Body Care on Shabbos
Question: Is it permitted to use baby wipes for cleaning a baby on
Shabbos or Yom Tov? 1
Discussion: When using baby wipes on Shabbos [or Yom Tov], we are
concerned with violating the Shabbos Labor of Sechitah, Squeezing.
2 If the wipe can be used without Squeezing then it may be used
on Shabbos. A baby wipe that is slightly moist and is gently dabbed onto the
diaper area would be an example of the permissible use of a baby wipe on
However, a baby wipe that is very moist — and there are numerous types of
wipes on the market ranging from very moist to hardly so — would be
prohibited from use on Shabbos, 3 and indeed, may even be
muktzeh, since the slightest pressure applied upon it would cause Sechitah.
4 Moreover, pressing any type of baby wipe — even one which is
only slightly or moderately moist — against the baby’s skin, and/or
scrubbing the diaper area with it may also be forbidden, as such pressure
would result in Sechitah.
In actual practice, cleaning a baby who is wet or lightly soiled can
generally be accomplished by gently dabbing a wipe on his skin. Indeed, one
does not want to “squeeze” out any more moisture than necessary so as to
eliminate the need to dry off the diaper area before putting on the diaper.
When cleaning a baby who is more heavily soiled, however, one normally has
to apply pressure to the wipe in order to clean the baby off. This becomes a
case of Squeezing and may be forbidden on Shabbos and Yom Tov.
Question: On Shabbos or Yom Tov, is it permitted to use a cotton swab
(Q-tip) to dab hydrogen peroxide, etc., on a cut or an abrasion?
Discussion: Based on the previous Discussion, there is no reason to
prohibit using cotton swabs on Shabbos. Although it is forbidden to soak a
cotton ball (or a piece of cotton batting) and then squeeze the liquid out
of it, 5 this does not apply to using a swab. The small piece
of pressed cotton at the swab’s end is not meant to absorb, nor is the
liquid “squeezed” out of it. When used normally, the tip merely transfers
the liquid to the cut without any squeezing taking place. It is permitted to
be used. 6 Obviously, though, in the atypical case where the
swab is used in a manner which would result in squeezing, it would be
forbidden to use it on Shabbos.
Question: On Shabbos or Yom Tov, is it permitted to flush a toilet
which contains a disinfectant tablet that colors the water?
Discussion: There are a number of different types of toilet
disinfectants and deodorizers on the market which color the water blue when
the toilet is flushed. L’chatchilah, none of them may be used on Shabbos or
Yom Tov, as flushing a toilet and thereby coloring the water in the toilet
bowl may be prohibited min ha-Torah as a violation of the Shabbos Labor of
Coloring. The blue color gives the water in the bowl a more “hygienic” look,
so the coloring of the water is beneficial and hence forbidden on Shabbos.
7 It is important, therefore, that the disinfectant unit be
removed from the tank or bowl before the onset of Shabbos or Yom Tov.
Question: What should one do if he forgot to remove the disinfectant
tablet or if he is a guest in a home where such a device is in the toilet?
Discussion: It depends on the type of tablet that has been inserted
in the toilet:
If the disinfectant unit is inserted near the top of the rim of the tank,
then he may flush the toilet. This is permitted because the direct act of
flushing will not color the water since the water will not turn blue until
it has risen to the top of the tank; the Coloring is merely an indirect
result of the flushing, a gerama, which is permitted under these
However, if the disinfectant unit is in the bottom of the tank or is
suspended from the rim of the bowl, then the toilet may not be flushed.
Flushing such a toilet will directly color the new water coming in and
gerama will not apply. One should make every effort to remove the
disinfectant tablet from inside the tank or the bowl, preferably through
“indirect movement.” If this is impossible or impractical, and one will be
embarrassed to leave the toilet unflushed (kevod ha-beriyos), he may rely on
the view of some poskim who argue9 that flushing such a toilet
is not a violation of Coloring, 10 and he should flush the
toilet in an unusual way, e.g., by using his elbow or foot.
