My Baby Hates Having His Face Wiped (How to Get Him Clean Anyway!)

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It’s inevitable that after a snotty nose, a little spit up, or even just a messy meal, you’re going to have to wipe your baby’s face clean. Is there a way to make it less miserable for everyone involved?

If your baby hates having his face wiped you should keep in mind the texture of the washcloth, how much water you use, and how gentle (or not so gentle) you are in wiping his face. Try using distractions such as noises or talking to get your baby to focus on something else while you wipe her face or letting an older toddler try doing it himself first.

Read on to find out some techniques for how to make your baby not hate getting their face wiped and how you can try to make it less traumatic for everyone.

Why does my baby hate having his face wiped?

Babies are notoriously messy and sticky. It seems they constantly have a runny nose or some mysterious substance dried on their face. And let’s not forget the after-dinner mess, especially if they are having spaghetti! But trying to wipe their little faces clean can quickly turn into a world-class scuffle reminiscent of a wrestling match, with you on the losing end.

Your little one trusts you to meet their needs and care for them. You are the most important person to them in the entire world. However, the second you come at them with a washcloth or wipe they start emitting banshee-like sounds and bending their bodies into shapes a contortionist would envy. Sound familiar?

Chances are, it’s not that your baby hates having his face clean, it’s just that he hates the process of cleaning it. Maybe the towel you’re using is too rough on his sensitive skin, maybe the cloth is too wet and he doesn’t like the feeling, or it’s possible that, while you’re trying to be gentle, the force of the scrubbing cloth is uncomfortable for your little one.

Before we get into how to remedy the problem, let’s go into a little more detail as to why this process is so unpleasant for your little one.

The cloth is rough

Some of the best washcloths I’ve ever used for my child at bathtime have had a slightly rough texture. It seems this texture is the magic formula for washing away dirt and grime. But even in the bathtub when washing their whole body, it’s the face being washed that my babies and kids objected to.

The tender skin of the face is just a little more sensitive than the rest of the body. It could be that the rough texture of the washcloth, while good for washing the rest of them, is too much for their little faces and creates unpleasant sensations. Switching to a softer washcloth, if only just for their faces, may make this task a little more pleasant. 

If you’re looking for a cloth that’s good for the face, try these Thirsties Organic Cotton Wipes instead of a regular washcloth. They get rave reviews from moms for their softness and durability!

The cloth is too wet

I think we’re all guilty of this at some point. You look at your baby’s face all covered in spaghetti sauce and decide to douse the washcloth with as much water as it can hold. Then, as you’re wiping their face the excess water is running down their necks, soaking the collar of the shirts, and causing water to run into their mouths mid protest.

Simply being mindful of the amount of water being used or by using the minimal amount possible may improve the experience of your little one.

I think we can agree that even as adults we would find being soaked by a wet washcloth unpleasant. One thing my kids could never stand was having their shirts get wet unless it was by their own doing, of course.

Too much pressure

Another scenario that makes a baby hate their faces being wiped is when it is done too roughly. It’s not done on purpose, of course.

Think more like your baby’s face was perfectly presentable when they were loaded in the car but you arrive at your destination, maybe a bit late, and turn around to find your child covered in dried snot and chocolate. So you frantically grab a wet wipe and go to town scrubbing your little one’s face down. Chances are you use a little less finesse than usual in this instance.

While this may not happen every time, it still creates an unpleasant memory that they start to associate with getting their face wiped.

What is the best way to clean a baby’s face?

Babies don’t need baths nearly as often as their older siblings. Their skin is delicate and over washing can cause dryness and chafing.

That being said, their faces still need to be washed daily. The best method for cleaning their face is to use a cotton ball or washcloth rinsed in warm water. Start at the corners of their eyes by their nose and wipe outward in gentle motions. Then move on to the rest of the face giving special care to under the nose and around the mouth.

