Updated: Sep 22, 2021
Arguably one of the most important elements of your van is where and how you are going to wash yourself - especially if you have someone else with you in your van! Whether it be just a quick nip into the sea or a full blown power shower, it's something you definitely need to consider for wildcamping life on the road. In this article we will take a look at some of the different showering options and what to consider before you pick one! I'm Shane, van conversion instructor at Udemy, digital nomad, and proud owner of a beautiful self-build campervan called Beans. Want to know how to build your van from scratch? Head over to the Van Conversion Course for the most in depth guide on the internet! Now, without any further delay, let's explore some showering options.
4 Things to consider before picking your shower
During your life on the road, where are you going to be? Is it going to be beach life in sunny Spain or are you planing on diversifying and heading to more temperate climates like Ireland or Scotland? Will you be in these more northerly countries in the winter? These are all really important things to consider when picking your shower system. I can tell you from personal experience that life on the road in colder countries for long periods of time necessitates an indoor shower. We travelled during winter lockdown in the West of Ireland - there were no showers, no campsites, few public bathrooms, no restaurants, cafes, gyms, or hotels. Keeping clean would have been very tricky without our shower system. In contrast, for sunny life down south in places like Spain, France, or many parts of the USA, you hardly need more than a bucket out the back.
Are you an ultra-lean vagabond vanlifer or a super-chic glamping traveller? Either way, there are options for all budgets. From zero to hero there are versions of showers included here for everyone. The more expensive you get, the closer to "normal" stationary life gets. However installing an expensive shower is not only expensive but takes a lot of time.]
3. Size of your van
What size is your tiny home on wheels? Are we talking a monster schoolie or a VW Mk 1? This is going to be the most important factor that you need to consider, your shower dreams are going to have to fit inside your rolling happiness mobile. There is a direct correlation between the price and luxury of a shower and the amount of space it takes up. The cheapest showers are the least luxurious and take up the least space, and vice versa.
4. Water Capacity
It's not just about fitting your physical shower in - showers use an incredible amount of water and you really stop taking water for granted when you change from regular life to van life. A normal converted transit can hold about 80 litres of fresh water and just to put that into perspective, normal household showers these days can go through about 100 litres in under 10 minutes so say goodbye to those long luxurious showers! You also need to remember that you need a grey water tank which has the capacity to hold your shower run-off water if you have an indoor shower. Phew, lots to think about right? Just makes the occasional land-based shower so much more enjoyable.
Sea / lake swim: By far the cheapest and also the most courageous form of shower is to simply go for a dip in the closest body of water, be it sea, lake or river. Many beaches have public showers that you can use at any time of the day or night after your nippy dip and many also have public toilets. But be warned, they are not heated showers. A chilly shower in freezing wind after a sea swim in Irish winter is bone chilling and not for the feint hearted! Trust me. My recommendation, if you are in a cold climate, is to consider having an indoor shower in your van. It will make you a happier human and your life on the road will be more sustainable long term!
Petrol station showers: Ah yes, glamorous van life. Who thought, when fawning over the #vanlife instagram threads, that you'd be recommended to join the truckers for a decent wash? But seriously, it's a life saver. Especially during these crazy covid times when hostels and hotels are closed, this is essential. This is also the best free way to get a warm wash.
For the Irish VanLifers: Some Circle K garages in Ireland have public (actually WARM) showers that are for truckers and are free to use! They may not be the most fancy but we were absolutely delighted to get washed when we got there! It had been a while.
List of public petrol station showers in Ireland
Circle K Fermoy, Co. Cork
Centra in Sneem Co. Kerry (€2 but quite nice)
Applegreen in Lusk
Junction 14 Mayfield, Monasterevin Co. Kildare
Applegreen in Castlebelingham Co. Louth
Applegreen Enfield Co Kildare
Barack Obama Plaza, Moneygall Co. Offaly.
Circle K Athlone Co Galway
U-Loo, Clifden Co.Galway (€17 for shower + fluffy towel)
(I'm sure there are more but these are all I could find.) It's worth ringing them up before hand just to make sure they are open but most are open 24/7.
Gym showers: If you are staying in one place with your van for a while, it might be worth considering joining a gym to get access to their showers (and gym facilities). Unlimited hot showers! Some gyms have multiple locations, so you can use them wherever you travel. There are some apps like Hussle which give you access to many different gyms around globe.
Campsites : One of the better options to go with if you are travelling around with your van. Not only do you get to meet people and have a cosy lot for the night, you get to shower too! The AllStays app allows you to filter campsites that have showers. Same with the Dyrt Camping app. Campsited.com also has a bunch of campsite filters you can add on. Park4Night is also an amazing option!
