Using A Bedside Commode: An Illustrated Guide


As my mom’s caregiver, I have an abundance of different gadgets and pieces of equipment that I have bought to make her life easier, and of all of these the bedside commode has possibly been the most helpful. We got ours after my mom had a hip replacement, and I had to quickly work out how the thing worked, and how to help my mom transfer from her bed or a chair to the bedside commode – it is very important to know how to transfer onto a commode if you are using it after surgery, as well as how it works, and how it is cleaned.


 To use a bedside commode  –


  • lift the seat and insert the commode pale
  • use a commode liner if you do not want to wash the pail after use
  • put the seat back don in position
  • the person using the commode can then transfer to the commode – with assistance if needed
  • after use, the person should be cleaned and helped off the commode
  • the commode pale should be emptied immediately
  • if you used a liner, throw it in the landfill trash
  • if you are not using liners, the pale should be emptied into the toilet, cleaned and disinfected
  • once the pale has been cleaned, re-place it in its holder under the commode seat

What is a bedside commode used for ?


Bedside commodes are chairs which function as a toilet without running water, with a bucket or pale which is placed under the seat, allowing them to be used as a toilet.

Bedside commodes are typically used as toilet in cases where a person has problems being able to access their toilet – this can be because they are bedridden, are a wheelchair user, or have mobility issues which means using a bedside commode is easier for them.

If you want to know how to use a bedside commode, you need to know that there are a number of different types.

These commodes may be light, made from aluminum and highly portable, or heavy, made from wood and not so portable.

They may be static, or may come with wheels in a variety of sizes, and with a range of other functions, but they are all used in basically the same way, with one exception, the drop arm commode.


All of these commode chairs can come in –


  • lightweight or heavy weight (bariatric) models
  • elongated seats
  • open or closed front seats
  • folding or not folding models
  • padded or hard plastic models
  • extra wide or normal
  • tall or extra tall


Benefits of bedside commodes


For a person with reduced mobility, a bedside commode can be of great benefit.

My elderly mom has been using a bedside commode for a number of years, and to say she is happy with it is an understatement.

The bedside commode gives us both peace of mind at night, knowing that Mom has an easy and safe way of using the toilet, which makes it easier for her to sit and stand at the toilet.


The Benefits of bedside commodes are –


  • safety
  • creates greater independence, freedom and control
  • can lead to increased privacy and sense of dignity
  • easy and quick access
  • wheelchair users may find it easier than a toilet
  • comfortable option for bedridden individuals
  • can increase user confidence
  • height adjustable
  • models in all sizes
  • low-cost option
  • no need for home renovation
  • can be placed anywhere in the home
  • extremely portable
  • models with wheels
  • some models have multiple uses
  • can be used over an existing toilet
  • a safe option after hip or knee replacement surgery
  • less stress for caregivers than a conventional toilet
  • more sleep for caregivers


If you want to learn more about why a bedside commode can be of great benefit, and especially to elderly loved ones, I have an article on the many different ways in which it can really help – “19 Benefits Of Bedside Commodes: Making Life Easier For Seniors”

Types of bedside commode


Here are the main types of bedside commode –


Static folding bedside commode

Static shower bedside commode

Static stacking bedside commode

3 in 1 bedside commode

Bariatric bedside commode

If you want to know more about static or portable bedside commodes, I have a lengthy article with illustrations which explains the different types and how to make the right choice for your home situation, which you can find here – “Bedside Commodes: How To Make The Right Choice ?”.


Attendant transport bedside commode

Self-propelling transport commode

Attendant shower transport bedside commode with four small wheels

Attendant shower transport bedside commode with medium sized rear wheels

Self-propelling shower transport bedside commode


Transfer bench commodes


Transfer bench bedside commode


If you want to know about the different types of commodes with wheels which can be used to transport someone around the home, or those for showering, you can read my article “What Are The Types Of Commode Chair With Wheels ? How to Make The Right Choice ?” which explains the different types and how to choose the right one for you.


