CHG Bathing to Prevent Healthcare-Associated Infections

What is CHG Bathing?

Chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG) is a cleaning product that kills germs. Daily baths with CHG reduce the spread of infections in hospitals. CHG baths are especially helpful in intensive care units (ICUs).

For several reasons, patients staying in the ICU have a high risk of getting a new infection. These patients are often very ill. They may have more than one medical condition. That makes them more prone to infection. ICU patients are also likely to need medical interventions, such as urinary catheters and ventilators. These measures can increase the risk of infection. Plus, many ICUs contain bacteria that have become resistant to many antibiotic medicines. These bacteria may not respond to standard antibiotics. They can cause infections that are very hard to treat.

These types of infections cause major symptoms in many ICU patients each year. They may even cause death. To help prevent them, hospitals practice many precautions. These precautions now include daily bathing with CHG for every person staying in the ICU.

During CHG bathing, a nurse cleans you with a washcloth. The washcloth has been infused with CHG. These baths often take place after a normal soap and water sponge bath. They take place each day, as long as you stay in the ICU. You might also need a CHG bath in other medical situations as well.

Why might I need CHG bathing?

Many experts now recommend daily CHG bathing for all people receiving care in the ICU. That is because the risk of infection is so high. Bathing with CHG seems to be more effective at preventing infections than bathing with simple soap and water.

Daily CHG bathing generally lowers your risk of getting an infection in the hospital. You are less likely to get sick from a germ that is very hard to treat. One example is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). CHG bathing can also help prevent other types of infections, such as:

  • Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE)
  • Infections from central venous catheters
  • Infections at surgical sites
  • Infections from ventilator use

Experts are less certain about the role of daily CHG baths on patients outside the ICU. Many people are at risk of getting a new infection while in the hospital. This risk is not as high as the risk for people staying in the ICU. If you are at high risk of infection, your healthcare provider might recommend daily CHG bathing for you, even if you are not in the ICU.

In some cases, you might perform CHG bathing yourself at home. For example, your healthcare provider might recommend using a CHG skin cleanser before you have surgery. It can reduce the chance of infection. In some centers, patients who screen positive for MRSA need to bathe with CHG before elective surgeries.

What are the risks for CHG bathing?

Very few people have problems with CHG bathing. Some possible side effects of the practice are:

  • Skin rash (usually mild)
  • Allergic reaction
  • Skin dryness

Your risks may differ, depending on your age, your medical conditions, and other factors. CHG baths might not be right for you if you have serious skin problems, irritation, or burns. Talk with your healthcare provider about all your concerns. CHG bathing is generally not used in infants less than 2 months old.

CHG bathing may pose another long-term risk to healthcare facilities. Over time, heavy use of CHG bathing in ICUs may promote the growth of bacteria that are resistant to the treatment.

How do I prepare for CHG bathing?

You shouldn’t need to do much to prepare for CHG bathing. Your nurse can gather all the necessary supplies. Ask any questions that you have about the process and the reasons for it.

What happens during CHG bathing?

The exact method of CHG bathing may differ somewhat from hospital to hospital. Your medical team can let you know exactly what to expect. As an example, you might expect the following:

  • Your nurse will help you remove your clothes and any medical attachments (like ECG leads) if this is possible.
  • Your nurse will perform the bath using freshly washed hands and new gloves.
  • If this is your first bath, the nurse might give you a sponge bath with soap and water to clean you thoroughly. When you are dry, the CHG bath will begin.
  • Often the nurse will use a special CHG-infused washcloth. Your nurse will use these washcloths to massage you all over your body, except your face. It should feel much like a normal sponge bath. (Your nurse will clean your face with soap and water instead.)

Many hospitals now avoid using a basin to perform these baths. Basins may become contaminated with germs.

What happens after CHG bathing?

Typically, you will air dry for a few minutes after having your bath. Your nurse will apply any necessary lotions. Someone will help you put your clothes back on. Any medical devices that have been removed will be reattached.

You will probably receive one of these baths per day. You can ask your nursing staff when you can normally expect this bath.

Let your healthcare provider know right away if the bath feels uncomfortable, or if you develop dry skin or a rash. You may need to use extra lotion after your CHG bath. In rare cases, some people have a true allergic reaction. If that happens, you may need to stop receiving CHG bathing.

CHG bathing is not a substitute for other ways of controlling infection in the hospital. It also cannot prevent infection all the time. But regular CHG baths may reduce the risk that you or a loved one will get a new infection. That may shorten your hospital stay and increase your chance of a good outcome.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure
  • The reason you are having the test or procedure
  • What results to expect and what they mean
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • What the possible side effects or complications are
  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure
  • Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
  • What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
  • When and how will you get the results
  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure

Back to Top

Search our Health Library:

Make an Appointment

Schedule your appointment with a specialist at University Hospitals.
1-866-UH4-CARE (1-866-844-2273)

More Scheduling Options

Browse Services A-Z

Maps and Directions

Click here for directions