Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Personal Hygiene - Showering and Keeping Clean

It is still very possible to take care of yourself while you are living a mobile lifestyle. I eventually just got used to not waking up and heading straight for my bathroom anymore. When you don’t have a bath “room,” you just find ways to improvise. Lots of people on the road have different tricks and methods, so browse around and figure out what will work best for you. This is just an over-view of how I get by. I like to stay clean. I have various ways to brush my teeth, wash my hair, and maintain personal hygiene, even though I don’t have my own faucet running or a tub to climb into.

Face & Body Wipe-Downs

For quick wipe-downs, I use a spray bottle containing water, a washcloth, and a tiny dab of camp suds. (That spray bottle is also used for keeping my plants happy, and I re-fill it at drinking fountains) Wet-wipes are also extremely handy for helping to keep your body clean - your hands, armpits, wherever. Every time I wipe myself down, I put on fresh deodorant (aluminum-free) and spritz myself with a very light lemon~scent (Have a favorite perfume or essential oil? That will work too). For my face, I like to wipe it down with Witch Hazel (a mild, natural astringent that you can find and purchase inexpensively in Dollar Stores). Doing that always makes me feel refreshed and removes excess dirt & oil from my face.

Brushing Your Teeth

For brushing my teeth, there are a couple options: In my van, I just pour a little water over my brush and add a tiny dab of my normal toothpaste. When I'm done, I just swish a little water around in my mouth (from my water bottle) and spit it outside my van or into a container (and dump it later). My favorite option is to just use a public bathroom somewhere (a library, gas station, grocery store, Walmart), and not eat again that night after I have brushed my teeth. Baking soda also works well for brushing your teeth in a vehicle, since it is very simple and cheap to do. Click here if you'd like to read more about that. BUT don't use baking soda as your recommended method for brushing your teeth, as it will eventually strip your teeth of their enamel. It is good in a pinch, for occasional cleaning and whitening. It is extremely important to take care of your teeth, whether you are living in a vehicle or not.

Washing Your Hair

Amazingly enough, whenever I feel disgusting and crave a shower, simply washing my hair will often suffice. If you are unable to easily shower nearby, you can truly feel better by just washing your hair & face. For an inexpensive hair wash, click here to learn about using baking soda and vinegar. I will try that sometime, but I have still been trying to use up my normal minty-fresh, Biotin-enriched shampoo...

I have read different ways that people actually wash their hair inside their vehicle, but they all just sound too messy for me at this time. My hair isn't very short. Here are 3 ways that I have washed my hair:

1. If I'm feeling lazy and don't want to leave my van, I use a no-rinse shampoo instead of my normal shampoo. Just lay down a towel, use a spray bottle to get your hair wet, tilt your head upside-down over the towel, pour some of the no-rinse shampoo over your hair (or put it in a sprayer and just spray it on), rub it in, and towel it dry. It really isn't as bad as it sounds! :)

2. Sometimes it is convenient to wash my hair at the beach, in a lake, or a river. I get in, swim around, and wash my hair with a tiny dab of camp suds or Dr. Bronners. I try to do it where there isn't really anyone around.

3. A good option for washing my hair on the road, however, is the same as my favorite place to brush my teeth - I use a sink in a public restroom (one made for a single person, not a multi-stall bathroom). There can be a nice personal restroom in a library, bookstore, grocery store, fast food restaurant, on a college campus, at your job, etc. Gas stations work, too, but they are often pretty gross, so I'd recommend sticking to one of the others. It doesn't look odd for a woman to carry a large purse or tote-bag, so I use one to carry the following items into a public bathroom - a small handtowel, my spray on conditioner, a hair-pick, and shampoo. If I feel like being more inconspicuous for some reason, I might wear a hat into the business and also wear it back out (so it isn't as obvious that my hair is dripping wet). I have mastered washing my hair in a sink, although shorter hair would be an advantage in this situation. Once I get into the bathroom, I'm quick! I whip off my shirt, drape my tiny towel over the edge of sink (if it will stay there), and I get my hair wet (First I lean over the sink, forwards, and wet the under-side of my hair. Then I flip around, squat down, and bend over backwards to wet the top side of my hair). I lather up my hair with shampoo, and rinse it by again first leaning over the sink forwards, and then leaning over the sink backwards). I towel it dry as best as I can, spray on some detangler, pick thru it to make it straight, throw my shirt back on, and pack my things back into my bag. If I am in a bathroom that I don't think anyone is waiting for, I will take a little more time to brush my teeth, clean myself more thoroughly, and use the bathroom.


I love taking showers, and I am assuming that most people are like me in that sense. If you live in a vehicle and there is ever a free shower available to you, I'm sure you definitely take advantage of that opportunity. They can be somewhat difficult to come by for free. I was recently reading "Ten Consecutive Years Living in Cars," and he showers in approx. 90 seconds by simply standing outside his car door (behind a business/store or out on a secluded road), lathering up his hair and privates, and pouring 2 jugs of water over himself. I haven't tried that, but I think it would work best for someone with really short hair and who doesn't necessarily need warm water. I personally think that a solar shower is essential to have if you live in your vehicle. Just fill it with water, warm it up on your dash, and have a hot shower outside in the woods or somewhere secluded. I am planning on eventually hanging a shower-curtain around my van's rear-hatch when it is open. Then I can use a solar shower to comfortably take a shower from the privacy of standing behind my van. Here is a list of possible places to shower:

Friend's or Relative's House - Free

Public Beaches - Free

Your Job - (I have worked at places that had showers available)

County Parks - I have occasionally found little county parks that have showers available. I'm not sure if they are just for campers, but I haven't seen any signs. They are open, available, and free.

