Running a bath isn’t always an option, but that does not mean you have to go without bathing!
Cleanliness is always a virtue, and it is always a survival imperative long term, but what are you supposed to do when you are out in the wild or your home water supply is disrupted?
Simple: Take a sponge bath! A sponge bath is one where you use a small quantity of water and a sponge or washcloth to lather up and rinse all without needing a full bathtub or a stream of water from a showerhead.
With a small container or two, a little soap, and a scrubber you can get clean all the same.
In this guide, we will teach you how to take a sponge bath without running water. It is actually very easy! Follow these simple steps and you will be clean in no time!
What Exactly Is a Sponge Bath?
A sponge bath is a personal cleaning procedure that cleans your body one section at a time – without a bathtub. It’s typically done with people who can use the sower, in emergency situations, or in the wilderness where water is scarce.
Why All Folks Should Know How to Sponge Bathe
There are many reasons why all preppers should know how to sponge bathe. First, as we mentioned earlier, it is a great way to clean yourself when water is scarce. Just because you have limited access to water does not give you a pass for the necessity of keeping clean!
Second, it is also a great way to conserve water.
Anytime you’re in the wilderness or in a survival situation at home where water supplies are anything but certain, you must make it a point to use every drop as wisely as possible.
Getting clean is a must, but baths and showers are incredibly wasteful!
Third, sponge baths are a necessity for washing people who are bedridden or too infirm or injured to safely get in and out of a bathtub or shower. Plus, they can be done pretty much anywhere – in a tent, under the stars, even in your RV.
So long as you have room to set your supplies without making a mess and stand up or sit you have room to get clean!
Finally, sponge baths can be just plain fun! They are a great way to cool off on a hot day or feel refreshed and invigorated after a long hike.
We have all been in a situation where we really wanted a shower or bath and looked forward to it. Now, you won’t have to wait to get clean.
That’s it for the perks. What do you need for a sponge bath and what’s the best way to conduct a sponge bath?
Sponge Bath Supplies
As you probably expected, you don’t need much for a sponge bath, wherever you are. To take a sponge bath, you will need:
A clean sponge or washcloth: either will work under the circumstances and everyone has their preference. Don’t think too hard about it.
It is worth mentioning that washcloths are far more portable and easier to clean and wilderness environments or austere situations compared to sponges which require boiling for thorough disinfection. Have a spare for reasons we will discuss below.
A small container for water (bowl, pot, basin, etc.): a large bowl, pot, basin or any other container that can hold your water for washing is required for a sponge bath.
If you want to get really fancy you can stand in an oversized tray or a small trough, but this is purely optional and not necessary to get quite clean. You’ll add your soap to this container of water to suds up.
A second container for water (optional): if you have space and a spare container, a second batch of clean water for rinsing will speed up the process and ensure you get clean skin before drying off. Once again, this is optional but it is definitely nice to have.
Soap (bar soap, liquid soap, or body wash all work fine): use the soap of your preference for this operation. You might lather up with a bar of soap, add a dash of liquid soap to your water container, or give it a squirt of body wash.
It doesn’t really matter under the circumstances, though any soap that rinses cleanly with minimal water is beneficial since it will ensure you get most of the residue off of your skin before drying off.
Towels: if you’re going to take a bath you’re going to need a towel, and more than one might be handy depending on where and how you are taking your sponge bath.
If you are at your home or any other structure and don’t have the benefit of a bathtub to sponge off, lying a towel down on the ground will provide a grip for safety and help prevent a big mess.
Mat (optional): purely optional, but a bath mat that provides absorption and traction can be substituted for a towel whenever you are sponging off on a smooth surface or inside a structure.
Bath chair (optional): for infirm, injured, or elderly bathers a bath chair is just the ticket for providing extra assurance, comfort and convenience when sponge bathing.
This could be an actual shower or bathtub chair, but even something like a cheap outdoor plastic chair can work in a pinch.
Basically, anything that will shed water and dry quickly is adequate to the task. Just make sure it is strong enough to support the person sitting in it!
That’s it! Pretty simple, huh? Now let’s get into how to use these supplies to give yourself a good washin’!
How to Sponge Bathe – The Steps
Prep your Bathing Area.
Wherever you are taking your sponge bath, make sure you have enough room to maneuver, enough room to set down your containers of water, and are reasonably protected against spills, and slips.
Put down your towel or bath mat if you have it and then you can set about filling your containers with water.
Fill your container or containers with water. If you are using two containers remember that you will only put soap in one of them, the other container is for rinse water.
