Hygiene Hacks: How to Stay Clean While Living in a Car

Hygiene Hacks: How to Stay Clean While Living in a Car

Okay, it’s time to come clean (pun intended!) about life on the road. Most of us vehicle dwellers don’t shower every day 😱

But proper hygiene is still critical for health and well-being. How to stay clean while living in a car is probably the #1 thing most aspiring nomads want to know.

Fortunately, I’ve got a bunch of easy hacks that will help keep you spiffy! I personally use all of these methods, as do many other nomads. They are time-tested and very efficient.

How to Stay Clean While Living in a Car: The Basics

Tips for staying clean when living in a car for nomads.

First things first…you will need to shower fairly regularly, there’s no other way around it. As far as what “regularly” means, that’s up to you.

I routinely go 1 week between showering, which is long enough! Especially in the warmer months when you sweat more and your body gets ickier faster.

But your needs might be different, as well your availability to a shower source.

Where I roam, there around any Planet Fitness’s around, so showering every day isn’t possible even though I’m a black card member. And truck stops charge a whopping $18 for a shower near me, which makes using one more than once or twice per week financially draining.

You will almost surely run into similar problems along your journey. This is why knowing how to stay hygienic in a car with no shower options is vitally important.

If you’ve never used one before, here is a full breakdown on how to take a shower at a truck stop.

Develop a Routine

Just as you would at home, creating a daily cleansing routine is a wise practice.

The truth is, it DOES take more work to keep clean while living in a car. By developing a self-care schedule you not only make it easier, but you will also retain a semblance of normalcy, just like when living in a house or apartment.

This means brushing your teeth upon rising and before sleeping at night, washing your hair, bathing yourself, etc.

Find what works best for you and then stick to it.

Lose Your Fear of Embarrassment

Keeping yourself tidy in a vehicle will require doing some things that seem odd. And these things may seem even odder to strangers.

For example, I’ve been caught by onlookers more than a few times (okay…a lot) brushing my teeth in my car, washing my armpits, shaving in a fast food restaurant bathroom, and doing numerous other things. This is highly embarrassing, of course. However…

It goes with the territory, and you must get over this when living as a nomad. Depending on your personality, this might take some time & work, but at some point you will definitely get used to these types of activities.

Public Restrooms are Your New Best Friends

I say this half kiddingly of course, but it’s the truth. Living in a vehicle means that you will be using public restrooms OFTEN. And by often I mean every day, or close to it.

Aside from potty reasons (going #2), you will become dependent upon these convenient outposts to practice many cleaning rituals that are too messy & gross to do directly within your car, such as:

  • Shaving

  • Taking full-body "baths" (more on this below)

  • Clipping your toenails

  • Washing your privates

You could choose to do a lot of this inside of your vehicle, but believe me, it gets really messy. I’ve found it much more sanitary and simpler to use a bathroom.

Hack #1: Baby Wipes

Baby wipes, baby wipes, baby wipes. Get used to saying it, because you will go through a LOT of them as a nomad!

Matter of fact, this is one of the biggest secrets to staying clean in-between showers.

And trust me, you will use these for EVERYTHING while living in a car. Tidying yourself up is just one use of these amazing products.

“Baby wipe showers” are extremely common among nomads and are amazingly effective.

I’m fond of the Walmart brand wipes, below. The wipes are large and very durable. If left in the packaging, these things NEVER dry out! They are inexpensive, too.

Take baby wipe showers if you live on the road as a nomad or van dweller.

I go through tons of baby wipes, and you will, too. Here are just some of the things I use them for…

  • Washing my face upon rising and before bed

  • To clean my hands after eating

  • Freshening up my armpits and privates

  • As toilet paper (try it and you'll never go back to using the dry stuff!)

  • Removing sweat from my body and to help cool down on really hot days

  • Many of my female nomad friends have also told me they make great makeup removers

If using as toilet paper, don’t flush the wipes if they aren’t flushable! Instead, place them in a baggie or plastic bag and dispose of them in a trash receptacle.

Back to those “baby wipe baths” I spoke of earlier. These are actually very effective and refreshing in place of an actual shower.

Just go into a public restroom toilet stall, remove your clothes, and proceed to wash your body with the baby wipes. 6-8 should be good enough for full-body coverage.

Pay extra attention to your pits, private areas, butt crack, neck, and behind your ears, as this is where most dirt & grime tends to gather.

Aside from the uses already mentioned, baby wipes are also great for cleaning utensils, many surface areas, etc.

Baby wipes should definitely be included in your monthly nomad budget, since you will be going through them regularly. I generally use about 2-3 packages per week, and while your needs may be different, just know that it’ll be a lot…especially if you aren’t showering each day.

Hack #2: Hand Sanitizer

Another must when living in a vehicle!

There are a ton of nasty, grimy surfaces in a car that, even if they look clean, aren’t. Further, these surfaces are a breeding ground for germs & other funky stuff.

And it’s not just on the car itself, but also regular items that we touch a gazillion times per day.

