1.) to wash oneself by means of a bucket and water
2.) a method of bathing common among serving peace corps volunteers
3.) a way of (mostly) maintaining personal hygiene without a functioning shower
i’ve been asked several times by my friends and family back home as to what exactly is a bucket bath. the curiosity surrounding it and how it worked was no less as mysterious as ouija boards. before being forced to figure it out myself, i had some idea and yet really no idea. the concept is simple: bucket + water = bath. but the art behind it, the proficiency, is another thing in itself. just how do you get clean with a ladle for a shower head? i’m here to tell you now.
first, i must say i’m fortunate to have running water (even if it gets shut off now and then, running water is a miracle) and an actual bath tub (often bucket bathing means literally sitting in your bucket to bathe. i’m thankful i don’t have to do that). i have a shower head, bath tub, and all the fixings for a shower — just no hot water or water pressure. so bucket bathing it is.
as much as i might complain about it, i guess it’s not really that bad. for one thing, it’s taught be a lot about water conservation and just how much water we use with a real shower. i have a set amount of water to use for my shower and can visualize just how much that is. with a ‘real’ shower, that’s rather hard to visualize.
a typical american uses 100 GALLONS of water PER DAY, while ethiopians use 2.5 gallons and spend an average of 8 hours a day collecting it. (a fun little tidbit i leaned from national geographic). that is insane, but sadly not surprising. since most americans don’t have a physical connection to their water supply (ie it comes from a magical and guaranteed endless supply and not a well 2 hours away) it’s easy to see how our water usage as americans has gotten out of hand.
when i went home for a visit this summer i was taken back by the amount of showering in my family. i remember telling them, quite matter-of-factly, “you guys shower a lot”. this would have never bothered me before, for i too was a daily shower-er. but now i bathe maybe 2 – 3 times a week, 4 if i’m really sweaty from running. i admit, this sounds rather gross, but most people don’t really need a full shower everyday. it’s better for your skin and hair (and the planet) if you don’t.
studying abroad was my first dose of “this isn’t america and you can’t use water foolishly like you used to”. i found it so difficult while living in france to keep my shower time down to 5 minutes as my host mom demanded. the only time i was ever given a time constraint was at girl scout camp and this was when our 5 minute time also included scraping out the dead bugs in the shower. but with practice i eventually i found a way to take shorter showers — albeit through a timer, 2-in-1 shampoos, and embracing the french ‘le no shave’ style.
don’t get me wrong — i love a long, hot, standup shower just as much (maybe even more for living without one) as anyone else. showering is probably the #1 thing i look forward to on vacations now. i’m not saying “be like me and don’t ever shower!” or “convert to bucket bathing!”. no, that’s not what i mean. i just want to suggest that we take a look at how we use our american sized 100 gallons of water a day (flushing toilets after every use, long showers, watering the lawn, laundry, etc.) and be a little more mindful of how we could use (a lot) less.
okay, i’ll get off my soap box now.
how to bucket bathe (G-rated version):
1.) heat up your water.
i’ve found the perfect amount of hot water for the size of my bucket is one kettle plus one casserole pot of water.
2.) empty hot water into bathing/laundry/sometimes mixing bowl bucket
3.) close door to keep in as much warmth and steam as you can. it gets pretty chili otherwise.
4.) add cold water to bucket until preferred temperature is achieved.
5.) find a saucepan (preferable a [mostly] clean one) to use as a shower-head.
6.) enter bathtub (you should probably be naked at this point), survey water, work ahead, and briefly reminisce about real showers.
7.) repeat the mantra “dunk and pour”…or rather “dunk and pour sensibly” — you only have so much water in that bucket.
a.) pour first few ladles on head to wet hair
b.) soap hair and body
c.) rinse with a few ladles of water
d.) if using conditioner, don’t forget to factor in water to rinse that at the end
8.) when finished, towel off, return saucepan/shower head to kitchen and use any extra water for flushing the toilet/watering plants.
also, as a side note and just to give a full understanding of the true extremities in peace corps ukraine living situations, i thought i’d share a photo of my site mate /next door neighbor sarah’s shower. yea, this is literally right next door to me. 200 feet away from my bucket bath.
now, i could see how it would be easy to use 100 gallons of water in this shower. it’s probably the nicest shower i’ve ever seen. and sarah’s been kind enough to tell me i can come and shower whenever i want. even despite having this shower and hot water heater, sarah’s super good about water conservation and still doesn’t shower everyday (uh…sorry if you didn’t want me to mention that sarah).