Life Without Running Water – Part 2, by E. Homesteader

(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)

Collection Frequency and Usage Amounts

Living in such a dry environment for so many years in Colorado instilled a natural water conservancy in us. Now that we live next to a lake and have abundant rainfall throughout the year, we feel very fortunate to have so much water “at our fingertips.” Currently, our water usage is very low since we don’t have a flush toilet, washing machine, or plants/garden that need watering. Until recently, we didn’t have an indoor shower, either. Laundry and car washing are done in our nearby small town. On average, we fill our drinking containers about once a week. The wash water collection varies, depending on the amount of rain or snow. But if it has been dry, we pull water from the lake about once a week. Regardless, we always keep an eye on our water levels and refill the containers before we run out.

Average amounts water needed for us (two adults):

  • Drinking: Hot/cold beverages, cooking (including washing veggies), and toothbrushing for two adults, plus water for two cats: 8-16 gallons a week depending on the season and menu.
  • Washing dishes and bodies for two adults, plus cleaning things when necessary: 2-10 gallons a day, depending on season, menu, and procrastination level.

Where we put it – indoor storage

In both the tiny cabin and in the newer building, we store full wash water buckets inside during the winter under tables and other convenient places in the kitchen area, plus one or two buckets in the bathroom for bathing. In the summer, full buckets of wash water (rain or lake) go under the shaded eaves of the tiny cabin or north side of the new building. We place empty buckets outside on pallets, ready to be filled. Crates of drinking water jugs stay indoors near the kitchen.

Where we put it – going out

While living in the tiny cabin, we manually dumped our graywater outside after doing dishes or other watery things. When prepping for the septic permit, we had two, 6’x6’x6’ perk holes dug with a backhoe. We used one of them for our graywater – the other has a new outhouse over it. The first three years we had buckets going in and buckets going out. Now there’s just buckets going in. The new building has a graywater system and composting toilet. The kitchen sink and shower drain into the graywater.

Keeping it Safe – Keeping it Clean

My husband and I are used to live water or well water that isn’t treated or filtered, compared to city water that is treated with chemicals and is essentially dead and sterile. Each has its benefits, but I prefer live water and will carry gallons of our own water with us when we travel. Many people aren’t used to live water and may suffer some digestive discomfort. In any case, it’s important to keep everything clean to limit contamination and disease.

We regularly rotate out the older drinking water gallon jugs with new ones when they become stained from the heavy minerals in our water. Our Berkey water filter needs occasional cleaning. Full instructions come with the system.

I’ve learned that rain, lake and even faucet water come with assorted extras like sand, iron, plant particles and things like that. After letting the buckets sit for a day or two, particles settle down to the bottom. We usually filter our wash water before we use it, especially if it has floaties from the lake or if our gutters wash down debris. But if not then, we certainly filter the last two inches of the buckets because of the accumulated stuff. We use a simple system to filter our wash water. I place a large cooking strainer draped with a bandana over the opening of the bucket, scoop out water from one bucket and filter it into another, then rinse the bucket and repeat.

We use tight-fitting lids on all water containers. This protects the water from outside contaminants and keeps water in the containers during transport from one place to another. We limit sun exposure to hamper algae growth and always store rainwater fresh from the sky. We also rotate the various storage buckets so the water doesn’t get funky from sitting too long.

We rinse out empty wash-water buckets and place them upside down to completely drain and dry. (This also lets us know how many need to be filled.) Every once and a while, I’ll use a bit of soap and bleach to deep clean them. Regular washing of the “water bucket scoop” also keeps it from accumulating gunk and slime, as does keeping it stored out of the water.

Practical Applications

Washing dishes

Most people hate doing dishes, even with a dishwasher. I’ve hand-washed dishes most of my life and enjoy the task, even without running water. I guess I’m strange. Doing dishes without running water is a challenge, but not impossible. We can generate quite a few dirty dishes over the course of a day or two since we cook from scratch and reuse our utensils, cups and dishes for eating. Did I mention I like doing dishes? Once in a while I let them pile up and dive in to see how long it takes to clean all the dishes. Patience, diligence, and plenty of hot water are the keys to washing dishes luxury-camping style.