Question: Is it permitted to brush one’s teeth on Shabbos, with or
Discussion: The consensus of contemporary poskim is that it is
forbidden to use toothpaste on Shabbos. 11 Their main concern
is that applying toothpaste to the teeth or the brush could result in a
transgression of the prohibited Shabbos Labor of Memareiach, smoothing.
Liquid toothpaste, however, is permitted.
Brushing without toothpaste is permitted, 12 provided that the
following conditions are met:
• Use a toothbrush that is designated for Shabbos use only. 13
Some poskim require that the Shabbos toothbrush also look different from the
weekday one, e.g., be of a different color or style. 14
• Use a soft brush so as not to irritate the gums and cause bleeding.
[People with extremely sensitive gums who bleed whenever they brush their
teeth may not use a toothbrush at all.]
• To avoid the prohibition of Sechitah, squeezing, a dry toothbrush should
be used. It is, however, permitted to rinse the mouth with cold water first
and then use the toothbrush. 15
• The toothbrush should not be rinsed off after it is used unless it is
going to be used again on that same Shabbos. 16
1. Numerous poskim have grappled with this issue and have rendered
various, somewhat contradictory responses to this question. Some poskim,
following a more stringent line, have forbidden using baby wipes altogether
on Shabbos (see Minchas Yitzchak 10:25), while others tended to be more
lenient. For a comprehensive review of the halachic debate, see Shulchan
Shelomo 320:22; Children in Halachah, pgs. 205-207; Orchos Shabbos, pgs.
573-576; Ohr ha-Shabbos, vol. 8, pgs. 40-64 and vol. 18, pgs. 20-23.
2. The poskim debate whether or not “squeezing” wipes is a Biblical
or a Rabbinic prohibition; see Igros Moshe, O.C. 2:70 and Children in
Halachah, pgs. 207-208.
3. It would be permitted, however, to prepare this type of wipes
before Shabbos by squeezing out most of the moisture from them.
4. See O.C. 320:16-17.
5. Shemiras Shabbos k’Hilchasah 32:59.
6. Based on a ruling of Harav A. Weiss, published in Ohr ha-Shabbos,
vol. 18, pgs. 22-23, disputing the ruling of Orchos Shabbos 13:45 who does
not permit using cotton swabs on Shabbos.
7. Shulchan Shelomo 320:31-3. See Peninei ha-Maor, vol. 1, pg. 523.
8. For two reasons: 1. Because of kevod ha-beriyos; 2. Because at
this point, the person flushing the toilet certainly has no intention of
Coloring the water. While it is still inevitable that it will happen (pesik
reisha), when gerama is combined with pesik reisha it is permitted according
to many poskim; see Eglei Tal, Zorea 21; Har Tzvi, O.C. 188; Halachos of
Shabbos, Zorea, pg. 59, quoting Harav M. Feinstein.
9. 1. The main purpose of the tablet is to disinfect the toilet; the
color of the water is merely incidental and unintentional; 2. Coloring water
is permitted, as Coloring does not apply to foods or beverages.
10. See Tzitz Eliezer 14:47; Be’er Moshe 2:28; Az Nidberu 12:13.
11. Igros Moshe, O.C. 1:112; Seridei Eish 2:28; Minchas Yitzchak
3:48; Tzitz Eliezer 7:30; Shevet ha-Levi 5:45. [While a minority opinion
permits using toothpaste—see Ketzos ha-Shulchan (Badei ha-Shulchan 138:31),
Gevuros Eliyahu 91,Yabia Omer 4:27-30 and Nefesh ha-Rav, pg. 168—it is
almost universally accepted not to do so.]
12. See Minchas Shelomo 2:35:3.
13. Based on Mishnah Berurah 327:10.
14. Minchas Yitzchak 3:48; 3:50.
15. Igros Moshe, O.C. 1:112; Shevet ha-Levi 5:45.
16. Igros Moshe, O.C. 1:112.
Weekly-Halacha, Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Torah.org.
Rabbi Neustadt is the Yoshev Rosh of the Vaad Harabbonim of Detroit and the Av Beis Din of the Beis Din Tzedek of Detroit. He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org