How to Clean Up a Patient Who Has Pooped: Tips from a Nurse

by | Feb 25, 2023 | Nursing Student | 21 comments

Alright, so that probably wasn’t the best way to phrase what I’m going to be talking about in this post, but it’s definitely what you probably searched to find this information!

Maybe you’re starting nursing school clinicals, or maybe you’ve been away from the bedside for a while and are going to start caring for patients again, and need to brush up on how to effectively clean a bed-bound patient who has defecated. Well, you’re in the right place! Let’s get into it! (The details, I mean…)

Poopy Patient

How To Clean A Poopy Patient

Let’s go through the practical steps to complete a bed change on a patient who has been incontinent.

Quick tip: I go through a video demo of this nursing skill (and many others) in this online course that was designed specifically for new nursing students.

1. Gather Supplies

First, take a look at the patient and assess the situation. Is this a full bed change (meaning we need a gown, incontinence pads, and a full set of new linens), or do we just need a new pad and some wipes?

Checking first is especially important if the patient is in an isolation room and running out real quick to grab something isn’t a fast process. You also don’t want to take in a bunch of unnecessary supplies because they pile up quickly.

You likely will need another person, as turning a bed-bound patient is almost always a 2-person job. The only time it’s a 1-person job is when the patient has enough upper body strength to hold themselves on both sides (which doesn’t happen a lot!).

Prior to moving the patient, it’s helpful to get your clean linen in arm’s reach and a trash can nearby as well. Grab your gloves (and possibly double glove!) and let’s get started!

2. Roll The Patient

The patient will have to roll side to side while each of you take turns cleaning and rolling out the dirty linen, and placing new linen on the bed. Therefore, each person needs to stand on either side of the bed. Sometimes, it’s much easier for a patient to roll to one side the other (in particular, stroke patients who have hemiparesis).

If the patient is verbal, ask them which way they prefer. The first time they roll to their side will take the longest.

Let’s say you’re going to be the first person to clean. Roll the patient away from you and have your coworker stabilize and hold them on their side. You can have them bend the leg closest to you 90 degrees, turn their hip towards your coworker, and pick up their shoulder, turning them on their side.

Tip: if the patient is able, have them hang on to the side rail

Another tip: If the patient is pretty dirty, wait to turn them. Sometimes feces can sneak through to the front, especially if patients have diarrhea. If the is the case, clean the front first before turning. If there is a lot, you can push it down to their backside in between their legs and place a towel or more clean wipes on top of it to prevent it from getting dirty again while the patient rolls. Cleaning the front first is helpful because it’s hard to do that with a patient on their side. If the patient is able, you can also “frog-leg” them, which exposes more, thus enabling you to clean better.

Make sure your coworker is stable and has a good grip, and then get to work.

3. Clean The Patient

First, use your wipes to clean all excrement off of their skin. Feel free to put your dirty wipes on the dirty pad because you’re going to throw it away anyway. (Don’t do this if you’re using washcloths, though!)

Clean. Clean. Clean. Once their skin is clean, you’ve got to make sure it won’t touch the dirty pad or linen as they turn. Ensure the skin is dry. (Using a clean washcloth is helpful!)

If you need to change all of the linen, you’ll then pop the corners of the linen off of the mattress. You will tightly roll the dirty linen and push it under the patient. If the pad isn’t too dirty, you can roll it so the dirty stuff is completely covered up and the only thing touching their skin is the back of the pad.

However, this may not be possible due to the quantity of feces or where it is. If so, grab a towel to place in between their clean skin and the pad, then roll it up.

Roll all of this up and push it as far as possible under the patient while they are still on their side.

(In the below video, I walk through how to put a patient on and take a patient off of a bedpan. The movements are very similar, so if this explanation is at all confusing, make sure you check this video out for a demo!)

4. Put On Clean Linens

Now grab your clean fitted sheet and pop it on the corners of your side. Push the clean sheet as far as possible under the patient. Then get your draw sheet, disposable pad, and/or brief (sometimes referred to as a diaper) and place it on the patient halfway, and pull it up in between their legs.

From your side, you should see: The patient’s clean backside, the sheet attached to the two corners on your side of the bed, the sheet halfway covering the bed and flat out, and a disposable pad, rolled up and under the patient.

5. Turn The Patient Again

Now, it’s time to turn the patient toward you, and have your coworker finish up. Tell the patient they’re going to roll over a big bump, and slowly roll them towards you.