Baby wipes can be a life saver when you need a wash - but make absolutely sure you get the biodegradable ones as the regulars are truly terrible polluters. Dry shampoo can also be a good shout!
The shower pump €50
This is the kind of shower that we have in our van and really, it's the base layer of many kinds of DIY showers. It takes a bit of work to set up, but it works well when it is set up! It is predominantly an outdoor shower, suited mostly to warmer climates (though we used it in Irish winter!) Simply hang up the shower head somewhere on the van (we installed a hook on the backdoor). Boil up a kettle of water. Add the boiling water to some cold water in a bucket for a Luke-warm shower. Stick the pump in the bucket. Press the "on" button. Enjoy your 2 minute shower! You'll need about 5 litres for 2 minutes. Probably not quite enough time to wash your hair as a girl, it’s more of a body shower.
Shower bag €16
This is a pretty unique type of shower system. Though again, not the best for colder climates. The concept is that you hang the black bag of water out during the day and it heats up in the sun. If it isn't very warm, you could always fill it with a bit of hot water like the shower pump system! Just stand underneath, open the nozzle and enjoy!
This is a fully DIY shower system, by Kombilife. This is pretty cool for warm climates. Or even colder climates on a sunny day. Though I'm willing to bet that it won't work in the winter! You need some nice direct sunlight for this one. And a roof rack. And you get to build it yourself which is awesome! Click the link and enjoy!
RinseKit €118 ⭐️
Apart from building a full-blown shower in your van, RinseKit is as good as it gets! I'm a big fan, and planning on buying one. It is a pressurised portable shower. It is a 2 gallon container that stores pressure for up to a month. What does this mean? Hot water stays hot in the container for weeks! The RinseKit Plus even comes with a heating rod (€67) so that you can heat the water up with the flick of a switch. It can only be bought in the USA though unfortunately, so if you really want one you'll have to use a delivery service such as: AddressPal (a service from AnPost that allows you to get USA delivery only items to Ireland).
This is a mix between the DIY solar shower and the RinseKit. It is a pressurised container that is stored on the roof, heated by the sun.
Fish Tank Heater - €30
Now this is where it gets fun... because guess what? We invented this one! And yes we are very proud. Patent pending! Lol. It's really just our cheap jerry-rigged version of a rinse kit, because it's very difficult to find a heating element that works exactly how you want it. If you're short on space this can be a fantastic idea. In order to heat water for our shower, we used an aquarium heater. Now the max temperature you can get to with one of these is 34 degrees, but we think we might be able to hack it somehow, watch this space! This setup basically stops us from having to boil a kettle on the hob and pour some cold water in on top.
We worked out (based on an 800W aquarium heater) that: if we wanted to heat 10L of water to shower temp (34 degrees) It would take 26 mins.
If you want to work it out yourself, this is the formula we used:
(4.2 × L × T ) ÷ 3600 = Pt
Which looks complicated, but its not! It means:
PT = Power used to heat the water in kilowatt hours
L = litres of water you are heating - in our case 10L
T = The temperature difference you are going to eg. from 4 degrees C to 34 degrees C = 30degrees
Ex: (4.2 x 10 x 30) ÷ 3600 = 0.35
Take the result of this equation and divide by the wattage of the heating element you are using - we are using a 800W heater so divide by 0.8:
0.35 ÷ 0.8 = 0.43 (which is 0.43 of an hour)
So 0.43 x 60mins = 26mins to heat the water for your shower.
We used this aquarium heater to heat ours.
So BASICALLY, all you need to know is that you should buy an 800W aquarium heater and it will heat a 10L container of water in about 26 mins! Turn it on before your swim and it will be warm when you get back. Then you just need to stick the shower pump in it and you have a warm proper shower! Luxury. Now we tested it and it works BUT, make sure the element is FULLY SUBMERGED in water before you turn it on. We learned this the hard way. 'Nuff said.
This is probably your best bet in terms of a real feeling shower. You can install it in an actual shower room if your van is big enough, but if not, it's very portable and can be stored in your 'garage' and taken out and hung up on the back door when you need it. It runs on gas and electric so bear in mind you'll need a gas tank near by! We have had a lot of recommendations for this nifty unit by friends so we are very confident that it's one of the best!
So that's it folks. Our round-up of the best vanlife showers on the market. We really find that a combination of some of the above works best for us - a sea swim daily + rinse with our DIY shower out the back and then a stop off in a campsite/ gym once every 3 or 4 days - you don't get much hair washing/ manscaping opportunities in a shower out the back!
If this blog was useful to you, don't forget to check out the Van Conversion Course on Udemy. You'll learn from start to finish how to convert a van into your dream camper - no prior experience needed!