How Solar Showers Work and What They Cost

10 gallon solar showerIf the campgrounds you are going to does not have showers available, then a solar shower is a great way to stay clean without using cold water. The only problem is you have never used one, and you want to know exactly how it works, does it really work, how hot does a solar shower really get and how much do they cost.

So what is a solar shower and how does it work?

A solar shower works by absorbing the energy from the sun and converted that energy into heat for water. You simply hang a solar shower up and let gravity feed the warm water through a shower head.

Want more details? No worries, we have you covered with more details below.

Be sure to read the whole article and if you feel that we missed something or have more questions,  feel free to comment in the comments section at the end of this guide.

When you finish this article be sure to check out- How do you shower while camping? (Tips and Tricks)

What is a solar camping shower?

A solar shower is a portable way to heat water so that you can take a warm shower while enjoying outdoor activities but is usually used for camping or washing off at the beach.

Usually, a solar shower will consist of an insulated bag for holding and heating water, a hose for the water to drain from and a showerhead.

The solar shower bag can vary in materials but is most often made of PVC because PVC absorbs heat at a rapid pace and can be very durable.

The hose will measure anywhere from 6″ to 2′ in length and is usually made of rubber, so that is flexible and durable.

The shower head for a solar shower is often made of plastic and resembles a garden spray head in design. Shower heads can vary from just one standard stream to adjustable and in some cases have an on and off valve. We suggest using an adjustable stream or on and off valve so that you can control the amount of water output (duration of a shower).

How does a solar shower work?

A solar shower works by absorbing the suns radiation and transferring that radiation to water as heat. This is accomplished by leaving the bag in sunlight until the water has reached a desirable or peak temperature.

Gravity fed portable solar showers must be hung above your head so that gravity can pull the water down the hose and through the shower head. It is important to hang the bang higher than you will need to lift the shower head and preferable so that hose is a straight as possible. Also, as the water level in the bag drops, your water pressure will drop as well.

For battery powered or pressurized power showers you will need to make sure charged batteries are installed or that the pressure container has been properly pressurized.

Some solar showers will have a heat stripe so that you can tell how hot the water is.

How to use a solar camp shower?

1. You will need to fill the bag through the fill nozzle or cap. Make sure not to fill the bag completely full. Water expands as it heats and if the bag is filled completely, there will be no room for expansion and cause the bag to burst or tear open.

2. Place the bag in direct sunlight. If only one side is absorbent, make sure that side is facing the direction of the sun. It is important not to lay the solar bag on the ground, as the ground will absorb heat from the bag and will slow down the heating process. Be sure to read the tips and hacks section for some great ways to heat your bag faster.

3. For gravity fed solar shower- Once the water has heated, hand the bang above head level. For the best water pressure, hang the bang so that the hose is as straight as possible. This will provide less resistance and better pressure. Be sure to read the tips and hacks section for some great ways to hand and adjust your shower.

For battery or pump solar showers- Either install the batteries or pump up the pressure container. There is no need to hang the heating container since it will not be gravity fed.

4.  Make sure your shower hose is connected properly and turn on any valves to allow water flow.

That’s it, your ready to take a solar heated shower.

How hot does a solar shower get?

Under normal conditions, with full sun and temperatures above 50 degrees, you will be able to get to about 113 degrees.

To put that in perspective burnfoudation.org states that 3rd-degree burns will happen with hot water in 15 seconds at 133 degrees and 5 minutes at 120 degrees.

This means 113 degrees should be very comfortable, but if the water heats too much above that temperature, you could risk 3rd-degree burns.

It is best to get a solar shower with a built-in temperature gauge for safety.

Also, there are a few hacks in the tips and hacks section, for heating water faster that can also cause the water to heat to scalding temperatures.

How much water does a camping solar shower hold?

Solar shower range in capacity from 2.5 gallons to 10 gallons.

Not to say that there aren’t bigger or smaller sizes, but we have never seen one at retail bigger than 10 gallons.

If you are backcountry or hiking camping a 5-gallon solar shower will get the job done and is very light and portable when empty.

How much does a portable camp shower cost?

For gravity fed showers,  you can get an extremely basic version (a single layer PVC bag and hose) for about $6 or $7, but if you want a well-insulated solar shower with some nice features, that will cost about $20. Top of the line models run about $30.

For pump up and battery-powered models, the price varies from $50 to $150.

Be sure to see out best solar shower recommendation section for our choice of the best solar shower for the money.

How long of a shower can I take with a portable solar shower?

A gravity fed shower will use about 2 gallons per minute. So a 2.5-gallon shower would last 1-1/2 minutes, a 5-gallon shower would last roughly 2-1/2 minutes, and a 10-gallon shower would last about 5 minutes.

If you are good with a quick cleaning or rinse off, then a 5-gallon shower should suffice, but if you like to linger in the shower, you may want to consider a 10-gallon shower.

Will a solar shower work on cloudy days?

I always hate to answer a question like this, but it depends.

If it is completely cloudy, then no. If it is partly cloudy with the sun peaking through, then yes but it will take longer.

