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4 Reasons You're Not Getting Clean When You Take a Bath, Doctors Say

We all love a good soak, but baths aren't necessarily as hygienic as showers.

Are you a bath person, or a shower person? Maybe you're both—many of us enjoy a relaxing soak once in a while, but take showers for the sake of time and ease most days. However, if you're a die-hard bath-lover and rely on your tub time to get you clean, you might be surprised to learn that a bath, even one filled with bubbles, is probably not doing the trick.

"At our holistic treatment center, we often deal with issues on how we take care and manage the hygiene of our patients undergoing rehabilitation," Ryan Peterson, MD, tells Best Life. Board-certified in anesthesiology and pain medicine, Peterson is the medical director at NuView Treatment Center in Los Angeles. "Some of our patients who are undergoing recovery are having a hard time taking care of themselves because of their mental state and condition, and they are assisted to be given showers [rather] than baths," he explains.

Read on to find out why Peterson and other doctors recommend showers to their patients, and why they say you might not be as squeaky-clean as you hope when you hop out of the bathtub.

READ THIS NEXT: What Happens If You Don't Shower for a Month, According to Doctors.

Your whole body isn't getting wet.

Handsome indian man blowing soap bubbles while relaxing in bathtub with foam
Prostock-studio / Shutterstock

When you're in the tub, how much of your body are you actually submerging? Peterson says that's something to consider when choosing between a bath and a shower.

Showers "have more direct coverage of the body, so the dirt, sweat, and exfoliated skin are removed and washed quickly," he explains. "Showers are preferred over baths and are considered better for hygiene because they can help remove sweat and dirt from one's body more efficiently."

Our bodies are covered in bacteria.

Agar plate full of micro bacterias and microorganisms
KuLouKu / Best Life

"As human beings we harbor and excrete a lot of organisms on our bodies," says dermatologist Beth Goldstein, MD, founder of Modern Ritual. "E. coli is the most common bacteria from our bowels that can present into the bath and even run down our bodies."

Goldstein instructs post-surgical patients with open wounds to not take baths at all—and says she has them cleanse the wound a second time even after getting out of a shower. "Baths feel terrific and can be hydrating, but there are good reasons why we do not want anyone taking a bath after surgery," she warns.

Even if you're not recovering from surgery, the thought of bacteria swimming in your bathwater might be enough to make you opt for a refreshing shower instead of a relaxing soak. A 2007 study out of New York University Medical Center and School of Medicine noted that our skin "is a kind of zoo," and found that 8 percent of bacteria from skin samples "were unknown species that had never before been described," per Science Daily.

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Your tub isn't clean.

Cropped image of barefoot man cleaning bathtub
Dragon Images / Shutterstock

When's the last time you scrubbed your tub? "Bathtubs are high maintenance, and must be cleaned after every user," Peterson points out.

He reiterates Goldstein's point about bacteria, as well. "Showers utilize running water that's constantly changing, while baths use stagnant water which can be contaminated over time," he notes. "Showers are also more hygienic than baths because there is a decreased risk of bacteria and fungi spreading to different areas of one's body."

Feeling inspired to clean your bathtub? Be sure to take everything out of it first, and don't forget to hit the grout and wall tiles, experts from The Spruce say. Another important note: If you're using multiple cleaners, never mix anything that contains bleach with an acidic product such as vinegar, they warn, as this can create toxic gas.

You were dirty to begin with.

child showing dirty muddy hands outside
Ahmet Naim / Shutterstock

Board-certified dermatologist Caren Campbell, MD, told Well + Good that showers get you cleaner because "water is running down the skin and into the drain." So if you're particularly covered in debris, say from an afternoon of gardening, it's a good idea to at least rinse off thoroughly before drawing yourself a bath.

She points out, however, that when it comes to the shower versus bath debate, the "psychological benefit" of a warm bath "outweighs any real difference between the two." With that in mind, if you love a good soak, go ahead and enjoy it.

Elizabeth Laura Nelson
Elizabeth Laura Nelson is the Deputy Health Editor at Best Life. A mom and a marathon runner, she’s passionate about all aspects of health and wellness. Read more
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