In the face of social and economic uncertainty and a desire to embrace a simpler, more self-reliant life, many turn to off-grid living. Such a lifestyle has many benefits – and many challenges. How to shower off-grid, and conserving water as you do, is the challenge that we’ll look at in this article.
The average person taking a shower uses about 17 gallons of water. That’s a lot!
Think about what that means for long-term water use: your daily shower uses about 6,300 gallons of water annually. Simply reducing your shower time from the average 8.2 minutes does not cut it much more. If you’re planning that level of comfort and cleanliness post-collapse, how much water you store is going to become a very serious challenge!
A more radical approach to showering is needed for most off-grid living scenarios.
The easiest way to clean with little water off-grid is to use a sponge bath as needed. Use a bidet to hit private parts and a washcloth to hit sweaty areas to extend the time between full-body showers. We’ll explore all options further, but it’s first important to…
First things first, a daily shower has only become a habit in the latter half of the 20th century. As the American economy started roaring, so did the advertisements trying to squeeze as many dollars out of consumers as possible. As indoor plumbing and TVs slowly filled the American homes, the beautiful TV faces were imprinted onto the mind of the average consumer. In no time, the idea that you could shampoo and shower your way to beauty was born.
Taking a shower once a week or once every few days was the norm for many years. It seems that the further into the past we move, the less frequent the showers were. Bathing as often as the founding fathers may seem a bit radical today, but there is no question we can conserve water while cleaning our bodies.
The olden days included hygiene habits quite different from those we have today. As a third of Europe was eradicated by the plagues, some concluded that it was water and bathing that made people sick. The idea was that diseases entered the body through pores, which expanded through hot water. Stripping the body of natural oils left a person vulnerable to disease. Bathing, they thought, was bad.
As the first settlers left Europe, they took the idea with them. Being clean was being prone to sickness. Changing out dirty underwear for clean was seen as staying clean. Handkerchiefs made of silk and other fine materials that we are used to seeing on TV that depicts the era were really nothing more than fabric covered in sage, rosemary, or lavender, to disguise the smell coming from one’s mouth and body.
Consider Modern Practices
Most Americans shower once a day. While radical in today’s view, taking a daily shower has its cons as well. Aside from the environmental factors and concern about water overuse, a daily shower rids your skin of the protective layer it creates. Without the protective oily film, the skin is dry and prone to cracks, especially during weather extremes.
To offset this dry skin, people apply moisturizers and other agents to their skin to mimic the protective layer our bodies naturally produce on their own. As the chemicals added to the products found in an average bathroom pile up, they accumulate in our bodies as well. While more data is needed, some have been linked to breast and lymph node cancer. Less is more, or so it seems, when it comes to taking a shower.
Anyone who has ever been forced to skip a shower or two knows that the body does not get as smelly as we think it does. Going without a shower for a few days is hardly noticeable unless you live in a particularly hot and humid area. Not washing your hair for a week is hardly noticeable unless you have issues with your sebaceous glands.
Across the US, many people have started rethinking their hygiene. Brushing teeth with toothpaste alternatives (or no toothpaste at all), the No-Poo movement, and taking less frequent showers are becoming a reality for many of us. As only ⅓ of the world has access to piped water, and as they’re doing just fine, there is reason to rethink how we think about our bodies and keep them clean. Large portions of Asia and South America, after all, bathe with very little water and use oils and creams instead of soaps and shampoos.
5 Ways to Shower Off-Grid
One of the many challenges people face living off-grid is (often) the lack of piped water and a comfortable shower with an endless supply of hot water. Generators and drilled wells may resolve this for some people, but not all. However, as most of the world cleans without it, so can we. Let’s explore some off-grid shower options.
Mind you, we are using “shower” here for cleaning one’s body generally. It is not strictly a “shower” in the conventional sense – water pouring down from a faucet above the head. However, that concept of shower where we’ll begin…
1) Solar Shower
A solar shower is an easy solution for those looking for outdoor shower solutions. It is easy to set up, costs very little, and can provide enough warm water (in sunny climates) for more than one person shower. Truth be told, the solution is limited and can provide enough water for a military-style shower, far from the average American’s 8.2 minutes of shower time. As the water pressure is typically low from solar showers, you are probably better off using much less of the shampoo and body wash than usual.
