Personal Hygiene and Grooming in Patients: Beyond the Obvious

Article Categories: Tips and Tricks & Activities of Daily Living

Helping a patient clean and groom themselves is an essential part of a nursing assistant's responsibility.

Here’s why:

1. Hygiene measures prevent the spread of microorganisms. Cleaning the body reduces the number of germs that cause infectious diseases.

2. Grooming helps improve a patient's appearance. These procedures enhance beauty. There's no doubt why grooming products are a billion-dollar industry. Looking good is a way of life for most people. For patients, being clean and presentable has many benefits.

3. Proper hygiene and grooming boost a person's self-esteem. Being clean and fresh contributes to a patient's emotional and mental wellbeing. It boosts their self-confidence, and they feel motivated to work toward improvement.

4. A well-groomed patient commands respect. A person who's neat and properly-dressed is always a welcoming sight. Although CNAs don't typically judge a patient by their appearance, others may not be open-minded about it. The human brain is just hard-wired to trust and accept a pleasant-looking person and reject an unkempt appearance.

5. Grooming releases happy hormones. It's inherent to humans and animals alike. Sensations, such as touch, while tending to one's appearance, release 'endorphins' or the feel-good hormones, which in turn improve mood and general wellbeing. The motions of washing and rinsing, for example, bring about a relaxing feeling.

Grooming a patient does more than just improve their appearance. It contributes to overall health. Here are some valuable tips to making this procedure less time-consuming and more beneficial:

General rules:

1. Gather supplies and equipment before starting the procedure. Being organized saves you time and energy. It also prevents you from leaving the patient unnecessarily.
2. Use equipment, such as comb, brush, deodorants, and nail clippers only for the patient. These personal items should not be shared with others to prevent spreading infectious diseases.
3. Consider cultural differences. When grooming patients, know what is permissible or not in their culture. For example, men in some cultures do not shave their beards.
4. Always ask the patient's preference with regards to style and fashion. For patients with Alzheimer's disease, provide choices instead.
5. Encourage independence. Having a sense of control over one's body gives a patient a sense of dignity. It is crucial to encourage them to perform the procedure as long as they are safe. Always be ready to finish the steps that they could not complete.
6. Ensure privacy at all times. Remember that HIPAA rules apply to hygiene and grooming procedures. Provide materials such as towels and drapes for the patient to cover themselves with when needed.
7. Keep the patient safe at all times. Even if they are mostly independent, stay nearby should they need your help. Never leave them unsupervised. Do not use electrical equipment such as hair dryers near water sources to avoid accidental electric shock. Use bath mats to prevent slips and falls. If a patient is weak, provide a chair in the shower. Test the water temperature for baths and showers before allowing the patient to wash.
8. Establish routines. Routines provide some form of predictability in the usual world of uncertainty in a patient's health journey. Performing procedures regularly helps the patient prepare physically and mentally, too.
9. Always refer to the care plan for special orders. Some hygiene and grooming procedures have special considerations for particular patients. For diabetics, for example, only specialists provide nail care. Also, patients who just had surgery are advised not to have tub baths.
10. Help the patient look in the mirror after grooming and getting dressed. Let the patient admire themselves to improve the way they feel about themselves.


1. Increase the feel-good hormones by giving patients a back rub during bath.
2. Bath time is also a time to inspect the skin.
3. Help patients to clean from the cleanest to the dirtiest parts. Provide a washcloth for gentle scrubbing.
4. Use liquid bath soap for those with a weak grip or unsteady balance. Patients usually drop the bar soaps because they are slippery.
5. Avoid chills by checking the room and bath temperature and closing windows and doors to avoid drafts. Also, dry the patient thoroughly after every bath.
6. Wash and rinse frequently missed spots such as the back of the ears and in-between skin folds.


1. For patients with tangled, long hair, start combing from the lower end of the hair and then slowly work your way up. Gently press against the scalp while combing the hair to prevent the painful pull on the scalp's skin. Use detangler products or hair conditioners for easier combing.
2. For those with thick, fuzzy hair, comb or brush the hair in sections.
3. Avoid using sharp-toothed combs or hard-bristled brushes to prevent scalp injury.

Nail care

1. Soak hands and feet in warm water for five minutes and then wash with soap and water. This step is crucial in softening the nails for more manageable trimming.
2. Avoid trimming the cuticle as you may accidentally nick the skin.
3. Clean under the nails with a nailbrush.
4. Do not cut too short to prevent ingrown nails.
5. Cut straight for the toenails. You may trim the fingernails with a slight curve. File the nails until smooth.
6. Apply moisturizer on the hands and feet after the procedure.

Mouth care

1. Brush and floss every day.
2. Ensure that the patient is sitting upright to prevent rinse water from running down the windpipe.
3. Remove and brush dentures and put them in a cup of water.
4. Use a regular or power toothbrush that has soft, comfortable bristles.
5. Brush at an angle in a circular motion while paying particular attention to the areas in between the teeth. You may use an interdental brush to remove particles between teeth near the gums.
6. To prevent being bitten, use the handle of another clean toothbrush to gently pull the cheeks while having the patient rest their teeth on the handle.
7. Use non-alcohol-based mouthwash. Mouthwash that contains alcohol can be irritating to some patients, especially those with mouth sores.
8. If rinsing is difficult for the patient, wrap your index finger with a damp gauze and sweep the mouth.

Helping patients perform hygiene and grooming measures does a lot more than just clean the body. It gives them a sense of normalcy and self-confidence. CNAs can be instrumental in making this happen.


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