When the first manned multi-day missions to space were being planned, a challenge presented itself. How were astronauts supposed to stay clean in space?
The ships and stations astronauts travel in have a controlled environment that is usually cool and clean. They don’t have to worry much about sweating from day-to-day activities or getting too dirty. However, in long-term missions, they are required to work out twice a day just to maintain their muscle mass.
A solution had to be found so astronauts could stay clean.
Engineers and scientists had the task to solve this task that we take for granted here on Earth but is quite challenging in space and they came up with some clever solutions that are still being used today.
How do astronauts shower?
Showers do not work in space. They require gravity to work and so does plumbing. If you were to use a shower in zero gravity, you would just end up with blobs of water floating around the room in every direction. That is not only inconvenient but also dangerous to the ship’s electronic systems.
Astronauts don’t technically shower. Instead, they use a combination of wet towels, waterless shampoo, liquid soap, and alcohol to stay clean.
To keep their hair clean, astronauts use dry shampoo. It is not too different from the kind of waterless shampoo that is made for dogs and cats except the formula is adjusted for humans. This shampoo doesn’t need to be rinsed off so it is very convenient as astronauts simply need to pass a towel to remove any excess when they are done using it.
As for body hygiene, most astronauts put some liquid soap on a towel and add a few drops of water to activate it. Then, they simply scrub their bodies with the towel.
Some astronauts also like to add some alcohol for extra effectiveness against bacteria.
Astronauts on long missions, like the ones carried in the International Space Station, get a supply of towels and soap that has to last them for a week.
In the following video, ISS astronaut Mike Fossum demonstrates how astronauts shower in the station.
How do astronauts brush their teeth?
Astronauts generally eat three meals per day. Finding a way to brush their teeth was necessary, even on missions that only last for a few days.
While bringing a toothbrush and toothpaste to space is not a problem, there are no sinks in spaceships or the space station for the same reason there are no showers: no gravity. So, the only problem that remains is getting rid of the excess after the astronaut is done brushing their teeth.
NASA scientists solved this by creating ingestable toothpaste. This is a special kind of toothpaste that is safe to eat, so astronauts can simply swallow it.
This invention is actually used every day on Earth today. Most brands of baby toothpaste are safe to eat.
Even though the toothpaste is safe to swallow, some astronauts don’t like the taste of it, so instead they prefer to spit it out into a towel.
At the 1:35 mark of the following video, Samantha Cristoforetti, astronaut of the European Space Agency explains her toothbrushing process. The whole video is worth watching as it goes into detail about the hygiene routine of astronauts in the International Space Station.
- Astronauts cannot take showers in space because ships don’t have plumbing or showers.
- To stay clean, astronauts take “towel baths” using liquid soap, dry shampoo, and wet towels.
- Astronauts brush their teeth normally, except they usually swallow the toothpaste (which is a special safe-to-eat paste) because there are no sinks