Van life is becoming a trendy way to live these days. Many people leave their homes and traditional jobs behind to pursue the “life on the road.”
One of the parts of van life that can be worst is finding ways to shower.
No matter where you get your hot water, it will eventually run out, and then you won’t have a bath or shower for weeks or even months. This post provides some ideas for how to take a shower while living in your camper van.
Things to consider:
Are you going to be living in your van full time? Will you need to find a laundromat in town or somewhere where you could fill up your water tank every few weeks?
If so, how can the concepts below fit into your long-term plans? If you’re only traveling for a month but want hot water while camping along the way, these ideas might not work for you.
If you have a 20-pound propane tank, you can set up a propane burner outside and use it to produce hot water. You’ll need a shower pipe, a water heater, and an outdoor shower.
If your camper van has no loft, then the bathroom won’t be huge. I would suggest installing the shower/shower pipe under the exterior skin of your van. You’ll need something like a spring-loaded shower head or a hand shower attachment.
Once the propane tank is empty, you will need to fill it again. Also, if you’re parked on a hill, be sure your propane tank is well-anchored so that it doesn’t tip over in the wind.
Unfortunately, propane tanks have a limited lifespan. You will need to be vigilant about emptying and refilling your tank. Also, propane tanks are heavy, so you will need to find a way to move the tank and lift it into place once your water heater is installed.
How much propane you need depends on how many hours of hot water you want, how much weight the showerhead weighs when empty, and how many people the hot shower will serve comfortably. Videos are available online showing how you can install a propane shower.
Showers with no water heater:
You can use the same propane shower system as above, but instead of an outdoor shower, you can install a gas-powered water heater inside your van shower.
Like the propane tank, these units have a limited lifespan. You will need to monitor your water heater to be sure it is running correctly and filling up. Once your water heater starts having problems and leaking gas, it will be time to get a new water heater.
Unless there is a propane source nearby, you will need to make sure you have enough propane left in a twenty-pound tank to fill your water heater before heading out on the road.
A hot electric shower:
If you can’t install an outdoor gas shower setup, try using an electric hot water shower in your van. There are several varieties of these showers available at camp supply stores.
If your showerhead is 20 pounds empty, you will need to fill it before traveling to a new location.
The price of a hot water shower varies depending on how long you want it to run. You could go with a more expensive tank-type electric heater if you’re willing to carry it along wherever you go in the van. Or, you could go with something compact and battery-powered if you can find one with an adjustable thermostat or manual controls.
If you go with an electric hot water shower, you’ll need a battery and a way to keep the battery warm. For this reason, you should install a battery in your van’s engine compartment or you have a portable generator.
Install a heater in your van’s engine compartment before installing the showerhead, so it heats up before you start using it. After taking a shower, close off the flow of hot water with a valve or faucet tap so that the heater only has to work for short bursts while you are using the shower.
If you want to purchase a hot water shower system, make sure it is compatible with your van. You may need to get an adapter kit or two. Also, check the unit’s weight before buying it to see if it will be manageable for your plans and travel style.
Showers using solar power:
Some people use buckets of hot water from a bathtub or a lake and dump them over themselves using an outdoor shower, but that method can be time-consuming.
You can set up a solar panel over your shower space to heat the water in a solar-heated shower. Water heating time varies depending on the size and strength of the panel.
If you decide to go this route, I would suggest using a gas-powered water heater like the ones above. That way, you’ll have hot water for cleaning dishes, washing your hands, water the plants and other small tasks besides taking a shower.
You will need to move the water heater into your bathe area after you install it. And if you want to install a solar shower, you will need to install a drain in your shower space so that the water won’t back up in your van’s engine compartment.
When it comes to solar energy, be sure the location of your panel is ideal for receiving as much solar energy as possible. Even if all the sun hits the panel simultaneously, it might not be enough to heat enough hot water for bathing. You might have to get several solar panels that you can move around depending on the time of day.
The main advantage of using a solar shower is that you can take your time using the hot water. The hot water won’t run out while getting clean.
On the other hand, a disadvantage of a solar shower is that it takes a long time to heat up. So it’s suitable for overnight camping or for taking showers in places where it might be calm or relaxed at night, but not cold enough to need the heater working during the day.
How to make an outdoor shower:
You can buy a hot water outdoor shower kit and install it on your van’s exterior. Some kits can work with rainwater and even melted snow for washing off after a long hike. Just turn on the water tap, take your shower, and turn it off when you are done. It couldn’t be simpler or cleaner.
Showers with a faucet using solar power:
Some older vans with only one shower head and no hose could use a faucet that attaches to the hot water line for washing. You can attach it to the shower hose and turn on the faucet for washing. If you turn the faucet off, it will automatically turn off the water to your shower head.
