One Mom Throws in the Towel: Can 4 Boys Be Taught to Keep the Bathroom Clean?

Posted October 27, 2010 by

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Is it an unreasonable expectation to expect to find a towel hanging on the rod when you go into the bathroom to wash your hands? My husband says no. I say yes. In our home, with 4 boys, three who have ADHD, it is not reasonable to expect that this will occur.

Each boy in our family has his own “towel persona.” The oldest, 19, cannot remember to take a towel into the bathroom when he showers. He will grab whatever is on the rod, use it and leave it either on the bathroom floor, in a kitchen chair, or on the floor of his bedroom. The next time he showers, he will need a new towel but will not realize this until after he is in the shower.

My 13-year-old always remembers to take a new towel in with him, but after the shower he will take it into his room and hang it on his closet. The next time he showers, he does not remember to take that towel in with him, but grabs a new one. After the shower, when he finds that he already has a towel on his closet door, the old towel ends up on the floor.

The 10-year-old needs supervision while he is in the shower, so his dad makes sure he reuses his towel and hangs it on the back of his bedroom door. The reason for the supervision is because when he was showering on his own, he would turn the water on, forget why he was in the bathroom, and either shave his hair with a razor, dump decorative rocks down the sink, etch a new pattern into the tile with a nail, or fill spare soap dishes up with water and put them in a drawer.

My 13-year-old stepson seems to be the only one who knows what to do with his own towel and the towel that belongs on the rack. Since he does not live here full-time, it is only when he is here that we can expect to find a towel on the rod.

Handwashing is another story. All of the children are sent in to wash their hands before meals. This is the point at which my husband finds that when he goes in after them, there is no towel on the rod.


1. There is no handwashing going on at all

2. Whatever towel that was on the rod gets used and tossed on the floor

3. The children are content to pick up a wet towel from the floor to dry their hands

4. They use their shirts and pants.

Since nobody who lives here will take responsibility for missing towels or those left on the floor, the children have concocted a story in which my stepson remotely controls the towel on the rack, much like ‘log me in’ on the computer, and through a hole in the wall, senses when a towel is on the rack, then knocks it off from his home, 45 minutes away.

Since I cannot see the forest through the trees, my friend suggested I buy the new Kleenex-brand paper towels. With this innovative invention, one can put the cleverly-shaped box of paper towels between the towel rod and the wall. A fresh paper towel is always ready when you need it! I decided to do this recently as a birthday surprise for my husband. On his birthday, when he went to wash up for dinner, he found this handy-dandy invention with a HAPPY BIRTHDAY sticker on it! We thought all of our problems were solved! Instead we found that the box lasted two days and instead of wet towels on the floor, we now have a pile of paper towels on the floor because there were too many to fit into the small bathroom trashcan and nobody was willing to empty the trashcan.

How do you handle the towel situation (and others like this) in your home? Anyone? Anyone?!


I am a mom of two boys, ages 16 and 22, both with ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. I have remarried and my husband has 2 boys, ages 13 and 16. The 13 year old lives with us, and has some behavioral problems and attachment issues. There is always something happening at our house!

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  1. Big GUM (Edit) Report

    I think, if possible, it would help to have a towel rack or hook in the bathroom for each kid, which is where their towel “lives”. They would return it to the hook after their shower to dry and it would be there the next time they needed it.
    The idea of so much paper towel waste makes me cringe, so I would break out the sewing kit for a hand-towel fix. Attach a hook/rack for a family hand towel (or two) near the sink. Make a snap, strap or other means to keep the towel attached to *itself* over the bar/hook so it cannot be pulled off. I know I’ve seen towels at craft shows that had crocheted tops designed for just this purpose, with a loop that goes over a bar and fastens again to itself.

  2. mom of 15 yr old boy (Edit) Report

    My 15 year old son will use his tee shirt to dry himself off or will air dry if everything else is already wet/dirty. Cleanliness is not important to everyone. But I do remind him that when he is older and wants to stay married, that this could be a deal breaker, so at some point he had better learn some neatness skills.

  3. ktcoop60 (Edit) Report

    Must be a teen boy thing. I issue my son a towel a week. If it is in his room he has to get it to take a shower or he has to walk out of the shower with nothing to go get it. Seems to have a work pretty well.