If you are using warm water heated from any source, make sure to test the temperature before proceeding as you don’t want to accidentally scald yourself.
This is imperative if you are giving someone else a sponge bath. Test the water on your wrist or the inside of your elbow to ensure that it is not too hot for the most sensitive skin.
Fill the container as full as you need – remember that you will be using only a little water per sponge so don’t feel like you need a ton of water.
Time to add your soap. In your designated soapy water container give it just a little bit of liquid soap or body wash and swirl it around to create some usable suds.
If using bar soap you might try scrubbing your rag or sponge against the soap while in the water to do the same thing, or you can use the bar soap separately to lather your scrubber.
Don’t go too crazy with the suds no matter how much you like them as this can make it more difficult for you to rinse off effectively under the circumstances.
A little bit will do the trick unless you are hideously filthy and if that is the case you’re usually better served by scrubbing down multiple times.
Dampen your sponge or washcloth in the soapy water. Squeeze out the excess so that it is properly wet but not dripping and sloppy.
You only want enough water and soap on your scrubber, rag or sponge, so that you can loosen dirt and Gunk off of your body and then carry it away. Excess water will only make it harder for you to get dry and will make a mess.
Before we go any further, a word on what order you should wash your body parts.
Unless you are hideously filthy from an unfortunate tumble into a cesspool or a giant pile of manure, there are going to be several parts of your body that are drastically nastier and full of germs than other parts.
These troublesome parts include your underarms, your groin, your butt crack, and your feet.
They all need to be cleaned, but cleaning your body willy-nilly, especially when sponge bathing, is going to move germs from these areas around to other, cleaner parts of your body.
That’s not great! For this reason, I highly recommend that you clean the trouble spots of your body either last or separately.
If you want to clean the trouble spots separately, work from your face down while avoiding all of the trouble areas.
Once you’re done cleaning the remainder of your body, grab your second scrubber if you have one handy and then make a second pass cleaning the troublesome areas in order from cleanest to dirtiest, typically armpits, feet, groin, and then backside – in that order.
If you want to clean the trouble spots last using the same washcloth, clean from head to toe as described before, skip the trouble areas, then come back around with the same scrubber and hit the trouble areas.
This will minimize cross-contamination and transmission of the worst germs.
Rinse the soap off your body with the second container of water (or the first one refilled with fresh water if you only have one).
Be sure to get all the soap off as it can irritate your skin if left behind. Note that you might well need to use slightly more water for rinsing than you did for washing.
As above, work from head to toe and even though your unmentionables should be clean or at least much cleaner, you might want to rinse them separately as described above.
Dry off with a towel and enjoy feeling clean!
There you have it – everything you need to know about taking a sponge bath without running water!
You want to make it a point to keep your washcloth or sponge as clean as you can when you are using it for a sponge bath.
Compared to taking a normal bath or getting a shower, your scrubber is not going to be constantly inundated and rinsed with a fresh supply of water, and it will get noticeably nastier much quicker than in normal use.
Now get out there and enjoy being clean no matter where you are!
As one can imagine, a common question regarding sponge bathing in the wilderness, or some other austere environment, is that of privacy.
It is one thing if you can walk off away from camp down a clearly marked trail and bathe by a river, but it is another thing entirely when it is dangerous or foolish to do so.
Say whatever you want about modesty or prudence in light of a survival situation in particular, but people want privacy when they are bathing, or any other time they are naked.
This is not hard to figure out. Luckily it is not difficult to provide that privacy or at least a modicum of it under the circumstances.
Probably my favorite method for ensuring privacy is to use an extra long tarp or opaque piece of plastic sheeting to make a U or C-shaped enclosure that can be strung between trees or any other convenient anchor point using zip ties.
Set your bath chair and either some fresh, soft greenery or a convenient mat down on the ground, and you’re all set.
This setup will at least have 270° of line of sight blocking privacy, and can be made totally enclosed with just a little more work and effort.
Alternatively, if working in a smaller footprint or with much less material one can use a hula hoop or a lengthy, green branch bent into a circle to serve as a frame.
Use a similar piece of plastic or tarp, perhaps even an actual shower curtain, and hang up this arrangement for someone to enter and close behind them.
Typically cramped and not particularly comfortable, it will nonetheless do the job with a minimum of fuss.
Scrub without the Tub
You don’t need a bathtub full of water or a working shower to get properly clean. You don’t even need that much water if you know what you are doing!
Sponge bathing is a great way to get clean when you don’t have a working water supply or when you are desperately trying to save what water you have access to. This is a technique that every prepper should know, just in case.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.