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Buying Guide & Checklist: Baby Bathtime

March 2015

Bathtime is one of the more enjoyable aspects of parenthood. It’s a moment for you and your baby to bond as she enjoys the simple pleasures of warm water and bubbles. Part of this experience also includes using the right products to make soaping up safe, fun, and relaxing!


Note: Our editors developed this list by summarizing TotScoop parent favorites and adding a few hand-picked editor favorites and new releases. Our picks are 100% unbiased — we never accept compensation in exchange for coverage. That said, this page may contain affiliate links, meaning we may receive a small commission on any purchases that you make (at no cost to you); see our full disclosure.

You may also be interested in the following related content:

Baby bathtime checklist

Here are the basics of what you need for baby bathtime:

Infant bathtub or bath support
Baby shampoo and/or body wash
Washcloths and/or natural sponge
Regular/hooded towel or bathrobe
Lotion (optional)
Bath toys (optional)
Toy storage/organizer
Bath thermometer (optional)
Spout cover (for big tub)
Kneeling mat (for big tub, for parent; optional)

Buying advice

Bathtub. Check. Baby cleanser. Check. What more do you need? Beyond these bathtime basics, knowing exactly what to buy can be challenging. So before you take the product plunge, so to speak, don’t just consider the essentials. Keep in mind the products (e.g. organizer, rinser, etc) that will make your bath time routine easier.

Developmental stages

In general there are three basic stages to bathing your baby.

Birth to sitting up (approximately 0 to 6 months)

When baby is tiny and has poor head control and/or can't yet sit up, it’s typical to bathe her in a small infant tub or bucket in or on the sink, on a countertop, or on the floor. Some tubs come with an additional newborn seating position or a newborn sling helpful for supporting your baby in a reclining position for the first few months.

Baby (approximately 6 through 12 to 24 months)

Continue using an infant tub, but switch to the sitting up position if available.

Toddler (from 12 to 24 months and up)

Depending how comfortable baby is in the water, and on your bathroom layout, you'll probably choose to transition your child to the big tub around this age. If needed, you can ease the transition by using an interim solution such as a bath seat or support. (Note, however, that bath seats and rings pose a drowning hazard. Should you decide to use them, weigh the risks and familiarize yourself with the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s bath seat safety guidelines.)

Dealing with sensitive skin and eczema

Some tips for babies with sensitive skin and/eczema:

  • Buy products that are fragrance free and/or have been specifically developed to treat these conditions (see Best baby bathtime products for specific suggestions).
  • Use as few products as possible to avoid aggravating sensitive skin; in fact, for newborns, most pediatricians recommend just using water.

Buying baby-safe personal care products

If you wish to minimize the effects of harmful chemicals on your baby, you may want to consider avoid buying baby products containing some or all of the following ingredients:

  • Formaldehyde: This is a known human carcinogen. The following preservatives listed on ingredient labels may release formaldehyde: quaternium-15; DMDM hydantoin; imidazolidinyl urea; diazolidinyl urea; sodium hydroxymethylglycinate; and 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol (Bronopol). Up until January 2014, Johnson & Johnson's popular baby shampoo contained quaternium-15, but no longer does.
  • 1,4-dioxane: "Reasonably anticipated" to be a human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Look out for the following ingredients, which may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane: sodium myreth sulfate; PEG compounds (e.g. PEG-80); and those containing "xynol," "ceteareth" or "oleth."
  • Phthalates: Many consumers are familiar with phthalates used in plastics to make them flexible, but few are aware that they are also used in many synthetic fragrance oils. They have been linked to endocrine disruption, developmental issues, and other adverse effects. Avoid products with "Fragrance" (synthetic; pure essential oils are OK) listed on the ingredient label.
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) / Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES): These are foaming agents typically contained in most mainstream shampoos and body washes. They are known irritants (SLES slightly less so than SLS), and run the risk of being contaminated with 1,4-dioxane (see above).
  • Parabens: These are preservatives that have been found to have hormone-mimicking properties and cause reproductive issues in animals, and may potentially do the same in humans. Look for products labeled paraben-free, or screen ingredient lists for methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben.
  • Propylene glycol: This organic alcohol derived from glycerin is widely used in cosmetics and personal care products as a thickener, moisturizer (to improve the appearance of skin), and stabilizer. It has been classified as “Generally Recognized as Safe” by the FDA for use in food and cosmetics, but can cause irritation and sensitization (especially at higher concentrations) and bears an EWG rating of "3."

For more information, see EWG and safecosmetics.org. You can also use EWG as a resource to investigate the ingredients in individual brands/products.

Identifying safer bath toys

Some tips for selecting safer bath toys:

  • Look for toys labeled PVC/phthalate free and BPA-free. Be especially wary of any soft, flexible plastics, which are more likely to be made of PVC and include phthalates as a plasticizer.
  • Avoid squirty/squeaky bath toys, which (in addition to being more likely to be made of PVC) are difficult to dry out fully and thus are prone to growing mold.
  • Avoid toys with small and/or moving parts, which pose a choking hazard.

Safety in the bathtub

As delightful as bath time is, water always presents a major hazard. In fact, drowning is the top cause of unintentional death among young children.

To keep your baby safe, never leave her unattended around water (babies can drown in just one inch of water), aim for lukewarm bath water rather than hot, remove all electrical appliances from the vicinity of the tub, and drain the tub and turn it upside down immediately after the bath. And when your baby is ready to transition to the big tub, don’t forget to use non-slip bath mats.

Danger also lurks with bath products such as bath seats and rings. Though not must-haves, seats and rings are often used for babies who can sit up by themselves and have outgrown the infant tub. Experts warn that babies can tip over or slip through the leg holes or openings and become trapped underwater. Additionally, parents who believe these aids keep their babies secure may let down their guard and think they can step away for a moment. As a result, the CPSC issued new standards for bath seats on December 6, 2010. So beware old hand-me-downs and buy newer buy seats and rings manufactured after this date.

Baby Center offers a helpful list of bathtime safety tips and a list of features to look for when buying a bath seat.