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Is It Okay to Bathe in a Lake While Camping? The Answer May Surprise You

Is It Okay to Bathe in a Lake While Camping? The Answer May Surprise You

Some things may sound unnatural in this day and age, but they were acceptable behavior for previous generations. At one point, it was perfectly admissable to drive around in a car without wearing a seatbelt. During the 1990s, you could still smoke on domestic flights lasting more than six hours. Taking a “camping bath” in a lake was acceptable behavior. But is it okay to bathe in a lake while camping now? Let’s look and see!

two boys bathing in lake
While tempting, bathing in a lake with soap is no longer an acceptable practice. Keep reading to find out why.

Is It Okay to Take a Bath in a Lake Or River While Camping?

Can you bathe in a lake? There are typically no laws regarding taking a dip in a lake or pond to get clean. Is it a good idea? Not always. Even if you’re using biodegradable soaps, it doesn’t mean they’re not potentially harming the water, which is home to plants and animals.

Lakes or rivers aren’t typically going to experience any issues if it’s just one person bathing irregularly in the water. However, it becomes a problem when many people frequent the area. The increased body oils, phosphorus from soaps, and other pollutants can cause viruses and bacteria to grow.

It’s everyone’s responsibility to take care of the lakes and rivers to protect plants and animals and ensure they’re in good condition for future generations. So while you’re likely not going to get into any legal troubles, there are better options to get clean.

How to Bathe While Camping | Camping

How to Take a Bath in a Lake When Camping

If you want to take a bath in a lake when camping, we have a few things you should keep in mind. This can help you to not only get clean but also be a responsible camper. Let’s get started!

Man bathing in lake
Keep clean while camping by bathing in a lake.

Never Use Soap

While you may have a favorite soap or shampoo, you should avoid using any soaps while bathing in a lake. Even if your soap is biodegradable, it can still be harmful to the water. Chemicals in the soap can change the pH levels in the water, making it toxic or challenging for animals to thrive in the lake.

If you’re camping in an area frequented by those looking to bathe, chemicals from all the soaps can quickly do a number on the water. The chemicals in the soaps that help remove oils and grime from human skin can also put phosphorus and other harmful substances in the water. The more campers bathe, the more severe the problem can become. So keep in mind that just because your soap is biodegradable, you should still avoid using it.

Man washing beside lake
Never use soap when washing in a lake to protect the natural ecosystem.

Bring a Washcloth

Since you’re not going to be using soap to get yourself clean, it would be best to bring a washcloth. Soap makes it easier to get clean and leaves behind a scent, but it’s possible to get clean without it. A washcloth can help you scrub away the oils and other gunk you’ve collected on your skin during your camping adventures.

Pro Tip: We took a closer look at What Does Primitive Camping Mean? to keep you safe and sound on your next camping adventure!

Pick a Spot Away From Other Bathers

You want to avoid bathing in a spot frequented by other bathers. If large amounts of people are taking a bath while camping, it will likely affect the quality of the water. Oils and other residues that come off while bathing will linger in the water.

This can cause increased bacteria and even viruses to grow in the water. You don’t want to get sick due to trying to maintain good hygiene while camping. Find a secluded area and bathe responsibly to reduce your impact on the water quality.

Rinse away the dirt from your camping adventures in a lake.

Can You Get Clean Using Just Water?

Yes, water does a great job of rinsing away the dirt and other grime from your body. You can’t rely on just taking a dip in the water to get clean. It may wash away some of the sweat on your skin, but you’ll need to scrub to do a more thorough job.

Because you’re not using soap to break down the oils and other grime on your skin, you’ll need a generous amount of friction. A washcloth and water can create the necessary friction to clean your body. You’ll need to scrub your skin vigorously to get clean, but it’s possible. 

In a pinch or for a short period, rinsing off with just water will do the trick. Again, this is only a temporary solution, and you’ll need to use soap or scrub your skin thoroughly eventually, but you’ll survive just fine if you can only bathe with water for a short time.

What If You Can’t Go Without Soap?

If you can’t go without soap, you’ll want to find a secluded spot that is at least 200 feet from both your campsite and the nearest water source to take a bath while camping. Whether using a portable shower or simply dumping water on yourself, you should get your body wet and lather up with soap. You can then rinse the soap off and use a towel to dry your skin.

You want to stay 200 feet from your campsite and the water to avoid contaminating your camp or the water. The ground will absorb the soapy water and break down the chemicals naturally.

You should make sure your soap and shampoo are safe and biodegradable. If you’re going to use soap, you want to have as minimal impact as possible when trying to get clean.

Woman washing face in river.
If lake bathing isn’t for you, use a body wipe to keep clean.

There Are Many Other Ways to Take a Bath While Camping

There are many ways to get clean while camping, some of which don’t even require water. For example, there are shower wipes, and massive body wipes that you can use. You can use these wipes to scrub down your skin, under your arms, and any other sensitive spots that are prone to getting funky while camping.

These wipes can do a tremendous job of keeping you clean and helping you feel fresh. They can’t 100% replace taking a nice hot shower, but they’ll extend the time between showers and keep your body odor under control.

Pro Tip: Would you rather use wipes than take a bath in a lake? We uncovered the truth behind using Body Wipes for Camping: Ew or Awesome?

Top Tips for Preparing to Go Off-Grid "Boondocking" in an RV - Mondays with the Mortons

Bathe Responsibly When Camping

When you’re enjoying the great outdoors, you want to stay clean and fresh and limit your impact on the environment. So unless you’re showering in a campground bathhouse or an RV shower, keep the soap at home. You want to be a responsible camper and ensure that the plants and animals thrive.

Have you ever had to take a bath in a lake while camping? Tell us in the comments!

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Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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Carl Copas

Monday 25th of April 2022

Don't breath either. You will be polluting the air with carbon monoxide. Bring a gas mask so other won't be affirmed by your body order. If you can't do this just use some common sense.

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