Some like to combine a solar shower with natural and organic shower agents, such as baking soda, vinegar, or Dr. Bronner’s (more on this in a moment). These body and hair washes provide benefits for your wallet, body, and the environment.
How Solar Showers Work
A solar shower is a simple bag of water that is placed in a sunny spot. The bag is made of a sturdy, water-proof plastic material that is strong enough to hold about 1-3 gallons of water. A water bag is usually made of darker material to absorb as much sunlight heat as possible. Although not always practical to use, especially during the winter months, a solar shower will do just fine on a slightly overcast day as well as on days with high humidity and high temperature.
Once you’ve filled the solar shower with water, you place it in a sunny spot and wait for a few hours. The water inside can heat up quite a lot, so make sure you check the temperature before stepping under the flow.
Solar showers are the best off-the-shelf solution for showering off-grid.
There are many advantages to using a solar shower and anyone who has ever tried one, especially outdoors, swears that this is a completely different experience from taking a modern indoor shower. Getting clean with little water while a refreshing summer breeze cools you down after a long day in the sun has something that your average home shower cannot provide.
|Pros of Solar Showers||Cons of Solar Showers|
|No electricity needed||Low water pressure|
|Water gets warm naturally||The water may not get hot enough|
|Easy to fold and carry||The material is flexible and can be punctured if care isn’t taken|
|Easy to set up||Filling up the shower bags is not easy, especially if there is no running water nearby|
|Handles enable easy hanging from poles or branches||Larger models demand a more solid structure to be hung from|
|Can be used just about anywhere||Season-permitting use only when used outdoors|
What is important when searching for a solar shower is that the material is durable and is made of a dark color to heat the water faster by absorbing more sunlight and holding the heat. A shower head is also necessary. With that in mind, we’ve found the three perfect solar shower bags, each intended for a different family size.
- MULTIPURPOSE OUTDOOR SHOWER- Portable shower for camping is very easy to use. After the camping shower bag is installed, just fill it with water, place the shower bag on the ground, and step on the shower pump to start the shower. The portable camping shower bag works great as a water shower for washing cars, camping washing dishes, bathing pets, and water plants as well.
- PORTABLE- The lightweight and portable camping shower bag can be easily folded or unfolded, and can be installed in two minutes, equipped with a hand strap, very suitable for travel, camping barbecue, hiking, and backpacking. This portable shower bag will become essential equipment for outdoor camping.
Afishtour 10 L / 2.2 Gallon shower bag is the best solution I could find for a single person. This is the perfect companion for your RV trip, camping, or living in the woods. The limited water capacity is just enough for one person, but it offers a short heat-up time. It also comes with a foot pump and shower head.
RIOBOW Solar Shower Bag
- ✔️ Premium Material: RIOBOW shower bag is made by environmental friendly PVC material which are safe to human health. Non-toxic, no peculiar smell. With 3 layers PVC can further enhance the leak proof feature and more durable.
- ✔️5 Gallon Large Capacity: RIOBOW Camping Solar Shower bag can contain large 5-Gallon/20 Liters water capacity. Enjoy a warm and fresh shower when camping.
RIOBOW Solar Shower Bag is a one-size-bigger solution than the AFISHTOUR shower bag. The tank catches 20 L / 5 Gallons of water and is enough for two people to take a daily shower. It takes a bit longer for the water to reach usable temperature, but the black material means it should work on semi-sunny days as well.
RISEPRO 10 gallons/40L Solar Shower Bag
- HIGH QUALITY MATERIALS – This shower bag is made by environmental friendly and leak proof materials. The materials used are safe to human health and make the bag highly durable!
- JUMBO WATER CAPACITY – This jumbo size bag can easily carry up to 10 GALLONS (40Liters) water for showering at remote areas! A nice and refreshing shower anywhere!
RISEPRO Solar Shower Bag is a perfect solution for the whole family. With 40L / 10 Gallons of capacity, it has to be hung from a safe spot or placed on the roof of your RV or cabin. With enough water for a whole family, it is the best solution on our list. It is foldable and features a built-in thermostat, preventing cold surprises and burns.
Note that 10 gallons of water is HEAVY. Plan to fill it from above while it’s already in its hanging position.
2) Construct an Off-Grid Shower
You can take the principals of a solar shower and apply them to a non-solar, off-grid shower. The concept is simple: hang a water container up high and create a way for the water to fall down over you.
