Staying Clean While Camping

Estimated read time 5 min read

I joke about being a sweat monster or mud beast, but one thing that I think turns a lot of people off to camping is that they are unhappy when they feel dirty. We can take care of that! I want to help make the outdoors more fun for everyone, so here is my advice for staying clean (and keeping kids relatively clean) while camping and hiking.

Outdoors Hygiene for Fancy People

Are you considering some outdoor adventures and not looking forward to feeling like a grimy yeti? Here are my tips for keeping kids clean enough and helping you feel like a civilized human, even while roughing it.

cleaning flowers

Keep Your Site Clean

If you’re camping, don’t forget to bring something like a small brush and dustpan, broom, or even a small vacuum (yes I have a camping vacuum! pro tip: check second-hand stores for handheld vacuums; I see them all the time) to keep your shelter clean. Make sure shoes are taken off at the door of the tent or camper, AND be sure to clean off everyone’s feet and put on fresh clothes before getting into bed. Nothing is worse than sand in the blankets! Centrally locate a garbage can or use a pop-up laundry hamper by placing a brick or large rock in the bottom and then using binder clips to keep a bag inside. Keep handwashing materials nearby for frequent washes and you’ll be made in the shade.

Washing Gear

If there are showers, you’ll want your soap and hair products, a towel and washcloth, flip-flops, and a mat, little bucket or even a big cup if you have a young child. If you’re making a handwashing station at your site, bring at least one bin for water to run into, and you can get real fancy with a jug that allows water to run out (otherwise a regular jug or pitcher works too). My favorite thing to bring is a fingernail brush. I could be a mountain woman who stinks like armpits and animal hides, but I’ll be happy as long as there isn’t dirt under my fingernails! A fingernail brush, clippers/file for any snags, and lotion go a long way to making you feel happy and clean.

woman bathing
Kinda like that I guess. Never seen a bathtub in a campground, though.

With Access to Showers

Now, if you’re camping somewhere with a bathhouse, this is easy. Lots of campgrounds have beautiful facilities with toilets, showers, sinks—all that fun access to water with drains and even mirrors. That means you’re pretty much golden. Bring a small basket or bag with your soap, shampoo, washcloth, and flip flops, and you’ll have no problems at all. Kids don’t always do great in a shower, so it can help to bring them a toy, a mat to stand on if they don’t have or want to wear shoes, and a small bucket to fill so they don’t have to stand in the stream. Or, hold your kid and shower together. Be careful because those buggers are slippery! The bucket method is easier, unless you’ve got a clinger, or non-compliant toddler.

With Access to Running Water

Now, if there’s no shower facility, but you have plenty of running water, you can always do the towel shower where you basically use a bucket to wash up and towel off. Some people also like to use things like the solar shower, where you hang a bag from a tree, fill the bag with water, and use it to wash like a shower would. Either way, you’re still going to be able to wash up, wash your hands, rinse your hair, and feel fresh even after a sweaty and dirty day.

kids swimming in a lake

With Access to Fresh Water

I used to buy a biodegradable soap from the health food store and use that in the lake to do a wash, but I have since discovered that even this method is not a good idea. You really shouldn’t wash in a lake or river with any kind of soap. I’d suggest doing a rinse in the water any time you want to get dirt off, but taking water up to your site or somewhere with drainage and using a biodegradable soap there. I haven’t tried this with Camp Soap as I haven’t been doing that much rustic camping in recent years, but it’s worth looking into whether this is acceptable or not.

Without Water

If you’re backpacking or just hiking or running somewhere without any amenities, I love the Nathan Sports Power Shower Wipes. They’re not as cheap as a baby wipe, so use sparingly, but they also don’t leave a weird smell or stickiness. If you have an extra bottle of water to rinse off, do that first, use a wipe or two, air out as best you can, and then throw on a hoodie to keep your remaining stink in. I do it all the time. Totally legit.

Extra Tips for Keeping Kids Clean Outside

I always make sure to have fingernail clippers in the car because it never fails that we’re about to go do something outside and I realize my son’s nails need a trim again. I’d rather clip them short before we head out than deal with super dirty nails all day. Plus, keeping a wash bin around is really handy for frequent face wipes and hand washes. Baby wipes will do the trick if necessary, but water is better.

Don’t feel bad if your idea of camping includes showers. You can still get an awesome camp experience at a campground that has showers, laundry, running water, and the works. I think camping is about spending uninterrupted time as a family and being outdoors. You don’t have to lie in the dirt and eat bugs to be a real camper!

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