How to Shower Without a Shower on Your Next International Expedition

My name is Dana, I’m from the suburbs of Chicago, and I am not really a fan of “roughing it.” So when I told my friends and family that I was planning on living in west Africa for six months, you can imagine the looks on their faces as they asked, rather incredulously, “Have you even camped?!” (Um, yes, I camped at Disney World once.)

Naturally, these doubtful expressions made me all the more resolved to spend six months in Africa and become the “HELL-YEAH-I-CAN-DO-THIS” person I’ve always been, in a new and ~strange~ environment. Flash forward to waking up in rural Cameroon and soaking up my new African home!

When I arrived, culture shock hit me right in the face, but nonetheless, I was thrilled to be there. The program provider was great at introducing us to the new culture and life of Cameroon and teaching us about the food, language, cultural norms, and ways of life.

Curiously, the one thing they never conveyed was how to bathe without a shower or bathtub.

I don’t know what I expected — How to Shower 101 taught by Dr. Bronners himself? — but I thought they would say something! So after several days of avoiding showering and becoming disgusted by my own Eau de Dana, the day finally came when I was faced with the task of having to figure out how to wash myself with one bucket of water… it came down to just me and the bucket.

This guy has it easy. If you are a fully-grown adult, chances are you will have a more difficult time… but that’s not to say it won’t be just as enjoyable.

My first attempt was rather humiliating one — I definitely do not recommend simply dumping the contents of the bucket over your head. Shockingly, this left me with a head still full of shampoo, which did not make me feel “clean,” so I took a step back and re-assessed the situation. I was determined to figure out how to master this and prove to everyone at home that I was 100% capable of roughing it.

So today, I write this as an expert, to share my expertise and welcome you into the world of “roughing it”. First, bucket bathing is not as scary and overwhelming as it sounds; there are actually considerable environmental benefits to using a sole bucket of water to get clean. You’ll go home after roughing it and never look at a shower the same way again.

Here are my tips on how to be a badass and stay clean while roughing it:

  1. You will need tools! Naturally, a bucket is required. Additionally, find a bowl or cut a plastic bottle in half and use it as a cup, the bigger the bottle the better. This is how you will scoop up the water and rinse like a pro:
Note the expert use of not one, but two buckets here. When bathing in public, undergarments are recommended.

2. Always wash your face first! The water will get soapy and you probably want to start with the cleanest water on your face. Wash your feet last, or with a different bucket. Top-down is a good strategy here.

3. Wash your hair while the water is still clean. Use your cup to get your hair wet, or dunk those long locks in the bucket and then lather and rinse. You can attempt to rinse over the bucket to save the water (it will then be soapy/dirty) to use in washing your bod, or you can rinse over the drain and let it go — just depends on how much water you have/need.

4. Finally, get that body so fresh and so clean clean. Take your cup and splash it over your body (while envisioning standing under the most amazing waterfall ever, obviously), soap up, lather, and then rinse with the remaining water. Don’t forget your feet!

5. Once you have successfully dried yourself and noticed all of the places you missed (it’s okay, first-timer), celebrate with a lukewarm bottle of Fanta. Congratulations! You are officially a semi-clean badass bucket bather!


Dana Ward is the Admissions & Advising Coordinator at ThinkImpact, a social enterprise that connects students and young professionals with entrepreneurs in Rwanda, South Africa, and Panama to learn about innovation and human-centered design through sustainable micro-business development. In addition to bathing, Dana enjoys eating carbs in every country she visits. For opportunities to bucket bathe this summer, check out open Institutes.


This article is also posted on the ThinkImpact Innovation in Action blog.

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