You have to have direct sunlight to warm a solar shower, so if the is not sun, then there is no transfer of energy to heat the water.

Will a solar shower work in the winter?

The simple answer is yes, but there are some factors that we will need to discuss.

First, the ambient temperature outside will have a huge impact, not only on the time it takes to warm the water but on just how warm the water will get.

As long as direct sunlight is on a solar shower, it will absorb solar radiation and transfer that to the water as heat. The problem is the outside influences of wind and temperature.

The simple explanation is you will have the cold air fighting against the suns ray to cool the water while solar radiation fights to warm the water. This will have a big impact on heating time and temperature.

If the temperature is below 35 degrees, then you will probably not be able to get the water warm enough to safely use in a cold environment. Water with a temperature of 70 degrees or less on a human body can quickly lead to hypothermia.

Anything above 35 degrees should get the water warm enough to use comfortably as long as it has enough time to warm up in the sunlight. It may not be the warmest water ever, but it is definitely better than washing off with cold water.

Portable solar shower tips and hacks

  • Getting water hotter faster

I had mentioned earlier in this article not to lay your solar shower on the ground as the ground will actually absorb heat away from the water. However, surfaces that absorb heat and then radiate it out are perfect for not only heating water faster but getting the water hotter as well. Two perfect examples of this would be the metal on your car or a large rock.

Once your car or rock has sat in direct sunlight for a while and you can feel the heat radiating off of them, you can put your solar bag of water on them. It will then not only absorb heat directly from the sun but from the car or rock as well. You are basically expanding the solar absorption surface.

  • Hang on a pole

If you are having a hard time hanging your shower high enough bring along a pole to hang it on. You can get a 7′ birdfeeder pole that will do the job for most people.

  • Get a rope

Another great solution for hanging a solar shower is to tie a length of rope or paracord to the hanging handle, toss the rope over a tree limb that is high enough off the ground to do the job and then tie down the loose end of the rope. If you use this technique, you will be able to adjust the height of your shower for each person in your group.

  • Make your own shower

There are a lot of DIY solar shower hacks out there, but our favorite is to use a pump up sprayer. Either go out and buy a spray pump or use one you have around the house (make sure it is thoroughly cleaned before using). You can place the spray pump in the sun like you would sun tea and once it’s warm, pump up the sprayer and enjoy.

The down side of this is that most sprayers are not very big and do not have layers of insulation to keep the warmth in. However, if in a pinch, this is a great way to go.

  • Cold weather solar shower heating trick

This is a hack that can not only help in cold weather but also works great to heat water faster in warm weather. If you have a piece of radiant barrier or even some aluminum foil you can lay it out in direct sunlight to collect radiant heat from the sun and lay your solar bag on top.

If you are heating your bag on a pole, find a way to put the foil or radiant barrier about 1/2 inch behind your bag with the edges going past the sides of the bag so that they get hit by the sun as well. The foil will heat up from the suns rays and reflect that heat to the bag.

  • Use a shower tent

Not only will a shower tent offer privacy but usually they will have a hook to hang the shower. The best part is, if it is cold outside, a shower tent will help block the wind and if sealed up tight should help to retain some of the heat that the solar shower and water put off.

  • Another DIY solar shower

Another way to throw a solar shower it to use one of the large laundry soap containers. We mean the large plastic ones with a spout. Make sure the container has been cleaned out and if you are really handy, add a hose to the spout.

I have never done this for a shower, but this was a clever hack that I have used for hot dishwater while camping. A plastic laundry soap jug in direct sunlight will give you a nice supply of warm water.

Ruipoo Solar Shower (Amazon link)

What is the best solar shower? ( our recommendation )

We have only used solar showers so I will not recommend a pump up or battery operated shower. We have actually used several different ones but my favorite by far is Ruipoo solar shower bag.

There are a few reasons this one wins out for us.

1.  It is 5 gallons, and I can easily take a nice shower with it.

2. There is a temperature strip, so it is easy to know where your water temperature is at.

3. We like that the handle is durable nylon with a snap to make it easy to hang.

4. The valve is located on the shower head. This makes the water flow easy to control and turn off and on.

5. There is a storage pouch on the front to keep small soap and shampoo bottles.

The one thing I don’t like is that if you lay it perfectly flat, water will slowly leak out of the cap. I’m not sure if it is a model wide thing or just the one I have. I usually have it out in the sun upright anyway, so this hasn’t been an issue for me.

If you would like to check this solar shower out, you can find it on Amazon. Just click the picture or link above.

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Rickie Arms

Hi, I'm Rickie Arms, owner of Glampingorcamping.com. I am so invested in writing the best and most informative articles for you that I went out and bought a travel trailer just so I could write about it for you. I spend just about all of my off time both camping and glamping so I can share everything I have learned and will learn with you. I have spent my whole life camping and over the last 10 years, I have spent a large amount of time checking out glamping experiences with my wife and kids as well. Thank you for coming by and we hope to see you back here getting great information in the future. Rick Arms-

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