Creativity helps, too. Each person does dishes differently, but they still get the job done. I won’t go into how to wash dishes, but here are some bullet points on our method(s):

  • We dedicate a large lidded pot to heat water on stove, with an electric tea kettle as backup for a quick batch of hot water. It takes about 10-15 minutes to heat a full pot to boiling on our propane stove.
  • We use two wash tubs: one in the sink for cleaning the dishes and one for rinsing. Each tub gets washed before doing dishes.
  • Keep the dishwashing sponge/cloth/scrubbie/etc. fresh and clean.
  • Dilute dish soap for easier rinsing. I’ve diluted my dishwashing soap for years. It’s always too thick and needs extra water to rinse away the film. I dilute my soap by half with water. It still gets the dishes clean and there’s a drastic reduction of suds that need rinsing, therefore, using less water. I also believe that consuming unrinsed dish soap film over time can have adverse effects in our bodies.
  • We use drinking water for rinsing freshly washed dishes we’re going to use right away: coffee cups, drinking glasses, utensils, cutting boards and rinsing pots before cooking.
  • We use lots of paper towels, wet-wipes, napkins, and cloth towels.

The tiny cabin did have a tinier kitchen area with a sink that drained into a bucket, so that was handy. It was a challenge to remember to empty the bucket before it got too full, but in three years, we never filled it to overflowing. I also made sure the space under the sink was kept free of various ‘under the sink objects’ because of the spray of moisture coming from the drain pipe would lightly coat them over time and make them icky. Because of this moisture, we line the bottom of the cabinet with contact paper and kept the area fresh with a bleach cleanser. The new building has a graywater system for the kitchen. No more buckets under the sink, yay!


Keeping our bodies clean is another challenge when hot, running water coming from and draining into pipes isn’t easily available. But necessity is the mother of invention, so my sweet husband rigged up an outdoor shower unit for use during the summer, and we took plenty of creative sponge baths inside during the colder months. We also had dear friends who let us regularly use their shower, and we showered at our local marina when available. Since moving into the new building, we have a nice, big shower stall that drains into the graywater system. We purchased a portable, on-demand, hot water heater and pump unit that uses those little green propane canisters to heat the water and electricity to power the pump. My sweet husband set up the unit by the shower stall where we can easily reach the controls, with the shower head rigged up in the stall and the pump-hose resting in a near-by bucket of water. Having an indoor, hot water shower is absolutely the height of luxury camping!

Melting Snow for Use – My Experience

Our property is very private with a big yard providing many places where I can scoop clean snow to melt for wash water. Clean snow is fresh snow (1-3 days old) that doesn’t have footprints, machine/yard debris from snow blowing or shoveling, plant debris from trees, animal (or human) excrement or effluents, vehicle pathways or snow from vehicles. I wait until there is a several inch base before I start scooping. My best spots include the big piles of snow on sides of the yard or in places where the snow hasn’t been touched, like decks. During a snowy winter, the piles will build up and regularly provide a fresh source of wash water, if I’m diligent.

I usually get a half bucket of snow by taking the bucket and running it along the first few inches of the surface. Then I use the dedicated water scooper to tamp it down before scooping up more snow into the bucket and tamping that also, thereby getting more melted water by volume. Once the buckets are full of snow, I replace the lids, take them inside, place them on Teflon trays to catch condensation and wait approximately two days before use. I always filter our snow water and rinse the bucket with a bit of warm, soapy water; and then rinse it again with clean water.

I’ve noticed there are different types of snow: colder, fluffy snow will give less water than wet snow, or snow that’s had some time to melt and compact, kind of like champagne powder vs snowman building snow. A full bucket of snow usually gives us about 1/3 to ½ bucket of water…depending on the weight of the snow.

What is that black stuff?

Clean, white snow should give clean, clear water, right? Not even! Once I started scooping snow, I noticed this ring of black stuff inside the bucket of melted water, about 2/3rd from the top. I’m guessing it’s the wood stoves, atmospheric things coming from who-knows-where or other sources I don’t want to think about. But! It’s interesting to see the black ring around the inside of the bucket left from the melting snow and whatever else gets in there. It’s sort-of greasy, too, another reason I clean the buckets with a bit of warm, soapy water.

Future plans

We moved into the new building in March of 2023. It has a bathroom providing a shower, sink, and composting toilet, with electricity for a washer and dryer. There’s also a small kitchen area with the counter, sink, appliances, and cabinets from the tiny cabin. The building is designed for a rain catchment/graywater system and we’re building each section as time and budget allow. Our plans include a large room for a cistern, filters, pump, pressure tank and on-demand water heaters. Everything is coming along, but it will still be another year or so before it’s all finished. I’ll write a follow-up to let you know how it’s working.

Some useful references: