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On the ISS each astronaut gets a packaged wet towel every two days, two dry towels and two washcloths a week, and 3 small packets of moist napkins every two days with which to wash themselves. At the end of the week these towels are discarded because there is no way to wash them. On earlier, shorter ISS missions the method was mostly to use wet wipes.

The method currently used also includes using a pouch of special no rinse body bath fluid that comes in pouches. (Or perhaps the fluid is sent in a bulk pouch and astronauts dispense it into the smaller pouches.)

Altogether this is a fair amount of mass and volume taken up on cargo missions so that astronauts can bathe. Could this be more optimal? The towels are standard terry cloth and the pouches are the same ones used for most fluids on the ISS.

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  • $\begingroup$ Better for what? In free fall they don't need to sweat much to move around. Let'em stink, one gets used to it surprisingly quickly. If they actually spend several hours on their gym equipment daily, then even I say a wet towel every second day is bad. Bad. How do new visitors react to the stench of their new room mates for half a year to come? Without any survivable escape from it even for a moment. Humans obiously evolved during similar hygenic conditions. But without microgravity spreading all the sweat all around... I think astronauts can simply take it as it is. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Jun 14 '16 at 22:36
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    $\begingroup$ Nobody mentioned the shower on Mir? $\endgroup$ – SF. Jun 15 '16 at 7:49
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    $\begingroup$ So basically all the dead skin and sweat ends up in/on the towels right? There is no rinsing oneself or rinsing of towels - they are basically skin/sweat/"other" removal and storage appliances, as well as uptake and temporary storage of all the water used during washing (which presumably evaporates and is recovered before displosal)? It sounds like a lot of work! No wonder the Hitchhikers Guide speaks of towels so highly! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jun 15 '16 at 11:45
  • $\begingroup$ Actually this is really interesting! Do they wash their clothes? But there's no way to wash towels? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jun 15 '16 at 12:48
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh Nothing is washed. Clothes are discarded after a few days and stowed to go out with the rest of the garbage when the next cargo ship leaves the station. $\endgroup$ – kim holder Jun 15 '16 at 13:44
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Maybe.

A giant wet wipe for use on Earth when people want to shower but can't (camping, sweaty sports in the country) has been developed. It measures 50 x 80 cm, comes in individual packages, pre-moistened with a cleansing solution that doesn't need to be dried off afterwards. Thus it has all the characteristics that would also be convenient for astronauts.

The mass of them isn't listed but when compared with the packaged towels currently sent, they look lighter, and also eliminate the need to send pouches of body bath separately. They seem like they would optimize the amount of body bath needed, and be easier to dry out so their water can be recycled, as they are quite thin. That is just an eyeball assessment, of course.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Outdoors manufacturers do their best to make things lightweight, but the space industry can probably beat them at that, having several orders of magnitude higher budgets. $\endgroup$ – gerrit Jun 15 '16 at 10:47
  • $\begingroup$ @gerrit Right, so maybe a modification of this could bring some improvement...maybe not. It does sound promising compared to the current system though. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Jun 15 '16 at 13:44
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Skylab had a shower but I seem to recall it was a huge pain to clean up after use since the water clung to the sides. So much trouble that they used towels / wipes instead or did without.

enter image description here

So not sure it was better, just listing it for completeness.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why didn't they close it in some sort of shower cubicle, I wonder…? $\endgroup$ – gerrit Jun 15 '16 at 10:48
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder if it would be possible to have some kind of enclosed blow drier: When you're done, you close the shower and a stream of air clears the remaining water inside. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Jun 15 '16 at 13:46
  • $\begingroup$ Seems reasonable. If I remember correctly, they were supposed to use a sort of vacuum to remove excess water after showering, but it was labor intensive. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Jun 15 '16 at 14:05
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A temporary return to the womb would solve this problem. The 'womb' here is an enclosed tube with a sealed hatch. The occupant breaths through a diving-type mask. The tube fills with a sanitizing solution which is easily volatized out of the water. After washing, warm air circulated through the tube to dry both the occupant and the tube interior. Towels and washcloths would not be needed.

If we really wanted to be clever, a unit could be inserted in the shower to utilize it as a clothes washer/drier. I have seen something like this, but cannot provide a pic or source. Sorry.

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    $\begingroup$ Sounds highly speculative and like it would require a large volume of fluid, unless I'm misunderstanding you. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Jun 24 '16 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ Less than two cubic meters. Water is recycled, of course. $\endgroup$ – MercuryPlus Jun 24 '16 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ The ISS only keeps a reserve of about two cubic meters. You would drain the whole reserve for this. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Jun 24 '16 at 15:20
  • $\begingroup$ Don't get me wrong--I'm not saying it is a bad idea. It would just help if we had more of a technical assessment of how it would be managed. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Jun 24 '16 at 15:29

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