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Camping and the art of kid cleanliness

Keeping kids clean while camping.

It’s been said that one of the major obstacles of camping with kids is how to clean them up at the end of the day. While I don’t have any magic formula for keeping kids from getting dirty when camping (since playing in the dirt is kind of the point) I have learned a thing or two about cleaning them up so you don’t have to put a filthy kid to bed in the tent.

Usually you can get away with a simple wash down, #1 or #4. But then there are those occasions when your child’s skin color has changed dramatically, they stink, and/or they have sand and poofy dirt in places that just seem uncomfortable. This may or may not take a few days to accumulate. For those occasions you may need to bust out #2 , #3 or #4.

1. A washcloth and a pot of warm soapy water go a long way.
Our nightly ritual when camping consists of warming up some water with a bit of camp soap. Each kid gets his face, hands and feet washed before pajamas and bed.

2. Our mobile kitchen also doubles as a mobile bath tub.
On our way home from a few days in Death Valley we realized we would’t make it home before bed time and we really didn’t want to put them in bed with 5 days worth of Death Valley dirt, dust, sweat and sand. So, somewhere in the Mojave Desert we pulled off on a dirt road and found a nice private spot where we could convert the kitchen tote into a tub (see awesomely photoshopped photo above). We emptied our plastic tub, boiled water in our two biggest pots, dumped the boiling water in the tub and added some water from our 5 gallon jug into the tub until it was the perfect bath temperature (note that if it’s cold and/or windy you can put the tub in the tent).

We’ve stuck with this method ever since.

3. Solar shower.
Most of our friends actually prefer the solar shower method. Set a bag of water out in the sun all day and voila, a quick shower for the kids as needed. Our kids usually just scream the whole time their getting hosed down, but when they grow out of the mobile tub they’ll have to learn to deal with this method.

4. Collapsable Bucket.
A friend of mine had a collapsable bucket custom made from Jack Plastic Welding. He ordered it short and deep and claims it makes the perfect portable bathtub, among other uses…  I’m pretty jealous. Just think, you wouldn’t have to empty your mobile kitchen box AND it takes up hardly any space! It’s been on my Christmas list for several years now.

5. Camp near a water source.
Unfortunately, since most of our escapades take place in the desert we haven’t gotten many opportunities to try this out. But when we have it’s worked wonderfully. Send you kids to splash around in a nearby creek or lake at the end of the day and let them do all the cleaning themselves.

What are some tricks you have learned to clean up dirty camp kids?

Playing in the dirt! Best part of camping.

24 Comments so far

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  1. I love the idea of the tub. We’re usually pretty good about wiping down faces, hands and feet before bed, but they could always use a good scrub! Also, if you have clean hands, feet, and faces, it keeps sleeping bags MUCH cleaner!

    • Bring the Kids – Yes, much easier on the sleeping bags! I would rather wash a kid than a sleeping bag since it’s makes me slightly paranoid…

  2. I had no idea people cleaned their kids while camping. Then again most of the camping we do is attempted-light weight backpacking, so there is no weight for cleaning other than pouring water out of the water bottle. Unless there is no close water source then the kids just enjoy the dirt.

    • Lesli – It’s not often that we break down and bathe our kids, but sometimes they get such a mess playing in that desert dirt that by day 5 it’s starting to look like a health hazard. When backpacking we always stick fairly close to water too, makes it much easier! There is no way I’m strapping that tub to my back!

  3. We mostly do a quick wipedown and call it good, though we haven’t gone out for more than 2 days at a time with Roo yet. There are photos of Josh as a baby and toddler being bathed in a orange 70′s-tabulous cooler. Seems like the way to go. :)

    • MamaBee – Ahhhh, I bet that picture is great! We’ve considered a cooler actually… but it wasn’t 70′s-tabulous! I agree, a quick wash down really is all you need in most cases, especially if your only out for a day or two. Plus your kids are really clean (wink wink).

  4. When we lived in the woods when Sus and I were little, I think we got baths in one of those all-purpose wash tubs–the kind that holds maybe two gallons? Like you soak your feet in, Lins.
    I don’t know what mom used as we got older, but I remember dad’s wash your face first thing in the morning routine: Boil water for coffee and oatmeal (plus a tiny bit of extra water). Use the tiny bit of extra to suds up your face, then splash it with cold water from a water bottle to rinse the soap off–wakes you right up!

    • Olivia – You mean like the all-purpose tub I bathed Ari in when we went on our Escalante-oops-it-snowed trip? I was trying to find that picture for this post. I bathed him in the tent, he was 8 months old and not very impressed if I remember correctly.

  5. I like your ideas better than what I do (not bathe them!) but we had a few trips this year that they really needed the solar shower thingie. We have one, we just never brought it with, but next year I am. We usually resorted to baby wipes, but that’s pretty wasteful. They do allow for cleaning in the tent without worrying about water splashing inside the tent or privacy concerns.

    • Hiker Mama – I agree baby wipes can be quite handy, we never leave home without them.

  6. Bonnie

    There are no-rinse wipes and no-rinse body washes that work great. When it’s cold, you can heat the wipes by putting them under the car heater or, if you aren’t car camping, immersing the sealed package in hot water for a bit. Also, check this out… http://www.motherearthnews.com/Nature-Community/1981-03-01/Keep-Clean-Without-Running-Water.aspx

    • Bonnie – Thanks for the link! I liked the “7 cups” idea too, if it’s not too cold that is.

  7. We try and plan camp trips around hot springs and pools :) BTW I love that top picture!

  8. We have encountered two amazing designs for camp showers. One of which the person took a keg, yes keg, washed it out, re-tapped the outlet with a hand shower. Fill it with water and heat it over a turkey roaster and you have instant hot water. May have to play with the heating so as not to over heat. Another was a guy had a big black pipe strapped to his truck’s rack. The water would heat while exposed to the sun throughout the day. When I was a kid it was a 5 gallon bucket of COLD water on the tailgate of the truck.

    • Backcountry Parenting – No way! I love those ideas, well, not sure about the cold water in the 5 gallon bucket (which i’m sure would have been my parents preferred method).
      Might have to play around with a make-it-yourself-camp shower this spring. This has me thinking…

  9. Daktari

    Some of my strongest memories of great camping trips were exactly how cold the water was that I was trying to wash in. I think, by far, the coldest, was the Kern River in May. Had it not been for the biting flies, I might never have gotten myself submerged. Wow! That was cold!

    • Daktari. Aaaah, the Kern River. Beautiful place. Wish I were there right now…

  10. Daktari

    Me, too. Headed back to the Mojave in late April. That’s as close as I’ll get.

  11. [...] Tips on bathing kids while camping — here. [...]

  12. LizzyT

    When I used to camp with my parents and younger sisters, my mom always packed all our beach towels in one of those plastic bins. When it was bath time, the towels came out and the kid went it. It worked pretty well for when we were little, but when we got bigger it turned into a hands/face/feet washer.

    • LizzyT – I love that idea! I think I just might start doing that as soon as we get a little more cargo room… thanks!

  13. [...] so comfortable when your belly is big!).  We’ve discussed before how to wash a kid while camping.  If you can still walk and hike, take them on a scavenger hunt… a little hiking and lots of [...]

  14. Stacey

    If you are not back packing bring a kids blow up pool. During the day it makes a great spot to play with toys and can be used as a bath tub at night.

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