Showers & Toilets

Chapter 5: Showers & Toilets

This is the part of van life that nobody likes to think about. Unfortunately, to many people, van lifers are seen as hippies with B.O. Maybe this is what you’re going for, but if not, you’re in luck. There are numerous easy, affordable ways to keep up with your hygiene while living off the grid.

Camper Van Shower / Bathing


 

One of the biggest questions you will be asked when people first learn that your van is your home is, “How do you shower?” Camper van showering may be one of the most challenging obstacles you may face when first making the move into a van, but after some time you’ll find it’s not hard at all. With a little bit of adjustment, and maybe a little creativity, you can keep that personal hygiene up, and stay squeaky clean.

Depending on your lifestyle, a daily shower isn’t always necessary. Our friend Alex (@vantravelphoto) has the benefit of spending most of his time near the ocean, taking regular dips and or surfing helps keep fresh in between regular showers. And of course, at the beach there’s always outdoor public showers to rinse off at. If you don’t live by, or are close to a beach, you should go there! Isn’t that why we live in a van? In between showers, he became a big fan of baby wipes. A friend who is a forest firefighter in California turned him on to this trick. They spend sometimes weeks in the forest battling the flames.

Living in a van, you may not always have the luxury of long, hot, showers but we all know the tradeoff is well worth it. In this section, we will explore some of the different ways to stay clean. Feel free to try them all and see what works best for you.

Budget Shower Options

With these portable shower options, you’re not going to have the luxury of an instantly hot shower. What you can do is boil some water to mix in with the water used for your shower to make it a more suitable temperature. Or you can buy a hot coil element to place in the water as well – we talk about this in the shower accessories section near the bottom of the page.

Hozelock Portable Pump Shower

Hozelock Pump Shower

We’ve heard really great things about this portable shower being perfect for van life. It requires just a few hand pumps to get the water flowing for nearly the whole container. The downside to this shower is it doesn’t collapse to provide for easy storage when not in use. Also, if you paint the outside black and set it out in the sun, this will warm the water up – just make sure you leave a vertical strip unpainted so you can see how much water is left in the container.

Capacity: 5 Liters (1.3 gallons) – it says it holds up to 7 liters but recommends only 5 – runs for about 3 minutes
Price: $43

Battery Powered Portable Shower 

Hook it up to your sink or you can put the opposite end of the unit into a bucket of water and it will pump the water through to the shower head. What’s amazing about this option is it comes with a filtration device to ensure your water is fresh. The battery is easily rechargeable and lasts up to 1 hour of continuous use.

Capacity: Unlimited
Price: $35

solar camping shower

Solar Shower Bag

This option is great for summer as it uses the sun to heat up quickly. To use it, you can hang it from a tree branch or install a hook onto your camper van.

Capacity: 3 gallons
Price: $20

Epic Wipes baby wipes

Baby Wipes

Sounds weird, but they can really get the job done in times of desperation. It’s always good to have a pack of these in case of emergency. These Epic baby wipes are massive so they can easily clean your entire body.

Price: $25

Additional Budget Shower Options

24/7 Gym Membership

Planet Fitness is $10 per month, and they’re all over the U.S. Can’t hurt to get a quick workout in too!

Campsite Facilities

Some campsites have showers, so keep an eye for them. Don’t forget to bring your flip flops!

Beaches

Many beaches have showers for those who want to clean off after a dip in the lake or ocean.

Couchsurfing

The Counchsufing app is typically used for people looking to find places to sleep, but I’m sure people won’t mind if you just use their shower.

Truck Stops

You’ll find that some truck stops have areas to shower.

Mountain Biking Trails

Some mountain biking trails have showers for riders to clean off their bikes.

Friends and Family

If they’re on the way to your next destination, use their place.

Weed Sprayer

I wouldn’t go out and buy a weed sprayer because you can get a decent hand pump shower for the same price, but if you have one laying around your house, give it a try.

Water Jugs

Use gallon water jugs to wash yourself off

Cloth or Sponge

Use a wet cloth or sponge with a bucket of water

Public Bathrooms

If you’re desperate, you can always go into a McDonalds bathroom and use the sink to rub some water under your pits.

Dry Shampoo

If hair is the only thing you’re worried about, this is not a bad option.

“Luxury” Shower Options

Eccotemp L10 Portable Outdoor Tankless Water Heate

Eccotemp L10 Portable Outdoor Tankless Water Heater

The Eccotemp L10 is one of the best portable water heaters on the market and is a really great option if you’re using your own water tank. It’s very easy to install and comes with all the necessary accessories for installation – you will need to buy a shower head, hoses, and pump separately. It connects to a standard propane tank to heat the water and is powered by batteries. It also has adjustable water pressure and temperature controls (ranging from 50 – 140 degrees F).

Price: $182

Zodi Outback Gear Instant Hot Shower

Zodi Outback Gear Instant Hot Shower

This shower kit uses a small propane canister to heat the water. To use the shower, you submerge the battery powered pump into your water source and hit the pushbutton igniter to get it running. It includes a shower hose and head, along with the ability to adjust the water temperature up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Capacity: Unlimited
Price: $117

Nemo Helio Portable Pressure Shower

Nemo Helio Portable Pressure Shower

This shower uses a foot pump to get the water running and the suns heat to warm up the water. This shower is great because it has adjustable water pressure and can pack up small when not in use.