6. Repeat On Other Side

Now, you will hold the patient in a comfortable position on their side. Your coworker will pull out all of the dirty linen, carefully as not to dirty the new linen. They will clean any additional skin that is still dirty. Then, they will pull through all of the clean linen, attach the sheet corners to the bed, and flatten out the pad. Then the patient can be laid on their back.

7. Make Final Adjustments

Once the patient is flat on their back, then change their gown. (If it was visibly soiled in the beginning, you’d want to remove it earlier and wait to put the new one on until they’re all squeaky clean.)  They will naturally have sunk down into the bed and will need to be boosted up.  

Boost the patient, ask if they want just a sheet over them or also a blanket, place pillows where they would like, and spray some deodorizer if necessary.

Some people feel bad spraying deodorizer, but let’s be honest – the patient knows they had a bowel movement, knows you just cleaned it up, and spraying a little room deodorizer isn’t going to be what makes them upset or feel bad. They typically appreciate it.  (And they probably don’t want to smell it either!) This is especially helpful if you have to ask guests to step out, and you know they’ll be back in the room. Do what you can to make it seem like you didn’t just do what you did. This may include taking out the trash as well.

Before you leave, make sure they’ve got their call light nearby, bed alarm back on, and all necessities within arm’s reach.

Tips to Prevent Patient Injury

Patients can make unpredictable movements, or you can be in an uncomfortable position, or they can be quite heavy. It is CRUCIAL that you take the necessary steps to prevent injury.  I know multiple nurses who can no longer work at the bedside due to an injury sustained at the bedside.

Adjust the Height of the Bed

Adjust the patient’s bed, so it’s at a comfortable height for you, ensuring you’re not bending over the entire time and straining your back.

Lift Correctly

When lifting or moving patients, use proper ergonomics – lift with your legs and do not twist. We do not want an injury!

Use Assistive Devices

If you have lifts or assistive devices – USE THEM.

Remember, injury is never worth it. Protect your back and your health. If you get injured while caring for a patient, don’t try to stick it out.  Go to employee health and get it taken care of as soon as possible. Don’t be a hero!

Use Barrier Cream (if indicated)

Many patient will benefit from a barrier cream on their coccyx to prevent skin breakdown. This isn’t always appropriate, so check with the primary nurse if you are unsure.

Now you know how to clean patients after bowel movements!

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some answers to questions people might ask. If you have more questions, let me know, I’m happy to answer them.

How do you clean an elderly patient after a bowel movement?

Cleaning up a bowel movement for an elderly patient follows the same guidelines outlined above. Since the elderly often have fragile skin, pay close attention to this and execute the procedure with the gentleness required to prevent skin tears or injury.

How do you clean a bedridden patient?

Generally, only bedridden patients will need to be cleaned. The steps outlined above will help you fulfill this task. If a patient is not bedridden and requests a nurse to clean this, it requires additional investigation. There may be legitimate reasons, but generally, you need to encourage a patient to perform as many ADLs (activities of daily living) on their own as they can.

Do nurses clean poop?

One of the most surprising things for many nursing students is that nurses clean poop. Nursing students will often encounter many opportunities to clean feces. However, not all nursing specialties routinely do this. If you work in an office, perioperative, or other ambulatory settings, it decreases the likelihood that you’ll have to clean it up, but never say never!

Do CNAs or certified nursing assistants clean poop?

Yes, they often do. However, it depends on which nursing units the CNA is working on. CNAs who work in regular hospital units like med-surg, ICU, cardiology, orthopedics, oncology, as well as in nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities will. However, CNAs who work in settings like outpatient clinics likely will not.

Which nurse jobs do not clean poop?

School nurses, operating room nurses, public health, outpatient dialysis, infusion, case management, and outpatient nurses typically do not clean up after incontinent patients. Advanced practice nurses (APRNs, like nurse practitioners and CNRAs) do not as well. While APRNs can and know how to do this, they are typically not providing directly care and are functioning in a provider role which would not include cleaning up patients.

How often do nurses clean poop?

If you work in a hospital or nursing home, you likely do this every shift.

Do you have to clean poop in nursing school?

While everyone’s clinical experience is different, this will likely be part of your nursing school education.

More resources for nursing students

Getting ready for nursing school clinicals, but feeling unprepared?

