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Van life can be a dirty and sometimes stinky adventure. While most of the pictures you see online of van lifers enjoying the journey look great in pictures, they are often in environments where it is hot and nasty, and some may go for long periods of time without access to showers.
Many van dwellers will find public showers to clean themselves off from time to time but this makes for a yucky experience in between those cleanings. The solution is to have a shower option available in your van or something that you can use regularly to wash yourself off and stay clean. It isn’t always feasible to have a full shower within your van but some type of shower is possible for most van conversions.
There are numerous ways that you can stay clean while out on the road with some being more convenient than others. I’ve built a full-fledged shower in my van so, for me, taking a shower is similar to taking a shower at home. As long as I have plenty of water supply, I can take as many showers as needed. This makes it convenient but there are also downsides to this which I will discuss below.
Most van-dwellers are aware of using public locations for showers. These can easily be found in gyms, truck stops, campgrounds, hotels, etc. However, this list will focus on other options outside of public facilities. This list will help you create a self-sustaining environment in your own van rather than having to look for public options.
1. Built-In Indoor Shower
The best shower option for van life is a built-in, dedicated shower inside your van. Having a built-in shower will give you the privacy you need for an effective shower. Not only will it make showering easy when you are ready to do so but it can also serve other purposes. Besides showering, your shower stall could also be used to hang wet clothes or store wet shoes and other items out of the way, closed off to your van dwelling area so they do not become a nuisance.
While this is the most complicated way to have a shower since it requires you to build it during a van conversion, it’s certainly the most convenient once it is fully created and set up.
What’s more is that you can add a water heater to your shower system, making it as though you are taking a shower in a residential home. This is truly luxurious while out on the road living in a van. It makes a great way to take a shower as long as you have access to water and don’t mind using it for cleaning yourself off.
My shower in my van is fully built into my water system and utilizes my main water supply. However, my showers are usually very quick and I use a very small amount of that water. It usually works out to less than 2-gallons for a full shower.
In order to end up with a fully functioning shower like this, it will need to be planned in your van build or you’ll need to choose a van that already has a built-in shower. There are numerous ways that you can do it. While some of them may be fixed showers that are there at all times, and some may be the type that can be folded up and put away when not in use.
There is no best option when it comes to this but will come down to your preferences in the situation.
You can see pictures of my shower build here.
- It’s convenient. You never have to leave your van to take a shower which makes it super convenient.
- It’s luxurious. You’ll be tucked away in privacy in your van and can take your time with soaping up and rinsing off.
- It can serve multiple purposes. It can be used for more than just a shower. I use mine for wet clothes and shoes, especially during rainy times.
- It’s always available. No need to search for a public shower or do without. You can take a shower in the comfort and privacy of your own van no matter where you are.
- It can be designed to your liking. Be creative and build it however you wish.
- It uses an already small water supply. Using your main supply of water for showers is a quick way to end up empty and needing a refill. This may not be the best option if you are off the grid.
- Water must be disposed of properly. When taking a shower, you’ll need to collect and dump your water properly or use environmentally friendly soaps when in an area that allows it to dump straight onto the ground.
- It takes up valuable space in your van. This is one reason many people avoid indoor showers. They take up space so it has to make sense for you.
2. Built-in Outdoor Shower
If an indoor shower is out of the question, an outdoor shower makes sense if you have a plumbing system with a water pump in your van. Including a way to take an outdoor shower can make the experience much more pleasant and save room in the process. This can give you a functioning shower head while not taking up any space within your van.
This can be achieved in multiple ways and many people do it by using their kitchen sink faucet. By positioning your sink next to the side door of your van, you can extend the faucet head out the side of the door and take a shower as needed.
Another way is to build a dedicated outdoor shower with a nozzle and shower head that can be plugged up whenever you need it. This is often accomplished by installing it in the back of the van so that you can create some privacy between the doors. You can do this by fashioning a shower curtain between the two rear doors while they are opened. This can make for a great way to rinse off and take a quick shower after a beach excursion, hiking, biking, or just getting the funk off after a long day.
As you can imagine, some cons go along with having a shower like this. It’s not something that can easily be done in a public area and will not always be an ideal solution. Even with a shower curtain or some kind of privacy screen, it may not be allowed in certain areas and you will have to do without or find another way to wash off.
- Provides you with a shower while taking up minimal room. It can tap into your water supply with a simple hose and sprayer.
- Doesn’t require a gray water tank. Since you are outside, you can just let the water fall to the ground in most cases as long as you use the proper soaps.
- Keeps all the dirty work outside your van. No need to worry about getting dirt, grime, and water inside your van. All the dirty work will stay outside.
- Keeps moisture and water outside your van where it belongs. No moisture will build up in your van by keeping the showering outdoors.
- It’s inconvenient. Setting up an outdoor showering space can be a pain unless you are out in the middle of nowhere and no people are around.
- Requires you to be in an area that allows it. Many places won’t allow it so you’ll have to check first before assuming you can strip down and clean yourself off outdoors.
