Patient care: washing without water in bed

For most people it is a given that you can wash yourself. Unfortunately, that is not the case for everyone. Some patients are bedridden and dependent on a caregiver. If you end up in the hospital, body care is one of the most important tasks of a nurse. If the patient cannot wash himself, he is washed by one or two nurses in bed. Nowadays this is no longer always done with water and there are special wipes for this, so that washing is faster. How does washing without water work?

Depending on help with washing

Not everyone takes it for granted that they can wash themselves. In the Netherlands there are approximately 115,000 people every day who cannot wash themselves. There is also a group of people who can only partially wash themselves. These are mainly older people. For many, having to ask for help is a big step. If you end up in a hospital bed, you are dependent on the help of a nurse. Even though a nurse has already seen many naked bodies, it can cause embarrassment and an uncomfortable feeling for the patient, especially in the beginning. In the past, washing in bed was always done with wash basins with water. Nowadays, washing without water is usually chosen.

Washing in bed

Washing the patient is an important contact moment for the nurse. In the hospital, the patient is usually washed in the morning. Depending on mobility, you can choose to wash at the sink, in the shower or in bed. A bedridden patient cannot wash himself and washing must be done in bed. Normally the patient is washed in bed by one or two nurses. A wash basin, washcloth and towel are used. Furthermore, soap and body lotion are used and the bed is changed if necessary. The body is washed per body part in a number of steps: it is soaped, rinsed, dried and rubbed with body lotion.

How does it work

The nurse starts by undressing the upper body and usually washes in the following order: face, neck, arms, chest, abdomen and back. The upper body will then be dressed again and the lower body will be undressed. The water is also changed and a new washcloth is used. The genitals are covered with a towel. Then the legs, buttocks and genitals are washed. A new washcloth and water are used for the buttocks and genitals. This method of washing has been used for centuries. In recent years, a new method has increasingly been chosen: washing without water.

Wash without water

This is also called nurturing washing. This method does not require a basin, washcloths, soap or towels. Ready-made disposable washcloths or disposable wipes are used that contain a special lotion to clean the body. These wipes and washcloths are packed per eight and a washcloth or wipe can be used for each body part. The order is as follows:

  • Face, neck and chest
  • Arms and armpits
  • Front of lower body
  • Legs
  • Back
  • Lower body rear

The pack with eight pieces is standard, but there are also packs containing six pieces. In that case, both arms and legs are washed with one cloth or washcloth. The lotion contained in the cloth evaporates quickly, making drying with a towel no longer necessary. The cloth has a skin-caring effect and has a moisturizing effect. Sometimes the wipes are heated to make washing more pleasant. This way the nurse can wash a patient much faster and with less effort.

The advantages

This method of washing is very suitable for a patient who is bedridden. It is more comfortable than washing with a wash basin, it is faster and therefore less tiring for the patient. The patient does not have to be exposed as often and it is less physically demanding. This washing method is a solution for elderly people suffering from dementia. They are often restless and refuse to take a shower. Washing without water may also be suitable at home if the patient is still in bed after leaving the hospital. It can also be more pleasant for the caregiver, because washing is faster without the bedding getting wet.


Washing with these wipes is more hygienic. A new cloth or washcloth is used for each new body part. Traditional washing usually uses two to three washcloths for the entire body. The wash basins are not personal and some soap residue and dirt may remain in them. The chance of spreading infections, such as hospital bacteria, is reduced.