It’s hard to imagine that any caregiver enjoys the job of cleaning up bedside commodes, or the odors associated with this, but it doesn’t need to be a nightmare. And don’t forget that it isn’t great for the person using the commode, either. So, the more you can do to make it pleasant for everyone will go a long way.
If you are not using disposable liners, put 2-3 inches of water in the bedside commode pail before use, as it will help with both cleaning and odor control. Put the pail back under the seat, and it is ready for use.
Contents Overview & Quicklinks
What is a bedside commode ?
A bedside commode is a toilet, which does not use running water, and can be placed for use anywhere in the home.
Bedside commodes are basically chairs with a lifting seat, and a bucket, or pail, placed underneath, which can be removed for emptying and cleaning after use.
There are many types of bedside commode –
- lightweight folding bedside commodes
- stacking bedside commodes
- shower bedside commodes (dual purpose)
- 3-in-1 commodes (multifunctional)
- drop arm commodes
- transfer commodes
- transport commodes (multifunctional with wheels)
- shower transport commodes (multifunctional with wheels)
- bariatric commodes (these are made in all types, and are for larger individuals)
For those looking for a post which covers all aspects of the different types of bedside commodes –
- the types
- set up who needs one
- using over a toilet
- liners emptying
- odor control
- where to buy
- top brands
- bedside commodes for larger people
- using over the toilet
- and more
What is a bedside commode used for ?
Bedside commodes are portable toilets, typically used by individuals who are bedridden, or who have problems with their mobility, making it too difficult for them to get to the bathroom, and for whom it is more logical to have a portable toilet placed as near to their location as possible.
If you wish to know more about the different types of bedside commodes and what situation each one is for, I have an article about just that, and many tips for using bedside commodes – “What Is A Bedside Commode Used For “.
How to transfer from a bed to a bedside commode ?
If you, or your loved one, are bedridden and can’t stand
You will need a transfer commode, which allows them to slide over from the bed onto the commode.
This is easiest with a variable height bed –
- the transfer commode is placed up against the side of the bed
- you move on to the edge of the bed
- raise the bed so that it is slightly higher than the commode, so that gravity will help you slide over onto the commode
- slide over onto the commode seat
- once you are finished and cleaned, lower the bed, so it is slightly lower than the transfer commode, again using gravity to help you move on to the bed
- slide back over on to the bed
If you are able to stand
It is best if you have a walker that you or your loved one can hold onto while they back up to the commode.
To sit down on a bedside commode –
- use a walker to back up to the bedside commode
- keep holding onto the walker while backing up to keep balance
- back up until the commode frame touches against the back of your legs
- if you are assisting the person, you may need to help them remove any items of clothing
- never tilt the walker towards you when sitting down
- reach back with one hand to find the armrest on that side
- reach for the armrest on the other side
- holding the armrests, sit back on the bedside commode seat
- try not to sit down too quickly, or jolt the commode, as it may cause tipping
- when seated, your feet should touch the ground
To stand up from a bedside commode –
- make sure that a walker is in front of the commode to hold onto when standing
- place both hands on the armrests and push up to stand
- reach forward with one hand and take a hold of the walker with one hand and then the other
How to assist a person on a bedside commode
Once the person is seated on the commode, leave them to have a little privacy if they are safe to be on their own, but stay within earshot so that you can help them clean themselves, or give them a pager button or a bell to ring.
Helping a person if they can’t clean themselves –
- your loved one may not be able to clean themselves
- have all provisions you need to hand – you don’t want to have to go and get something and leave your loved one standing there
- you will need toilet paper, wet wipes and gloves
- start by putting on the gloves
- help them to stand and have them hold the walker
- clean them with toilet paper or wet wipes
- if your loved one is a woman, clean from front to back to prevent UTI’s
- after you have helped them clean themselves, assist them back to bed
- remove all the toilet paper and wet wipes – put all the rubbish in the outside trash
- finally, remove your gloves and throw those away
- wash your hands thoroughly with soap every time after helping your loved one, as it will also help them stay clean
While you are looking for bedside commodes, there is lots more that you can do to make your bathroom a safer place for seniors, or anyone else with mobility issues.
To find out all the different things you can do, to have an instant impact on bathroom safety, take a look here, “54 Bathroom Safety Tips For Seniors – A Helpful Guide”.
How to empty a bedside commode ?
You should empty and clean the commode pail after each use, as it is unhealthy to leave urine and feces sitting in the pail, as bacteria can become airborne – not to mention the odors which will be absorbed into the surfaces in the room.
