There are different types of phobias, one of the most documented, although not very frequent, is ablutophobia .

Ablutophobia is the irrational fear a person has of bathing or washing. It can therefore have serious unhygienic consequences for the person suffering from this condition. In this article we will go deeper into this mental disorder and we will know what are its causes, its symptoms and its consequences.

What is ablutophobia

Ablutophobia is a phobic disorder commonly known as fear of bathing or washing . Phobias are anxiety disorders that cause great discomfort to the person who suffers them. In an attempt to reduce their negative symptoms, the person makes an effort to avoid the stimulus that causes it, and therefore something as everyday as showering or washing can trigger a severe and persistent fear in these individuals.

The negative consequences of this fear go beyond that, and can affect people’s lives, as it can cause bad smell, dirt and poor personal hygiene for the affected person. This undoubtedly has an effect on their social life, not only in terms of their friends or family, but also with regard to their employment and working life.

Research suggests that it is more common in women and children, although at younger ages many children have some fear of bathing. However, this fear is more likely to be due to an extreme aversion to bathing and, in fact, this problem is generally not considered a phobia unless it lasts for more than six months or continues into adolescence and adulthood.

Like any phobia, if left untreated, it can get worse and cause other physical illnesses due to poor hygiene . Rejection by other people can also occur.

Causes of this disorder

Irrational fears are often learned and occur after a traumatic event . For example, although many children are afraid of water, which usually disappears when they realize that nothing terrible happens in the bathtub, others may develop this phobia if the parents force them to take a bath, because they may associate the bathtub with the unhappiness and aggressiveness of the parents.

The mechanism by which this fear develops is what is known as classical conditioning, which is a type of associative learning in which the person associates a stimulus that was originally neutral with another that provokes a fear response. This association causes the fear response to occur simply with the presence of the previously neutral stimulus.

The following video illustrates how we learn to have irrational fears.

Phobias, therefore, usually develop in childhood; however, they can appear at any time in a person’s life.

Other possible causes

But the traumatic events experienced by the person are not the only way to develop phobic disorders. It can happen that people learn a phobia by observation, or rather by vicarious conditioning . For example, when they are children, when they observe an adult panicking at bath time.

Experts also say that people are predisposed to suffer from this kind of fear, since this emotion is adaptive and has been very useful for human survival. Therefore, phobias have to do with the primitive part of the brain, which is known as the emotional brain, and therefore do not usually respond well to logical arguments. In other words, phobias develop by associations that are not cognitive, but primitive.

Symptoms of fear of bathing

People with ablutophobia may experience a variety of symptoms when they are in situations where the phobic stimulus is present. They may feel some physical and physiological symptoms such as nausea, sweating, fear, tremors, headache or dizziness. Some experience panic attacks, which may include shortness of breath, high blood pressure and a rapid heart rate.

Psychological symptoms include anxiety and distress, irrational fear, thoughts of death, lack of concentration. Also, people with bathing phobia try to avoid this situation at all costs, in order to reduce the discomfort they feel.

Feelings of shame are frequent , as many cultures lack of cleanliness creates rejection or mockery.


Although some people suffer from this phobia, it is not a reason for shame. In most cases it involves a past event and a psychologist can help the patient deal with the problem.

Thus, people with ablutophobia can get help from a professional psychologist, and studies show that psychological therapy is very effective. Cognitive behavioural therapy, which uses different techniques, is generally employed . The most frequent and useful in these cases are relaxation techniques and exposure techniques.

In fact, the most widely used technique includes the two previous ones and is called systematic desensitization, which consists of gradually exposing the patient to the phobic stimulus, but first he must learn a series of resources that allow him to face the feared situations.

In severe cases, some patients benefit from anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications. But they should always be used in combination with psychotherapy.

Other possible treatments

Nowadays, other therapeutic methods that have proved to be effective are also often used, such as hypnosis, Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy, which you can learn more about in our articles.

You can learn more about them in our articles:

  • Hypnotherapy: What it is and what are its benefits
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: what is it?
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): principles and characteristics