Bathing: Keeping Yourself Clean in a Van
Back in 2012, when we started traveling, it was funny to hear comments like: “You live in a van? You don’t look homeless!”
No, we’re not. Even if some of you think it’s really difficult, it’s actually not. It’s a matter of adjusting and finding different solutions.
These are some of our tips, based on 4 years of full-time traveling and living in our van. We’ve also included tips and advice from other vanlifers we’ve met up with on the road.
We hope these tips on keeping yourself clean in a van are useful for you.
Organize a Washing Kit
We have a small bag where we keep all of our washing stuffs: soap, shower gel, shampoo, deodorant, cologne and perfume, razors, a shaving machine and other handy bath things.
It’s easier to get ready for a shower when you have everything you need in one place. It’s also amazing how easily you can misplace items in such a small space like a van.
Of course, your own bag of bathing goodies will be stocked with your favorites.
Now, what are the options for keeping yourself clean in a van while traveling?
Washing Inside the Van
We’ve done it several times, especially in winter, and as crazy as it seems, it’s super easy and surprisingly doesn’t create a huge mess in the van. How do you do it?
• Put some water in a pot and warm it up; get out another pan or bowl and fill it with water, too.
• Use a washcloth or a washing glove (scrubber) and dip it in the warm water, then start to scrub.
• It’s best to start from top to bottom: head, face, armpits, chest and the rest of your body
• Add some soap on the washcloth and do the same, from top to bottom.
• Use the second pan or bowl to rinse the cloth of soap, then start removing the soap from your body.
• Use a dry towel to dry yourself off.
• Don’t do a wash-up when the van is connected to electricity- believe us, the shock can be more than a little unpleasant.
• You can use an old towel or a rag as a bathmat, to avoid making a mess on the floor. Ours is a plastic floor, which is really easy to clean up.
• Put down your curtains if you’re not in a remote area, and don’t want people staring at you.
We discovered another way to have a shower inside the van from our friends at Furgoneteo: it’s a system in the back, near the main water tank. It uses the same water pump as the sink, but you can screw in a shower handle and have your shower just behind the van.
It can be pretty cold, so it’s probably best in warm weather.
We’ve also heard about having a small boiler inside the van, like they have in the big RVs, but we haven’t met anybody with one. If you know anything about the boiler, we’d love to hear about it!
Washing Outside the Van
There are several other ways to keep yourself clean while living in a van, especially in the warmer seasons.
A Solar Shower
We have a solar shower on the roof from one of our sponsors, GoWesty. It’s basically a black metal pipe we fill with water and the sun heats it. An external piece pumps air, which creates a nice and warm shower outside of the van.
For our model, every time we want to take a shower we pump some air (with a 12-volt air pump that can be plugged in the cigarette lighter plug) and we fill it until it reaches 18 in air pressure measurement. With the tube extension, we then take our shower right next to the van.
If you want more privacy, you can get plastic curtains that can fit on the open backdoor or even DIY an impromptu shower curtain yourself.
There are also cheaper summer showers, which are black plastic bags. The only difference is that the plastic bags aren’t very strong (we broke several) and you need to place it high above you somehow, if you don’t want to have a shower on your knees.
For both solar showers, you only need to fill them with water and leave for a couple of hours in the sun. Of course, it depends on how warm it is. There are usually around 20 liters, which is enough for a shower.
To give you a perspective: in your house, you probably consume more than 10 liters a minute. Keep in mind the timing and try to scrub and rinse fairly fast, before you run out of water.
You can find a lot of other kinds of ‘portable showers’ for camping, but we’ve found those two examples more practical for us. They don’t take up too much space in the van or on the roof.
Extra Alternatives to Washing Up Outside the Van
During the summer and depending on the country you visit, you can find several other options for having a nice shower.
For example, in 2015 we were in Spain and Portugal. During our journey, we always stayed and parked near the seaside. Many beaches have free showers, both indoor and outdoor, and free water (if you need to fill the tank).
Sometimes the showers were nice and toasty.
Treating Yourself to a Campsite
It’s relatively easy as you travel to find campsites where you can spend a night with full extras. This option is good for both seasons, though it can actually be better in the winter, since the prices are much lower.
Trading Your Skills
When we visited Sicily for 4 months, we managed to have free showers every day- by trading a promotional video with some ‘Agrofarms.’ They allowed us to stay there for a week, with the possibility of using one of their rooms. We never slept there, but used the toilet, shower and free WiFi.
That’s vanlife inspiration, isn’t it? Grin.
Swimming Pools & Gyms
Another option is a swimming pool. When we were in Berlin, we used to go to a local pool. The entrance fee was only 3 euros for a nice hot long shower, combined with a healthy swim.
In the States, it seems pretty popular to get a monthly gym membership. It takes care of two things: staying active and healthy, and being able to shower at will.
Lakes & Rivers
Lakes and rivers are another nice possibility during the hot seasons. We stayed for a month in Riga, on a small island just in the middle of the river. It was pretty easy to just take a dip. It was especially nice, since it was unseasonably hot, humid and sticky.
Our last experience is probably the funniest one: in Prague, we were parked near the downtown area. A worker created a mess with a water line exploding near us. It was a huge water fountain, spewing up to the air. It was summer,
Armando took out his shorts, bathing gel and had a street shower. There are probably still some bemused Czechs with photos of the crazy Italian, since he attracted quite a crowd.
*One very last resort, for last-minute cleaning moments, is always having a packet of wet wipes handy. It’s nothing like a full shower, but it does take off some of the grime.
What about you? What are your solutions for keeping yourself clean in a van? Have you tried any of our methods? Are there any that worked or didn’t work for you? Why? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear your experiences!
Great post guys, you inspired me to share my shower setup on my blog (coz I needed photos!). Keep on rocking in the free world!
Hey Xeph, just read your post on showering. How very creative and cool is your setup-! Love it. And it’s a perfect solution for a van, as far as size, etc. Nice one. Grin.
By far the easiest is to never use soap, nor deodorant, not any other artificial stuff on your body. Shampoo is neither needed. It saves environment, money and water. Just rins your body, it’s enough. I do that for more then 10 years already.
Have fun, Hans
Hi Hans, fair enough. I know some people who are into completely natural and others at the opposite end of the spectrum. Differences make the world interesting, methinks. 🙂