A Urologist’s Guide to Washing and Caring for Your Penis

By Dr. Josh Health Tips on proper penis care

Maintaining good hygiene is essential for overall health.  This concept is nothing new.  In fact, hygienic practices have evolved over millennia.  As a society, for the most part, we seem to value good hygiene and clean bodies nowadays.  I guess you could say we’re in our Clean Era.  Just think about all the time, energy, and money dedicated to health, wellness, and beauty in modern life. Hygiene as a part of daily life is not unique to people.  We see these behaviors in animal species as well.  Images of chimps picking dirt, plants, dried skin, bugs, etc., from each other’s hair or house-trained cats licking themselves clean come to mind.  It’s almost like hygiene is pre-programmed.

Human hygiene goes back longer than you can imagine.  Neanderthals apparently used seashell tweezers to pluck hair.  And we’ve excavated combs belonging to ancient Egyptians as far back as 3200 BCE.  Some researchers believe that hygiene may serve an evolutionary purpose.  Hygiene, in these terms, can be thought of as a set of behaviors that humans use to avoid harmful agents.  And harm avoidance is an important step in passing on your genetic material to future generations. It makes sense now why the phrase, “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” has become so pervasive.  That sentiment should apply not only to your surroundings but also to your body.  As a urologist, I focus on penile health and get asked a lot by my patients about ways to best clean their private parts.  If you’re someone looking for tips on how to keep your kibbles and bits pristine, consider this your lucky day.  That’s right, our focus today is on everyone’s favorite private part: the penis. In the spectrum of sexual health, the proper care of intimate areas like the penis often goes overlooked.  However, maintaining optimal hygiene for this vital organ is crucial not only for personal comfort but also for preventing infections and promoting overall well-being.  In this extensive guide, we will delve deep into the subject of penile care and hygiene.  From understanding the anatomy of the penis to adopting the best practices for washing and care, this discussion aims to empower everyone with a penis with the knowledge they need to prioritize and maintain the health of this sensitive region.

Understanding of the penile anatomy

Understanding the Anatomy of the Penis

Before delving into the specifics of washing and care, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of the penile anatomy.  The penis is a complex organ consisting of erectile spongy tissue, lymphatics, vascular structures, nerves, and, of course, skin.  The visible portion of the penis (that which can be seen extending outside the body) is only about 50% of the total package.  That’s right, half your penis is internal, and the erectile bodies that get hard when you’re aroused actually extend deep inside the pelvis, where they attach to the pubic bone.  When considering ways to care for and keep clean your penis, taking this into account is important. Let’s focus for a minute on the portion you can see.  Every penis looks different.  Think of penises like snowflakes, no two are exactly the same.  But every penis has several distinct parts, including the glans penis, the penile shaft, the foreskin, and the frenulum.

Glans penis: your glans is also called the head or tip of your penis. The opening of your urethra is here. This is where pre-ejaculate (precum), semen, and urine come out. For many people, it’s the most sensitive part of the penis.

Penile shaft: within the penile shaft are three spongy bodies: the corpus spongiosum and two corpora cavernosa. The corpus spongiosum is the tissue that contains your urethra and is continuous with the glans.   The corpora cavernosa are the spongy bodies that become erect during arousal.

Foreskin: the foreskin (or prepuce) is a patch of skin that covers and protects the glans. When your penis gets hard, the foreskin pulls back, and the glans becomes exposed. In some, this skin is removed via circumcision either shortly after birth or later in life.

Frenulum: The frenulum is where your foreskin meets the underside of your penis. It looks like a small V just below the head. Usually, part of it remains after circumcision.  For many people, the frenulum is sensitive and easily stimulated during sexual activity.

When it comes to hygiene, a basic understanding of penile anatomy is important because each of these distinct areas requires special attention.

The Importance of Proper Hygiene

As we already discussed, optimal hygiene has been crucial to our success as a species, and it also promotes overall health and well-being.  To see how this plays out in the penis, let’s consider some of the various conditions that can affect the penis.

Priapism: persistent, painful erections that last for several hours. This condition, if left untreated, can lead to penile tissue necrosis and permanent erectile dysfunction.

Peyronie’s disease: a condition characterized by a buildup of plaque or fibrous scar tissue that affects the shape and function of the penis, often result in in a curve or other visible deformity.

Balanitis: inflammation or infection of the head of the penis.

