How to Clean Yourself and Smell Good Without a Shower

Knowing how to get clean without a shower is an extremely important skill that you never know when you’ll need to have.

Some of the most common scenarios where you may need to clean yourself without a shower include a backwoods camping trip, a natural disaster where you’ve lost access to running water, or an unexpected cross-country adventure.

No matter the circumstance, you can use these tips to stay clean when bathing isn’t an option.

1. Take a Sponge Bath

If you have access to water and a small cloth or towel, a sponge bath will be your most effective way of freshening up in place of a shower. Even without access to running water, you can often find a natural freshwater source near you, such as rain if you’re lucky or a river, to use for your sponge bath. You could also use bottled drinking water if you have some on hand to spare. 

For your sponge bath, simply scrub away any dirt or sweat from your skin with a moistened rag, making sure to spend a little extra time on areas like your armpits, groin, and feet. If you are planning for a situation like a camping trip where you know ahead of time that you won’t be able to shower, pack a travel-sized bar of soap or body wash to take your sponge bath to the next level. 

When camping, be sure not to wash up with soap directly near the stream or lake you use as a water source. Instead, use a bucket or water bottle to carry water away from the source and prevent pollution.

Depending on how much water and privacy you have available to you, this could also be a great opportunity to hand-wash your clothes. Clothing can be the worst culprit for carrying bad smells because the bacteria from dirt and sweat sticks so well to the fibers. Rinsing your clothes in freshwater, even without soap, and hanging them to dry will freshen them and rid them of some of the smells they carry. 

2. Clean Away Dirt and Grime With Baby Wipes

Baby wipes or makeup remover wipes are a great way to freshen up in a pinch. They’re a highly accessible and affordable option to stay clean if you don’t have access to water. You can often pick up a pack of wipes at whatever convenience store is nearest you. 

When using baby wipes to clean up in place of a shower, start by cleaning your face first, then working your way down your body. Just as with a sponge bath, you’ll want to make sure you really focus your efforts on your armpits, groin, and feet, where body odor lingers the most. 

3. Apply Hand Sanitizer to Bacteria Prone Areas

While hand sanitizer isn’t the most effective option to wash away dirt and grime, you can use it to clean bacteria off of your skin and neutralize some body odor. 

Because hand sanitizer’s active ingredient is alcohol, it can be very drying to your skin, so you should only use it in places where you sweat the most, such as your underarms, hands, and feet. Do not apply it to sensitive, private areas to avoid irritation. 

4. Use Dry Shampoo to Revive Your Hair 

In addition to body odor, greasy hair is another concern when you don’t have access to a full shower. Dry shampoo is a starch-based product designed to absorb excess oils on your scalp to appear cleaner.

Dry shampoo comes in two forms – a loose powder or an aerosol spray. If you are camping or skipping showers to be more eco-friendly, loose powder dry shampoo will be the best option for you, as aerosol cans contain hydrocarbons and compressed gases that are known for contributing to global warming. 

To freshen up your hair between washes and keep it looking clean, apply dry shampoo to the crown of your head, as close to the roots of your hair as possible. You don’t need to rinse out dry shampoo with water as you would a typical shampoo; instead, massage it into your hair using your fingers or a hairbrush. 

If you don’t have dry shampoo at the ready, you can also use a small amount of corn starch to absorb excess grease from your hair. Just as you would with loose powder dry shampoo, sprinkle a little corn starch onto your scalp and massage it into your hair until the excess grease is absorbed and no white corn starch is visible anymore. 

5. Don’t Neglect Your Oral Hygiene

Fresh breath can make a big difference in your overall sense of cleanliness. Even if you don’t have access to water, you can still brush your teeth. In fact, some dentists even recommend brushing without water, as it allows the fluoride in your toothpaste to remain on your teeth for longer and therefore works better. 

If you don’t have a toothbrush or toothpaste with you, rinsing your mouth out with mouthwash will be effective enough to leave you feeling refreshed. 

If you’re without any oral hygiene supplies, eating a piece of fruit or vegetable is another good way to freshen your breath. Most fruits and veggies are rich in fiber, so they clean your teeth as you chew them. Additionally, crunchy fruits and veggies like apples, pears, carrots, and celery encourage saliva production as you eat them, which helps clean away the bacteria that cause bad breath from your mouth. 

6. Use Scented Products to Cover Body Odor 

While it may not leave you feeling any cleaner, covering up body odor with scented products can at least help you smell cleaner. Consistently applying deodorant, scented lotions, or perfumes will help you feel a little more put together. Citrus scents, in particular, are associated with cleanliness.

Please note that this piece of advice should be used carefully if you are camping. Strongly scented products could attract numerous creatures, including insects, squirrels, and even bears. Be sure to avoid scents with peppermint, which will repel insects, but attract bears. A safe scent to use, in this case, is a bit of citronella oil on your pulse points (your wrists, neck, and behind your ears), which naturally repels mosquitos, ants, and mice.


At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that body odor is natural and nothing to feel ashamed about if you don’t have access to running water. While these tips may not help you feel as rejuvenated as a shower, they are a great way to keep clean and smelling fresh until your next one.