If you are not using disposable liners –
- put on disposable gloves and some type of apron
- lift the seat of the bedside commode and remove the pail, or if you have a model with a carriage, slide the pail out from under the seat
- place the lid on the pail – this avoids spreading odors all the way to the bathroom
- do not carry the pail just by the handle, I have several handles come off the pail while carrying it, luckily never while it was full, but do use both hands to carry the pail to avoid this happening – place one under the bottom of the pail
- empty the contents of the pail into your toilet – and do this slowly – the water you put in the pail before use will help the contents empty more easily
- rinse the pail with water into the toilet
- soak and then wash the pail with a cleaning product to remove anything which is stuck to it
- rinse the pail
- disinfect the pail with a disinfectant to kill any bacteria
- rinse the pail
- put a few inches of water into the bottom of the pail, so it is ready for the next use
- put the pail back into it’s holder on the bedside commode
How to clean a bedside commode ?
Just as with emptying a bedside commode pail, you want to make sure that you are wearing disposable gloves and some form of apron to protect your clothing.
To clean a seat and frame
- you clean first and then you disinfect
- remove the armrests, the seat, the seat lid and the splash guard, and clean one by one with a non-abrasive household cleaner and wipe them off afterwards
- following that, you need to disinfect them with a household disinfectant
- pay particular attention to the armrests and seat, as this is where your loved one’s skin has the most contact
- the underside of the seat, and all the surrounding parts, need to be thoroughly cleaned, and disinfected, as they will be exposed to the most urine and feces
- after the disinfectant, you should rinse thoroughly and then wipe everything dry
- do the same for the frame
- check that the plastic of the seat is not cracking anywhere
If you want more information on cleaning a bedside commode, I have an article with more information, where all the steps are outlined in detail, and the supplies and products you will need are also listed – “The Best Way To Clean A Bedside Commode”.
Bedside commode odor control
If you are not using disposable commode liners, and the commode is in a bedroom next to your loved one’s bed, or near to it, there will be a number of things that you can do to reduce the odors of urine and feces.
Aside from the odors being unpleasant, it’s also not healthy for your loved one to be exposed to the odors of urine and feces over an extended period of time.
It is best to fill about one third the volume of your commode bucket with water to trap odors, but what you can do doesn’t just stop there.
Other things you need to look at –
- what are you wearing when cleaning ?
- how often are you emptying the bucket of the commode ?
- how are you cleaning the bucket ?
- how are you cleaning the frame, seat and armrests of the commodes ?
- do you have a spare commode bucket ?
- are you using a plastic, ceramic or enameled metal bucket ?
- are you cleaning the floor and general area around the commode ?
- what are you using to clean up spills ?
- is the floor covered under the commode in case of splashes and spillage?
- are you washing the bed clothes – sheets and blankets – regularly ?
- how are you washing clothes which get urine on them ?
- are you washing, or spraying, the curtains occasionally ?
- are you using some kind of air filter to clean the air ?
What protective gear are you using ?
Caregivers should always be wearing gloves when they are cleaning to protect themselves from the chemicals in the cleaning products, and overalls to protect their clothes from particles of feces and urine.
Frequency of cleaning ?
Are you emptying the commode bucket every time it is used ? Because you should be. This will get rid of odors, and it is not healthy to have all the airborne bacteria in the room that your loved one lives in.
It is important to empty the bucket after each use, to clean it and then disinfect it. You can clean with any toilet cleaner and disinfect with a household disinfectant.
Although this may sound stupid, do put the lid tightly on the bucket to stop the odors getting out on the way to the bathroom, because they will.
And be wary of only holding the handle – I have done this and had the bucket hit the floor, luckily it was empty, but it’s just to say the bucket handles are not a lot of good on some models.
Popular Cleaning products
A lot of people use Lysol, bleach, Odo-Ban (cleans and disinfects), Pinesol, Anti Icky Poo Enzymatic cleaner, Nature’s Miracle Enzyme Spray and White Vinegar.
Don’t forget the frame
The frame and seat of the commode also need daily cleaning – you can just wipe down to remove any spillages that are on there, but make sure that you clean the seat and armrests thoroughly, as they have contact with your loved one’s skin.
If you use bleach to disinfect these areas after cleaning them, make sure you rinse properly, as it isn’t good for the skin.
Have a back-up bucket, or pale
If you have a spare commode bucket, you can leave the used bucket to soak for a number of hours in disinfectant – plastic will absorb odors, and it helps to leave it soaking.
Alternatively you can use a bucket which is enameled, ceramic or metal commode bucket which will not absorb odors.
Cleaning the surrounding areas
As well as cleaning the commode, you will need to clean and disinfecting all the surrounding areas – a lot of people like to use Pine-Sol, Lysol, Dettol or white vinegar (these are all disinfectants). Cleaning these areas will remove a lot of the odors, and get rid of bacteria which can cause infections.
