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Photo: dolspics

The scenario: You have only one bucket of water.

AND IT LOOKS like this –>

I spent 5 years roughing it in a boarding school in Nigeria and had to bathe this way every morning with water drawn from a well. When you think “boarding school,” you may immediately think preppy, royal, posh. This is far from the truth in most parts of Africa.

Step 1: First, you need to make sure you have enough water for your soap-down as well as rinse-off. Fill up the bucket.

Step 2: The trick is to find a small plastic container, like a small Tupperware dish or, at the very least, a plastic cup. Chances are if you’re using a bucket, this will already be readily accessible to you as well.

Step 3: In this plastic container is where you’ll add your soap with a little bit of water. Fill up the plastic container halfway with water, swish your bar of soap (usually what we use in Africa) around until it foams a bit, and then pour it over yourself while using one hand to aggressively rub all your body parts with the soapy water.

Step 4: Repeat (maybe 3-5 times, foaming the soap).

Step 5: With the same container, scoop clean water from the bucket and pour over yourself, using one hand to spread the water continuously across your body. The hand motion also makes icy cold water easier to tolerate (in case that’s all you’ve got).

By the time you’re done, you’ll still have at least a quarter to half your bucket of water left! Guaranteed.

Try this at home and let us know how it goes.



About The Author

Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström

Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström is a MatadorU faculty member and Network contributor. Her work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Vogue, BBC,, and many more. Follow her photoblog at

  • Geeta Athreya

    Is this any kind of a revelation?? This is how 1 billion people bathe in India!! You don’t have to swish the soap etc in water. You can soap your body with the bar of soap or even liquid soap and pour the water over yourself!! And as you say you will have water left over! The only sustainable way to bathe for the world!! 

    • Nikole Opiyo

      Yes, I have never swished the soap in water either. I just lather it all over my body. In Kenya, most people don’t even use a cup to pick up the water and splash it on themselves. They just cup their hands and fling the water all over their bodies. Makes for a messy shower but its how they do it.

  • Clare

    Haha.. this sounds so familiar… I was on a reef conservation project in Madagascar, and the water was only on at certain times of the day. If we missed our moment for running water, we had to use what had been gathered earlier and stored in plastic coke bottles.

    The bottle works well as a pourer… I had it down to an art. I could shower and wash my hair (I have long hair!) with just two bottles!

  • Wanderlustress

    In Peace Corps, we would then wash our clothes in the leftover water!

  • I miss you Plovdiv

    I studied abroad in Bulgaria many years ago.  My roommate and I had running water, but only on very rare occasions did the water heater work.  In the winter, we used the bucket shower with great success, using a $3 tea heater to heat the water.

    One time, as we were leaving the dorm to have dinner with Bulgarian friends, we noticed that the heat was working.  We asked our friends to wait in the lobby while we showered.

    Definitely four of the best months of my life…

  • Ruby

    Wow, this is how my parents made me bathe when i was younger.  They said it helped to save water. 

  • Ekua

    Fun post, Lola. It’s a few months too late for me, haha! I had to bucket shower for a couple days when I was in Namibia in December. I hadn’t done that in years and it was more of a challenge than I imagined! Next time, I’ll remember to find a smaller container to help the process along :)

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