You may be wondering how to stay clean while living in a van. Maybe you just want to take a nice, hot, long shower once in a while and aren’t sure where to look. Van life personal hygiene is an important part of the lifestyle and it’s great question to find answers to.
There are several, simple ways you can stay clean in a nomadic lifestyle:
- Public showers.
- Paid showers.
- Personal portable shower.
- Simple freshening up.
Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail…
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Van Life Personal Hygiene – Taking A Shower
There are several ways to take a shower while living in a van. Free showers, paid showers and personal portable showers are all doable options.
How To Find Free Public Showers
Finding free showers may take a bit of detective work but they’re out there and available for use. In my experience, I’ve found that the water in these places is often temperature controlled but I’ve encountered a few where the water temperature is not under my control.
Many ocean or lakefront beaches have showers for beach-goer’s to clean off after taking a dip in the sandy, salty or murky waters. Some showers are out in the open while other showers are in the bathhouse. You may need to force yourself to spend a little time at the beach before taking a shower.
Mountain Biking Trails
Some mountain biking trails have showers for riders to clean themselves and/or their bikes up after a long ride. If you’ve been thinking about taking up mountain biking your van life personal hygiene routine might be a reason to consider taking up this sport.
FreeCampsites.net is a great website for finding free or cheap places to camp but did you know you can also use the website to locate showers? Use the “filter” function and select “showers” as an amenity and you’ll be shown free or cheap places that have showers. You may be able to use the showers even if you don’t plan on spending the night.
Van Life Free Shower Advice: A free shower is an awesome thing. As any true Van Dweller would do, be sure to leave the place better than you found it. At the very least, pick up after yourself and don’t leave a mess for someone else to clean up.
Finding Paid Showers
There are several options for paid showers while living the van life.
Planet Fitness Membership
Planet Fitness has fitness centers nationwide and some are open 24 hours. The cost of membership includes shower access which is the main perk for the van dweller. Naturally, you can get a workout in (if that’s your thing) or take advantage of other perks offered by each location – including WiFi access.
There are 2 types of memberships:
- Access to your local Planet Fitness only
- For use of all Planet Fitness centers nationwide.
Be sure to choose the option that fits your lifestyle.
Hosted campgrounds usually have shower facilities (and laundry facilities). Some campgrounds will allow you to use the showers (for a fee) without spending the night. If you’re not wanting to spend the night, I recommend calling the calling the campground ahead of time to find out if they will allow you to use the showers and what the fee is.
Truck Stops and Travel Centers
Many truck stops or Travel Centers offer paid showers (and a few may have laundry facilities).
A few commonly known truck stop/travel centers that may offer paid showers are:
- Pilot / Flying J
- Travel Centers of America / Petro
Keep in mind that not every location has shower facilities but you can find information on their websites.
Truck stop showers currently cost around $12 (give or take a few dollars). You many want to consider the price of a truck stop shower vs spending the night at a campground where there are additional amenities.
Personal Portable Outdoor Shower
If you’re creative you could set a portable shower up inside your van without having to build anything permanent. But, if you take a shower outdoors, you’re less likely to create extra moisture or a mess in your van. If you have a low top van it may be easier to set a portable shower up outdoors than to do it indoors.
For tips on finding free water for your showers check out my post about Where To Find Free Water While Living The Van Life
Basic Outdoor Shower Set Up
A common van life personal hygiene set up is the portable outdoor shower.
For the outdoor shower set up you’ll need:
- Portable water/shower pump
- Bucket filled with water
- Whatever you choose to use for privacy (if anything)
The shower process goes like this:
- Heat the water
- Pour heated water into the bucket
- Place the portable water pump in the water
- Turn the pump on
- Take your shower!
Tips for heating the water:
- Heat water on the stove. When heating water on the stove you don’t need to heat ALL of the water. Bring some water to a boil on the stove and pour it into the unheated water.
- Paint a water jug black, fill it with water and place it in the sun. Using the solar sun method takes a while. The water jug needs to be placed in the sun first thing in the morning and won’t be warmed up until late afternoon (depending on the time of year). The solar sun water will be warm, not hot.
If you need privacy:
- Use a portable shower stall; or
- Open your back doors and drape a shower curtain or privacy curtain across.
Solar Heated Camp Shower
A solar heated camp shower is a black bag with a hose coming out the bottom of the bag and a very simple shower head that’s gravity fed.
The premise of the Solar Heated Camp Shower is, you fill the bag with water and lay it in the sun to warm. Once the water is warm you hang the bag somewhere sturdy enough to hold it and let gravity bring the sun warmed water down the hose and out the shower head.
I can’t say that I recommend this method but it’s important to share information about it because you may have wondered about it or may want to try it (even though I don’t recommend it).
Why don’t I recommend it?
- You need to wait for the sun to warm the water.
- The gravity fed water pressure isn’t great. The water pressure is only as strong as the gravitational force behind it.
- Hanging the bag can be tricky as you’ll need to find a place that’s strong enough to hold the bag and high enough so that gravity can do it’s thing.
The Simple Shower is basically a shower head that fits onto the end of a 1 or 2 liter bottle. The water can be warmed on the stove or by letting it sit in the sun. The Simple Shower is a way to take a quick and easy shower.
You could conceivably use the Simple Shower inside your van. You’d need a basin (or tote) to catch the run-off water and possibly a shower curtain.
Shower At Friends and Family
Van life personal hygiene can also be taken care of at your family or friend’s house. This may not be an option for some but, for other’s, cleaning up at a friend’s house or a family member’s house is a doable option.
More Van Life Personal Hygiene Tips
Here are a some simple van life personal hygiene tips to use when a shower isn’t an option:
Take a sponge bath in the privacy of your van. Use a dish pan or bucket to wash up and rinse off (sort of like the olden days when they used a pitcher and wash basin bowl). The dirty water can be disposed of most anywhere (assuming your hygiene products are not toxic to the environment).
Van Life Sponge Bath Advice: I keep a gallon jug of water set aside just for sponge bathing along with wash clothes, hand towels and a dish pan that I use only for sponge bathing. For washing my hair in the van I use an empty water or pop bottle to pour water over my hair. The bottle is easier to handle and I have much less water on the floor since I started using the bottle.
Take A No Rinse Bath
There are products currently on the market that allow you to wash your body and hair without having to rinse. These type of products are also used in hospitals.
- No Rinse Body Wash to wash your body and hair.
- Baby wipes are also a great way to wash your body and hair without needing to rinse.
Go Jump In A Lake
If you’re up for it, go jump in the lake and bathe using environmentally friendly shampoo and body wash.
Unless you’re primarily static, I recommend having multiple options in your van life personal hygiene arsenal.
Why? As a van dweller, you could find yourself hanging out in the desert for a while, then hanging out in the city, and then who knows where.
In the desert you don’t have the same hygiene options as you do in the city and visa vera. It’s good to have multiple options so that you’re prepared to stay clean where ever you find yourself parkin’ it.
Just A Little Update
The way I live and travel in my van has changed over the years. In 2021, I made a simple upgrade that includes running water and a sink. This is also my primary way of staying clean.
Check out this post to see how I added running water to my van: My New Simple Easy Van Life Kitchen
More Van Life Articles: Topics and Articles.