Keeping Clean On Tour

75-Wild camping in Syria.jpgMost of us like to get scrubbed up at the end of a long day on the road, especially during hot weather, when salt and sweat quickly make you feel grubby.

Getting a shower is easy if you’re staying in a campground or hotel every night but what if you’re bike touring on a low budget or taking a remote route, far from villages or in a dry desert landscape?

Happily, there are many options for taking off a layer of dirt. Here we list 8 alternative ideas for keeping clean on tour. Have more ideas for keeping clean on on tour? Share them with us by commenting at the bottom of this post.

  • Pool with a viewSwimming Pools
    The municipal swimming pool should be your first stop when you’re looking for a shower. They’ll often sell you a shower separately for $2 or so, or pay a little more and go for a swim at the same time. We’ve also found staff at these pools to be very accommodating with our bicycles, letting us bring them inside or park them where they can be seen from the front desk. If there’s no swimming pool in the area, try the local gym, hockey rink or community centre. You might be surprised what you find. Once we discovered free sauna facilities next to a library!
  • Bikes in a hammamBathhouses
    In countries where swimming pools are a rarity, you’ll often find a bathhouse. In the Middle East, they’re called hammams, in Russian cultures they’re known as banya and in Japan they’re called sento or onsen. While the facilities vary – in Central Asia you’ll get a few birch twigs to thrash yourself with and in Iran you have a private room all to yourself – the bathhouse always offers two things in common: unlimited hot water and a cheap price. If you can score a private bathing area, you can even do your laundry here!
  • By the river in EganvilleStreams, Rivers & Lakes
    Mother nature has many beautiful and natural places for us to take a dip. Only the hardiest cyclists will be able to jump in a lake in cooler temperatures but on a hot summer’s day there’s nothing nicer than having your lunch by the water and then going for a swim before carrying on. Just remember: Don’t put soap in the water. Instead, fill a bucket or bottle with water and walk a good distance away from the shoreline to wash your hair.
  • Truck Stops
    If you find yourself riding down major roads, you’re almost certain to come across a truck stop and you can count on a truck stop to have showers. You don’t have to be a trucker to use them and you might be surprised at how clean they are. The price is the only downside to truck-stop showers. Expect to pay between $7-12. Granted, that usually includes a towel and soap but the total cost for more than one person quickly adds up to the same price as a tent spot in a campground.

  • Our wild campsite at the base of the Col du KerdousBaby Wipes
    Remember those things your mother used to get dirt off your face? They’re still around and they’re ideal for those nights when you don’t have any water to get cleaned up with. You can find them everywhere around the world and usually in small packets of 10 or 20. We always buy a few packages of these before we enter a desert or anywhere we know we’re going to be short on water. It takes 3-4 baby wipes to feel like you’ve really made a difference after a hard day on the road. One for your face, one for your arms… Once you’ve opened the package, put it in a zip-lock bag because the stickers that hold most small packages closed don’t do a very good job and the baby wipes dry out easily if they’re not totally enclosed.
  • Route planning with IngridWarmShowers Club for Cyclists
    Did you know there are thousands of people out there who’d love to let you use their shower and maybe even host you for a night? Find them all on the WarmShowers site for cyclists. Not only will you get cleaned up, you’ll probably make a new friend. The only catch is that this does require some forward planning and internet access on the road.
  • Tents in the rainHotels & Campgrounds
    You don’t have to pay for a night in formal accommodation to get a shower there. Just walk up to the front desk and ask what they’d charge for a shower only. At campgrounds, the fee is usually in the $2-3 range. At hotels, it might be a little more but if you arrive before they start cleaning the rooms then $5 should do it.
  • The Do-It-Yourself Shower
    If you have 2-4 litres of water (more or less, depending on how long your hair is) or access to a water tap in a reasonably discreet place like behind a school or a church on a quiet day, create a DIY shower. To do this, we often used our Ortlieb Folding Bowl and a pot. Fill the bowl with water (heat the water first on your stove if you have enough fuel) and then use the pot to scoop the water out and over your head, taking care to keep your head over the bucket so you can recapture the water. Wet your hair first, then wash it, then use the soapy water to do the rest of your body and keep a little clean water to one side to wash off the suds. Other alternatives include using a solar shower or a Camelbak Water Carrier. Hang the water carrier in a tree or get your biking partner to release the water slowly as you wash up.


