What to Do When a Child Poops or Pees in the Tub

Bathing doesn’t always go according to plan, but it’s still pretty relaxing. Sometimes it’s too relaxing for the kid. Even potty-trained children can get distracted and poop or pee in a nice warm bath. When that happens, the immediate question is how to handle a very gross situation quickly. The next question is how dangerous is it? After all, can’t a baby get pink eye from poop? (The final question, of course, is whether it might not be best to just burn the house down and use the insurance money to buy a new one.) Fortunately, there’s a concrete answer.

READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Poop, Diapers, and Potty Training

First, the good news. A little pee never killed anyone. According to Stephanie Bosche, a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner at Tri-County Pediatrics in Philadelphia, if it’s yellow, parents can keep it mellow because urine is a pretty clean bodily fluid, at least bacteria-wise. “A little pee in the tub? Not too worried about it,” Bosche explains. “Maybe if you just started filling the tub, we could empty it out and start over. But if you already have the bathtub full and you’re in full bath mode, there’s no need to empty out the bathtub because your child pees a little bit.”

How to Deal with Poop or Pee in the Bath

Poop is a different story. It’s much worse than pee, which isn’t much of a surprise, considering poop of every kind harbors some pretty nasty things. The bacteria that live in the human stool is pathogenic and while there may be anecdotal evidence of kids eating poop with no ill effects, parents shouldn’t count on that kind of phenomenal luck. Pathogens in poop cause diarrhea and pink eye, both of which represent more serious threats to children than to adults. This is all to say that if it’s brown, it’s time to get the kid out of the water.

What to Do When a Child Poops or Pees in the Tub

“I would say empty the whole tub, rather than just fishing it out and continuing on,” suggests Bosche. “Restart.”

Depending on the consistency and volume of the poop, tossing the turd and giving the tub a quick rinse might be good enough, but don’t stop there. A pass with a kid-skin safe cleaner and then a thorough rinse isn’t going to delay the new bath much. Even some soap and water is better than nothing. And if it’s too late to start again, well, parents can always try again the next day; bathing every day isn’t necessarily a problem for skin integrity.

The key to managing an incidence like this is to stay calm. Don’t overreact; this isn’t the first time a parent has had to deal with unexpected poop, and it won’t be the last. Many times these are purely accidental. Getting worked up makes the child feel guilty, or frightened of their parents. This becomes a generally negative association with bath time.

“I’ve had parents tell me that their kids are scared to go back in the tub, because Grandma was bathing them and she screamed when he pooped,” says Bosche. “So first and foremost, stay calm.”

And really, there’s nothing to get too upset about, according to Bosche. This is a common occurrence. Bathing and warm water can be very relaxing. Sometimes those muscles (which kids either haven’t fully controlled or are still pretty new to controlling) relax too much. If a kid pees in the bathtub deliberately, instead of using the toilet, or regularly has accidents because they are holding it in, that’s a different issue. There’s obviously something that makes them reluctant to use the toilet. Parents should check to see how comfortable their toilet arrangement is. An uncomfortable toilet set up can complicate all manner of bathroom habits, even in potty trained kids. If the kid craps on schedule, delaying the bath until after their daily deuce can reduce these kinds of problems.

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