• Written by David King, Senior Lecturer, The University of Queensland
Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Growing up, no one ever gave me the rundown on how or what I should do to keep my penis clean […] I’ve never read any reliable answer beyond washing it with water. Do I use soap? Any soap? How normal is smegma? If my penis gets itchy from smegma should I go see a doctor? If so, my GP or a urologist? — Anonymous

Key points

  • clean under the foreskin, using soap, but not too much
  • smegma is normal
  • if you have any concerns, see your GP.

It’s a shame some people think talking about cleaning and caring for our genitals is embarrassing or taboo. We probably know more about hair care than penis care.

The penis is simply another part of our anatomy, so cleaning should be relatively straight forward.

If you’ve been circumcised, where your foreskin was removed soon after birth, your penis will look something like the one in the diagram (below, right), with the head (or glans) always exposed.

But if you have a foreskin (below left and centre), there are some extra things to think about when washing, which we’ll get to soon.

The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Foreskin facts

But first, some foreskin facts. From around the time you turn five, your foreskin separates from the head of your penis, bit by bit. This allows you to pull back your foreskin (retract it). In some boys, the foreskin can stay partially stuck to the head of the penis until puberty.

You should never forcibly pull back your foreskin. That’ll be painful, you could bleed, you could scar, or have other complications.

OK, now for the washing part

Once your foreskin separates easily from the glans, gently retract and clean underneath the foreskin with each bath or shower. Then, after washing, pull the foreskin forward to its normal position.

When it’s time to dry off, retract the foreskin again so you can dry the head of the penis with a towel. Then, you guessed it, pull the foreskin forward to its normal position.

It’s OK to clean with soap whether you have a foreskin or not. But generally, too much soap is worse than none at all. Excessive cleaning removes essential body oils that would normally keep our skin moist and reduce friction. If you have sensitive skin, you can use a soap-free wash from the chemist.

What about smegma?

Smegma is a thick, whitish discharge consisting of a build-up of dead skin cells, oil and other fluids under the foreskin. And it’s very useful. It protects and lubricates the penis.

Some people have oilier skin than others and tend to have more smegma. So some smegma is normal, but if you have too much or it becomes smelly, you may need to clean more.

Things to watch out for (and when to see your GP)

If the head of your penis becomes painful, red, itchy and has a discharge, you may have a treatable condition called balanitis.

It’s more common if you have a foreskin. And the bacteria and fungus that cause it like the warm and moist conditions under there.

Skin disorders, infection, poor hygiene, friction from sexual activity, and using too much soap all cause the condition.


Read more: How to make your next sexual health check less, erm ... awkward


You can clear a mild case with good hygiene and simple treatments, such as an antiseptic or antifungal cream. You can buy these from any pharmacy. In addition to the medication, the cream itself helps protect and moisturise the inflammed skin.

If you have balanitis you may need to be more careful than usual to avoid urine irritating your inflamed skin. Retract your foreskin when you urinate. Dry the head of the penis gently after you finish.

If your penis is still inflamed after a week of these simple measures it’s best to see your GP. They can then investigate other causes, such as psoriasis or an allergy.


I Need to Know is our series for teens in search of reliable, confidential advice about life’s tricky questions. Here are some questions we’ve already answered.

David King does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Authors: David King, Senior Lecturer, The University of Queensland

Read more http://theconversation.com/how-do-i-clean-my-penis-125135

Remote interpreting services are essential for people with limited English — during COVID-19 and beyond

ShutterstockAccording to 2016 Census data, 3.5% of Australians have limited English proficiency.When they’re receiving health care, it’s essential these Australians have access to interpre...

Judy Mullan, Associate Professor, School of Medicine, University of Wollongong - avatar Judy Mullan, Associate Professor, School of Medicine, University of Wollongong

5 ways to get mental health help without having to talk on the phone

ShutterstockAccess to mental health support has never been more important, as Melburnians are hit with a stage 4 lockdown and much of the rest of Australia braces for a potential second wave of COVID-...

Aliza Werner-Seidler, Senior Research Fellow in Mental Health & Clinical Psychologist, UNSW - avatar Aliza Werner-Seidler, Senior Research Fellow in Mental Health & Clinical Psychologist, UNSW

Major Business Organization Forms

Business organization is the most important choice in a company. What form your business adopts will affect a horde of factors. Many of these factors will decide your company’s future.  Bring...

News Company - avatar News Company

Yes, we need to Close the Gap on health. But many patients won't tell hospitals they're Indigenous for fear of poorer care

ShutterstockThe federal government recently announced 16 Closing the Gap targets, seen by some as a policy re-set for yet another “once in a generation” chance to address Indigenous disadv...

Ray Mahoney, Senior Research Scientist, Australian E-Health Research Centre, CSIRO - avatar Ray Mahoney, Senior Research Scientist, Australian E-Health Research Centre, CSIRO

why health-care workers in Australia are inadequately protected against coronavirus

ShutterstockIn Victoria, more than 1,100 health-care workers have now been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Some 11% of active cases are workers in the health-care secto...

Alicia Dennis, Associate Professor MBBS, PhD, MPH, PGDipEcho, FANZCA, University of Melbourne - avatar Alicia Dennis, Associate Professor MBBS, PhD, MPH, PGDipEcho, FANZCA, University of Melbourne

here's why Melbourne's new business restrictions will reduce cases

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced sweeping changes to businesses across metropolitan Melbourne, including closure of retail stores and restrictions on some industries, including construct...

Philip Russo, Associate Professor, Director Cabrini Monash University Department of Nursing Research, Monash University - avatar Philip Russo, Associate Professor, Director Cabrini Monash University Department of Nursing Research, Monash University

Tips to Help Your Child Improve at Basketball

Does your child have a passion for basketball? From fostering the right mentality to professional training: here are our top tips for helping your child improve at the game. Foster the righ...

Rainbow - avatar Rainbow

State of disaster called as Melbourne moves to nightly curfew and stage 4 restrictions

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced that metropolitan Melbourne will move to “stage 4” restrictions from 6pm Sunday, as new cases of COVID-19 continue to rise. The state recorde...

Adrian Esterman, Professor of Biostatistics, University of South Australia - avatar Adrian Esterman, Professor of Biostatistics, University of South Australia

We're more likely to let our COVID-19 guard down around those we love most

ShutterstockWhen announcing a ban on people in six local government areas south-west of Melbourne hosting visitors in their homes, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said this week:People are not necess...

Holly Seale, Senior Lecturer, UNSW - avatar Holly Seale, Senior Lecturer, UNSW



News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion