Ever heard of a bucket bath? If you’re coming to India as a budget traveler you’ll want to get used to them because it’s 1000% what kind of washing up you’ll be doing. Most bathrooms in Indian homes and hotels do not have a shower head up top but only a tap at the bottom. You are meant to fill up a large bucket and use a smaller bucket to wash with, by dipping it into the big bucket.
Don’t worry – it’s literally something you’ll get used to after one bath. I get asked about bathing and bathroom situations in India quite often so am finally taking the time to walk you through how to take a bath here (how weird is that!?)
Things you need to know & tips for taking a bucket bath in India (or anywhere)
Use both buckets
There are two buckets in Indian bathrooms. The first is your typical big bucket that fits maybe 5 gallons of water. Then there is a little bucket with a handle which is usually hooked onto the side of the big bucket. The big one is what you fill with water. The little one is the scoop that you use to pour the water on yourself.
Get hot water
Most bathrooms in India has a geyser (small water heater) that you turn on 10 minutes before your shower to have a warm shower. Luxury places will have the hot water always going so you don’t need to do this. Many budget guesthouses will not have hot water at all – even when it was -5 degrees in Arunachal Pradesh. In the case that there is no hot water, you can use the kettle in your room to boil water to put in the bucket and add tap water to get a not boiling temperature. If you don’t have a kettle, you can ask the reception to let you borrow one or to boil you a little bit of water.
It’s key to use warm water because it’ll get you cleaner and it’s just miserable to take a cold bucket bath! Because you don’t continuously have warm water running over you like in a shower, you’ll feel the chill during a bucket bath.
Keep the bucket of water soap free
Basically, when you are washing the big bucket of water should stay soap-free because you’ll use it to rinse at the end.
The process of the bucket bath
It’s really easy, guys! You should squat down so that the water covers more surface area when you pour. Just take the little pourer and dump water over your head a few times until you’re fully wet then scrubba dub dub with soap, not getting any of that soapy run-off water in the big bucket. Once you’re clean, you dump more water over your head until you are soap-free. It’s (I think) pretty much exactly what you would expect it to be like and easy to clean with just one bucket even if you are washing your hair.
Don’t wash your hair like you usually do…
Bucket baths are the most annoying for people with long hair. If you usually wash your hair by aggressively messing it up then putting in conditioner and combing it through while in the shower, this isn’t really possible now. I know for me, I can’t brush my hair unless it has conditioner in it and I’m actually under the shower head. I brush through as I rinse my conditioner. So, you can’t do that with pouring water over your head. You have to get the conditioner out then comb your hair later when the bath is over. It causes more tangles for me and I need to use a leave-in conditioner. If you are the same, I recommend you gently wash your hair carefully trying not to tangle it too much.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that without the pressure of a shower head helping you rinse off, you might not get all the conditioner out of your hair. If it builds up, you will get greasy not-so-nice hair. It’s the same if you use cold water instead of hot, it might not all come up and can build up. I wash my hair less often when traveling in India to avoid dealing with it.
Bucket baths are WAY faster and use WAY less water
You can take a bucket bath so quickly and help the environment. You’ll get used to it after a bath or two and might end up preferring it. Actually many Indians will use the leftover clean water to wash their laundry.
Most Indian bathrooms are “wet rooms” so the water goes everywhere. There isn’t always a designated shower area. To avoid getting water everywhere, you can squeegee after. Many bathrooms have small ones in there already.
After more bucket baths than I can count, I realized I had no images, so got these from blogging buddies hoppingmiles.com and mytriphack.com. Thanks, girls!
Join my email list and get exclusive updates & news straight to your inbox.
I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Oh this has taken me back! I forgot about the bucked situation! I literally just muddled my way through! This post would have been useful.
Haha yes, I did too – so maybe I shouldn’t be giving advice lol!!
ha! i definitely needed this when i was working in bangalore and we constantly had international volunteers rotating in. they would be so confused about bucket baths, and it always confounded me how long it took them to get used to it. even when i had a shower head i often preferred bucket baths since it uses so much less water.
Haha yes, I quite like a bucket bath since it takes way less time (when I shower I end up just standing there enjoying being warm). Only downside of a bucket bath is for wavy hair like mine, makes it harder to comb through I find.
:-) Could have never thought someone would write a post on this topic! By the way, the little bucket is called ‘Mug’ or ‘Mugga’.
I love that – “mugga” so cute
Thanks for sharing this little piece of Indian culture. I spent a month in India and didn’t have the opportunity to take a bucket bath. The place I was staying was not luxurious by any means, but it had a shower…with low water pressure. Does your house have a bucket bath?
It is a rental so came with buckets, although we don’t use them. There is a shower head. When I travel to a place that has a shower head with low pressure, i’ll just use a bucket instead :)
Finally it is out! :)
Most Indians prefer taking bucket bath even if they have a shower at home. The small bucket is called a Mug. :)
Even in villages where they don’t have bathrooms and take bath at the well or at the handpump, they prefer this type of arrangement.
Down at the water spigot on the highway in far outer lower Puna, U.S.A. this is also the norm. As well as up at the cow sanctuary north of Hilo. I actually saw the swami doing this behind a gas station on the highway in San jose…well I wasnt watching , but u know…we were on the road.. and bathing is necessary.
I totally forgot about the bucket showers.
A I miss india so much.
I’m just starting to research for a trip to India and have never heard of bucket baths. So pleased to have learnt about it here rather than in the bathroom! Thanks
Thank you for educating me on the bucket bath – such a simple but necessary need!
Rachel, this post made my day :D! I do believe if the rest of the world used the water the way people in South Asia do, there would be immense water amounts saved! I also like that in many Indian homes there is a water limit allocated per flat per day. This experience has developed in me habits to turn off the tap while brushing or soaping, wash clothes in bulk, reuse same water for different purposes (as you also mentioned). Yes, it’s less comfortable, though it makes you aware about limited resources and make small steps to save them :)
My hot water heater is leaking and they had to drain it, so I have neither cold nor hot water coming out of my shower. I remember that people took bucket baths in India, but I don’t have a big bucket. I just took a bath with one liter of cold water. With hair down to nearly my bum it’s going to be a greasy 7 days until this is replaced! Thanks for the tips!
Our hot water system broke last night and the new part won’t be in for a few days so we are doing this method with the kettle. I grew up in the bush so it’s not foreign to me but I will say that I am enjoying it a lot more now I have the foaming conditioner. It’s super light and easy to rinse out and not greasy. Make sure you try it out instead of the regular type. Also, a tangle teaser hair brush is an excellent investment.
Wow. I am South African, Indians came to South Africa in the 1860s. In my home we have a Shower & a bath tub, but 95% of the time we have a bath(Of course we don’t call it a bucket bath). If fact we call filling the tub a Pool bath or a Bubble Bath. Yeah Dispite having a bath tub we go out and buy a bucket & probably re-use a plastic container as what’s being called the Mugga. Some Indians will buy a plastic Mug as well. I think it must of been apart of our culture, its definitely the fastest way to get clean. I do think it’s only Indians who bath this way here.