How do astronauts do hygiene?

September 26, 2019 • 12:00 pm

This new video, narrated by former NASA astronaut (and Columbia professor) Mike Massimino, answers a lot of your pressing questions about how astronauts keep clean in space. His answers apply to the Space Shuttle and to the International Space Station, though procedures sometimes differ between them.  Here are some of the important issues addressed in the video.

How do you shower?
How do you pee and poo? And what happens to the feces and urine?
Can you shave in space?
How do you wash your hair or brush your teeth?
Can you wear contact lenses?
How can you do laundry?
What if you have to go to the bathroom during a space walk?
And does it get stinky up there? (Answer: yes indeed!)

In the end, Massimino speculates about future hygiene problems as we travel farther and longer from Earth.

28 thoughts on “How do astronauts do hygiene?

  1. I think for long range space travel, we’re going to need gravity (either centrifugal or acceleration), simply for health reasons. Then all these icky secondary problems are solved as well.

  2. So what do we learn from this: Stay away from rainbows in space. Today’s coffee is tomorrow’s coffee. Don’t let anything follow you off the toilet.

    I’ll go with what my wife says about camping. I’m not going anywhere I can’t take my bathroom.

    1. I’m with your wife. I won’t stay overnight anywhere there’s not a clean toilet, air conditioning/heat, and my other creature comforts. And a lack of bugs/spiders.

  3. OK, I have a question (and I’m not trying to be inappropriate): how does the lack of gravity affect menstruation? And how do they get past these problems, if there are any?



      Micro/zero gravity has no known direct effect on menstruation although long periods [ahem] of space living will degrade general health & that can indirectly effect regularity of cycles. Thus on the ISS the orbiting crew experience 16 day/night cycles in one Earth day which can leads to insomnia, inattention, poor temperament & a host of small psychological problems. Combatting all that with [relatively] quiet zones, medication, sleep masks & lighting is an ongoing experiment – compared to which menstruation is a minor problem.

      There was some concern re retrograde menstruation where menstrual blood can end up in the abdomen, which can lead to endometriosis, but now it is thought to be no more likely a problem in micro/zero gravity than on Earth.

      The ISS has sanitary products available, but AFAIK nearly all [or today all] female astronauts suppress their menstruation by IUD or drugs because it is an inconvenience best avoided entirely – there is no advantage to menstruation in a mission environment [space, military, peace corps etc etc] & no known disadvantages to suppression.

      Menstruation puts blood in the waste water supply, which on the ISS, prevents that water being recycled & getting sanitary products into orbit is bulk & mass that could have been better spent.

  4. This is just another reason to wait for androids-we-can-believe-in before colonization. Wet units below on earth. Though I’d make an exception if Elon Musk still wants to go with his silicon underlords.

  5. I found the lack of a washing machine interesting. Initially I thought it sounds simple enough to have a miniature washer with say 5 gallons of water. You could do a small amount of laundry continuously. But, maybe the methods they use on the ISS (dumpster all clothing) is actually more efficient in terms of energy use. When it comes to longer trips, like Mars, they’re going to have to do something new and different.

    1. We need to develop SmartyFartyBioPants™ personal clothing – a living, breathing fabric that eats all gaseous, solid & liquid human waste from all orifices & turns it into food for the human to reabsorb. This would include exhalations of Co2.

      In effect it’s a skin-thick all-over suit that covers every square millimetre including the internal interface with the air [lungs & throat]. It would have to be as smart as a loyal dog & would also serve as advisor & companion [an advanced Siri or Alexa].

      In the event of a fall or crash it would balloon to minimise injury. It would constantly monitor human health. The bit of fabric that covers the eyes would be able to modify electromagnetic waves of most frequencies to make them visible

      My name for it will not come to pass because it will be an Apple product in 2247 & they STILL will be paying no corporate taxes & most people will have no idea what the word “apple” meant two centuries before.


      If we send humans to Mars in the next few decades [i.e. with current & near-future chemical rocket technology*] it will HAVE to be on the lowest possible energy budget in terms of mass of motors & fuel compared to cargo mass. That’s nine months to get there!

      If we’re sending living people they’ll need a fair old mass of surrounding solar/cosmic ray radiation protection [plastic or water is best] & some gentle method of landing on Mars – difficult & lotsa fuel or huge parachutes many times bigger than we’ve ever made.

      This is a very, very bad idea – it would take a minimum of 500? earlier launches spread over years to START to prepare conditions – such as the necessary prison-like underground colony, with more restrictions than the Alcatraz Of The Rockies**

      Just to create Hell off Earth requires Mars-based robot AI we can’t yet build & automated Martian factories to build them, to make oxygen, to make fuel, to make homesteads & to farm underground without soil using genetically modified bacteria [given that Martian soil is deadly poison].

      * There is no room for improvement in chemical rocketry, what we do now is better than 90% of the maximum theoretically possible in chemical fuels. A vast improvement in journey time would require a much larger ‘specific impulse’ such as using hundreds of on-board nuclear bombs thrown out of the ship at regular intervals

      Or one could send embryos in a tiny ship & have robot mums waiting on Mars

      Or send sleeping people

      Or don’t do it [my favoured option]

      ** United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility [USP Florence ADMAX, Colorado].

      1. SmartyFartyBioPants sounds like the way to go. I’m all for it. Except for my ears. I don’t like people messing with my ears.

        I agree with your Martian rant. We actually need to terraform another planet first. The Earth. That will take a couple of hundred years at the rate things are going, at which point Mars will be a technological piece of astro-cake.

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