Staying Clean Aboard ISS: It's Harder Than You Think

Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) need to stay clean, but there’s no shower aboard yet. What can they do? 

There is no proper shower aboard the ISS, so the astronauts have to make due with special space-friendly wet wipes developed by the Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP).

Here's how this temporary solution works: a dry napkin is placed into a special package. The package is filled with warm water from the onboard water dispenser. When the dry napkin is soaked, the astronaut breaks the package open and 'showers' with the home-made wet wipe.

There also is a wet towel option, one towel can be used for 3 days in a row, but most of the astronauts don’t find the use of wet towels very satisfying. 

‘The astronauts complained that the wet towels that were sent to the station by the Progress cargo ship were cold. And the napkins turned out warm. After that, everyone stopped worrying about  placing a shower on the ISS, realizing that there was still no room for it,’ explained Evgenia Yarmanova Deputy Chief Developer in the IBMP.

However, Evgenia Yarmanova confirmed that a shower onboard the station was necessary. ‘And if we do it, we should use modern technologies to minimize mold formation,’ the scientist added.

Previous attempts to equip the ISS with a space-shower were found to be inefficient, since it would require a lot of water and place.

Some time ago, astronauts washed themselves in the Functional Cargo Module ‘Zarya’, but it got moldy and had to be removed.

Possibly, there will be a solution soon, and as for today, there is quite a number of tutorials with astronauts managing their hygiene. 

Here’s the video by Samantha Cristoforetti, the first female Italian astronaut, where she gladly explains her routine.

On the photo above: NASA Astronaut Charles Conrad after using the shower facility in the crew quarters of the Skylab Orbital Workshop, 1973 Photo credits: NASA

Christina Daumann