  4. Momof2boys (Edit) Report

    I fight this exact battle every day. I have 15 and 17 yr old boys. No amount of disrupting their routine, asking, pleading or giving of consequences has changed this “piggy” behavior.
    Until my spouse steps up and comes on board with fighting this battle, I don’t see an end.
    My younger son has ADHD and any effort to get him organized is met with severe attitude and struggle, both at home and at school.
    I just have to remember that eventually my husband and I will have our house to ourselves and this will become a non-issue.

  5. MommyFortuna (Edit) Report

    For my 9 year old with ADHD I use a lot of checklists to help him remember what he needs to do. Maybe posting a checklist of things to check before leaving the bathroom after their shower would help (ex. towel hung up, toilet flushed, sink area clean, lights off). Make sure to give praise or a small reward when they comply with the list.

  6. catarina (Edit) Report

    I have two sons, 14 and 12, none of which has ADHD, and they still drop their towels wherever and then forget to pick them up again before heading for the next shower. What I try to do when I see a towel lying around is to call the “owner” (I agree with a previous answer that said different towels are a must), make him stop whatever he was doing, pick up the towel and take it into the bathroom. It is a pain but I am hoping that with time and consistency they will get used to doing it automatically instead of having to do it later!

  7. The Mom/ Step Mom (Edit) Report

    My teens are in charge of their own towels and their own clothes. If they need towels they have to wash them and have them ready.

  8. mommyof3 (Edit) Report

    I thought I was the only parent of a boy that had this issue…LOL. My son also has ADHD and if he has too many things to remember to do before, during, and after the shower he will only remember the very last thing I have told him or reminded him 52 times….LOL. I too cannot figure out how to “drill” into his head. I tell him on a daily basis what I expect from him and on a daily basis I feel I am walking behind him picking up after him. I too understand that I shouldn’t enable him; but if I don’t I will have twice the laundry than I already do and all at once. Life is hectic enough being a single mom with 3 kids and absolutely no family to help out that I guess I myself look for an easy way out.

  9. Sandy (Edit) Report

    Tortured by towels and or any other teen forgetfulness try this.
    I lured it from my sister Chris, got to love her, and passed in on to my little sister Jackie.
    When my daughter or son who is now 16, this will work for any age, forgets to pick up cloths, towels, toys, do chores etc. I forget to go grocery shopping, at least for them anyway. When it’s dinner time, lunch or breakfast give them a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Fixing their favorite meal for you and your husband, while they eat PB+J doesn’t hurt either.
    When they ask why, say did you pick up the towel or clean your room, what ever needed to be done and they say OH I FORGOT , say to them we’ll I guess I did to. When they say I’ll get to it, say I’ll get to it too, grocery shopping that is.
    IT WORKS try it and stick-to-it.
    The most work you will have to do is clean a knife and throw away the paper towel from the sandwich, not pick up their towel or clean up their messes.
    When things get better then you can all sit down to their favorite meal. But be consistent and stick to what you say.

  10. MistySmith (Edit) Report

    I have learned through my experience. 5 boys ranging in age from 8 to 21, not including husbands. Boys have no clue in the bathroom. I dont know if its my enabling or just some kind of instinct. They will not clean up after themselves. I have even let it go till there is no towels and you have to kick your way through the floor. There is a clothes hamper right there, but anyway. I just go in there about twice a day and fix it. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I guess that is the mom in me, because if there is no towels in there now I get made to feel like I am doing nothing. If thats all it takes to keep the boys happy…so be it..

  11. been there and sometime still is (Edit) Report

    Everyone at our home has a beach towel so that they all look different. So as long as nobody else used the towel, I know who left it on the floor or took it to another room. We all have different looking cups too – bought them at a second hand store.

    I wash all the towels together so if they don’t bring it to me when it’s time to get washed, they won’t have a clean towel – thankfully that bothers the kids.

    Having different towels doesn’t always solve the problem. It comes down to us needing to be organized, me checking on what I expect from the kids, and giving consequences when needed. I need to be more consistant – working on it, getting better.

    If I understand correctly, having the paper towels forces your kids to use their own towel for a shower – that helps. If they would only have asscess to one towel, they can’t just grab another one and pile them in their room or wherever. Assign someone to take out the trash (on a rotation if you like). Depending on the size of the trashcan in the bathroom, you might want something a little bigger to compensate for the extra use. Give them praise on the parts they do right and consequences when they don’t follow through.

    Hope this gets solved for you soon!



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