Water Storage Tank
You’re limited only by your space and creativity here. You can use a simple five-gallon bucket, a larger 55-gallon barrel, or water storage containers designed for preppers. The important thing is creating enough pressure, and pressure is built from two things: quantity and height. The more water in your storage vessel and the higher it is the greater the pressure.
If you are able to place your storage tank where the sun hits it, you are in essence creating a solar shower (see above).
“Plumbing” simply refers to the pipe or hose coming off your storage tank. A more permanent off-grid bug out location might call for 1/2 Pex or copper piping with a ball valve to turn the water on/off to the spray nozzle.
If you want something more mobile, a collapsible water hose will work best. Buy a drinking water RV hose as those are designed to prevent chemicals from leaching into the water (food safe). Yes, we all sprayed ourselves with water from a regular garden hose (and drank from it) as kids, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do better now. Add a decent garden hose nozzle with different spray settings and you’re on your way to off-grid showering.
A trip to your local hardware store should yield all of the fittings you need to make the connections between your chosen storage tank and the hose.
Really, there are endless options for building off-grid showers. You can build one outdoors with makeshift walls and gravel floor or create one indoors. The water indoors can be warmed on a stove or used at room temperature.
3) Sponge Bath
A sponge bath is an even simpler way to “shower” off-grid. Far from the luxurious experience of having 2-3 gallons of hot water spring from the shower head every minute, a sponge bath will keep you equally as clean. The process is as simple as heating water in a pot on the stove and using it and a rinse pot/bucket to clean yourself by hand. The biggest challenge is going to be the lack of water pressure needed to rinse long hair.
Suitable sponges include:
- A soft wash-cloth – it provides gentle exfoliation for your body,
- A sea-sponge – an all-natural approach is best coupled with some organic body wash, and
- A loofah – another organic solution for a sponge bath, has a strong exfoliating effect and may even irritate sensitive skin.
There are many variations to using a wash bath, the most well-known being the tabo and timba tools in the Philippines. Translated to English this is essentially a dipper and a bucket.
You can find the tabo in virtually all Filipino homes. They are used to wash hands and feet at the entrance of one’s home, used to grab water for flushing the toilet where needed (not all Filipino homes have a flushing toilet), and – of course – to clean the body. Add a sponge to this setup and you have a sponge to clean with and a dipper to rinse with.
They are so important to daily life for Filipinos that those moving overseas bring one with them, have one sent over, or buy them at their new home.
- Japanese High Quality Plastic Water Ladle Holds 1.3 Liter.
- Bath Ladle Uses to Scoop Water, Bath Water Pourer, a Great Ladle for Baby Bathing.
Note: When using sponge baths, never use abrasive such as baking soda or fine sea salt. You risk damaging the protective layer on your skin and ending up with over-exfoliated skin that will take a few days to heal. Use only mild, natural soaps and warm water that you will dip the sponge into.
While some people may find that they are not fully clean after a sponge bath, some enjoy cleaning themselves and state that they are as clean as after a modern shower. Here are some pros and cons of a sponge bath:
|Very little water is used||Limited water use can mean bad rinsing, especially as you are getting used to this type of shower|
|Mild exfoliation||Strong exfoliation and irritated skin with some materials|
|Easy removal of dirt from your body||Rinsing is more difficult from a lack of water pressure|
|Antibacterial materials can be used||Some sponges can harbor bacteria and cause skin breakouts|
|Use of all-natural, easy to decompose materials||Some natural sponges can last you for a few weeks at most, as they decompose easily|
4) Wash Tub
A wash tub can also serve as a low-water shower. They were used for many years as the family bath. Warm water was poured into the basin and baths were taken one at a time, without changing the water. Wealthy women and girls would have handmaids help them bathe and rinse in the wash basin.
You can buy a wash tub for your off-grid camp or home, but the reality is you may already have one – your bathtub. If the grid goes down, and you can spare the water, simply fill the tub by hand and use it as a wash tub.
- Cool Dog Pool - Despite of taking showers, MorTime Dog Bath Tub can also provide a cool swimming pool for your lovely pets. Imaging you and your dog playing water outdoors, what a fun! Even during warm summer days, MorTime Dog Pool can cool off and entertain your dog.