Here are just some of the things we use that are known hotspots for germs…

  • Steering wheel

  • Stick shifter

  • Door handles

  • Car light switches & blinkers

  • Radio & ac/heater controls

  • Car alarm/key fobs

  • Cell phones

  • Tablets & laptops

  • Credit cards

  • Money

The baby wipes I highlighted earlier work great as hand cleaners, too, but they're overkill and very expensive to use for this purpose. Save them for when you have actual food, debris, and other gunk on your hands, as opposed to them being just dirty.

A small to medium-sized bottle of hand sanitizer should last for at least a couple of months, and it‘s mandatory for anyone living in a vehicle.

Hack #3: Dry Shampoos

Whether you’ve got naturally oily hair like me, or even if you just hate having a dirty mane when in-between shower days, this stuff is a godsend!

These dry shampoos pretty much all work the same way: apply them like hairspray, let the product sit on your hair for a few minutes, then rub or brush it in more thoroughly for full-coverage.

I use the product pictured above by Klorane. It’s more powdery versus the usual aerosol spray type, but it works fantastically well.

Again, all of the brands are fairly similar, so don’t spend an arm & a leg on a can. Just try any dry shampoo out and thank me later 😉

Hack #4: Brushing Your Pearly Whites

Brushing your teeth in a car is really easy, even without having running water.

While there are a variety of methods for doing this, here’s what works best for me…

I buy a 24 pack of the small 8oz bullet-sized water bottles (pictured above) each week.

  1. In the morning or before bed, I crack a bottle open and drink about 2/3 of it

  2. I then take my toothbrush, stick it in the bottle and dip it in the leftover water to get it wet

  3. I remove the toothbrush, apply toothpaste and brush my teeth

  4. Once done brushing, I swig a small amount of the remaining water to gargle with

  5. Then - while gargling - I stick the dirty toothbrush back in the water and splosh it around to clean it off before removing it

  6. Finally, I spit the contents of my mouth back into the bottle and put the cover back on

  7. The bottle is placed in my trash bag and eventually thrown away

Hack #5: Shaving

Shaving is not an activity you want to do in a car, unless you wish to get a ton of hair and shaving cream all over the place.

So the simplest way to get it done is by hitting any public restroom.

This is true whether you’re male or female. Just go into any toilet stall and get down to business.

For the guys: They sell small mirrors like this one that have suction cups on the back, and these are perfect for sticking on any metal bathroom stall.

Hack #6: Bucket and Washcloth

I’ve only done this twice. Not because it’s a bad method, but instead because I mostly shower at truck stops, as well as the occasional Planet Fitness.

Take my word, if you have no other options this is actually a great way to get clean!

Buy a little collapsible bucket and keep it in your car. If you’re ever in need of a good shower/bath, grab the bucket and two small hand towels, and head into a public restroom.

I wouldn't advise doing this in a single use bathroom (for 1 person) in a Starbucks or similar fast food place, as it will take a good 10 minutes or so, and you don't want to hog the facilities up. Instead, use a stall that's in a hotel lobby, highway welcome center, rest stop, etc., where there are usually many to choose from.

Use the sink to add warm water to the bucket, then duck into one of the stalls and do this…

  1. Add a small amount of liquid soap to the water and mix it around with your hand

  2. Once the water is mixed and appears soapy, place one of the towels inside fully and let it sit

  3. Remove all of your clothes

  4. Take the towel out of the water and gently wring it out into the toilet

  5. Proceed to wash your body as you normally would

  6. Finally, use the second towel (it's better if it's slightly dampened) to dry yourself off

The KEY for doing this without making a mess lies in how you wring out the towel after removing it from the water. You need to wring out most of the liquid so you don’t create a huge puddle of soapy water on the floor, yet still have enough on the towel to clean your body. Also, do not make the water too soapy, just ever so slightly!

Additional Hot Tips

Opt for travel sized cleansers: Most car dwellers don't have much spare space in their vehicles. Buying big bottles of shampoos, mouthwash, soap, and other essentials might be tough to store. Purchasing travel size items solves this problem. You might spend a bit more in the long run on these essentials, but if you use them more sparingly the cost difference will even out.

Keep cleaning aids easily-accesible: Your cleaning essentials will be used a lot. Make a dedicated space in your car to store these items, and ensure that they can be reached without any effort. Digging through boxes or constantly having to hunt needed stuff down is a pain in the butt.

Keep a small spray bottle with water handy: This is great for spritzing in your hair before styling it, or for washing your face directly in the car.

Use a toothbrush cover/case: If it should fall or come into contact with something dirty (Murphy's Law, they always do), a toothbrush cover will protect the bristles from getting icky.

Final Thoughts

Staying clean while living in a car when no shower is possible is very achievable.

While it does take some effort, as you’ve already read, there are a multitude of ways to keep yourself tidy in a vehicle. Further…

There aren’t just some random tips and hacks I threw together…I personally use most of these methods day in & day out, 365 days per year. They work, and are super effective!

It’s important to look washed and well-groomed at all times when you’re on the road, as you never know if you’ll get a door knock or run into someone you may know. Looking like a hobo will do you no favors.