If you've ever had irritated or sore private parts, you might've heard that a sitz bath could help soothe them. But what exactly is a sitz bath?
Originating from the German word sitzen (meaning to sit), a sitz bath involves sitting in shallow, warm water, according to Saint Luke's Health System, which can relieve inflammation in your nether regions.
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We spoke to Peyton Berookim, MD, FACG, a board-certified gastroenterologist at the Gastroenterology Institute of Southern California, to get the lowdown on sitz baths, including when you should take one, the benefits for your bits down below and how to do it properly.
What Does a Sitz Bath Do?
Immersing your bottom in a sitz bath can help ease pain, itching or muscle spasms of the affected areas, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine. A sitz bath is a frequently recommended natural remedy for hemorrhoids.
While you can add certain healing ingredients to your soak (more on this later), "a sitz bath is not a curative therapy, but rather is intended to soothe the irritated area and bring relief," Dr. Berookim says.
This means the simple soaks can relax the anal sphincter, improve blood flow and assist in wound cleaning, Dr. Berookim says.
What Health Conditions Call for a Sitz Bath?
Since soaking in warm water can alleviate acute inflammation and irritation, "sitz baths are used for a variety of perianal [and genital] issues," Dr. Berookim says.
Some of these include:
- Hemorrhoids (swollen veins in your anus and rectum)
- Anal problems like abscesses, fistulas and fissures (a small tear in the tissue that lines the anus)
- Postpartum recovery from a vaginal tear or episiotomy (a surgical incision made to widen the vaginal opening during birth)
- Other forms of post-operative recovery (for instance, after a surgery to remove hemorrhoids)
- Vulvodynia (persistent pain or discomfort around the vaginal opening)
In addition, sitz baths may also be used to keep your perineal area clean and hygienic if you're unable to bathe or shower regularly.
How to Take a Sitz Bath
There are two ways to soak in a sitz bath: Make one in your tub or purchase a pre-made kit to set on your toilet.
Homemade Sitz Bath
If you're prepping a sitz bath in your tub, follow these simple directions, per Saint Luke's Health System:
- Fill a clean bathtub with 3 to 4 inches of warm water.
- Add any soothing or medicated ingredients suggested by your doctor. For example, Epsom salt, in the right concentration, may help with healing, Dr. Berookim says. You can purchase it ready-made or mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda with 2 teaspoons of salt to warm water, he says.
- Sit in the tub, completely submerging the affected area under water.
Store-Bought Sitz Bath
"A [manufactured] sitz bath is a portable basin that sits on the top of the toilet seat," Dr. Berookim says. They can be purchased online or in drugstores and come in reusable or disposable kits.
Here are step-by-step instructions for using one, per Saint Luke's Health System:
- Place the sitz bath pan on your toilet seat, ensuring it fits firmly in place.
- Fill the sitz bath bowl with warm water, adding any soothing or medicated ingredients suggested by your doctor.
- Sit on the pan, completely submerging the affected area under water.
- Alternatively, if your kit comes with a plastic bag and tubing, fill the bag with lukewarm water.
- Let the warm water stream from the bag over the irritated areas, into the bowl and through the slot in the back of the basin, which drains into the toilet. Once the bag is empty, you may have to refill it to continue soaking.
Whichever Method You Choose
Soak for 15 to 20 minutes, two to three times per day, Dr. Berookim says. Once you're done, gently pat the area dry to prevent further irritation, he adds.
You can even use a blow dryer —on a very low setting — to dry your private parts post-sitz bath, according to Michigan Medicine.
Sitz Bath Kits to Try
- CVS Health Sitz Bath ($27.79, CVS)
- Fivona Foldable Sitz Bath Tub for Soak and Steam Over the Toilet Seat with Hand Flusher ($25.75, Walmart.com)
- MedPro Durable Home Sitz Bath with Tubing and Water Bag ($10.99, Walgreens.com)
Can Sitz Baths Ever Be Harmful?
"Sitz baths are safe and effective," Dr. Berookim says. But to prevent possible burns, make sure the water isn't piping hot, he says. Again, lukewarm water is ideal for healing.
"It's also important to keep the sitz bath clean," Dr. Berookim says. A dirty pan can increase your risk of a potential infection in an open wound, he explains.
That means, if you are going the homemade route, always scrub and disinfect your bathtub before soaking. If you purchase a reusable basin, check the manufacturer's guidelines for proper cleaning instructions.
Stop using sitz baths and contact your doctor if pain and itching persists, if you experience bleeding or unusual discharge from your perianal area or if signs of infection such as fever, chills and nausea or vomiting occur.
Are There Alternatives to Sitz Baths?
If, for whatever reason, soaking in a sitz bath doesn't seem appealing or is difficult for you to manage, you might be able to reap the same healing benefits for your bum and genital area using a warm water spray.
While there is limited research regarding the topics of sitz baths and warm water sprays, there is an April 2009 study published in the Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery that discovered some benefits. Patients who had recently undergone hemorrhoid surgery were randomly assigned to water spray or sitz bath groups. While both groups experienced similar rates of healing, people who received the water spray method reported greater convenience and satisfaction with their form of treatment.
When to See a Doctor
If perianal or genital symptoms and pain do not improve, consult with your doctor who can rule out more serious issues, Dr. Berookim says.
Certain conditions, such as an abscess or fistula, may involve more in-depth medical treatments.
"An abscess is a pocket of pus that usually needs to be drained [while a] fistula can occur spontaneously or be caused by an underlining issue such as Crohn's disease that requires medical attention as well," Dr. Berookim explains.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.