Back home I showered daily. Ok, sometimes I’d skip a day if I was lazy or just hadn’t sweated enough. But there wasn’t ever a need to keep track, because I showered whenever I wanted to. I didn’t have to think about whether there was enough water or enough electricity to shower. Since living in the Toaster, I don’t always get to shower when I want to. There’s a lot more thought that goes into showering when your home’s functionality is fully dependent on the sun and you have 40 gallons of water that you’re trying to stretch for as long as possible (which is typically a minimum of a week).
When we first moved into the Toaster the thought of showering was scary; we felt like it would suck up most of our battery life. Our solar setup was new, we didn’t really know its capabilities, how long we could use appliances for, and how long it would take to charge back to 100%. Even though we’ve been living in the RV for almost 9 months, we still have the tendency to play it safe - sometimes too safe.
Our showering conversation goes like this:
Me: Do you think we have enough batteries to turn the bathroom water heater on?
Me: Are you sure? We’re only at 85%. (It’s sunny out.)
Jerud: It’s going to be fine.
Me: Are you sure?
Jerud: (Sighing) Yes. It’ll bring us down to the high 70s but there’s lot of sun.
Me: Ok. (Pause) No, I’ll just shower another day. I’m not that dirty. (Pause) No, I’m going to shower.
While I know that it’s perfectly fine for me to turn the hot water heater on when our batteries are at 85% and it’s sunny outside, I still worry. How much cooking do we have to do later? Will it be sunny tomorrow? Do we need to run the space heater tonight? And if it’s cold when I’m going to shower then will there be enough battery to run the heat while I shower? These questions happen more often during the winter when the sun doesn’t get as high and the days are a lot shorter.
If it’s not the electricity, it’s the water. In that case, our conversation sounds like this:
Me: So, I think it’s been awhile since we showered.
Jerud: Has it? (He never knows.)
Me: Yeah. I think we need to shower. Think we have enough water?
Me: How much longer do we need to make the water last?
Jerud: Just go shower. We’ll be fine.
Me: Hmm…I could just take a sponge bath.
The water concern varies depending on where we’re staying. We’ve been at Lake Mead National Recreation Area for the past 3 weeks and I’ve showered more in those weeks than I usually do (5 showers and 1 sponge bath). I could have showered more but I guess I’ve gotten used to not. The Las Vegas Bay campground has access to (free) fresh water and is around 12 miles round trip drive from where we’re staying. This is a lot more convenient than other places that we’ve boondocked, where water is 30+ miles away. Jerud recently measured how much water I use when I shower and it turns out to be 2 gallons. I was pleasantly surprised and a bit proud. (I even clean behind my ears.) Knowing that I don’t actually use a lot of water to shower has taken that stress down some. Two months ago we purchased a 30 gallon water bag and used it for the first time two weeks ago. Having the water bag means we don’t have to tow the entire RV to fill up on water - that makes getting water more convenient.
Some of you may still be stuck on the “5 showers and 1 sponge bath in 3 weeks” part of this post. You may even been thinking: gosh, they are disgusting. Or: oh my, living in an all-solar RV sucks. Neither of which are true.
On the contrary, I actually really like being clean and need to have a clean and neat living space. But I do believe that many Americans shower too much. You don’t need to shower just because you were awake for 24 hours or made a trip to the grocery store. Your skin won’t explode - you were wearing pants when you sat on that seat, right? At the same time, I have a pretty good tolerance of being dirty from all the years of backpacking, overnight bike trips, and whatever other activities where I find myself in the woods with no shower or river available. I don’t mind being dirty if it means I get to hang out in nature.
Updated 4.20.16: My friend sent me this interesting article about how according to experts daily showers aren't necessary!
There are ways to stay clean without showering. There’s nothing wrong with a sponge bath or simply a fresh pair of underwear if that’s the best you can do (sometimes I’ll use baby wipes when I’m on a multi-day backpacking trip, but I like to stay away from those because of the waste it creates). When I can’t shower because we don’t have enough electricity to heat the water tank, I’ll heat up some water in our electric teakettle, dump it in a plastic tub, grab a bar of soap, and jump in the shower. I use less than a quart of water, not even one percent of electricity, and come out ready for a black-tie event (my mouth may need a little more soap). Or if we’re even tighter on resources then I could just clean the essentials. Besides, my hair looks a lot better when it’s dirty.
Our bathroom hot water heater is a 6 gallon tank. The water is scalding hot when we have it set on “Hot”. The “Ideal” temperature setting is way more reasonable. The other day we finally put the Kill-a-Watt on it to measure how much electricity it uses. On the “Ideal” setting it takes 43 minutes* and about 1,000 watt hours or 9% of our battery capacity to heat up. Nine percent doesn’t sound like a lot and it’s not: on a full battery charge with no sun charging the solar panels, we would be able to heat up the hot water tank 5.5 times before running out of juice. But living in a 100% solar powered RV, you can’t just think about right now, you have to think about later and plan for tomorrow. We would be screwed if we used up all our batteries today and it ended up raining the entire next day.
*Updated 9.28.16: We've recently been in the habit of heating our shower water for 30 minutes on the "Ideal" setting instead of 43 minutes. It saves time and electricity, and the water stays warm enough for both of us to shower one after another.
Living in a solar RV is also about seizing the moment. It’s sunny outside and we’re at 99% battery charge with a few more hours of sun? Then it’s a great time to take a shower and take advantage of the situation. The way we look at it is if our batteries are at 100% and the sun is still out, we might as well use the electricity or else we’re wasting free energy. Is there anything I can cook now? Electronics we can charge up? Is it time to vacuum? Maybe I should turn on the kitchen hot water tank for washing dishes later? Or if we are going to fill up on water the next day then we may shower today.
As I finish writing this I realize that we could definitely shower more than we have been. Since we are still testing our trailer’s capabilities, I guess we are just used to playing it safe. That and we like to stretch out our 40 gallon fresh water tank for as many days as possible, even when it’s not necessary. But I hope that after reading this you have a better idea of everything that goes into play when we want to shower. Maybe you’ll even take one less shower, in honor of us?
We're curious about how often you shower when you're boondocking (aka dry camping)? Fill out the survey and tell us (anonymously = honestly).