Skills Refresh 3 1

Nursing Skills Refresh from FreshRN is a self-paced video course for both new and experienced nurses. Whether you’re preparing for your first clinical experience, or need to brush up on your nursing skills, this course is for you. Each lesson walks you through the basic tasks and concepts you will experience in the clinical setting. Once completed, you’ll feel comfortable in a hospital setting, understand the basics of what the bedside experience will feel like, and know insider tips and tricks that will make you feel confident and in control.

Picture of Kati Kleber, founder of FRESHRN

Hi, I’m Kati.

Kati Kleber, MSN RN is a nurse educator, author, national speaker, host of the FreshRN® Podcast, and owner of FreshRN® – an online platform created to educate, encourage, and motivate newly licensed nurses in innovative ways.

Connect with her on YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, and sign-up for her free email newsletter for new nurses.


  1. Tadgh Smith

    Question; If you were to get excrement on your face while changing a patient, do you take a moment to stop and clean yourself up before proceeding, or do you finish the job first?

    A friend of mine is a nurses aid and had this very unpleasant thing happen to him. As he reached for a wipe to clean his face he was sharply reprimanded with “You finish your job first then clean yourself!”

    This is not a joke.

    I would be interested you read your reply!

    • Kati Kleber, MSN RN CCRN-K

      So, I’ve actually had this happen to me! I would absolutely stop and clean myself. Feces on my face? Um – I don’t care how mad that other nurse gets – I’m cleaning it off my face before I continue. The only time I would consider not immediately pausing for a moment to clean myself up would be if the patient was hemodynamically unstable and it was an emergent situation. Honestly, kind of sounds like this person went on a power trip. I wouldn’t give it much weight. There’s no (spoken or unspoken) nursing rule when you need to finish the patient first before cleaning yourself up. Honestly, if I were a patient and noticed that, I’d tell the nurse to go take care of themselves first and I would gladly wait.

  2. Lisa Frisby

    Is it ok to wear a mask when cleaning a poopy patient even if they are not on any precautions? An ER nurse once told me that every nurse has their “thing” that completely grosses them out. She said hers was poop. She dealt with it by wearing a mask when she deals with a poopy patient or has to change a colostomy bag, etc., and she puts peppermint essential oil on the inside of her mask to cover the smell of the poop.

    • FreshRN Team

      Absolutely. This is a lot like spraying the room deodorizer. The patient knew they had a bowel movement, they know that you had to clean it up. There is no reason why you can’t wear a mask if it helps.

  3. Donald Nelson

    If the patient is constapated would it be ok to put q tips to break it up

    • Kati Kleber, MSN RN CCRN-K

      In that case, I’d chat with the physician and get an order for an enema or something. You don’t want that to break off and get stuck in there and make things worse.

  4. Barbara

    I do a thing in the event of faeces being glued on; I douse it with lotion to soften it for easier removal.
    I find it especially helpful when skin is like tissue paper.

  5. Sara

    Is it possible to do this procedure without help? None of the nurses seem to help CNAs with this job.

    • Jodi

      It would be helpful for her to answer your question. I’m curious as well.

    • FreshRN Team

      Of course, sometimes you can easily do it without help. But there are times you just cannot go it alone. In that case, as the nurse or CNA of that patient, you always take the business end.

  6. Monique Freeze

    I am not trained, but have recently taken on the responsibility as caretaker of my 84-year-old mother. Although not a concern when I started six months ago, her conditions have recently progressed to incontinence. I’ve always had an impression that we need to take care to avoid wiping fecal material into the genitalia–concerns include UTI as well as other consequences. So, my question is what is recommended to ensure adequate cleaning – especially when fecal matter has been in a diaper and spread toward the front of the patient? (Incidentally, my mother remains fiercely private and does not like anyone, including me, “pushing and poking” around her nether areas. I’m trying to understand what is important and what can be deferred.)

    • Kati Kleber, MSN RN

      You essentially wipe front to back, and to appropriately clean after fecal incontinence in a diaper, you, unfortunately, must get to the “nether regions” or else a UTI can result. I recommend using warm wipes or washcloths that have been in warm water, and you could always have her use the wipes on the front side and push down towards the back and you clean the backside. Regardless, it’s crucial to do that or she will get repeated UTIs. This is one of those things that even though she doesn’t want it to happen, it’s non-negotiable or else she’ll get UTIs. I recommend emotionally processing and validating her fear/concern about privacy, likely the grief that comes along with losing that important aspect of caring for yourself, and ask what you can do to make it easier/more bearable. It’s a big deal to become incontinent and suddenly people are in your privates multiple times a day, so I definitely encourage the supportive emotional component.