- Premium Quality - MorTime Dog Pool is made from high quality PVC material which is scratch-resistant. The bottom is made from stronger and thicker material for long lasting use. Also, it is slip resistant and never leaks easily.
Although many may not like the idea of using a wash tub today, it is still a viable option for off-grid cleaning.
A wash tub, when hooked to plumbing, enables you to use running water to rinse while saving water at the same time. It is hard to find one large enough (these days) for a grown adult, but you can likely find a suitable product at your local farm supply store.
|More water is used than other methods||Limited water supply can mean difficult to fill – use liquid soaps and body wash|
|Allows for running water when plumbed||Having running water means more water is spent|
|Can be combined with a shower head||Constant bending is not ideal for people with back or mobility issues|
|Allows you to fully immerse yourself in water||Should be combined with other low-water shower techniques for better results|
Okay, this one isn’t a “shower” in the conventional sense, but it is a certainly a shower for “down there.” A bidet will help many people go longer without feeling the need for a full-body shower.
We have a bidet attachment on our home toilet (not off-grid) and it is a great. Wipe – wash – and wipe. It gets everything extra clean.
- A LUXURIOUS LOOK AT AN EXCELLENT PRICE – With a sleek design and high-quality parts, our bidet attachment will give your bathroom a next-level look. Constructed with high-pressure valves with metal/ceramic cores and steel hoses instead of plastic.
- HYGIENIC NOZZLE GUARD GATE – Shields the nozzle for your ultimate sanitary experience. The nozzle automatically retracts behind the guard gate after each wash to ensure it is protected until your next use.
Investing in a small bidet is another great way to conserve water. A bidet enables you to wash your feet and the intimate region as often as you want, without the need to wash your whole body.
A bidet is a perfect solution for those people seeking to only periodically shower while still taking good care of their bodies. As a bidet can be used to hit your personal areas after using the toilet, it is a good solution for staying clean while conserving water through reduced need to shower more frequently. Here are some pros and cons of using a bidet:
|Perfect for private parts hygiene||Requires minor modification in plumbing|
|Is small in volume and limits water use||Difficult access for people with mobility issues|
Considering that over 3,100 chemicals are used in the shampoo and body industry, it is no wonder that there are entire movements centering around the idea of going all-natural with your body. As you use industrial products, you remove the protective layer of oils from the skin, leaving it exposed to the elements. As the skin is an adaptable organ, it starts producing more oil to compensate for the loss.
You soon end up having to rely on artificial chemicals to stay clean. However, as many who have been using natural personal hygiene can testify, the accommodation period is shorter than four weeks in most cases. This is most notable with the hair and switching to natural soaps. Just weeks after you switch, you start washing your hair only occasionally, just about once a week or even less.
As there are many products claiming to be natural, although they use synthetic equivalents of natural materials, I will cover only those natural cleaning solutions I know work well and cannot be replicated in a lab. For our purposes of off-grid hygiene and conserving water, we look at:
- Baking soda,
- Dr. Bonner’s,
- Locally produced natural soaps,
- Vinegar, and
- Fine Sea Salt and Coconut Oil mixture.
Baking soda has been used for decades for anything from disinfecting surfaces to personal hygiene. Baking soda is mildly alkaline, so it can kill bacteria, and it is also abrasive, so it can remove dirt from different surfaces. As it is a natural product, baking soda does not pollute and can easily be neutralized once in the environment.
To use baking soda for personal hygiene, you should dissolve it in a bit of water and use the water to clean yourself. In its dissolved form, it is perfect as a natural cleaning agent in a sponge bath, or in its paste form (a handful of baking soda mixed with a tablespoon of hot water), for any hard-to-clean spots, such as your hands and feet after a long day of weeding in the vegetable garden.
Baking soda also has anti-odor properties, and since it is mildly antiseptic, it can also reduce breakouts and calm irritated skin. People report equally clean skin with less redness and rashes in weeks after starting with a natural cleaning routine. The added antiseptic property can only add to the list of benefits.
- MOISTURIZING LATHER THAT WON'T DRY YOUR FACE, BODY, OR HAIR: Our bar soaps produce a rich lather that won't dry out your skin! Dr. Bronner's is made with only the purest certified organic oils and will leave your skin feeling soft and smooth.
