Maintaining proper hygiene when camping is very important. Some might argue that it is equally, if not more important than keeping proper hygiene when in civilization. This is because the outdoors is not a squeaky clean place. And that’s precisely one of the reasons why we love it! However, it is crucial to keep clean when on the trail, or camping in nature.
Many campers and hikers have their own preferences when it comes to keeping clean in the wild. Wet wipes are great and lightweight. Bathing in streams and lakes is fun but works well only in the spring and the summer, so when you’re not camping in cold weather. The most consistent solution, though, are solar showers. They offer a ready shower, no matter where you are – camping in the forest or sailing in the tropics. But, they too need to be properly maintained, and cleaned, just as your other gear.
Cleaning a solar shower is not an easy task. It will take some time to properly clean and dry out this piece of your gear. You might not have the time to get the job done thoroughly. Don’t worry, though! You can empty your solar shower and take it with you until you have the time to clean it properly.
Solar showers won’t be damaged by water inside them unless you leave it there for a period of months, like when storing it.
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Cleaning a Solar Shower Before Your Camping Trip
To ensure you don’t make yourself even dirtier when using your solar shower, you should take the time to clean it before each trip. This should not be particularly difficult unless you’ve been keeping your solar shower in a damp and dark place.
Simply drain all the leftover water from the shower bladder. Don’t worry if there are droplets left inside, at this time you’re just trying to get the most of the water out of it.
After that, you’ll want to fill it with a solution of bleach and water. The solution should be one part bleach and nine parts water, and the most! It is perfectly acceptable to use less bleach than that. Fill about half of your solar shower with this solution and shake it thoroughly. You can leave the shower like this for about 5 to 15 minutes. The more bleach you use, the less time you should leave the mix inside the shower bladder.
Finally, once you empty the solution from it, make sure you rinse the bladder thoroughly. Fill it with water and empty it a couple of times. This should get all the bleach out. If the shower bladder still smells of bleach, you can repeat the rinsing process until you’re satisfied.
Baking Soda Alternative
For some people, bleach is too strong and reactive. This is perfectly understandable. Since you’ll be using the solar shower to clean your body, you wouldn’t want any bleach residue to come into contact with your skin.
If you don’t want to use bleach, you can achieve the same cleaning effect by mixing baking soda and water. Keep in mind that if you opt for baking soda, you’ll need a solution that’s a bit stronger. The water and baking soda ratio should be one to six or one to eight in favor of water. So, one part baking soda and six to eight parts water.
In addition to this, you shouldn’t fill up half of the bladder with this solution, but closer to a quarter. The rest of the process is pretty much the same: shake the bladder for about 5 to 10 minutes, and make sure the solution gets into all the corners. Finally, thoroughly rinse with cold water.
PROTIP: When using the baking soda solution, make sure the soda is completely dissolved in the water. You don’t want any granules or lumps that could get stuck inside the bladder.
Turning Your Solar Shower Inside Out
This technique doesn’t work on all models, but it is the fastest method of cleaning and drying your solar shower. Be careful when you employ it, though. It could rip your shower bladder thus ruining it completely.
We do not recommend using this technique unless you’re looking to clean and dry your shower in little time.
Every solar shower bladder should have a big opening where you should pour the water. If you unscrew the lid (or valve) from this, you can push the end opposite this opening through it. This method is pretty similar to turning out your socks. It will give you a chance to clean the inside of the bladder and dry it out with a clean piece of cloth.
Drying Out a Solar Shower
For most people, cleaning the solar shower isn’t what gives them a headache, it’s drying it out. And we have to agree. Most solar showers don’t get so dirty unless you’ve been using them for a long time. However, if any water is left inside when you put your shower away, there’s bound to be mold in it once you want to use it again.
Before drying your solar shower get as much water out of it as you can. You can fold a bit of it and press the water out as you would when getting that last bit of toothpaste from the tube. Fold and repeat until you get to the valve on top of the bladder.
The main problem with drying a solar shower, though, is that even a tiny bit of water left inside the bladder will make the walls stick to each other and drastically reduce airflow. And less airflow equals more time to dry.
There’s a neat little trick you can do to spread the plastic bladder and speed up the drying process. All you need is a clothes hanger, preferably not a metal one.
First, remove the hook on top of the hanger. Next, you need to cut the hanger with a knife or a multitool you’ve got on you so that you can fold it, but also in a way that it can return to its shape once you let go of it. Then, bend the hanger and fit it through the largest opening in the solar shower bladder and let go. The clothes hanger should return to its shape and spread the walls of the shower bladder making them easier to dry.
DO NOT blow air from your mouth into the bladder to try to spread it. The air we exhale is moist, no matter how dry our mouths are. Additionally, even if you’ve just washed your teeth, your mouth is home to various bacteria and other particles. These may be beneficial or harmless for us but in a closed and damp environment, like a solar shower bladder, they will proliferate and make it unusable. Before you know it, there’ll be a colony of microorganisms living in your solar shower, and using it will only make you dirtier.
Safety Tips for Using a Solar Shower
- Always check the temperature before taking a shower – in some cases the water can be scalding, especially if you’re camping in very sunny conditions.
- Time your showers – no sun means no heat, and the water won’t hold the warmth for long. If you leave it overnight, the water will be cold in the morning. – no naked
- Don’t waste water – a 5-gallon bladder has enough water for two people to have a good scrub. If you hurry it up and save water, a 5-gallon bag is enough for three people.
- Hang the bladder just before the shower – this will preserve the hanger and increase your solar shower’s lifespan. You can leave it in the sun horizontally and it will heat up nicely.
- Prevent the bladder from swinging a lot – this will also increase its lifespan.
- The hose shouldn’t be too long – this will decrease the efficiency of the shower and reduce the water pressure. The hose should be slightly longer than your forearm.
What to Look For When Buying Your First Solar Shower
This piece of equipment is an investment and not something that you’re likely to change after a few trips. By getting one, you’re saying that you plan on staying outside for long enough to require a shower in nature. This is precisely why you shouldn’t be stingy and opt for the best possible solar shower for your needs. You should look for:
- Durable and thick materials
- Large fill valve with a screw-on cap – it is more reliable than the pop-up cap
- Strong attachment for the hanging handle – something that spreads the weight over a couple of points rather than a single hook
- Strong handle – the bladder is heavy when full
How Long Does a Solar Shower Last?
Your solar shower has a long lifespan. They are pretty durable and the materials used to make them are long-lasting (usually plastic). With normal use, a solar shower can last from six months to a year.
This doesn’t mean that your particular shower can’t last less or more than this. It all depends on how you treat your gear, how often you use it, and how well you store it when not in use.
Finally, don’t be afraid to make field repairs to your solar shower if there’s a need for them. A small puncture or rip doesn’t mean that you need a new shower. Duct tape it and continue on your way, enjoying the trail.