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Gifts for Seniors and the Disabled: Clean Hair

Updated on December 15, 2010

I can survive almost anything so long as I have a clean scalp. I've been paralyzed for 35 years and in that time, I have spent many days confined to bed, both at home and in the hospital. One of the worst parts of being ill is not being able to wash your hair.

There's just something about clean, shiny hair that picks up your spirits. It makes you feel better about yourself and less self-conscious about visitors. Hospital gowns are never attractive but limp and dirty hair makes you feel even worse!

I've tried every dry shampoo out there. They may take out the dirt but your hair still feels dirty! Unfortunately, it's not always possible to get up and wash your hair. Even in the best of hospitals, that offer hairdressing or even a shampoo sink, one can be too sick or too unsteady to get there.

There is a solution! I've done this for many years. Admittedly, it does take some practice to avoid all spilling water everywhere but not much practice.

The products pictured here are not the only ones available. My experience is these are the best cross  between value and efficiency.

Assemble Your Supplies

You'll need several things, none are very expensive:

  • inflatable shampoo basin,
  • water source,
  • gentle shampoo,
  • lots of towels,
  • hairdryer,
  • a trashcan or bucket for catching water.

I am not endorsing any of the products you see here. I have used similar ones although I cannot say if they were the same brand.

Getting Ready

The inflatable shampoo basin is available at any home care store and, of course, at Amazon. I've tried several and prefer the one pictured here for about $30. It seems to stay inflated the longest and leaks the least amount of water.

Start by putting down a lot of towels under the patient's head. Inflate the shampoo basin but don't put it under until the last minute. It is soft but not tremendously comfortable.

Your water source can be this portable 2 gallon device or just several pitchers of water. WATCH YOU WATER TEMPERATURES! Folks with disabilities and the elderly can have very tender skin.

You'll need something to catch the water in while rinsing the hair. I've always used a plastic trashcan with the bag removed. They generally have a good capacity, don't leak, and are available wherever you are.

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Shampoo, Rinse, Repeat

With the towels covering the top half of the bed, place the inflated shampoo basin under the patient's head gently. You may need to tuck a few towels around the neck where it goes into the basin. Then slowly wash, rinse, and repeat. Let the water drain into the garbage can/bucket. The first few times you'll need to keep an eye on the water level so the bucket doesn't overflow.

Getting all the water out of the basin when you're finished can be a little tricky. Left up the basin and let it drain as much is possible then put towels in the basin to soak up any leftover water. Gently lift the basin out and away from the patient's head. Gently set their head down on the towel covered bed and dry the hair.

The first two or three attempts will be messy and wet. Count on it. After that, there should be very few problems. I have made my practice, when I could afford it, to donate the inflatable shampoo basin to whatever hospital I was in. Amazingly enough, very few facilities seem to keep these on hand.

I guarantee you that there are very few things that you can do for someone in the hospital or ill at home that will be more appreciated than helping to wash their hair. It is an intimate act that many people will not request because they are embarrassed. Please, ask them if they would like it done if you don't think they have the nerve to ask you.


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      MarthaFranco 7 years ago

      I completely agree that having clean hair is a mood lifter! And it's not something people usually think about, but it's true!

      Thanks for the info. about the inflatable shampoo basin! What a clever idea! I'm definitely going to file this away for future reference! Thanks!