How to deal with spillages ?
To clean up spillages you can again use the same cleaners and disinfectants, but if it isn’t working for you, the enzymatic cleaners (such as Nature’s miracle), which also come in sprays can be very good for getting the smells out of carpets etc. – they are designed for cats and dogs, or for cleaning up decomposed matter in the case of Anti Icky Poo.
To avoid spillages
One way to help avoid spillages contaminating the area around the commode, is to tape down waterproof covers on the floor (you can use the disposable mattress covers) and when there is a spillage just throw them out. Don’t forget that any wooden floors, or furniture, will absorb odors and liquids if they haven’t been sealed with a non-porous sealant.
Different materials absorb odors
All the bed covers will absorb odors unless they are regularly washed, so you need to wash all of these as often as possible. White vinegar is a very popular addition to the laundry to help remove odors.
Washing out urine
Bed linen and clothes which are soiled, or have urine in, will need to be laundered immediately, and again a lot of people add white vinegar to help remove the smell.
Using disinfectant spray to kill odors
The mattress can also be aired or sprayed with freshener regularly. Some people spray the mattress with Lysol disinfectant spray or Dettol disinfectant spray.
Lysol or Dettol spray can also be used on any curtains, as they will also absorb odors that they are exposed to. If you are spraying with Lysol, you want to do it in an empty room, and to keep the room empty for at least 45 minutes, so the spray is no longer in the air. These sprays don’t need wiping down afterwards.
Try air filters to help remove the odors
Another way to control the odors in the room is by using HEPA Air filters or using an ionizer.
Remember, if you are using an ionizer, the room is not meant to have people in it during use.
Dealing with odors while you are cleaning a bedside commode
- are you wearing a mask ?
- what else can you use to make the smell of the bucket contents more bearable ?
Lots of caregivers wear a mask to help to cut out some odors.
There are of course different types of mask, from simple dust masks to masks you can wear to stop inhaling paint fumes and solvents.
Which mask you choose really depends on how badly you are dealing with odors when cleaning the commode bucket.
Many people also combine a mask with either some liniment on their upper lip, or an essential oil rubbed on the mask before they wear it, and which they can breathe in while they clean the commode bucket.
I have also heard of people using vanilla extract.
Examples of liniments for the lip –
- mentholatum – used by funeral homes
- horse liniment
Examples of essential oils you can rub on a mask –
Others control the problem by sucking very strong mints, or menthol sweets, and by pushing them right up into their palettes with their tongues, and breathing through their nose.
Surgeons sometimes rub oil of clove onto masks before they operate if they suspect the procedure may release particularly difficult odors.
Commode Bucket Prep
- are you putting anything in the bucket before it’s used to kill the odors of urine and feces ?
- can you add anything to water in the bucket ?
To keep the odor of the urine or feces under control, you can fill the commode bucket with two or three inches of water, but the odor will still be able to get out of the commode.
There are products like Poo Pourri which you can spray on the water in the bucket, and which maintains a film over the surface of the water which inhibits the release of the odor to a certain degree. Poo Pourri is also scented to help cover up the smells.
Essential oils can also be added to the water to help cover the smell, and they will also leave a film which can inhibit the escape of the unwanted odors from the bucket –
- lavender essential oil
- peppermint essential oil
Some carers I have read about use Listerine mouthwash – a cap full.
You can also use oils which have a natural disinfecting quality, and some caregivers add those to the water – such as oregano oil or melaleuca oil.
A mistake that a lot of people make is to add bleach, or other chemical cleaners, to the water they put in the commode. You shouldn’t do this, as bleach and urine combine to make chlorine gas, which is bad for the lungs.
A second reason not to do this is that the bleach can splash up on your loved one’s genitals and cause nasty skin conditions.
Other room odor treatments
- are you removing all wipes and paper towels you have used to clean your loved one, the commode and the room immediately ?
- are you using diapers for your loved one, where are they going ?
- if you are using a trash can in the room, are you treating that for odor control ?
You don’t want to leave any wipes, or tissues, that you may have used when helping your loved one to clean themselves after using the commode, in the trash in the bedroom.
You need to get all of that into a trash bag and into the outside garbage straight away.
Furthermore, you can always flush any toilet paper, or tissues, down the toilet, but wipes should go into the trash as most of them don’t break down well.
The same applies for any paper towels, wipes and tissues which are used to wipe up surfaces in the room, as they will carry the odors of the commode and also of the cleaning products – get it all out in the trash straight away.
If your loved one is wearing diapers, you need to put them in a bag immediately when removed, and straight into your trash outside.
If you put any of the supplies for cleaning in the room trash can, you need to clean and disinfect it very regularly.
