for this, both to give them privacy and because the towels may get wet while the person is drying off. You may also need to help them dry off, rubbing the towel over the body and hair.

Once the person has dried off, help them transfer to the other side of the bed. Then you can clean up the equipment that was used for the person to bathe. If you use an inflatable bathtub, you will need to drain the water (before the person gets out of the tub), then deflate it, dry it off, and roll it up to be used again. If you use absorbent pads, then you will simply roll up the pads and throw them in the trash. You will need to hang or machine dry any washcloths and towels that were used in the process.


Helping an elderly person bathe in bed is a difficult process that involves a lot of equipment and effort, but it is worthwhile.

Using the steps outlined in this article, you will be improving the person’s quality of life, helping them feel some sense of normalcy while they are bedridden. It may get messy, complicated, and even uncomfortable at times, but allowing the person to get clean can make them feel human in a difficult situation — the feel of warm water on their skin, the dirt and grime washing off their body, the sound of water rushing around them. It is all worth the effort it takes to bathe in bed!

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