Phimosis: a condition in which the foreskin becomes tight and incapable of retraction. This can lead to infections, recurrent skin lacerations, and pain with erection.

Cancer: while rare, penile cancer does happen. It typically affects the foreskin and nearby tissue and is most common after the age of 50.  Certain serotypes of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection may increase the risk of penile cancer.

These conditions should highlight why proper care and hygiene for your penis is so important.

several bacteria cause sexually transmitted infections

 Prevention of Infection

Balanitis is a common condition caused by infection or inflammation of the head of your penis.  But it’s not the only infection you should worry about when it comes to your penis.  Urinary tract infections, yeast Infections, and sexually transmitted infections are certainly something we should consider in our discussion of penis care and hygiene.  Some of these can be prevented through routine washing, while others require more attention to detail. If you’re someone with a foreskin, daily retraction and washing can be important in preventing a number of issues.  When the head stays covered by the foreskin, the glanular tissue can be more susceptible to inflammation and infection.  This may be partially due to the accumulation of smegma, a mixture of dead skin cells and natural body oils.  If smegma is not routinely removed, it can cause the head of the penis to become irritated and can, in some cases, cause the overlying tissue to become adherent and the foreskin to become tight (phimosis).

Yeast infections are much more common in people with vulvas but can occur in penises if the foreskin and glans are not properly managed.  Yeast infections involving the penis are one of the main causes of balanitis.  They can lead to redness, itching, and pain.  Because bacteria tend to thrive in warm, moist environments, improper hygiene can also sometimes lead to bacterial infections involving the penile skin.  These, too, can lead to redness and swelling and can become quite serious if left untreated. Speaking of bacteria, let’s not forget that several bacteria cause sexually transmitted infections (STI), which often involve the penis.  It is unclear how much daily hygienic practices really help prevent STI or whether people with foreskins are more at risk.  But what is clear is taking steps to prevent STI in the first place is important for the long-term health of your penis.  Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis are all bacteria that cause STI affecting the penis.  Unfortunately, they are all also on the rise.  So now more than ever STI prevention is crucial. Condoms are a quick easy way to help reduce your risk of STI.  And, of course, there’s STI testing.  If you’re someone who’s putting their penis to work and having sex with multiple partners, be proactive about your sexual health.  Getting tested regularly (I often suggest every three months for my patients who are sexually active with more than one partner) is important in diagnosing and treating (if necessary) STI.  But now there’s a lot more you can do to prevent bacterial STI and keep your penis clean and safe.  There is a growing interest in prophylactic measures using medication to prevent STI transmission.

Enter Doxy-PEP.  Doxy-PEP consists of taking 200 mg of the antibiotic doxycycline ideally within 24 hours, but no later than 72 hours, after condomless oral, anal, or vaginal sex.  In certain populations, it has been shown to reduce the risk of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis by 70+%.  At the moment, based on the limited data we have, Doxy-PEP is typically reserved for men who have sex with men and transgender women, especially those who have a history of bacterial STI in the prior year.  We are still learning about the potential benefits of this strategy, but data are promising, and Doxy-PEP may be a way to slow those rising STI numbers. Bacteria are also the most common cause of urinary tract infections (UTI).  No amount of cleanliness can necessarily prevent UTI, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it.  UTI are not common in people with penises because the elongated penile urethra is a good way of keeping bacteria out of our urinary tract.  However, certain factors like age and prostatic enlargement can predispose some to urinary tract infections.  One way to care for your penis and prevent UTI from happening is to see a urologist early.  If you’re someone who has a family history of prostate or urinary issues, seek help early before it becomes a personal issue.  Urologists have a variety of diagnostic tools and treatments that can optimize your urinary health and keep you UTI-free.

Before we move on from infections, it’s important to discuss viruses.  Several viruses can compromise the penis and affect our overall health.  We’ve already alluded to HPV’s role in penile cancer, but we must still discuss the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).  The penis is often one way HIV can infect our bodies, so caring for your penis should always take into consideration strategies to prevent HIV.  Condoms are a reliable method.  But if you’re someone having a lot of sex, you might want to consider pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).  PrEP involves using anti-retroviral medication to prevent HIV transmission.  It includes either a daily oral dose or injection with a long-acting (done every two months) anti-retroviral drug.  PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% when taken as prescribed.  I can’t think of a better way to care for your penis than taking steps to dramatically reduce your risk of HIV and other STI.

