It's usually better to have a shower after an operation because you can control the flow of water and avoid getting the wound wet if you have been told to keep it dry.
You may be told not to have a bath after some operations.
This is because your wound should not be soaked in water until it's healed. It could cause the skin to soften and reopen the wound.
Guidelines published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) say you can have a shower 48 hours after surgery.
Check with your surgeon or nurse whether you can shower or have a bath, as it may depend on the type of surgery you have had and how your wound has been closed.
You'll be given advice about caring for your wound before you're discharged from hospital.
Some dressings are waterproof and can withstand a small amount of water (for example, the spray from a shower).
But do not place the dressing completely underwater if you have been told to keep it dry.
You should follow the advice given to you by your doctor or nurse.
If you're not sure whether your dressing is waterproof, ask a doctor or nurse if you have to avoid getting it wet.
Depending on where your dressing is, you could cover the area to stop it getting wet in the bath or shower.
For example, a dressing on your hand could be covered by a large rubber glove or a plastic bag.
You can also buy waterproof covers for your arm or leg so you can shower without getting them wet.
Ask one of the healthcare professionals treating you or a pharmacist for advice.
Stitches (sutures) or clips
You can usually shower 48 hours after surgery.
You should not get your plaster cast wet. Water will weaken it and the bone will not be properly supported.
You can buy a waterproof cover to protect the cast so you can shower without getting it wet.
For more information, see How should I care for my plaster cast?.
After your stitches, clips and dressings have been removed
You should be able to wash normally after your stitches, dressings and clips have been removed.
It's usually better to have a shower until the wound has healed to avoid soaking it completely.
Afterwards, pat your wound and the area around it dry.
When to seek advice
If you're worried about your wound or are not sure how to care for it, contact the healthcare team at the hospital where you had the surgery, call NHS 111 or see a GP.
Page last reviewed: 17 April 2019
Next review due: 17 April 2022