Your Toddler Drinks Soapy Bathwater: Is It Dangerous & What Should You Do?

Funny little girl and her cute baby brother having fun taking bath together playing in water with foam with colorful toys after shower

Your Toddler Drank Soapy Bathwater: Is It Dangerous & What Should You Do?

From nose picking to eating dirt, anyone who has a toddler can tell you—they do some gross things. As little ones learn and explore their environment, they’re certainly not always aware of what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. Often, the stronger an adult reacts to something, the more a toddler will want to keep doing it. So, if your toddler drinks soapy bathwater, should you be worried? And how do you get them to stop? We address some of your questions and concerns below. 

Is it dangerous if your toddler drank soapy bathwater?

While it’s not desirable for children to drink bathwater, the amount of soap that is usually diluted into a large amount of water in the bathtub is probably not enough to cause a medical emergency, even in a bubble bath. Sometimes there will be urine in the bathwater, however, urine is a sterile substance. Though it seems disgusting, swallowing a little bit of diluted urine doesn’t pose a huge risk. If there is stool in the bathwater, this could pose a health hazard. Most parents, however, usually drain the bath immediately, clean the tub, and then re-bathe the child, so the chances of a toddler swallowing bacteria/feces-laden water are highly unlikely. 

Can toddlers get sick from drinking bathwater?  

Soap might cause an upset tummy or stomach ache, but again, the amount of soap swallowed is unlikely to warrant anything serious such as an emergency room visit or gastric lavage to empty out a child’s stomach contents. Remember, the taste of soapy water is not favorable enough for a child to want to drink it by the glass full. They may take in a gulp or sip while playing in the water, but most likely they’ll actually end up spitting most of it out before even swallowing it. The few drops or sips that a child might ingest are not enough to make young kids sick or be dangerous for their health. 

What to do if your toddler drinks soapy bathwater?

toddler drinks soapy bathwater

First and foremost, don’t panic. As we stated, this is not a medical emergency. When parents panic, yell or scream, children do the same. They may inadvertently swallow more water if they get scared. They may remember that this is a way to get mommy or daddy riled up and repeat the same behavior to push buttons next time they’re in the bath. So the best thing parents can do is calmly redirect. Re-engage them with different bath toys or activities that take their attention away from swallowing water and maybe use toys that don’t accumulate water (so avoid cups and scoops, for example). Tell them gently but firmly, “We don’t drink the water in our bathtub.” 

Parents will have to reinforce this message on a few different occasions to help ingrain it in their toddler’s mind. As always, parents should be vigilant and engaged with the child as they are bathing. This not only prevents them from accidentally drinking the water, but also from choking on water or worse yet, drowning in it. Most importantly, bathtime can continue to the end without disruption. As we noted above, a sip or a few drops of soapy water that may have diluted urine or soap in it is not going to be harmful to the child’s health.

What if your toddler won’t stop drinking bath water? 

While drinking bath water probably won’t put your child in any serious danger, it is still not an ideal habit. If it bothers you and you want to prevent the behavior, this will come down to knowing your child’s personality—just like everything else in parenting. There are some children who act out or push buttons. As we discussed, yelling at them or punishing them for this behavior might not lead to the desired result. It may instead backfire into repeated attempts to act in that manner. In these situations, it is helpful to redirect their attention and energy toward another desirable activity that is more rewarding or enjoyable. I call this shifting the focus. 

Children thrive on the one-on-one attention of their parents. Bathtime is a great time to bond with your toddler and give them the focus they’ve been vying for all day. They’ll drop misbehavior in an instant if they can get your undivided attention. One option to try is to make up a game that they play with you when they’re in the water. Toddlers love to mimic what they see. If your child has a doll in the bathtub and you have a doll sitting outside the bathtub, both of you can brush your doll’s hair, help bathe the doll, make her go to sleep, etc. You & your toddler could also do something similar with a car or truck if they prefer. If the parent is revving up the car and making it roll outside the bathtub, the child would likely find it fun to mimic that play inside the bathtub as well. 

There are lots of other ways to entertain your child during bathtime so they’ll enjoy the time spent with their parents and redirect their attention from an undesirable activity like drinking the bath water. Here are some more creative bath time ideas you can explore if your toddler won’t stop drinking bath water:

Duplo bath

For this activity, simply toss your duplos or mega blocks into the bathtub and help your child build floating towers and other fun, wet creations.  

Glow stick bath

Break some glow sticks, turn down the lights, and turn bath time into a party that lights up in the dark. (Make sure you can still see your toddler clearly even in dim lights.) 

Ice fishing

This activity can be done in two ways. The easier method is to simply toss some ice cubes into the bath and tell your child to try and fish them all out before they melt. A fun but slightly more time-consuming version is to freeze some of the child’s bath toys and watch them melt free in the warm bathwater. 

Water balloons

What better place than the tub to let your child play with water balloons? Clean up will be easy, and your child will have a blast. (Just remember to keep any small pieces of latex from broken balloons away from your child since they can be choking hazards.)

Rain cup

Punch holes in an empty yogurt cup or similar container, scoop up some water, and show your child how you can make it rain. 

Identify body parts

This works best for younger toddlers who are learning to talk and can also be played two ways. First, you can ask them to name their body parts as you clean them. Second, you can ask where a body part is, let them point to it, and then clean that spot. You can end by playing head, shoulders, knees, and toes. 

Play “I Spy”

You can either have your child name objects they see around the bathroom or add extra toys to the tub and have them find the ones you call out.  

Washcloth puppet

These are available to purchase or could be sewn, and can let washing become a fun game that could turn into a puppet show at the end. 

In case your toddler won’t stop drinking bath water, reinforce that this water is for bathtime and not for drinking. If the child is thirsty, a parent might offer a cup or bottle of water for them to drink while they’re sitting in the bathtub. A parent might highlight the fact that this water doesn’t taste as good as other water they could get after their bath. A parent could then offer water infused with the sweetness of fruits as an incentive for not drinking the bathwater.  

Bottom line, a defiant toddler is simply pushing their boundaries to try and establish what is and is not acceptable. Consistent signals on the part of the parent to accept certain behaviors and not others will eventually settle into the toddler’s mind as right and wrong. This might happen sooner if the “right” behaviors are followed by praise, attention, or a reward such as fruit infused water. 

father enjoy wash her baby boy at home in the basin

In Conclusion

Children are just exploring their environment at this age. I bet you agree that when a toddler drinks soapy bathwater, they don’t know that drinking the bathwater is not good for them. As adults, we sometimes forget that what we know as common knowledge is not a part of our toddler’s knowledge base at all yet. We have to reduce our expectations for them to know right from wrong. These are moments where we have to appreciate their innocence and continue reinforcing desired behaviors repeatedly so they can make it a part of their own inherent understanding of right and wrong as well. When many of us think back to our childhood, we had to explore our environment to learn that something was good or bad. Instead of panicking over the behavior, take the opportunity to turn bath time into a fun time to connect with your child. Thankfully, a sip of soapy water is not hazardous to our toddlers’ health and hopefully tastes bad enough that they won’t want to do it again. 

 

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