Bucket Bath Tiny House Style

Tiny House Bucket BathA bucket bath in a tiny house. Hmm. As Steve Martin once said, “Let’s get small.”

After moving in 2007 to an off-grid tiny house at Melleray Farmstead in North Carolina, I’ve got the 7-year itch. It’s 2014. Confess! Yes, I’m itching for a hot shower. But not that badly. Let me tell you how I made it this far — holding down a professional job, mind you — bathing in a feed bucket.

First-time visitors to our place are naturally hesitant to ask about hygiene, like toilets and showering, so as a public service I’ll go ahead and unilaterally share the 5-gallon bucket bath secret.

But first some background. At Melleray Farmstead we are miserly users of water. We don’t have an electric dishwashing appliance but have opted, rather, for an elbow-greased and, if I’m on dish duty, beer-powered model. We don’t flush drinking water down the toilets, as we have an outhouse. We collect rainwater and re-use it for cleaning certain tools and for watering the herbs. Most to the point, we pump by hand the water we use for hygiene, and we tote it to the house in a big Igloo. So the incentive is to be sparing. You can hear more about our water use in a short podcast about Melleray Farmstead. The audio clip is at the bottom of the page near the black and white well pump photo.

Your tiny house bucket bath, step by step

The bathing bucket you choose should be sturdy and flare out at the top, because halfway through the instructions below, you’ll be, yes, sitting on it. I use a black plastic horse feed bucket with a wire handle from a local farm store. It has lasted 7 years already and it still looks fresh.

  • Boil about a gallon of water and set aside
  • Fill your bucket with about a gallon of cold water
  • Lay out towel, soap, shampoo, sponge. Put the bucket in the middle of the towel
  • Pour the hot water into the cold

The order of ablutions, in a bucket bath, goes head to toe. If instead you start with the feet and groin, it would take a lot of positive self-talk to get you to wash next your face and hair. So then:

  • Kneel over the bucket and sponge your hair wet
  • Shampoo and sponge-rinse your hair
  • Wash your face, neck, arms, underarms

At this point, the first time, I said to myself, “But the water is dirty now!” Experience shows it really isn’t. It’s just soapy, with plenty of cleaning and rinsing power left. Unless you’re a ‘49er in springtime and this is your first bath since fall, the water is still plenty clean. Proceed:

  • Use a brush to clean your back if you care to
  • Sit on the bucket and wash your fundament
  • Stand up, wash one foot in the bucket, then the other
  • Sponge-wash your knees and legs as needed
  • Pitch your gray water into the woods or onto your flowers/ornamentals

And you’re done! You just took a 2-gallon bath in a 5-gallon bucket. For luxury, one day try 3 gallons. For even more, take your bucket bath next to a warm fire in the woodstove.

Now, about the strangeness of it all, and a final cheer to get you over the hump. Don’t think you can do this? Sure you can. It’s just one more in a list of hundreds of chores and tasks, modified from your previous life, that soon become routine once you move to a tiny house and/or farmstead.

Plus, you’ll pass the smell test, I promise. Remember that professional job I mentioned holding down? Yeah, teaching 9th-graders in a public school. Students can be pretty harsh judges. At that age, even the boys are starting to value deodorant. You remember well the exceptions who proved the rule. At my high school, it was Charlie. Poor Charlie.

As for me, for 7 years straight now, if I don’t tell my students and colleagues about living off the grid in a tiny house with no electricity or indoor plumbing, they’d never guess. They don’t know I routinely bathe in a bucket.

So keep that job you love. Go ahead and scratch that itch to move into the tiny house of your dreams. And bring your favorite bucket.