Drop arm bedside commodes


Static drop arm bedside commode

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 use a bedside commode ? Tips for using a commode


To use the bedside commode, you need to  –


  • know where to place it for your loved ones use
  • put all the supplies nearby to help your loved one clean themselves after using the commode
  • set it up correctly and how to stop the commode from tipping
  • know how to prepare the commode if you are using plastic liners
  • know how to prepare the bucket if you are not using liners
  • know how to help your loved one transfer to the commode – can they stand or are they bedridden or in a wheelchair
  • know if you are using bedside commode liners, how do you use them and what are the various options
  • know if you are not using the liners, how to clean out the bucket
  • know how to clean the frame and seat
  • know how to set up the area around the commode
  • have bedside commode odor control
  • know how to use a bedside commode over a toilet


So, lets got through these points one by one.


Where to position a bedside commode ?


If the bedside commode is being used at someone’s bedside, you want to be careful that it doesn’t present a hazard at night if they have a tendency to get out of bed.


So you need to –


  • have a night light of some kind, or a light with a remote sensor which comes on when it senses movement so that your loved one doesn’t forget the commode is there and trip
  • or if this won’t work move the commode a ways from the bed – which, if your loved one is mobile enough to walk over to the commode, will solve the problem
  • do also take care to remove any hazards around the commode wherever you eventually install it, as at night I know my mom can be very dopey and not really awake enough to notice a lot of hazards
  • if you need to know when your loved one is getting out of bed, you will want to look at bed sensors and alarms which notify you when a person is exiting their bed


I have another article which goes to great length to explain the different –

  • bed sensor pads with exit alarms or wireless monitors
  • chair sensor pads with exit alarms or wireless monitors
  • floor pressure sensor mats with exit alarms or wireless monitors
  • motion sensors with bed exit alarms or wireless monitors
  • motion sensors with pagers
  • baby monitors

All of the above can be used to alert you, if a loved one is getting out of bed.

The article is “Types Of Bed Alarms: What You Should Know Before You Buy”

Don’t forget that the area around the commode will want some kind of prepping if you are going to be having a commode there long-term.

You will want to put down some kind of water-proofing on the floor – some kind of mat – because no matter how tidy you are, there will inevitably be some kind of spillage at some point.

What supplies are needed next to the commode for after use ?


Depending on how independent your loved one is, you may need –


  • toilet paper
  • wet wipes
  • some kind of wash cloth
  • a dry towel
  • a change of underwear
  • a change of incontinence underwear if they use them
  • trash bag to throw out immediately after use
  • a fresh commode liner if you are using them
  • some kind of container with warm water
  • soap


If you are assisting your loved one with cleaning you will also need  – some type of latex or rubber gloves.


You will probably also want to protect your floor with some form of mat. I have an article “Floor Protection For Bedside Commodes”.

How to stop a commode from tipping


Firstly, if you are using a commode with wheels, either a transport commode or shower transport commode, you must always lock the wheels in position before using it as a commode.

If you are having problems with your loved one tipping the commode over, the best way of stopping this from happening is to learn how to sit down correctly on a bedside commode – with or without assistance.

If a loved one is having difficulty sitting, it is recommended that they use a walker to help them into position and to transfer to the commode, and I will be looking at that in the next section.

You can, of course, place a bedside commode in the corner of a room, but this may not be a practical solution, and if your loved one doesn’t know how to sit on it safely, they may still tip to the one open side without a wall.

Another option is to buy a Derby Corner Commode, which is a commode chair which fits in a corner of a room with the back of the chair facing into the corner. See below. 


Derby Corner Commode

Bedside Commode Liners


If you want to know more about bedside commode liners I have an article “How to dispose of bedside commode liners” which outlines the different types, brands, bulk buying, how to use them and how to best dispose of them. You can find that article “How To Dispose Of Commode Liners ?”.


How to prepare the commode pail if you are using commode liners ?


If you are using a commode liner, you simply take the commode pale and place the liner around and over the pale, pushing it down fully inside to the bottom. Once the liner is properly covering the pail, you can place any absorbent pads that you are using inside the pale liner.

Re-position the pail in its holder underneath the commode seat, and lower the seat back down into position. The commode is now ready for use.

How to prepare the commode pail if you are not using liners ?


If you are not using commode liners, it is a very good idea to put 2-3 inches of water in the commode pail.


Adding this water will help in two ways –


  • it makes cleaning easier
  • it cuts down on the odors that come from the urine and feces


You can also add other products to the water to help with suppressing the smells from a used pail.