  1. Sebastian Wevers
    16th November 2009 at 11:01 am #

    Baby wipes could be good but in the end becomes quite a burden when you travel through remote parts of the world. The Osmosno Camping Shower consists of a bottle of water from the bike (approx. 0.8 L) and a ‘washandje’ (Dutch) The washandje is like a mitten without the thumb made of towel material preferably very old and rough. This is definitely a good shower, you will feel absolutely clean (all is relative) and not sticky (the worst bit of being dirty) Your towel will do most of the cleaning, though, so if possible you should wash this every so many days.

  2. Becky
    16th November 2009 at 1:23 pm #

    In Canada, I got really good at washing my hair in the sinks at gas stations and tourist information centers. Just carry a small pack towel in the washroom with you – sometimes they have a “private” washroom for handicap – if the place is not busy, you can hop in there for a quick wipe down and hair wash.

  3. richard ash
    18th November 2009 at 12:03 pm #

    Much of the cleanliness concerns hair. Now if you are not as lucky as i am by being bald, perhaps the answer is to shave your head. The idea of Sebastian means that you end up with a filthy smelly towel probably this is worse than being dirty. He says it should be washed frequently so if the facilities for washing towels are regularly available why not wash yourself regularly. Baby wipes are an essential. You could always swab yourself with olive oil and then scrape oil, sweat and dirt off with a knife as our ancients did or if you are lucky enough to find a passing ass (donkey) you could take a wash in asses milk.

    • gerry
      10th August 2011 at 5:36 pm #

      I’m laughing. What if the ass is male?

  4. Friedel
    18th November 2009 at 12:46 pm #

    Interesting replies everyone! I’m not sure about washing in asses milk but hey, if the opportunity presents itself…

    Becky, one problem I found with washing in service station bathrooms was that I could never get my head under the tap to get all my hair wet. Didn’t you have this problem?

  5. Sebastian Wevers
    18th November 2009 at 1:19 pm #

    Hair? I am not talking about hair. I just want to get the sticky, filthy, feeling off my body for a good sleep and a sleeping bag that stays reasonably bearable. I don’t care about a smelly towel either. My towel can go without washing for a week or ten days! I don’t care, I want to feel clean. I am talking about remote areas. Travelling through big Asian mountain ranges you can’t carry enough baby wipes. Maybe for the Sunday shower? For this extra touch.

  6. hilmer
    19th November 2009 at 4:22 am #

    i’ve used boat marinas showers

  7. friedel
    19th November 2009 at 9:25 am #

    Marina showers – another good tip! I’ve heard that sometimes the marina owners will let you camp there too but I’ve never tried it myself.

    Sebastian, I will have to try your idea next time. I have one of those scrub gloves, which I bought in a hammam in Morocco, but I remember the almost painful feeling of the woman scouring my skin clean and haven’t used it since. Maybe I should give it another shot.

  8. Tara
    19th November 2009 at 5:20 pm #

    Tyler and I often heat up water in a pot on the stove and then just use a wash cloth to clean ourselves up. Doing a little bit at a time, you can wet/soap/rinse pretty easily without really dripping or creating a mess. Plus a hot towel feels so good after a day of cycling as the days grow chillier!

    Also, seaside towns during the off season often have nice shower facilities right on the beach, completely devoid of people.

    Hope you two are doing well!!

    Tara & Tyler

  9. Amaya Williams
    29th November 2009 at 7:00 pm #

    Churches. Yes, they often have showers and are more than happy to let passing cyclists get the grime off for free. You may even be invited to spend teh night. And don’t forget fire stations. They’ve always got showers and love the entertainment cyclists provide.

  10. Melanie
    20th December 2009 at 3:53 am #

    Just for the record, the washing up in informatin centers can often be done as good in a small restaurant (one where the sink can be locked in together with you). In Riga we found ourselves returning to the same restaurant just because of their washing facilities… (luckily they had good food as well)

  11. SERIK
    23rd December 2009 at 10:08 pm #

    Dear Friedel. Do you remember a securityman in Shimkent city South Kazakhstan who gave you a whistle and you gave him a badge like a ball which was sparkling when you turn it on.Then I worked near the immigration police. It was one or two years ago. Where are you now. It was nice for me to talk to you and to Andrew your husband.Give Andrew my regards. I would like to hear any news from you.

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