Personal Hygiene in Space
The methods that astronauts use to maintain good hygiene in microgravity are a lot like those used on camping trips! Water supplies on the International Space Station (ISS) are very limited.
In any event, water does not "flow" in microgravity: it is therefore impossible to take a shower, wash your hands or go to the bathroom in the same way as on Earth. Performing these tasks requires resourcefulness and ingenuity!
Going to the bathroom
Using the bathroom is undoubtedly the most complicated aspect of personal hygiene in space!
ISS toilet tour
European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti explains how to go to the bathroom in space! (Credit: ESA)
The procedure for using the washroom in space is as follows:
- Position yourself over the toilet seat.
- Secure yourself with straps.
- For urine, connect the personal urination device to a long plastic tube in the wall. An air current sucks the liquid into a waste compartment.
- For solid waste, place a specially adapted bag into the toilet bowl. Then activate a vacuum, which mimics the effect of gravity, as well as a series of fans which purify the air.
- Seal the collection bag and dispose of it in the waste compartment under the toilet.
With all these extra steps, it takes about 10 minutes longer to use the washroom in space than on Earth!
There's no sewer in space!
Water is a very precious resource on board the ISS.
The urine is mixed with the other wastewater produced in the ISS (moisture, sweat, etc.) and purified back into drinking water!
The solid waste is collected in a tank and, when full, is put into an unmanned resupply ship that is then jettisoned and burns up in the upper atmosphere on re-entry.
Taking a "shower" or washing your hands
Astronauts use a wash cloth and a no-rinse cleaning solution to wash their bodies or hands.
Chris Hadfield demonstrates how astronauts wash their hands in zero-g
Chris Hadfield demonstrates how astronauts wash their hands in microgravity on board the ISS. (Credits: Canadian Space Agency (CSA), NASA)
To wash their hair, they use a no-rinse shampoo. The procedure is as follows:
- Apply the shampoo with your hands.
- Massage your scalp vigorously.
- Towel dry your hair.
- Comb or brush your hair if necessary.
- Allow to dry naturally!
Stray hairs and whiskers can create a safety hazard for the astronauts. They can be inhaled or irritate an astronaut's eyes.
Karen Nyberg Shows How You Wash Hair in Space
American astronaut Karen Nyberg shows how she washes her long hair on board the ISS! (Credit: NASA)
Doing the laundry
It is impossible to wash clothes on board the ISS! Quite simply, it would take too much water.
The astronauts therefore wear their clothes until they are too dirty and then throw them out. All ISS waste burns up in the atmosphere on re-entry.
A lesson in spatial hygiene with Chris Hadfield!
Astronauts can use the same type of toothpaste as on Earth. However, most astronauts use an edible toothpaste to reduce water consumption. (Credits: CSA, NASA)
Shaving cream, razor and towel: shaving in orbit is not that different from shaving on Earth. Some astronauts use an electric razor since it does not require water. In addition, electric razors automatically collect the whiskers: convenient! (Credits: CSA, NASA)
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