- You will likely have to wear shorts or a bikini while showering. While it’s better than nothing, wearing clothing while showering isn’t ideal.
- Not ideal in colder temperatures. You probably won’t want to take a shower when it’s super cold outside for obvious reasons.
While an outdoor shower like this can work well in some cases, it isn’t always the answer. It’s a good idea to combine an indoor shower and an outdoor shower as each of them can be used for specific reasons. An outdoor shower is great for those times when you need to rinse off because you have dirt and grime on your legs and feet.
However, an indoor shower may be the best option if you want to have a full-body wash in private and in the comforts of your own living space.
3. 12V Portable Shower
A portable shower system that connects to a 12-volt or other power source is a great alternative to a full-featured shower that is built into your van. With one of these, you are able to utilize pressurized water that can keep you clean while out on the road.
These types of showers usually hold a small amount of water and can be used long enough for a short rinse-off. They are perfect for van life or any type of camping experience where you need to be able to shower while using minimal electricity and water.
These can be used inside or outside your van depending on the type and the setup that you have. Some van dwellers create an encased area in their van that can be temporarily erected while they use the shower. Others simply take the unit outside their van and use it as an outdoor shower. Either way works great and gives you a place to rinse off when you need it.
My suggestion for a great quality portable shower is:
3.5-Gallon RinseKit PRO Portable Shower
The RinseKit Pro Portable Shower is a popular choice for camping and other outdoor activities and allows you to rinse off with a powered washer that has a water reserve of 3.5 gallons. This can simply be connected to a 12-volt power source and used as any other type of shower. With a decent rate of flow from the showerhead, you are able to rinse dirt and debris off your body or take a full shower and keep yourself clean while traveling in your van.
It’s a portable solution that is similar to storing a cooler in your van. It doesn’t take up much space and is ready to be used when you need it. It can also be used with the RinseKit Pro Immersion Heater so that you can enjoy a hot water shower.
4. Gravity Outdoor Shower
If an electrical shower will not work for you or you do not want to tap into your electricity for a simple shower, a gravity shower is a great solution and will also allow you the same opportunity to rinse off that the 12-volt portable ones will.
The only difference is that the gravity shower will need to be hung up at a height that allows gravity to do the work for you in creating water pressure. The water pressure will not be as strong as a 12-volt shower but it will be plenty for allowing you to fully rinse off.
These come in all shapes and sizes with some being very simplistic and others with more features and capacity. Some offer solar heating and a large capacity of up to 5-gallons. This amount of water is more than enough for a full shower.
My recommendation for a gravity shower is:
Advanced Elements 5 Gallon Summer Shower
With 5-gallons of capacity, the Advanced Elements 5-Gallon Summer Shower will give you plenty of water to clean yourself off. There is nothing to plugin and it works by using gravity. Simply hang the shower up at a high level on your van and let the water come flowing out.
It also includes a temperature gauge so you will know when the sun has heated the water to your liking. It’s a great way to enjoy a shower while out on the road without the hassles of a built-in shower or the expense of a more capable portable shower. It’s easy to fold up and store when not in use.
5. Solar Car-Top Shower
A car top shower works great for a van. Since there is so much space on top of your van, it makes sense to utilize this space to create a large capacity water reservoir that can be used as a shower. This allows the water to remain completely outside of your van yet ready to use whenever you need a shower.
These are often great at warming the water since they are in direct view of the sun throughout the day. They allow you to enjoy a nice warm shower after the sun has increased the temperature of the water.
These can be purchased ready-made or can be built custom with a few simple parts. This simple DIY version from REI can be built and mounted to the top of your van using minimal supplies. It utilizes ABS pipe that can be purchased at most home improvement stores. Other parts needed are easy to find and this type of setup provides a great solution for those wanting to be able to shower outdoors with the simple pressurized portable shower.
Purchasing a shower like this that is already built for you is also an option. If you are going to go this route, I recommend the WaterPORT The Weekender 8.0 Gallon Water Tank.
This is a shower that can be mounted on top of a van or other type of vehicle. With an 8-gallon water capacity, it’s more than enough to provide multiple showers and other uses. A shower like this creates a very large reservoir to store water and allows it to warm up with the help of the sun.
While it is expensive, it is a reliable shower that can be mounted up and out of the way, providing you with a warm shower.
As you can see, you are not limited to public shower facilities while living van life, there are plenty of ways for you to keep yourself clean while out on the road. While I believe the best way is to include some type of built-in shower in your van conversion, other options outside of your van can work great as well.
I have never regretted building a shower stall within my van that allows me to take a private shower anytime I wish.
However, many people don’t have the space for this or don’t want to take up space with a shower that may not get used very often. It all depends on your personal preferences and the conveniences you want within your van. If not an indoor shower, a built-in outdoor shower is among one of the most popular ways to keep fresh and clean while traveling in a van.
Whatever you choose, just know that traveling in a van doesn’t mean that you’ll only be able to take showers in public places like gyms, or truck stops. You can be proactive and create a solution within your van that allows you to stay clean most of the time.