Overcoming Ablutophobia – the Fear of Washing and Bathing

by Erika Slater

Ablutophobia Girl Concept Image

Do you possess the phobia known as Ablutophobia?

Have you even heard of it, let alone have difficulty pronouncing it?

Well, this is a real phobia and not some random word selected for a spelling bee or a “Wheel of Fortune” contestant.

It’s also not a phobia of the famed Popeye cartoon character Bluto! Now I’m really dating myself!

If you’ve never heard of it before it may come somewhat of a surprise, as it’s a fear of one of the most basic elements of humanity – a fear of hygiene!

Like many phobias, it can be difficult to pinpoint when and how it started but it’s a fear that was learned, and so you should take comfort in knowing there’s a great chance it can be overcome with the right therapy and help.



Child Being Bullied ImageAblutophobia is an irrational fear – hence the term as a phobia – which is often times extreme when it comes to personal hygiene that involves cleaning oneself, washing or bathing.

Basically, if it involves soap, a washcloth and water (shower, tubbing or sponge bath), all bets are off for the individual who possesses this phobia. It’s often times first observed in young children and if left untreated (individuals are not coerced to bathe in a gentle manner), it’ll continue into adolescence and eventually adulthood.

Besides the issues with problematic body odor and being unhygienic (possible health issues), individuals with this phobia will quickly feel the social ramifications of their poor hygiene when others distance themselves from them for obvious reasons, which can also lead to being bullied about the problem.

Is ablutophobia an actual fear of water/drowning, much the same way some individuals develop hydrophobia – an irrational fear of water usually associated with swimming pools or open bodies of water such as lakes/oceans?

The answer is no.

No one has actually drowned in their bathroom or kitchen sinks! For ablutophobics though dishwashers and washing machines are a necessity as you can imagine, or their lives could be even worse as adults!

Okay then, where does this phobia start or evolve from?

There’s no specific cause as to how this phobia started, but it’s most likely linked to some very early, childhood trauma. It’s most likely the result of negligent behavior of a care giver who accidentally, or purposely, caused physical or psychological harm to a child involving water and bathing.

Washing Unhappy Baby ImageIt may have been the result of a parent becoming distracted while their child was in the bathtub and they became submerged, or they even thought they were nearly drowning.

Perhaps a parent was washing a child’s hair in the sink or bathtub and accidentally scalded them with hot water or they felt anxious during the washing for other reasons.

Maybe the parent used bathing as a form of punishment for the child whenever they were ‘bad’, or forced to stay in the cold water for their punishment.

It may have even been the adult washing the child was too aggressive or rough with the bathing.

From these types of instances, the individual developed a phobia to bathing, showering, cleaning etc. It linked bathing time to bad experiences.

Symptoms associated with Ablutophobia include: extreme avoidance of bathing, dread or panic when bathing time draws near including strong uncontrollable reaction to the fear. In addition, the affected individual can experience rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath and trembling.

It’s worth mentioning there are events that can cause this for a brief period but usually as a parent it’ll be obvious. One of our sons went in for major surgery at a young age and for the first few weeks out of the hospital he freaked out at bath time. While this seemed irrational at the time we used the principles of gentle coaxing and keeping calm ourselves to eventually help him through these episodes.

Treating this phobia can be tricky.



Sad Girl with Therapist ImageThere are medications that can be prescribed but they only mask the symptoms and provide temporary relief, and if this is a path you choose with your Doctor then ensure you understand any side effects. I’d recommend seeking out some therapies in addition to medicine or bypassing it altogether.

The traditional therapy model for dealing with the fear is to identify the event or situation that originally triggered the phobia. Once this is identified, therapies such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) can be used to show how the fear/phobia is unfounded and that it can be overcome.

As this requires regression therapy then its best to consult with Mental Health professionals trained in being able to help the patient identify the event or cause of the phobia. Many times, merely confronting the event helps to begin the healing process.

There are instances, as is true with many phobias, where pinpointing the original event is difficult or impossible due to blockage or other reasons, and the focus instead can be on overcoming the fear without understanding what caused it.

While this renders some therapies ineffective, CBT can still be used as a therapy to help overcome the phobia, but in addition hypnotherapy is another tool for treating ablutophobia. Hypnosis can focus on moving forward by helping to erase the fear without the need to understand or take the client back to the original event.

Many people cringe at the thought of being forced to relive an event, or using a therapy that forces situations to induce artificially ablutophobia and the fear.

Irrational fears are steeped in our unconscious mind and hypnosis can help overcome the blockage by accessing the unconscious mind, and focusing on reducing or overcoming the trigger event, or symptoms, causing the phobia to manifest itself.

The unconscious mind sees the stimulus (washing) as dangerous and sends a message to ensure it’s avoided, even though this may not make sense on a rational level.

Most hypnotherapists taking on these types of cases will look for a referral from the Doctor or therapist who diagnosed the disorder before taking on such a client. If you want to consider working directly with me on your specific needs through my online or in-office sessions, then check out my Special Hypnosis Services here.

For those looking for some self-help options then there are hypnosis sessions available for download on the topic and you can find one covering Ablutophobia here >>>



Ablutophobia – All About Counseling >>>

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – 101 >>>

All About Ablutophobia: The Irrational Fear of Bathing >>>

Treatment and Cure – Two Very Different Things >>>

Library of Self-Hypnosis Downloads Products >>>

Erika Slater CH
Free At Last Hypnosis

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Interested in making a significant change in your life and interested in learning more about what I do and how I do it? Discover my hypnotherapy services here or contact me here.

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In this free audio hypnosis session, you’ll experience the power of your subconscious mind to begin to change your habits. If you've never experienced hypnosis before then this is a great introduction...