Van life challenges: water

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we use water in the Baby Bus, and the challenges of water on the road. Whilst a lot of it seems obvious to us, perhaps to those yet to embark on van life the ins and outs of water use is helpful. Our way is not the only way for water use in a van or motorhome, but this is how it works for us at the moment.

Where do we store water in the Baby Bus?

  • 50 litre fresh water tank. This is for washing up and water that’s not to be consumed. The tank is under one set of bench seats and is piped to our single tap over the sink. We only have cold water.
  • Berkey water filter. This is our drinking water, and for cooking. The Berkey sits on top of our gas storage unit.

How do we get water in the Baby Bus?

  • We fill the fresh water tank up from water points at aires/camper stops/campsites etc. There is a long hose which connects to the tap (we had to buy a set of connectors) and this goes into the water tank via a hole in the outside of the Baby Bus. One of us stands by the tap, the other watches the tank fill to ensure we don’t overfill it.

How do we wash ourselves and how often?

Once upon a time I’d have felt very self conscious about revealing facts about how often I wash. But after 3 months on the road I’m just not so bothered. Life on the road has allowed us to step back from a society that makes us feel embarrassed at every turn if we aren’t squeaky clean. It has also shown me that we don’t become social outcasts or spontaneously combust if we’re not showering every day.


  • We honestly only shower every couple of weeks. If we want to wash, we have flannels and a bowl of water. If we want it warm, we have to boil the water on the hob first. Sometimes we add floral waters to the water, this was a happy accident due to a couple of leftover bottles that I brought with us. I had rose water and orange blossom water and they were a very pleasant addition to our flannel baths while they lasted.
  • We have a shower if we stay somewhere with a shower (e.g. a campsite)

Streams and lakes

  • We have washed in streams, but we don’t have access to streams and lakes as often as we thought. I think it was a romantic notion I had that we’d be able to wash in streams and lakes quite often. For us, it just hasn’t worked that way. (Here’s places we’ve found for wild swimming though).

Our tin bath

  • We can bathe our children in the tin bath.
  • We have a Hozelock PortaShower that we can fill with warm water. We stand in our tin bath and have a quick wash.

Teeth brushing and face washing

  • We wash our faces either with a damp flannel or cloth wipe, or I just fill my hand with a small amount of water and splash it over my face – it’s surprisingly enough to wash your face with.
  • To brush our teeth, we fill a glass with water, dip our brushes in, brush our teeth, then rinse with a mouthful of water.

What about washing up?

Nick does 99% of the washing up. I think it’s one of the only things he misses about ‘house life’ – not having running hot water and space to do the washing up. Or a dishwasher. So how does he do the washing up on the road?

  • Most often he washes up outside, using cold water if where we’re parked up has running water. Sometimes he takes a kettle of boiled water.
  • Nick has been refining his washing up routine, this is what it currently looks like: Rinse with hot water. Scrub with a soapy sponge. Rinse with cold water.
  • We have started using kitchen roll a lot more to wipe plates and dishes before washing. This is especially helpful if there’s fat on the plates (we cook in a lot of butter). Although not the most eco-friendly, or though we are using less water to wash dishes with, so perhaps it evens itself out?
  • If he washes up inside, we put a double layer of tea towels on the kitchen counter and the space above the fridge to let dishes dry. We have to make sure there’s nothing tempting, dangerous or breakable near enough for our littlest daughter to reach when we wakes up in the morning.

How do we wash our clothes?

I’m going to confess – hand washing clothes is NOT as romantic as I imagined it might be on the road. I do not find it the calming, meditative task I thought it would be. So…

  • We use a laundrette wherever we can find one nearby. It’s probably once a week that we do a wash.
  • We also use the driers because drying them on a line isn’t as easy as it sounds – sometimes there’s nowhere to hang a line to, sometimes there is too much laundry, sometimes we don’t park up until late in the afternoon and then there isn’t enough daytime to dry the clothes out.

What about washing reusable nappies?

I think I’m going to potentially disappoint a few people here when I say we don’t wash our reusable nappies by hand. It’s just not something we’ve found fits with our way of living on the road. So what do we do?

  • We use a laundrette. It’s that simple. We shove everything in together (sounds gross, but really we’ve had no issues) – back in our old ‘house life’ we used to do nappies separately, but we can’t afford to do that.
  • The reusable nappies we use are gNappies. They have a cloth outer, with a plastic inner that pops into place. Then we use a cloth liner, and a paper liner on top of that to ‘catch’ most of the poo. The cloth outers, plastic inners, and cloth liners all go into the wash. We don’t put the plastic inners into the dryers for obvious reasons, these we line dry.

Doesn’t our toilet use water?

What we’ve learnt

  • You don’t really need to wash as often as everyone seems to think we do. I’m pretty convinced that living in fresh open air most of the time means you just don’t get as smelly. After a week in the flat I am sure that we smelt more than the same amount of time living in the Baby Bus.
  • You don’t really need as much water as you use in a house, whether that’s brushing your teeth or washing your face. I think we get lazy with water usage in a house.
  • The Berkey water filter was a brilliant investment and great for van life. We have to remember to keep it filled, but not too full when driving (I thought someone spat on me once when we went over a bump!). It can take a while to fill a pan of water to cook potatoes or pasta. But it’s fantastic knowing that we don’t have to worry about where our water comes from, because we always end up with some of the best filtered water for drinking.