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Astronauts on the International Space Station Do Not Shower for Six Months. Instead, They Use Damp Towels and Waterless Shampoo to Keep Themselves Clean.

An astronaut is a person who has been trained, equipped, and deployed as a commander or crew member aboard a spacecraft by a human spaceflight program. Although the phrase is typically reserved for professional space travelers, it is occasionally applied to anybody who journeys into space, including scientists, politicians, journalists, and tourists. But do you know how astronauts keep themselves clean while they’re in space?

For six months, astronauts on the International Space Station do not shower. Instead, they clean themselves with wet towels and waterless shampoo.

The Science of Bathing

Showering, bathing, and swimming are all things that most of us take for granted on Earth. On a hot day, there’s nothing like feeling the cold touch of water from the shower or leaping into a pool. All these pleasures are made possible by gravity, which forces the cool and soothing water off your back and into the drain.

But everything changes in space. Water and soap suds attach to everything due to the lack of gravity. (Source: Air and Space)

Apollo and Gemini Missions

NASA chose the simplest answer for the Gemini and Apollo missions: a sponge bath. Astronauts used a towel, soap, and water to clean themselves. There was no way to save water, unlike later missions. Because astronauts could only use a limited amount of water to clean themselves, they returned to Earth smelling a little less like flowers.

The astronauts had been in their suits for so long without changing that the aroma lasted the entire time. Because the smell was so powerful, it was a slap to those who received them upon their return.

Jennifer Levasseur, Curator in the Museum’s Space History Department

(Source: Air and Space)

Showering on the Skylab

Skylab, the United States’ first space station, needed to feel more like home, especially since astronauts would live there for extended periods. Although designers had to fit equipment into a very small space, they did include a toilet, an exercise room, and a shower.

Astronauts took long showers in a tube-like device. Astronauts secured their feet in foot shackles at the shower’s base to prevent them from floating away. Then they hung a pressurized portable water bottle from the ceiling connected to a hose and showerhead.

The astronauts then dragged a fireproof, cylinder-shaped shower wall from the floor and secured it to the ceiling. Then it was time to take a shower! They slathered themselves in liquid soap and showered with water from the push-button showerhead. Then they had to vacuum up suds and water into a collection bin; stray water may damage the space station’s equipment and instruments.

According to a New York Times report, NASA severely rationed water and liquid soap on Skylab, with each astronaut receiving around six pints of water per shower.

A typical Skylab shower takes almost two hours from start to finish. Some astronauts found the procedure inconvenient. Others appreciated having the comforts of home while in space. (Source: Air and Space)

Showering on the Shuttle and International Space Station

Astronauts on the Space Shuttle and International Space Station (ISS) returned to the “old-fashioned” method of showering in space. Astronauts on the International Space Station do not shower using liquid soap, water, and rinseless shampoo. They apply liquid soap and water on their skin from pouches. They then clean their hair with rinseless soap and a little water. To remove the surplus water, they use towels. A neighboring airflow system swiftly evaporates excessive water. (Source: Air and Space)

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