Ablutophobia, the Irrational Fear of Bathing

Ablutophobia, or fear of bathing, manifests itself as an irrational and persistent fear that can cause great impairment to a person's daily life.
Ablutophobia, the Irrational Fear of Bathing
Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 24 March, 2023

While for some people taking a bath can be very relaxing, for others it can be torture. This is what is known as ‘ablutophobia’ or irrational fear of bathing, an uncommon – but serious – phobia that can affect the way a person goes about his or her daily life.

It occurs most frequently among women and children, although it can also affect men. In addition, it is included in the subcategory of specific phobias, which in turn correspond to an anxiety disorder. How does it manifest itself? What is its treatment? In the following space we solve these questions.

What is ablutophobia?

Ablutophobia is a type of specific phobia in which people experience an irrational fear of bathing, washing or cleaning themselves. As a publication in The Lancet Psychiatry explains, this type of phobia involves both fear and avoidance.

In this particular case, sufferers experience excessive fear, anxiety, panic or distress at having to bathe or wash. They even find it overwhelming at the thought of it. In turn, they may experience anxiety at the sight of soaps, sponges, towels or anything associated with bath time.

And although avoidance becomes a way to reduce the severity of distress, it is not the best option. Bathing is an essential habit, not only for hygiene and social reasons, but also for health. Refusal of bathing can lead to the development of infectious diseases and skin disorders.

It should be noted that children commonly dislike bathing. However, this differs from a phobia. Right now, to be classified as ablutophobia, the American Psychiatric Association details that the symptoms must persist for more than six months.
¿Qué es la ablutofobia?
Ablutophobia is more frequent in children and women.

Associated symptoms

Ablutophobia shares its symptoms with phobias in general, beyond the fact that its particular characteristic is the rejection to the bathroom. The symptoms, being associated with fear, involve the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. They include the following:

  • Sweating
  • Tachycardia
  • Accelerated breathing
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Tremors
  • Headaches
  • Some people may even have panic attacks

In addition to the above, it is necessary to mention some particular behaviors of people with a fear of bathing. It’s common that they use large amounts of perfumes and avoid being close to others. They may also chew gum excessively.

What can cause it?

The origin of phobias -and in this particular case of ablutophobia- can be diverse. Therefore,it is important to work with the patient to reconstruct the history and the onset of the symptoms.

For example, it may be related to some trauma caused by an accident of one’s own (the direct negative experience), such as a drowning. It can also be due to an outside experience, such as having heard or witnessed a tragic episode, like a fall in the bathtub, an accident in the water, etc.

Badós (2009) also mentions a third mode, which has to do with the transmission of threatening information in relation to the phobic object. However, this is the least potent in the development of the phobia.

It is important to keep in mind that with the combination of two or more modes interacting with each other, the emergence of the phobia is possible.

Some studies suggest that genetic components are also involved, since it is more likely to coincide in a specific phobia in a family in which one or more members already experience it.

Possible complications

In principle, it is convenient to clarify that not all phobias are treated because not all impact in the same way on people’s lives.

Those who suffer from arachnophobia (to spiders) are certainly less affected than those who suffer from agoraphobia. And not because their discomfort is less important, but because of the area that is affected and the probability of being in contact with the trigger of the phobia.

In the case of ablutophobia, as what is directly affected is personal hygiene, complications occur in all areas of life. Initially, at a social and interpersonal level, since body image and hygiene is considered a letter of introduction.

Later, at a health level, since the lack of personal cleanliness promotes the spread of viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms that cause diseases. There is an increased risk of skin infections, digestive problems, respiratory disorders, hair problems, among others.

Treatments available for ablutophobia

La ablutofobia requiere terapia
If symptoms interfere with daily life, it is important to see a mental health professional to seek viable treatment.

Note that not all people with ablutophobia are aware that they have this phobia. Many may choose to isolate themselves or engage in avoidant behaviors before seeking help. However, it is a condition you must address with psychotherapy.

In this case, cognitive behavioral therapy has shown good results. Experts often recommend techniques such as systematic desensitization. This consists of progressive exposure to the phobic stimulus or object.

In an environment that allows a gradual approach to the source of the phobia, the patient can face his or her fear with the tools necessary to manage it.

And since you can learn a phobia, you must also address cognitive biases about what people think might happen to them. This is in order to advance to cognitive restructuring. With this technique, the aim is for the patient to identify the thoughts that are maladaptive in order to replace them with others that are more appropriate.

Progressive muscle relaxation, through the muscle tension-relaxation game, is also part of the initial sessions of a treatment.

Fear is adaptive, phobia is not

To conclude, we can go back to the starting point; phobias involve an intense and excessive fear. When considering when a fear ceases to be a simple fear and becomes a phobia, it is important to take into account how maladaptive it is and how much it limits us.

Fear is a basic emotion and, as such, it is adaptive. It allows us to run away from those situations that upset us. However, when it gets out of control, we cannot control it despite our attempts and we recognize it as irrational, we are talking about a phobia.

Not all phobias have the same chance of disturbing us, but if they interfere with routine -as it happens with ablutophobia- the best thing to do is to seek professional help.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.