I have an article all about how to prepare the pail and how it can cut down on the odors if you don’t want to use liners, and you read all about that here.

How to empty and clean a bedside commode ?

How to empty and clean the commode pail ?


You should be emptying the commode pale every time it has been used.

Before you do anything, make sure that you are wearing clothes that you use for cleaning only and gloves, so that you are removing those clothes and gloves when you are done to stop the spread of bacteria, and if the gloves are disposable throw them out or disinfect them.

Get all your cleaning products and equipment to hand, so you don’t have to wander off to find the stuff you forgot in the middle.


Using commode liners –

If you are using a plastic commode liner, it just remains to take the liner and to tie it or seal it, depending on the type of liner you have, and immediately put it into your outside trash can, which is destined for landfill.

Do the same with all the supplies that have to go in the trash as well – don’t leave anything indoors or put it in the indoor trash, as the trash can will hang onto the odors afterwards.

It is always a good idea to give the bucket a quick wipe with some cleaner before you put a new liner in the pail.


Using the commode pail without any liner

Hopefully, if you are not using a liner, you put water in the commode pail before it was used. This will make it much easier to empty the contents.

So, as soon as the commode pail has been used, you want to take that and empty it straight away into the toilet and give it a good rinse.

Once you have rinsed the pail, the cleaning is best done in 3 stages –


  • soaking
  • cleaning
  • disinfecting

Soaking – place the bucket in hot water for a few minutes to soften up any matter that is stuck to the pail.

Cleaning – using a non-abrasive cleaner to remove any urine and feces which are stuck to the pail, and then rinse the pale.

Disinfecting – repeat the process, this time using disinfectant with a non-abrasive sponge or brush.

If you are using a plastic bucket, it is a good idea to soak it for a couple of hours in a disinfectant to kill all the bacteria from the feces and urine, to do this you will need at least two pails for your commode.


I have another article all about cleaning commode pails which has more information about cleaning commodes, commode pails and odor control which you can read here.

To clean a frame and seat


Even if you use commode liners, you will still need to properly, and regularly, clean your bedside commode seat and frame.

Seat and lid (and splash guard if you are using it over a toilet) –

As with the commode pail, you will soak, clean and disinfect the plastic parts of the commode – the seat and lid.


  • remove the seat, lid and any other plastic parts and soak them in hot water
  • pay particular attention to the armrests where your loved one’s skin has a lot of contact
  • the underside of the seat and the surrounding parts will be exposed to the most urine and feces, so they really need a lot of attention
  • clean with a cleaner and a non-abrasive sponge or brush, and rinse
  • clean again with a non-abrasive sponge or brush with disinfectant and then rinse
  • dry off the parts and check that there are no cracks anywhere in the plastic


Commode frame

The frame should also be soaked, cleaned and disinfected.

I have a little trick for the frame though, as it has holes, inside which are parts on some commodes which could rust.

So before you go through the same process for cleaning as above, you wipe down the areas with the holes with a cloth, and when they are dry, take a little electrical tape and just cover them to stop any water entering.

Now you are free to wash them in the same way as the seat and lid.

If you need any more ideas on cleaning, I have two articles which may be of help – “The Best Way To Clean A Bedside Commode” and “What Is The Best Bedside Commode Cleaner ?”.

Bedside commode odor control


To keep odors to a minimum, you can use disposable commode liners and dispose of them immediately.

Empty the commode every time it is used if you are serious about odor control, and don’t leave it there for more than a minute or two before you clean it.

Buy one or two extra pails and after each use soak them in disinfectant for several hours after you have emptied them.

And as I said earlier plastic absorbs smells and wood which isn’t sealed with varnish will absorb stains and bacteria, so it is best to use wooden furniture which is sealed and as little plastic as possible.

Soft fabrics also absorb smells, so you may want to wash curtains and bed covers more frequently.

You will also need to regularly clean and disinfect the area around the commode, and as I mentioned earlier you will probably want to have some kind of waterproof mat on the floor under the commode in case there are spillages, which there inevitably will be.

If you don’t use a mat, and you have a spillage, you can use enzymatic cleaners which are sold in pet stores to clean up messes from cats and dogs on carpets.

And as I said earlier plastic absorbs smells and wood which isn’t sealed with varnish will absorb stains and bacteria, so it is best to use wooden furniture which is sealed and as little plastic as possible.

