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How to Take a Bucket Bath


I never thought I’d say this, but knowing how to take a bucket bath can be a great skill that comes in handy when you’d least expect it. Obviously, if you have a heating or plumbing emergency, knowing how to take a bucket bath can be useful. But bucket baths can also be useful if there’s some reason a person can’t get their whole body wet. Also, taking bucket baths can be economical, since it requires using a limited amount of water and the energy used to heat the water is minimal.

I remember the first time I was instructed in the art of taking the so-called bucket bath. I was in Yerevan, Armenia, horribly jetlagged, and itching to take a shower. But, as a brand new Peace Corps trainee, I needed to learn a few things about the local culture first. As I sat in a dining room at what used to be the Hotel Armenia, a few Peace Corps volunteers who had already been in the country for a year explained that most people in Armenia were lucky if they had any water, let alone hot water. One of the ladies from the older group gave us an explanation of what to expect once we moved in with our host families for our summer training.

“First, you fill up a bucket of water. Then, you use an immersion heater to heat it up. Be sure you don’t touch the water while it’s heating or you can get a nasty shock.” she said.

My eyes widened in astonishment as I considered the danger of dropping an electrical appliance into hot water.

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She continued, “There will be a drain in the floor. Just take the bucket of hot water into into the bathroom along with a smaller cup. Stand by the drain and use the smaller cup to dump water over your body. After you’re wet, wash yourself. Use the rest of the water to rinse off.”

As it turned out, every place I lived in Armenia had a bathtub I could stand in, although none of the places where I lived had hot water. Over the course of my two year tour, I did indeed have to become skilled in taking bucket baths. After being shocked a couple of times and not having electricity for six weeks straight, I gave up using the immersion heater. Instead, I heated my hot water in a metal bucket on a propane stove or, in the winter, I’d set the metal bucket on top of one of my kerosene heaters. I’d wait about a half an hour and then presto, I’d have a nice bucket of hot water for a bath.

Even though I had gotten pretty good at taking bucket baths, I was glad to give them up once it was time to go home. I incorrectly assumed that I’d seen the last of them until one unlucky day last week. My husband and I are now living in Germany. We get most of our heat and hot water from a large propane tank located in our backyard. We had just had the tank filled a few months ago, but we’re still learning the ins and outs of heating effiency in Germany.

My husband sent me an email, asking me if I thought the temperature in our house was cooler than normal. He said he’d tried to take a shower that morning and there seemed to be little hot water. I went and checked the water and, sure enough, it was barely lukewarm.

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“I think we’ve run out of propane.” he said, with some dismay. Propane is very expensive and our tank holds about 2500 liters.

My husband called our landlord, who confirmed that we were out of gas. He called the gas company last Friday evening. They told us they’d fill up our tank for us on Monday after we rejected their offer of an emergency shipment over the weekend for an extra 250-300 euro charge. Meanwhile, my husband and I were back to taking bucket baths.

Since we live in Germany, where hot water is fairly plentiful for most people, I doubt I could find an immersion heater even if I wanted to use one. I don’t have kerosene heaters or a metal bucket, either. Heating water on the stove and slugging it up the stairs seemed impractical and potentially dangerous.

Then, my husband spotted a simple hot pot which we had never used. It had come with a breakfast set we’d purchased for a toaster and coffee maker. The hot pot was supposed to be used for making hot tea or boiling eggs. Since we have a stove for boiling eggs and rarely drink tea, we’d never had to use the hot pot. But thanks to our hot water embargo, suddenly, the previously unused hot pot became very useful indeed. We took it to our bathroom, plugged it in, and made it an instrument for promoting personal hygiene.

Our hot pot holds about two liters of water. We also have a small bucket that holds four liters. Using the hot pot, I’d heat a pitcher of water until it was very hot and dump it in the bucket. Then, I’d heat another pitcher until it was very warm and use it to fill the bucket to the brim. While washing myself in the tub or shower, I’d heat a third pitcher to use for rinsing my hair. It would be ready by the time I had rinsed off the rest of my body. Luckily, it was April, so the air in the house wasn’t as chilly as it could have been, otherwise this process could have been a lot less comfortable.

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The gas company was supposed to come on Monday, but they didn’t show up until Wednesday. Consequently, my bucket tub skills have become sharp once again. Of course, I am hoping I never need to take another bucket bath, but it’s nice to know I still can. Since filling our tank cost 2311 euros (about $3,700), I’m guessing we could possibly end up taking more bucket baths in the future!

I hope my readers have access to hot showers whenever and wherever they want one. If bad luck strikes, though, knowing how to take a bucket bath can make the ordeal easier to handle.