Hygiene for the Houseless

It’s 35°Celsius (95° Fahrenheit) outside, you’ve been exposed to the elements all day, and slowly but surely you realize that this obnoxious smell you’ve been running from for the last hour is coming from yourself. Now, if you are lucky, you’ll be able to jump into a nearby lake, river, stream, etc. and enjoy a nice bath (with bio degradable soap of course). However, sometimes clean running water is just not obtainable. Here are some tips and useful information regarding hygiene for the houseless.

Basic Hygiene

Living outside does not mean you should let go of any and all hygiene routines.

Firstly, people will treat you the way you look. Wanna take a short nap comfortably seated in a cafe? Try doing that looking like a homeless person… forget about it! If you look like a regular customer, people are much less likely to bother you or kick you out.

Secondly, a lack of basic hygiene comes at a price. Ever had one of those painful abscesses on your feet that itch like hell and smell even worse? It is rather difficult to get rid of those without some sort of medication. No Fun! Also, keep up your dental hygiene. Rotten teeth not only add to the “homeless look”, but bad teeth can also cause a lot of pain. Unless you have health insurance in a country with a good social system (Canada, Sweden, Germany), you will pay at least an arm and a leg to get your teeth fixed. It´s better to keep ´em healthy in the first place.

How to stay Clean and Healthy


Consider getting a fitness center membership. It is difficult, but not impossible, to clean yourself well without a shower or at least a sink. I do have a membership at a gym and, besides showering and shaving, I also go swimming there. Also, being able to fully undress yourself (and not being arrested for it) allows you to discover wounds and other areas of  your body that may need attention. 

Do you need to shower every single day? Absolutely not. However, you shouldn’t just skip cleaning yourself because it isn´t `shower day´. As mentioned earlier, streams, rivers, and lakes (big, clean ones) are great for a nice bath. However, this is only true during the summer and parts of fall and spring.


When there is no clean body of water close by, you will need to use spit baths as a mean of hygiene. Baby wipes are great. They don´t drip, won´t irritate your skin, and are compact. Use baby wipes when your last shower happened recently. If it´s been more than a couple days since your last shower or bath, you will need some serious water and soap.

Living outside often doesn´t allow for a whole lot of privacy. If you are in the woods, no problem. Heat up some water over a fire, put on your birthday suit, and let the cleaning begin. Urban campers and city hobos may have more difficulties finding a private spot. I prefer washing myself inside my vehicle. After covering all the windows, I spread a towel over my sleeping bag, and undress myself as much as the surroundings allow (you really don´t want a cop knocking on your window while you´re butt ass naked). I use a wash cloth and wash myself systematically with water and soap. Use some common sense: if it´s been near your butt, don´t wash your face with it!  Make sure you get as much of the soap off of you as possible. Soap residues make for extremely dry and itchy skin. Lotion will help keep your skin soft and smooth.


Did you know that you need to actually clean your belly button when you don´t have access to running water? Well, I didn´t and one hot day curiosity overcame me and I stuck my finger in my belly button and… anyway, the point is that areas such as your ears, between your toes, and yes, your belly button all need more attention than usual.

Dental Hygiene:

As previously mentioned, dental hygiene will not only prevent painful tooth decay, but also allows you to blend in with the general public. It´s really not rocket science; all you need is a tooth brush, floss, and tooth paste. I handle brushing my teeth the way I handling cleaning my body: in private. I have a small trash can in my car, which, due to my allergies, is always filled with at least a few tissues. I use grocery bags as trash bags and together with the tissues that makes a perfect place to spit my tooth paste. However, the tissues won´t soak up much more than that, so no rinsing. Just have a drink of water after spitting out your toothpaste.

Keeping Things Clean:

In order to keep yourself clean and healthy, you need to keep everything around you clean as well. Do your laundry on a regular basis. This includes everything made of fabric such as blankets, shirts, socks, underwear!, sleeping bags, and jackets. Again, a river or stream can work here, but the laundromat is by far more convenient.

If you own a vehicle keep it clean and organized. A car that hasn´t been washed in years and that is packed with empty fast food bags and dirty clothes can make the difference between a good night and the cops bothering you. Sleeping in your car is illegal in many cities and the I-am-traveling-to-´random-town´-but-was-too-tired-to-keep-driving-excuse won´t work if your vehicle looks like a garbage truck. In addition, trash and food waste will attract rodents and insects. You most definitely don´t want that kind of company!

I have a bottle of cleaner in my SUV and clean all hard surfaces about once a week. Additionally, I empty out the back of my Ford weekly and shake out all my blankets and my sleeping bag. At least once a month, I spend a dollar at the gas station to completely vacuum out the inside.

That´s pretty much it. Do you have any additional tips, questions, or just something to say? Leave a comment!


5 thoughts on “Hygiene for the Houseless

  1. so glad you commented on sqwabb’s blog (the vancouver b.c. homeless blogger guy). looking forward to your ramblings….


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