You can do this with any of the products that I have listed below, which come recommended not just by me, but by numerous caregivers across different caregiver forums.
You can also put baking soda int the bottom of trash cans to absorb some odors.
Most commonly used cleaning products for bedside commodes spillages and their odors
- Lysol Spray
- White Vinegar
- Baking Soda
- Enzymatic cleaners for pet urine and feces
- Odo Ban – it cleans, disinfects and helps control fungus and mildew if used regularly
- Anti Icky Poo Enzymatic clean
- Nature’s Miracle enzyme spray
How to use disposable commode liners ?
If you can afford it, you can get disposable commode liners to cut down on the odors, prevent spillages and remove the necessity of cleaning the bucket.
To use one, you simply place the liner over the bucket. Place the absorbency pad at the bottom of the bag in the bucket, it will turn urine and feces into an odorless solid in very little time.
It’s safer for disposal, the commode doesn’t need much cleaning, and infection risks go down greatly as no urine or feces can escape the bag.
How to dispose of commode liners ?
You simply pull the ties at the top of the liner, make a knot with the top of the bag and throw it away in the outside trash destined for landfill.
Disposable liners have been made to be biodegradable and are allowed in landfill.
Whatever you do, never commode liners or down the toilet.
I have an article all about disposable commode liners, the different types, how to dispose of them, the top brands, buying in bulk and DIY commode liners, which you can read here – “How to dispose of commode liners ?”
Homemade commode liners
You can make homemade commode liners with a couple of plastic bags and some kitty litter.
I must admit that I have never tried this method as I just bought the disposable liners, but they are rather expensive and should only be used for once.
The method suggested is to place the bags over and into the bucket, and then put in a good amount of kitty litter. After your loved one has been to the toilet, you then cover again with kitty litter and let it all get absorbed. Once you have done that, tie the bags and put them into the outside trash.
You will have to experiment with the amount of litter that you need.
How to set up a bedside commode over a toilet ?
If you can get your loved one to the bathroom, you can always use the commode without the bucket over your toilet.
This will avoid all the cleaning of the bucket, and the odors will all be contained in the bathroom.
With a transport commode which has wheels, if you have the time, you can remove the bucket, wheel it into position over your toilet, and then lock the wheels, all with your loved one on the commode.
To set the commode up over a toilet –
- remove the bucket from under the seat of the commode
- you may need to remove the backrest from your commode depending on how deep your toilet is – just push the buttons on the two ends of the back rest bar and slide the bar out – on a transport commode you may not be able to do this
- put the toilet seat and lid in the upright position
- place the commode next to the toilet and check if you need to adjust the height of the legs to place it over the toilet
- to adjust the length of the commode legs, you just push in the metal buttons in and adjust by pulling or pushing on the legs
- always keep the legs all the same length
- the legs should not be so high that the user’s feet are not on the floor when they sit on the commode
- place the commode over the toilet
- if you are using a splash guard, then lift the seat and lid on the commode and place the guard in position
- if you have a commode with wheels, don’t forget to lock them
Bedside commode maintenance
Don’t to forget to check the commode when you are cleaning –
- that the joints aren’t rusting on the frame
- that there are no cracks in the plastic seating, or the different plastic joints to avoid accidents
- that the rubber tips on the legs are working and not splitting – they are called “ferrules” and can be bought easily online
- make sure that the metal buttons/ pegs, if spring-loaded, are securely engaged and are sticking out properly – that they can’t move and cause the leg to change height
- after you have cleaned, make sure all the bits that fasten are properly in place
How to keep a commode from tipping over ?
The best way to stop a commode from tipping is to help the user to sit down on it.
If you can’t be there to help them, placing the commode in a corner, or at least against the wall, will mean it can’t go backwards.
All obstacles around the commode should be removed to avoid any tripping, which may lead to falling back onto the commode.
Pay attention to the clothing which your loved one is wearing as well – pants, as in trousers, or pajama bottoms are much easier to use on a commode than night shirts or dresses which can end up in the bowl.
It’s also a very good idea to make sure that if your loved one is using the commode on their own, that they know how to sit back properly, and that they can see the armrests clearly. Make sure that the lighting is strong enough for them.
You should teach your loved one to –
- back up to the commode slowly
- stop when they feel the commode against the back of their leg
- lower their clothing
- reach back for the armrests
- once they have the armrest in their grip, they can sit back
If the seat is too low you can adjust the height of the commode for them, and this should make things much easier, as they won’t have to bend so far.
If your loved one is unable to do this on their own without risking injury to themselves, then you, or a caregiver, will need to give them assistance.
I’m Gareth, the author and owner of Looking After Mom and Dad.com
I have been a caregiver for over 10 yrs and share all my tips here.