It’s summer in Australia, and we’re on water restrictions. Solar camping showers use much less water than indoor showers, and need no gas or electricity to heat the water up. However, we don’t have anywhere private to hang a camping shower from. So I decided to build one, from free and recycled materials.
What is a solar shower? A solar shower is a tough plastic bag, black on one side and clear on the other, with a outlet that connects to a shower head. Usually, you lay it in the sunshine for several hours to heat the water up, then hang it up as high as you can so you can stand underneath and shower. You can buy these for about $20 from camping stores, or cheaper second-hand. Or make a spiral of black poly pipe that you can fill and then empty out one end when it’s warm.
At home, I found that the solar shower heats up really well on top of corrugated iron sheets, like on top of my water tank. It gets sunshine all day here. When the water’s the right temperature, I hang it on the shower room I built. Here’s how I made it.
I could have bought a plastic tent to hide in, but I don’t like using plastic. Or spending money. So instead I used strong karri sticks, rope washed up on my local beach, and tree prunings.
First, I laid the longest sticks to form a tripod.
I tipped it up the right way to measure how tall it needed to be, to hang the shower bag from.
I added a few more long sticks to make a tipi-like structure. I wound the pieces of rope around to keep the sticks evenly spaced, to support the prunings, and also to train plants along. Because I used lots of short pieces of rope, I staggered them to make different levels, to increase strength and plant supports.
A nearby chilacayote plant is already twining onto the rope and twigs. I plan to plant bananas and soapwort at the edges of the shower, too. Reach down and pick a plant that you can lather yourself with; how cool is that? Soapwort and bananas both like damp fertile soil, perfect for a shower surround.
Soapwort has juicy green leaves that lather when you rub them vigorously, and flowers that are pink or white like this.
Where possible, I positioned the sticks so that they curved outwards, to maximise the internal space. Using lots of bits of rope helped to prevent them collapsing inwards. I even tied rope across the ‘door’, because otherwise the sticks would lag sideways.
I hung a meat hook at the top of the tripod. I got this from my grandfather, who used to be a butcher and had dozens of old meat hooks in his shed to hang his tools on. It’s strong enough to hold the full bag of water. I looped the shower nozzle over the sticks to direct the water straight down.
For privacy, I covered the outside of the tipi with prunings and twigs, so my neighbours won’t get an eyeful as they drive up their driveways. It also gives shade, so the shower can be used in the middle of the day while the water’s hot, without burning yourself in the sunshine.
An old wooden bathmat helps to keep your feet clean from splashing soil, although this isn’t really necessary on thick lawn. I just happened to have this wooden mat in the garden. If you need to, you could also use a small area of clean stones.
To make the water go further, you can turn the shower off instantly as you soap up by bending the shower pipe above the level of the water in the bag.
One luxury solar shower. Another option for summer showers, to reduce water and gas use and water the surrounding plants without hauling buckets! And it’s more fun showering outside!