Never insert anything into their noses. You could risk irritating their nasal passages. Make sure to clean behind their ears and under their chins. Drool can often accumulate in the folds of their neck causing irritation if not wiped clean. Warm water should be all that is needed most of the time.

But sometimes plain ol’ water just won’t cut it. Let’s look at some other products that can help.

What should I use to clean my baby’s face?

Most of the time just using a washcloth with plain warm water should suffice when cleaning your baby’s face.

In those instances where you need a little more cleaning power, use a small amount of mild soap specially formulated for babies taking care not to get any in their eyes or mouths.

This extra gentle baby wash by Earth Mama is unscented and would be a great option for using on your baby’s face when the need arises.

Can I use a wipe to clean my baby’s face?

What happens when you are out and about and don’t have a fresh, clean washcloth available? Is it safe to use a baby wipe?

The short answer is yes, in a pinch, a baby wipe will serve as a stand-in. However, some wipes can be laden in chemicals that could irritate your little one’s face so use with caution.

Some of the major chemicals to be on the lookout for which are all known to cause skin irritation in babies includes:

  • parabens,
  • polysorbate 20
  • phenoxyethanol
  • formaldehyde-releasing agents
  • petroleum based ingredients

There are also milder water-based wipes or baby wipes formulated with natural ingredients like aloe vera that can be less irritating when used on faces. Aveeno makes a wipe specially formulated for sensitive skin for baby face and hands which would be a great option. Or consider these plant-based Hello Bello baby wipes (my personal favorite!) that have 99% water with just a few extra soothing touches of aloe and chamomile.

What is the best way to clean a baby’s nose?

To keep your baby’s nose completely clean, you’ll need to do the regular wipe down of the outside as well as going inside and cleaning their nasal passages.

When cleaning the nose externally, use a cotton swab or washcloth rinsed with warm water to gently rub any dried mucus off around the nostrils.

For an on-the-go option, I highly recommend the Boogie Wipes Saline Nose Wipes. Yes, they are called boogie wipes, and yes, I really believe you need them. I was skeptical of these wipes at the beginning wondering if it was really necessary to purchase a separate wipe just for wiping noses but, in the end, I was converted. These wipes contain saline as an ingredient and also possess some sort of magical property about them that makes even the grimiest nose come clean with minimal effort!

Cleaning inside a baby’s nose can be a whole new ballgame. Babies have small nasal passageways which can cause dried mucus to clog up their little nostrils. Sometimes you may have to enlist some extra tools to help keep their nasal passages clear.

Saline drops and a suction bulb can be your best friend when cleaning out your baby’s nose. I went through countless bottles of the Little Remedies Saline Drops when my kids were babies. This product worked like a charm and didn’t seem to upset my kids too much, at least until I got the suction bulb out. But their temporary discomfort was soon forgotten once they realized how much better they could breathe.

Simply insert 1-2 drops of saline per nostril and use a rubber suction bulb to suck out any mucus. A good time to do this is before feedings as this will enable your baby to breathe easier while eating.

How should I wipe my toddler’s face?

Washing a toddler’s face, in essence, is pretty similar to how you washed their face when they were a baby. Except now, of course, they have pretty strong opinions about having it done and are able to tell you all about it.

While the techniques for cleaning a toddler’s face are the same as they were for smaller babies (use a wet washcloth with mild soap and gently rub), chances are you’ll have to up your game to ensure their cooperation.

It’s always good to have an arsenal of distraction techniques at the ready. Try singing a fun song or make up a fun story to get their attention. Or alter your strategy a bit by leaving the areas on the face that will cause the most fuss for last. For instance, start at the perimeter of the face, then wipe the lips, the eyes, and lastly, the nose.

What should I use to clean my toddler’s face?

The good news is you can use the same products to clean your toddler’s face that you used on their face as a baby.  Or, you can start using some kid-friendly products such as this foaming body wash from Everyone for Every Body. It’s hypoallergenic, suitable for sensitive skin, and contains no paraben, phthalates, or artificial dyes. It also comes in a couple of different fun scents.

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