College Athletic Facility - Can be an excellent opportunity for a free shower, since many colleges do have showers available. Perhaps ask around to some students walking on campus.

Hotels - Many offer usage to their pool/hot-tub area for a small fee (I found a local AmericInn that charges $3.00). Another option, (shhhh...) may be to sneak into a hotel pool area. Park along the side of a hotel and see if you can get into a side door. If it is a busy hotel, you could wait and head towards the door right behind someone else, and enter the hotel with them. Carry a tote bag with your towel and bathing suit, dress like a hotel guest, and perhaps carry a can of pop and wear a headset. The key would be to look like you belong there. Head to the pool area in your flip-flops & knock on the pool door if it requires a room key. Pretend you forgot yours in your room, and that your room is way up on a high floor. If you put some plastic baggies in your tote, you can fill up on hotel ice for your cooler on your way out of the building.

Public Swimming Pools - Go for a swim, use a hot tub, and then shower! Costs a small fee, but definitely call and ask when the cheapest swim times/nights are.

Gym/Health Clubs - Will cost a daily rate or a monthly membership fee. Might be worth it, depending on your situation and your desire to exercise. Depending on where you are living, some gyms offer a membership that is nationwide, such as 24hr.Fitness.

Truck Stops - Usually costs around $7 for a shower (sometimes more, sometimes less). Call ahead and ask if you are curious. If you are sleeping there anyway, ask around for a free shower coupon. They give them out to people who buy certain amounts of gas, and some people living in their big RVs might not need their coupon if they've got their own RV shower.

Campground/RV Parks - Free if you are already camping there anyway! But if you are planning to camp there just for a shower, it would probably be cheaper to go use a public swimming pool, truck stop, or someplace else.

Laundromat - I have yet to find a laudromat out there that has a shower available, but I have heard that they exist...Can anyone tell me if they've ever found one? Oh well, if you can't find one with a shower, you can at least wash your clothes there and charge your small appliances from a 120 volt AC wall outlet while you wait.

As of right now, I am still enjoying my showers at a local gym and several friend's houses.. Once I'm on the road again (the 24th of this month!!), I will continue to keep you posted on the situations that arise.


Anonymous said...

Would you recommend someone who has no experience living in a car read this book? Is there any information in there that I couldn't find on your site and other sites like cheaprvliving?


I would say that this book is very beneficial to anyone who wants to live in a car or even is currently living in a car (more so than a van). This guy lives in his car for over 10 years, and I think it is worth reading just for his own personal experiences (making his car comfortable, experiences with police, etc.). You won't really find any new parking ideas, but he goes into detail about the particular places he did park. The layout of chapters can be found here:
Some parts of the book are kind of repetitive, but he has in-depth sections on privatizing your car, useful equipment, living in extreme heat/cold, etc. I would say it is a very useful book overall, with new information. It isn't a story - it is more like a reference manual of how to live in your car successfully. He mainly lived in his car in one area, working and attending college (not traveling cross-country). If you have never lived in a car, I definitely think you'd be happy with it.

Anonymous said...

I have successfully used a plastic storage container(about 6 inches deep and maybe 18 x 24 square) with 2 shower curtains and a solar shower inside my pop top van. I heat the water on my camp stove and fill the solar shower(about a few quarts is enough). Hang the shower and curtains from the roof. Have the curtains go inside the container, climb in and shower. I have done it kneeling in the container also without popping the top open. Quite refreshing!!


I'm going to have to try that for sure! Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

I attend an annual chili cook-off in the Texas desert where there are no facilities. About three years ago I purchased a pop up shower tent that takes under a minute to set up and put away. While the shower structure is not strong enough to hold a 5 gallon solar shower, I simply put the hot water in a 5 gallon bucket and enjoy a leisurely shower next to my van. Here is a link

Anonymous said...

I have read on other sites that laudermats on the campgrounds have showers facilities in them.

Anonymous said...

Awesome blog! I've been reading it for ideas of setting up my Chevy Astro BOV and also using it for some urban camping.

I was reading about some guy you wrote, that takes a 90 minute shower in the buff behind his van. Whether or not it's a secluded place, he still risk getting caught. In many states, this could turn into an indecent exposure charge and force him to be a registered sex offender. Then he'd have to register everywhere he moves to and explaining this potential felony on his criminal record during every job interview would really suck. And those sex offender sites may lump such a minor charge with that of a general description rather than stating the detail. Just a thought.


Anon - yeah, i've seen those, glad to hear you found something that works for you. You said you put the water in a 5-gallon bucket. Do you just sit next to it and sponge bathe, or do you use some kind of container to pour the water on yourself?

Anon - depends on the campground. Some have shower facilities, some don't. It is nice when they do, but I wouldn't count on it. Every one is different.

Anon - Hmm, i don't remember him. Wow he takes a 90 minute shower? Is that a spelling error? Yeah that is something that would put you at high risk for getting caught/getting into trouble.

SwankieWheels said...

Newport, OR has a wonderful Laundromat with showers and they even provide you with clean towels. Next door they run a thrift store where I bought a quilted bedspread that I turned into curtains for behind my front seats. Very nice. Lots of hikers and bikers come through there. Also while in Anchorage AK this week, I noticed a car wash that also had showers. Never saw that before, but why not???


SwankieWheels - wonderful! Thanks for the comment. Also I wish you a lot of fun on your Alaska and Hawaii kayaking adventures.

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