Prevention of Infection

The Down and Dirty

No one wants their down-below bits to smell bad.  Your penis probably stays covered for most of the day.  And as such, it’s prone to sweating, which contributes to odor.  But there are a few steps you can take to keep yourself smelling your best.  First, wash the area regularly.  Ideally, at least once daily.  If you sweat more than the average bear or exercise a lot, you might want to consider an extra hygiene session.  Here are some easy tips on how to keep your penis squeaky clean:

Use mild soap: opt for a mild, unscented soap to avoid irritation. Your penile skin is especially sensitive (this is why stimulation of this tissue can feel so good, but also why you have to be extra careful when cleaning the area). Harsh soaps with fragrances may disrupt the natural pH balance and lead to the overgrowth of bacteria or yeast.  Also, getting some of those harsher products in your urethra can hurt like hell.

Warm water: use warm water during the wash, as hot water can strip away natural oils, leading to dryness. And dry, flaky skin on your penis is not cute.

Gently retract the foreskin: If uncircumcised, gently retract your foreskin to expose the glans. Clean thoroughly but gently to avoid irritation.

Rinse thoroughly: ensure that all soap residue is rinsed off to prevent irritation and discomfort from prolonged exposure to your sensitive penile skin.

When it comes to penis cleaning, uncircumcised people should take extra care to keep their foreskin clean and dry.  After washing, they should ensure the genital area is completely dry. As aforementioned, moist environments can promote bacterial and fungal growth.  Lastly, they should also do their best to clean off any visible smegma for the reasons we discussed previously.

Choosing the Right Products

Not all penis-cleaning products are created equal.  When it comes to soaps and cleansing products, opt for fragrance-free, hypoallergenic options.  Cleansing oils (rather than soaps) can sometimes be helpful to maintain proper pH balance.  Beyond cleansing options, you can also consider a gentle moisturizer to keep your penis in tip-top shape.  Only consider moisturizers that are unscented and free of harsh chemicals.  You want whatever you use to moisturize and nourish, not irritate your sensitive penile skin.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

When it comes to penis hygiene, too much of a good thing can be bad.  Washing too frequently can strip away natural oils, leading to dryness and irritation.  So clean only when necessary.  Daily cleaning is probably good for most, but decide what makes the most sense for you and your penis.  There’s a fine line between keeping things tidy and obsessing over cleanliness.  Aggressive cleaning, especially when scrubbing or harsh exfoliants are involved, can damage the delicate skin on your penis.

Older skin becomes drier and more irritable

Age and Your Penis

You and your penis will have a long life together, and your relationship to one another may change.  Taking into consideration what stage in life you’re at is an important part of penis care.  Starting early during puberty and adolescence, individuals with a penis need to be taught how to care for their genitals properly.  This should involve education about foreskin retraction, sexual activity, pleasure, and STI prevention.  Unfortunately, this education may be limited depending on where you grow up.  In adolescence, hormonal changes can lead to increased sweating and oil production, which may require adjusting your hygienic practices.  Conversely, as we get older our skin becomes drier and more irritable.  If your penis is getting older, you may need to take more effort to maintain hydration and might consider a moisturizer.  Erectile dysfunction also increases with age.  Taking steps to optimize your erectile function as you get older is an important component of caring for your penis.  This can involve minimizing bad habits like smoking and consuming alcohol or taking proactive steps like getting good quality sleep, exercising regularly, and eating a well-balanced diet to keep your love pump pumping.

Seek Help

As with many aspects of our health, seeking professional advice about your penis can be incredibly valuable.  We don’t do a great job as a society of teaching people about their genitals or how to best care for them.  Why else do you think I’m writing this?  But as a sexual/genital health specialist, I can tell you that seeking out help early is one big step you should consider.  If you’ve experienced infection or discomfort down there, see somebody.  They may be able to give you tips (like the ones we’ve discussed) to prevent those issues from recurring.  There should never be shame or embarrassment around penis health.  After all, it’s just another body part.  So do your part.  Get regular checkups and exams, and do your best to have honest and open communication with healthcare providers to ensure your penis gets the best possible care.


Properly washing and caring for the penis is an integral part of maintaining overall health and well-being.  By adopting a regular hygiene routine, using appropriate products, and addressing specific issues and circumstances, individuals can prevent infections, control odor, and promote optimal penile health throughout their lives.  Remember, seeking professional advice when needed (or even before that) and maintaining open communication about genital health are key to a healthy and fulfilling sex life.