One fascinating shower kit that uses this same principle is the Shower booth. It works well for taking showers in a small van with no place for a hose. But you have to carry a bucket of water with you or have a way to store extra water on your travels. One reviewer said that it took 6 hours of sunlight to heat a whole pot of water for his one shower, and he couldn’t take a cold shower because he got too dry.
Using the Shower booth:
This shower is quite expensive (about $300) so you have to decide if it’s worth it for you. The downside is that you have to carry a bucket of hot water with you on your travels or heat water when there is time enough for solar heating. But that’s the price you pay for using solar to heat water.
Indoor vs. Outdoor Showers in Van Life
If you have a van with an outdoor shower, you probably think that it’s the greatest thing in the world. Nevertheless, I have noticed that there are drawbacks to both types. It depends on what kind of person you are and what matters most to you.
Problem with outdoor showers:
You have to get dressed before or after your shower because your clothes will be soaked if they’re even slightly damp when outside in the cold air. Although it’s not a huge deal, it’s something to think about if you’re a particularly sensitive or germ-averse person.
Problem with indoor showers:
The water heater is going to run out of hot water quickly. If you have the standard 15-20 gallon tank, it’s probably not going to last long enough for two people to take a shower. There’s a good chance you’ll have to wait in line or save the warm water for whoever finishes first. Taking a shower together can be a bit unsettling if you’re in the middle of a shower with your significant other. Some people have made do with only one shower for their whole lives, and it’s not ideal.
You can’t have a hot shower in the van because you’ll need a fire extinguisher nearby if the tank burst or something similar happens that puts your van on fire. Some people like to have a shower behind closed doors. Still, I would highly discourage this for safety reasons because any flammable materials in your van will likely catch fire, and it won’t be easy to put out. I’d be very cautious about locking up something that can burn in your van.
Outdoor Shower Pros:
They’re great for when it’s cold, and you want to get the blood moving with a hot shower. I loved having a hot shower outside in the winter. You’ll most likely be able to stay outside longer because you won’t have to worry about getting cold or being too hot. It can be a great feeling. You don’t need to drain your water heater.
Outdoor Shower Cons:
Water can freeze outside. It’s a pain in the ass. It won’t hurt you as long as it doesn’t burst your tank, but if it goes boom and freezes over, you could be in trouble. It will be hard to move or do anything with it. You’ll need to start carrying a propane torch or something similar if you want to thaw it out. There’s no privacy outside, and you’ll need your clothes on if you don’t want to get them wet.
Most people have indoor showers in their vans because it’s the easiest way to go. If you’re not interested in making an indoor shower, you can still find ways around some of these problems elsewhere.
Here are some Van life options for finding a good, cheap, and safe shower solution:
Homemade Shower Panels
If you’re not interested in a DIY option, you can always buy the panels. They’re relatively cheap and will make a good shower without much hassle. You can even get a customized option to make it look better in your van.
These are water hoses you fill with water and use to spritz yourself. Many campgrounds will have them for you to use, and they’re simple to pack in your things. They’re also very inexpensive, and they weigh next to nothing. If you don’t mind not having hot water regularly, this is a great option. It’s also nice if there are two of you because there is no line at all.
A Container of Water
It is not ideal if you want to shower for more than 15 minutes, but it’s a good option in dire situations or if you’re only going to be camping one night. Set up your water container next to your van, and then hose yourself off when it’s time. I’ve tried this, and it works well, but I had difficulty getting enough water into the container to wash my body in 15 minutes or less. Your mileage may vary with this one.
The showers in these vans are easy to transport and easy to clean, making them perfect for van life. You can have yourself a cheap, portable shower in your van that doesn’t require batteries or electricity. They’re super convenient, and you won’t even have to get dressed (unless you want to) because they all function the same, thanks to water pressure.
You may be able to find solar showers online as well. Solar showers can be an exciting design element in your van, and many people are interested in them. If you think about your shower, your usual shower habits, and how you want to use it, you’ll be able to find a good option. Make sure that whatever option you choose will work well for any living situation you may find yourself in; a hotel room will require a different type of shower than would fit into your van.
Portable Shower Heads
These are an easy way to have a fun, portable shower that you can use anywhere in your home. They’re more expensive than the others, but they can be a great addition to your van.
Shower at Community Centers
Many cities have community centers that will let people use their showers for free or very cheap. If you live in a city, this may be the easiest way to get clean while saving money. Community centers are abundant, and they’re an easy way to get clean in the summer when it’s hot out.
Public Bathroom Showers
It will probably be the best option for most people, especially if you want to get clean every day. Some parks have bathrooms, and some even have a public shower that you can rent out for a small fee.
If you want a shower that fits your van and meets your needs, there are many options available to you. All of these options are simple and extremely easy for anyone to set up. The options above are relatively cheap to upgrade your shower, but it’s best to make sure that the shower is suitable for the situation you may find yourself in, so you don’t have any problems later on.