Ablutophobia is an irrational fear of bathing or washing. It can affect children and adults. Treatment can include medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and more.

People with specific phobias know that their fears are not realistic, but they are unable to address them. Instead, they may try very hard to avoid what makes them afraid.

A person with ablutophobia may avoid bathing or may experience extreme distress and fear when they bathe.

This article explains the symptoms, causes, and treatment or management strategies for ablutophobia.

A person with ablutophobia holding their hand under a running tap in a bath.-2Share on Pinterest
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People with ablutophobia have an intense, excessive fear of washing, bathing, or showering.

Bathing is a vital part of life for both medical and social reasons. For most people, bathing is a pleasant, daily routine, but for people with ablutophobia, it can be terrifying.

The American Psychiatric Association estimates that 8–12 % of adults in the United States have a specific phobia, such as a fear of spiders or arachnophobia. It is possible to develop a specific phobia about almost anything.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, specific phobias are more likely to affect females than males, can vary in severity, and can occur at any age.

However, with treatment, many people with ablutophobia and other types of specific phobias can live productive lives and manage their fear well.

The symptoms of ablutophobia are quite different from the behavior of a child who does not want to take a bath or adults who are not too picky about their grooming habits.

The most prevalent symptom of ablutophobia is extreme fear which is not due to any realistic dangers associated with bathing. To qualify as a specific phobia, symptoms must persist for at least six months.

Physical symptoms that may occur due to ablutophobia include:

As well as the fear that people with ablutophobia experience, they may also feel disconnected from reality and detached from their bodies. They may be afraid that they will:

  • have a nervous breakdown
  • pass out or faint
  • lose control
  • die

Potential consequences

One way people may try to deal with distress is to avoid the situation that triggers it. For people with ablutophobia, that can mean avoiding bathing and washing, which can lead to different problems for health, well-being, and social acceptance.

Lack of washing can have some important consequences. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that regular washing, including hand washing, is important to prevent and manage many diseases.

Washing more frequently may also be necessary depending on factors such as age and health.

People who avoid bathing due to ablutophobia may also experience difficulties at work or school, which may lead to social isolation and feelings of depression.

The avoidance of bathing may also contribute to feelings of low self esteem or a poor self-image. Children with ablutophobia may face a greater risk of bullying.

Some individuals may turn to unhealthful coping mechanisms to manage their fear, which could lead to alcohol or drug addiction.

More research is necessary to understand the cause of specific phobias, such as ablutophobia. However, the following factors may play a role.


The most common theory is that specific phobias develop after a frightening or traumatic experience.

For example, a person may develop ablutophobia if they experience an abusive family situation that involves bathing or if they come close to drowning.

The affected person may pair their emotional response with the neutral event — in this case, bathing.

Environmental factors

Another theory about specific phobias involves environmental factors or modeling another person’s behavior.

For example, a child might observe someone in their family who dislikes or fears bathing and then may develop the same behavior pattern and internalize a fear or dislike of bathing.

Behavioral therapies are the most effective forms of treatment for specific phobias, such as ablutophobia. However, a healthcare professional may also use medication and lifestyle changes to manage symptoms.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one type of behavioral therapy a healthcare professional may suggest. This can help people change how they monitor, think about, and respond to their feelings and the world around them.

Individuals can learn how to manage their emotional reactions, which may help them live with ablutophobia and manage the symptoms their fear causes.

Exposure therapy

Another type of therapy a healthcare professional may suggest is exposure therapy. This involves facing the cause of the phobia in a planned, gradual manner.

In doing this, individuals patiently follow a series of steps that bring them closer and closer to what frightens them.

A person with ablutophobia might first simply turn a shower on or step into a turned-off shower fully clothed. They can gradually work up to more complete and longer bathing experiences.


A healthcare professional may recommend medications to help a person manage their symptoms. This is especially the case if other treatments have been ineffective or someone has other psychiatric issues that require separate treatment.

Medication that a doctor may prescribe includes anxiety medication, such as benzodiazepines, and antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

People should use these as a doctor prescribes, as they can have severe adverse effects.


Self-care practices, such as meditation and exercise, may help people manage symptoms of ablutophobia.

A person can work with their doctor to choose the best management strategies to employ alongside their treatment.

A person can speak with a healthcare professional if they experience a fear of bathing. A healthcare professional can suggest treatment options to help the person overcome their fear.

If a person experiences the following signs, they may benefit from speaking with a doctor:

  • symptoms of depression or anxiety
  • social withdrawal
  • persistent avoidance of bathing
  • physical signs of fear when bathing, such as:
    • a racing pulse or heart palpitations
    • difficulty breathing
    • feeling faint or actually fainting
    • nausea
    • sudden sweats
    • shaking

It is vital for people with ablutophobia to get treatment. Without treatment, there is a possibility that their phobia could persist and worsen.

Regular bathing is necessary to reduce the risk of certain health issues, including the spread of harmful bacteria.

A healthcare professional can help a person manage ablutophobia. Treatment options will usually involve behavioral therapy but may include medication to ease symptoms of anxiety or depression.