Keeping Clean On the Road

“How do you stay clean while traveling?” That is a pretty common question – and a valid one because it does take some planning!

There are two things to consider: fresh water supply and gray water storage. Gray water is the used/dirty water from the sink and shower. (Black water is toilet waste and that is stored in a separate tank from the gray.) So, how much clean water do you have and where will it go? Each rig has its own combination of tanks and their holding capacities can vary. Typically 5th Wheels have larger tanks than travel trailers. Motorhome tanks vary based on class and size.

Let’s talk fresh…

We opted for a fifth wheel with larger holding tanks because we are a family of six and we hope to dry camp (no hookups) often. We can carry 60 gallons of fresh water. That is plenty of water for us to wash hands, brush teeth and do dishes with. We do use the water conservatively – we don’t let the water run unnecessarily, so that buys us more dry-camping time.

But what about showering?

In an RV there are several different situations you can be in or ways to approach showering.

When dry camping/boondocking: Basically on one full fresh water tank we (six of us) can each shower once. Twice if we are extra conservative. Navy showers only! Click here to see what the heck that means. If you get a shower head with a shut off switch like this one it makes them easier. The ladies will usually not wash their hair every time they shower when dry camping because that is most of the water consumption. Dry shampoo is amazing stuff if you haven’t tried it yet, you should. Needless to say, showers are scheduled strategically for maximum cleanliness when it counts the most!

When dry camping at a campground: In this situation you might have access to a shower house provided by the campground. These are a good option but beware that some are not the cleanest. If you plan to use them make sure to read reviews on the campground before you book your site. You will need to bring your own toiletries and towel with you. Shower shoes are a really good idea. Obviously, I prefer using the camper. It is more convenient and more private… but a shower is a shower is a shower!

Option 3: Some people never use their RV shower. They only use shower houses, truck-stop showers (some are ridiculously nice), YMCAs or they get a gym membership to a nationwide gym and use those showers. Whatever works for you is what you should do!

Now let’s talk not-so-fresh water…

In our particular camper we have two 50 gallon tanks for gray water. One holds water from the shower and the sink from the primary bathroom. The other is the kitchen sink and the sink from the bunk room bathroom. If you start off with a full fresh water tank and empty grays then you don’t need to worry about maxing these out. When you do need to think about these is when you a) refilled your fresh without dumping your gray or b) you are at a water and electric only campsite (no sewer hookup). In these situations you have more fresh water than you do gray water capacity. Some ways to help slow the filling of your gray tanks:

  • Take Navy showers or sponge baths.
  • Put empty buckets/small tubs in your shower and try and divert as much water as you can into them so it doesn’t go down the drain. Some people actually stand in them to collect more water. I would totally bust my booty so I don’t! After your shower, empty the buckets out outside on some thirsty plants or use the water to flush the toilets (this helps save some fresh water too!).
  • Put a container in your kitchen sink (or even bathroom sinks) and collect all your water in them as you wash hands or do dishes. Again, dump it outside or use it for the toilets. You can eliminate 100% of dishwater from going in the gray tanks!
  • Showering is definitely going to fill your tanks faster than hand washing and brushing teeth. If you have this option, use the sink that doesn’t share the gray water tank with the shower for these tasks. This is a good way to strategically use your tank space so you can squeeze in more showers.
  • We have never done this, and I am not sure how veteran RVers feel about this, but we’ve heard some people open their gray tanks slightly and let them drip onto the ground while boondocking to slow the fill of their tanks. I am curious what you all think of this! Share your thoughts in the comments.

One newbie RV observation that has been confirmed for us by some veteran RVers… your tank gauges are almost always inaccurate. They are just designed poorly and it is what it is. Like it or not, you will quickly start to become one with your tanks! You will learn how much you can do or how long you can go with each tank – you won’t need no stinkin’ gauge!

When it comes down to it, let’s be real, we showered more regularly when we lived in a stick and brick house. Honestly, more often than we needed to just because it was easy. We feel better now about our impact on the planet and, I promise, we are still healthy, clean, and we don’t smell! Isn’t that all that matters?!

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