Cleaning Up After Potty Training Accidents

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Dear Home Ec 101,

I am finally becoming successful in potty-training my 3.5 year old, but he has had a few accidents in his “big boy underwear.” I know to scrape as much of the mess as I can into the toilet, but beyond that how do I launder it? I’m afraid bleaching would wipe the very important characters (Elmo, Diego, Thomas, etc) off of the underwear. Also, is there a way to wash the messy underwear with other clothes? I don’t want to make an entire load of clothes icky but I also don’t want to waste the energy on washing just a few tiny clothing items alone. Thanks!
Grossed Out Greta

ATTENTION Sensitive readers: If you don’t currently have to deal with messes of a bodily nature, just make a mental note, or better yet, bookmark the page and mosey along.

how to wash underwear

Dear Grossed Out Greta:

Bear with me, this conversation could get a little nasty, but it is what it is. When your son has an accident, instead of just scraping off what you can, give the underwear a good swish in the toilet. Flush first! Your goal is to rinse it out as much as humanly possible. Unless the potty trainee has been marinating in his accident for a while, this will remove all but trace amounts of fecal matter.

Bleach is safe for colorfast prints and when used in the amount needed to be disinfected, don’t worry about the tyke’s favorite characters. You only need 1 TBSP of chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Wash the underwear with hot water, detergent, and bleach in the bathroom sink;  rinse it well and hang it to dry so it doesn’t mildew. Toss it in with the next full load and carry on with life.

One of the latest scare quotes I’ve seen says something along the lines of: All dirty underwear has nearly a gram of fecal matter. I don’t know where that stat originated, but a gram? Really? Without a skid mark? I don’t know if I believe this one, but it’s worth mentioning.

Oxygen bleach aka sodium percarbonate aka Oxiclean and other brands are also alternatives worth considering when the laundry needs a germ-fighting boost. Sunlight and the dryer also both work well to kill any lingering germs.

Learn more: What is Sodium Percarbonate?

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Don’t overload your clothes washer, to keep soil and germs from being deposited on clothing, it must be able to adequately rinse the dirt away. This is especially true for high-efficiency models that use significantly less water.

Learn more: Is Sunlight An Effective Disinfectant?

Please don’t forget to clean the sink and thoroughly wash your hands, paying attention to your fingernails. Kids are germ factories and you don’t want to be a vector; that’s the person who infects others.


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15 thoughts on “Cleaning Up After Potty Training Accidents”

  1. Back in the day I used to wash underwear with regular clothing according to color and tag recommendations. Then I went to nursing school. Now I wash all underwear by itself (I have a white/light pile and a color/black pile) in hot water (that's 60 C for European machines). I also wash towels and sheets in hot water. Anything less than 60 C and you are not going to be killing the intestinal flora that have colonized your pants, whether you are potty trained or not.

    (Here I will add that I am grossed out when I'm on vacation in the US and see medical professionals driving around in their scrubs. Ewwwww. My hospital uniform is owned by the hospital and laundered by the hospital at insane temperatures, but even if I had to drag all sorts of nasty things home on my uniform and infest my own washing machine with it, I would NOT wipe it all over my car, kids and house first!!!)

  2. Since my son uses cloth diapers, I wasn't too squicked out by this post. It's just a good reminder that I should keep our diaper sprayer installed for awhile!

    Cloth diapers with skid marks can go into the wash. So, I think the same would hold true for underwear. I'd say you can shake whatever you can into the toilet and then immediately put the underwear in your machine with a load of whites or something that you can wash on hot.

    We add a few drops of tea tree oil (natural antiseptic) to loads. Maybe you could add some color-safe bleach if that is a concern.

    Wash and then hang the britches out in the sunshine to kill anything left, if you're still concerned.
    My recent post Homemade peanut butter

  3. A note of caution: hold on to the underwear very tightly when you flush. You don't want those babies headed down the drain. I speak from experience.

  4. Oxyclean is what I swear by for EVERYTHING!!! Soak over night in Oxyclean and almost boiling water.
    It even saved a brand new shirt from dried on red wine!!!

    I also usually wash all underwear, towels and bed sheets on the hot water cycle. Since I have bad allergies, I cannot hang outside to dry, so they all go in the dryer as well.

  5. Consider the prewash cycle set on "low" with hot water, a little detergent and a splash of bleach if needed.

    Then add the rest of your clothes, reset water level and proceed as usual.

  6. Thank you thank you thank you!

    I would prefer to be able to just freaking TOSS them & buy new ones, but the budget does not allow that.

    It's ironic, I was so excited to potty-train him so I didn't have to deal with these types of messes anymore. Sigh. Maybe someday.

    Also, I think I've been using WAAAAY too much bleach on things. The 1 TBSP thing really clears up a lot.

    Again, thanks. I'm a young (& newly single) mom of a 3 year old trying to manage life, and this site has saved and helped me more than I can even begin to describe.

  7. Must say how happy I am that these days have gone by……and how lucky I was to only have accidents of the #1 variety! Best of luck to you, Alice!!
    My recent post Baby Shower Recipe Ideas

  8. Heather,
    How wonderful to be a regular reader of a blog in which such a topic can be discussed so calmly!
    Good advice (been there, done that, flushed on pair of Spiderman big boy pants!)

  9. With diapers and "training" pants the padding is still in place for them to do their business.

    A trick used by a friend of mine was to put all potty trainers (boys and girls) in thin materialed underwear. Ie- real big boy/big girl pants. It's completely unlike a diaper, holds no moisture and suddenly the one learning understands that this isn't "training" anymore. No one like piddle running down their legs. Or poo squishing out of their legs. It's not pretty, but it is a real fast learning curve. I've seen it work numerous times.

  10. Unless your child is ill or has an infection "down there" you can wash the soiled underpants with whatever else you want. We use cloth diapers and did tons of research about washing them. Your washing machine is made to work with detergent to get fabrics clean so there actually is not any reason (other than illness as mentioned above) to separate soiled underpants from the rest of your laundry. Just follow the tips about pre-rinsing them out and use at least warm water. I wash our cloth diapers with whatever needs washed.
    Some people just get too grossed out not to separate them though.

  11. I find this site very usefulI, thanks for all the great advice. However I disagree with you on this one. I shake my sons poo off into the toilet then soak the white undies in bleach before laundering them with a load of his whites. I would never flush his undies in the toilet . Why add even more bacteria to the undies then to the load in the washing machine?

    • Not to get too graphic, but it's totally going to depend on the kid. None of my kids had very solid movements, so flicking wasn't an option.
      On the upside, we never once had to deal with constipation.
      If the stool is solid, by all means, just drop it into the commode.

      You know, I should probably should have waited until AFTER breakfast to look at comments on this post. 🙂

  12. When those messy potty accidents happen on things you can't throw in the laundry, I have found DP (de-pee) Stain and Odor Remover. It is great. I have used it on carpets, tile (including the tile grout!!), matresses, car seats and car upholstery. I've used it as a laundry pre-treat also. It is fantastic! Completely removes stain AND ODOR! Love this product!!!! (It new and not widely available yet, but it is available on

  13. Okay, so it’s three years after the original post. But it was still helpful to me. I have the added difficulty of being in an apartment building with limited laundry hours and a stiff price for each load. Not to mention only one bathroom and a husband with a weak stomach for these things. Wish me luck.


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