- MADE WITH ORGANIC OILS THAT ARE GENTLE and EFFECTIVE: We don't add any chelating agents, dyes, whiteners, or synthetic fragrances—only all-natural, vegan ingredients that are gentle, effective, and mild. Use on your face, body, or hair!
Dr. Bronner’s soap is a great organic product for natural alternatives to keeping ourselves clean. Made from natural, organic compounds and fair-trade sources, this soap is one of the kindest we’ve tried. Kind on the skin, the planet, and the communities worldwide. It is so gentle, in fact, that you can use it on anything – from your body to your furniture, floors, and windows.
Local Purchased Natural Soaps
- ALL NATURAL SOAP BAR, SCENTED with Premium Essential Oils, Organic Ingredients Refreshing, Nourishing, Invigorating cleansing goodness
- NOURISHING - It helps fighting with viruses , bacteria and germs. VEGAN, FREE OF ALCOHOL, SULFATE OR OTHER CHEMICALS AND NON-GMO
Unlike industrial soaps, which can often be very harsh on the skin and demand a lot of water to be rinsed (as the lather is very thick and sticks to the skin), traditionally made soaps offer many benefits. These benefits include:
- Natural soaps are mild on the skin,
- Natural soaps contain glycerine, nurturing the skin,
- They are cruelty-free and animal-friendly,
- They are made of natural plant oils instead of animal lard.
Furthermore, as these soaps are locally made, there are no costs and associated carbon emissions from them. They are environment-friendly as they cannot leak any harmful chemicals into the environment. Natural, locally produced soaps usually cost more than commercial variants, but the benefits are multiple and add up to a higher quality experience.
- Daily chef (formerly bakers and chefs) white vinegar 1 gallon jug
- Reduced with water to 5% acidity
Vinegar is another great cleaning solution that helps save water. As vinegar is mildly acidic, it is great for keeping your home clean. Vinegar removes some oils and mineral buildup and can even keep your toilet bowl sparkling. You can use vinegar after baking soda in washing your hair – it will help break down any gunk buildup and will keep your hair shiny and smelling nice. Once it has evaporated, vinegar leaves no smell, which is another bonus.
Fine Sea Salt and Coconut Oil Mix
- Ultra Exfoliating: Harness the skin exfoliating and anti aging body scrub powers of Coconut Oil and Dead Sea Salt in this sea salt body scrub.
- Deeply Moisturizing: Coconut and Sweet Almond Oil moisturize, smooth, and brighten the skin, a perfect dead sea salt scrub.
A flaky mixture of fine sea salt and coconut oil is a mildly abrasive agent that can help remove dirt and oils from your skin. Sea salt works by abrasion – it helps break down any dirt and removes dead skin cells from your hands, feet, and body. The coconut oil dissolves all oils, including the skin sebum and any other oils you may have contacted with.
The biggest pro of using this solution to keep yourself clean is that it takes very little water to rinse – just enough to melt the salt away. On the other hand, what is left on your body is a protective layer of coconut oil. It slows down your sebaceous glands and keeps you smelling good for longer.
How do I wash long hair off-grid?
Washing long hair off-grid is not a difficult task. All you need are two or three bowls of water, some baking soda, and, optionally, organic apple vinegar. Untie your hair and submerge it in the water bowl that you’ve added a tablespoon of baking soda to. Wait for a few minutes, lift your head, and comb your hair in all directions. Repeat two to three times and rinse using the clean water from the second bowl. For added softness and shine, some like to add one step after the baking soda soaking: soaking your hair in a bowl of water with two tablespoons of vinegar in it.
Should you boil water from outside before bathing?
You should only boil water from outside before bathing if the water is really dirty. If you suspect that the water may contain harmful bacteria (if you can see dead leaf deposits on the bottom or if the water is not clear), then you should boil it. You should do the same if you doubt that residential sewer may be polluting the water, as well as in areas where there are pork, beef, or chicken farms. If you live in an area infested with mosquitos, such as Florida, you should boil it as well, especially if the water is stagnant. Not boiling the water risks skin, eye infections, infections to the genital region, and general skin redness, rashes, and possible parasite infestation to the bowels.
Taking a shower while off-grid does not have to be a strenuous task. Long after the first settlers had to carry and heat the water for bathing, we’ve come up with ways to heat water faster and enable ourselves to stay clean year-round.
Next up – knowing how to wash laundry off-grid.