  7. Marcelo Olibarria Jr

    My Girlfriends Grandmother recently moved an elderly couple into their spare bedroom. The husband is in his early 70s and is cannot control when he releases his feces. His wife whom is ending her 70s; does not sanitize herself accordingly after attempting to clean him(I have witnessed her first hand proceed to cook and continue daily activities with feces still on her hands). It took about a week and some for the entirety of her house to be stained by this odor. It is strong and has masked the ability to taste any food.
    I understand that the smell imprint can be misleading, but aside from the household residents not minding. I have noticed that my Son and his Mother have been stained with this odor and that I too am being informed that I am smelling of feces.
    What issues could arise from My Son, His Mother and I being exposed to this environment?

    • Kati Kleber, MSN RN

      This can lead to serious complications. Specifically, E. coli, adenovirus, campylobacter, coxsackie virus, giardia, hepatitis A, Salmonella, and Shigella. This is a major health issue and about much more than the scent. If she is preparing food, this can result in foodborne illness. It is imperative that there is adequate hand washing after anal hygiene, or people will get sick. I highly recommend doing two things. First, educating the entire household on the importance. This is a helpful link: I then recommend her wearing exam gloves when she is cleaning her husband. These are one-time use and are thrown away. A box of them is only around $5 and can be found at Walmart, Target, CVS, etc. I also recommend having hand sanitizer nearby as well. I wonder if there also is not proper disposal of incontinence pads or cleaning of his linen that results in the smell. If possible, after he is cleaned, it would be best to dispose of any materials used in an outside garbage container so that it is not in the household. However, it sounds like this couple likely needs more support and wonder if they would qualify for home health assistance through their doctor.

  8. Heatwave

    If you’re patient hada bowel movement, and they were scheduled for a bed bath. Do you go ahead and start the bedbath, working head to toe first then cleaning/washing up the private areas? Or do you change them first then give the bedbath?

    • Kati Kleber, MSN RN

      Depends on the extent of the situation but likely I think the patient would appreciate the stool being removed first, and then continuing on with the rest of the bed bath. I’d make sure to change gloves and wash hands once fecal matter is cleaned and proceeding to the rest of the bed bath. Whenever I knew my patient needed a bed bath that shift and discovered they had a bowel movement, I would just combine those tasks into one! It saves you time and the patient from having to go through it twice!

  9. Serena Renee Mehegan

    Any comments to do an easier job is appreciated. My 75-year-old stroked-out husband is in pullups but has a big poop mess at least 1 to 2 times a week. We have an extra small bathroom. with a small shower. I have to help him with the big messes! He can stand with his walker but is very unstable in his balance and finds it very hard to stand long enough to get the huge job done. Sometime takes close to 30 minutes. It is sticks to his skin. He drags it down the legs as the pull up comes off, gets his outside pants a mess inside. He wears himself out trying to clean himself and never does much good anyway and ends up getting the stool nastily covered in it. By the time I get there he is difficult to get cleaned up. To get at anything I have him stand at the lavatory sink and hang on! But as I clean him it is like I need gloves up to my armpits like a veterinary doctor. I don’t have those gloves. First, I got to get the first layer by overreaching towards the front because he cannot give me room to do it from the front, it will make him fall! Then I start with a great deal of water mixed with soap while he stands on a towel. I have to use wet paper towels then gravitate towards wipes as it gets better. I use a cinched trash bag inside a big 5 gallon bucket with a lid to throw away the waste. I spray down the entire stool until it is dripping and wipe away the worst then use new paper towel as it gets better and also respray. Floors lastly are mopped and remopped. Yuck yuck yuck!!!

    • Kati Kleber, MSN RN

      Have you considered getting large incontinence pads made for beds, and changing him in the bed while he rolls side to side? It seems that doing this while standing is too difficult and unsafe.

  10. Tessa

    nursing student also need to clean poop and vomit? If yes, then how many times do they clean it? Is it like most of the time nursing student clean?

    • Kati Kleber, MSN RN

      Yes, nursing students will also do this. There isn’t a set number of times students do this and then they’re done and never do it again. Cleaning up after patients is simply baked into the experience of being an RN and a normal part of your workday. Some roles will encounter this more than others. (For example, if you’re a public health RN, you’ll never do this. If you’re an ICU RN, you will do this each shift.) Nursing students will be expected to jump in and help so they can learn how to safely clean someone up and practice. It gets easier and faster with time, and honestly experienced RNs don’t think about it much.




Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.