Capacity: 11 Liters (about 2.9 Gallons)
Price: $100

RinseKit Portable Outdoor Shower

RinseKit Portable Outdoor Shower

The RinseKit doesn’t use electricity, gas, batteries, or a pump – this is how it works: you fill up the shower kit container by connecting it to a hose spigot or sink from a house, in a campground, etc. It works by taking the pressure from the a spigot or sink and converting it into pressure you can use to power the shower. The shower head has an adjustable pressure setting – If you don’t have access to a sink or spigot, you can buy their Pressure Booster Hand Pump Accessory to power the shower instead.

Capacity: 2 Gallons – will run about 1 minute 15 seconds when it’s in “shower mode”.
Price: $100

Shower Accessories

Pop-Up Shower Tent

Because nobody likes a peeping Tom.

Outdoor Shower Mat

Keep your feet clean!

Outdoor Shower Mat Wood

Electric Hot Water Coil Heater

Put this in a bucket or container to heat up your water – it will get a few gallons of water hot in just a few minutes.

Hot Water Coil Heater

Use a Lake or River

Use environmentally friendly shampoo and body wash, please!

 

Tea Tree environmentally friendly body washTea Tree Shampoo

DIY Shower

This shower design was given to us by our friends @three_vanlifers. To make this, you can use any sort of rope or cable along with metal hooks to hold up the shower curtain. They also recommend getting something to stand on while showering, such as a wooden pallet.

DIY Van Shower

DIY Indoor Camper Van Shower

In the winter if you’re staying somewhere cold or if you’re in an urban area and you want your privacy, this is a good option. An easy way to do this without having to build an actual shower inside your conversion van is to take a bucket large enough to stand in, a hula hoop, a shower curtain with hooks and then figure out a way to temporarily attach it to your van’s ceiling. You could do this by attaching Velcro, installing small hooks, or as you can see in the picture below, they are lucky enough to have a pole that allows the hula hoop to slide over.

indoor campervan shower

(Image Credit)

Camper Van Toilets


 

Using a toilet while living in a camper van isn’t always an enjoyable topic to discuss. But nobody is excused from these natural processes. We all have to go, so might as well talk, and share ideas about when nature calls. When it comes to going to the bathroom, the best thing you can do is plan ahead. You don’t want to get caught with your pants down, literally. You can park your van at night somewhere close to a public restroom for when you need it in the morning. Check out some of the public restroom ideas below.

One method listed below is the use of a pee bottle, used by males, and females by way of the SHEWEE. If this method is for you, we recommend using a colored Nalgene bottle. They have a wide mouth, never leak, are discreet because of the color, and are virtually indestructible. But once again, plan ahead, don’t get stuck in the middle of the night needing to go and you already have a full bottle!

When it comes to going number 2, doing it inside the van is typically unnecessary. If you are boondocking or camping, there’s plenty of open space outside, and in the city. In the city, you will typically never be more than five minutes away from a public restroom. Gas stations are everywhere but can be unreliable. Grocery stores are great because you can pick up some fresh fruit and boom, two birds with one stone. If you do feel the need to go #2 inside the van, check out some of the van toilet options below.

Public Toilets – campgrounds, fast food restaurants, etc. We recommend using the Flush toilet finder app. As soon as you open the app, it will display the nearest public toilets to you. It’s free, and you can even search for toilets without an internet connection.

Nature – if you decide to go this route, you can shelter yourself with a pop-up shower tent like the one mentioned above.

Pee Jar – This is great to have in case of emergency!

Portable Toilet – these work pretty well, and are very affordable, but might be a tight squeeze if you have a small van.
Portable van Toilet

Nature’s Head Self Contained Composting Toilet – This toilet is not cheap, but it has all the bells and whistles such as a vent hose and fan.

Nature's Head Self Contained Composting Toilet with Close Quarters Spider Handle Design

5-Gallon Bucket with Trash Bags – add something soft like pipe insulation around the rim to make it a bit more accommodating. If you plan on using the bags multiple times before disposing of, we recommend using kitty litter.

5-Gallon Black Bucket

SHEWEE Extreme – this device allows women to stand while urinating, without removing clothing. It’s super handy to have when public restrooms are not an option.

SHEWEE Extreme

DIY Van Toilet – this is a great option, and very affordable.

Camper Van Laundry


Finding the best method to wash your clothes on the road can be tricky. There are several factors that can influence what method is right for you, including your budget, how much room you have available in your van, and where most of your time is spent while on the road. Listed below are a few great options.

The Scrubba Bag – By far the most portable option, the Scrubba Bag is also an extremely affordable and effective method. While this option is a true off the grid method of washing your clothes, time is the one downside to this method as you do have to hang dry your clothes.

Scrubba Wash Bag - Portable Laundry System For Camping

Panda Portable Washing Machine – If you have the money and the space, a portable washing machine is the best method. Highly effective and fast, this method is also off-grid friendly if you are running solar power.

Panda Small Compact Portable Washing Machine

5 Gallon Bucket – Old-school, cheap, and convenient. Wash your clothes wherever you have water. Again, since you must hang dry your clothing one downside to this method is time.

Laundry Mat – If you happen to be in a town or campground with a laundry mat this can be a great option. Two downsides to this method are the reoccurring costs and lack of convenience.

River, Lake, or Pond – If you’re in nature and can find a relatively clean body of water this can be a great option to keep you one with nature.

Hand Washing in a Sink – If worse comes to worse, you can stop by a rest stop, fast-food joint, or a gym if you have a membership.

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