If it is a real problem, and opening the window is not enough, then install an extractor fan in the room, as close to the commode as possible.

If you want more tips like these, I have a whole article on the subject, “Bedside Commode Odor Control: How To Keep It Smelling Sweet ?”

How to transfer from a bed to a bedside commode ?


For a person who is bedridden or unable to stand

If you are bedridden or can’t stand, a bed transfer is best done with a transfer commode.

You slide over from the bed onto the commode.

A transfer commode is often used by wheelchair users, where their toilet is not easily accessible.


A bed transfer to transfer commode, is easiest with a variable height bed


  • the commode is positioned up against the side of the bed, with the wider side against the bed
  • using your arms, slide up to the bed’s edge
  • elevate the bed (if it is a variable height bed), slightly above the commode, so that gravity will help you slide over onto the commode
  • again, use your arms to slide over onto the commode
  • when finished and cleaned, you can lower the height of the bed (if it is a variable height bed), making it slightly lower than the transfer commode, using gravity to help you move on to the bed
  • then slide back over on to the bed


For a person who is able to stand

Using a walker to assist you when sitting on a bedside commode can be helpful if you have problems with walking, sitting down, and standing up.


To sit down on a bedside commode from a standing position using a walker –


  • holding the walker, you can back up to the bedside commode
  • holding onto the walker as you back up to maintain your balance
  • stop when you feel the commode frame touching against the back of your legs
  • if you are assisting someone to use the bedside commode, you may, at this point, need to help them lower any items of clothing
  • as you sit back, do not tilt the walker towards you
  • now reach back with one hand to the armrest of the commode on that side
  • reach for the other armrest of the commode with your other hand
  • use the armrests to lower yourself on to the bedside commode seat
  • try not to sit down too hard, as this can cause the bedside commode to tip
  • once you are seated, your feet should flat on the floor – if they aren’t, you need to readjust the height of the commode legs


To stand back up from a bedside commode using a walker – 


  • make sure the walker is placed in front of the commode to hold onto when you are standing
  • place both of your hands on the armrests of the bedside commode and push up to stand
  • reach forward with one hand, and take hold of the walker, and then take hold with the other hand


How to assist someone using a bedside commode ?

If your loved one is very frail, they may not be able to clean and wipe themselves after using the commode.

There are bedside commodes which have seats forms with openings at the front, or at the back, which are designed to help with wiping, but this may not be enough, and you may have to assist.

To help a loved one if they can’t clean themselves –


  • have all supplies you need to hand – you don’t want to have to go and get something and leave your loved one standing there
  • 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
  • have a towel ready if your loved one needs to be dried off
  • have your loved one wash their hands in a little soap and water and dry them
  • pull your loved one’s clothes back up
  • assist them back to their bed or wherever they were sitting
  • remove all the toilet paper and wet wipes – put all the rubbish in the outside trash immediately
  • finally, remove your gloves and throw those away
  • wash your hands with soap every time, as it will also help your loved one stay clean as well

Bedside commode over a toilet


If you use the commode over the toilet in the bathroom, this requires no clean up, and reduces the chances of infections from bacteria in the bedroom.


How to use a bedside commode over a toilet –


  • remove the pail
  • remove the back rest – to do this, just depress the push buttons on the bar and slide it out.
  • raise the lid and seat on your toilet
  • check the height of the commode legs to make sure it is raised above the height of the toilet bowl rim
  • depress the push buttons to lengthen, or shorten, the legs of the commode
  • make sure the legs are all the same length
  • make sure that your loved one’s feet touch the floor when they are seated on the commode
  • put the commode in position over the toilet
  • place the splash guard under the seat – I have never used ours, and there have been no problems
  • for bedside commodes with wheels you need to lock them, so it doesn’t move


Tips for bedside commode maintenance


Don’t forget to check that everything is secure and working properly on the commode after you’ve cleaned it.


You should check –


  • for rusting joints on the fame – if it is steel
  • for cracks developing in all the plastic parts of the commode
  • if the ferrules – the rubber tips – on the legs of the commode aren’t splitting
  • that all the spring-loaded metal buttons are securely engaged and stick out properly
  • if you have cleaned all the different parts by disassembling the frame, make sure they are properly fixed together again

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.

Gareth Williams

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