Shampoo and soap for bathing in salt water? More tips


I am new to the cruising lifestyle and would appreciate your advice. I will be going to the Bahamas with my boyfriend soon and we plan to shower in saltwater in the cockpit then rinse in fresh water.

What soap works best for body washing in salt water?

What shampoo do you recommend for color treated blonde hair?

Pam Wall and Kathy Parsons responded here.
Here are 3 more responses to this question from readers of Women and Cruising and many comments, including a discussion on shaving legs aboard

Dierdre Wogaman
D. in the Bahamas
Dierdre Wogaman in the Bahamas

I use regular shampoo and conditioner on my hair.

To get extra conditioning, I place a shower cap on after the conditioner is worked in. By having the conditioner stay on longer with out dilution, I feel that it must be better for my hair. Rinsing my hair, after my body, comes last.

By using a sun shower, we use less water than using the pressure water from the boat.

When I color my hair, I do everything in the boat and then climb down into the salt water to rinse. Therefore, I can use plenty of water to rinse. The last rinse is done back on the boat so I can do it with fresh water. I have a black colored towel in case I have not gotten all the color out of my hair; that way it will not stain the towel.

I have found that the liquid soap is easier to use on the boat, than bar soap, as it leaves less of a mess. No worries about the soap bar sliding overboard either.

Sue Lamar
Sue Lamar
Sue Lamar

I have found that Joy dish washing soap and a bar soap by the name of Kirk’s Castle (coconut soap) is very useful in salt water.

Only ones I’ve found to soap up in the salt water.

Sylvie Branton

Wherever you are, ask the local fishermen or their wives!

They always know what is the best local soap (and dish washing liquid) for salt water.

2 more reasons for having Johnson’s Baby Shampoo aboard (see Pam Wall’s response):

  • you can use it to wash your diving mask’s glass (does not make your eyes sting)
  • it is gentle on your hair and so is ideal when you must wash your hair frequently (either with fresh or salt water), as we do aboard.

Related articles (on this website)

What do you use for bathing and shampooing in salt water? Leave a comment below or email us:

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13 comments to Shampoo and soap for bathing in salt water? More tips

  • For washing my hair I use Ultra Concentrated Dawn Simple Pleasures Dishwashing Liquid and Air Freshener (lemon and tangerine). Since it is ultra concentrated I only use a very small amount and it lathers up great. It is also environmentally friendly (no phosphates) and when I am finished it goes back to the galley for washing the dishes. In a separate compartment in the bottom of the bottle are air freshener beads which seem to last forever and make the boat smell fresh. I just buy another bottle of ultra concentrated Dawn dishwashing liquid without the air freshener later on and refill the original bottle with that. So out of one bottle I get the benefit of three: dishwashing liquid, air freshener, and shampoo. Is that kewl or what? Happy Sailing…Sue…S/V Orion

  • Sea Savon makes some products that are just for salt water bathing. I have not yet used them. Plan to. I have used a product called sea soap, but can no longer find it. I think Amazon lists Sea Savon products. Good luck, Cathy

  • Check out pure coconut soap bars. Effective with salt water for bathing or showering.

    If you have any questions I am happy to help.


  • Marian Beck

    I’ve been curious about this, too, as I’m going to the BVIs for a weeklong bareboating course with FairWinds. I’m also curious about shaving my legs since I know water conservation is important and I have trouble even at home if I’m cold with the dreaded shaving of goosebumps! This is my first experience onboard for any period of time and I’m not sure who the other people will be so don’t know what privacy will be like. I’ve read many suggestions about showering naked on deck in warm weather but don’t think I’ll be ready to jump in that deep with people I don’t know. Could make for an interesting course, though. If all else fails, I could just braid my legs!

  • I hate to tell you this, but I quit shaving my legs years ago. I think I am lucky as it does not show much. Strange, since I have brown hair. If your leg hair is dark, you might try lightening it with lemon. I actually started not shaving before I went cruising, and have never regretted it. Less time invested, less money for razors, no nicks…

    Just a thought.

  • Shaving my legs doesn’t use much water. Usually I do it in the head. If it is cool and we don’t have hot water, I warm a little water on the stove and use it to wet and soften my legs with a warm washrag. I use a shaving lotion too. Of course the weather in the BVIs will be perfect so I doubt you will need to heat water. One thing nice about a small boat head is that it is easy to prop your leg up on the wall. Of course the bright sunlight in the cockpit helps you make sure you don’t miss any, but with a boat full of students, the head sounds like a better bet. If you shave your legs after swimming, the hair and skin will probably already be softer.

    Of course I have friends who wax, perhaps they will chime in here too.

  • Marian Beck

    I’ve never waxed my legs or bikini line. I wonder if that’s more or less irritating than shaving. Oddly, if I don’t shave regularly, I itch! I do have a lot of allergy and sensitive skin issues (Plague of those with blonde/red hair and blue eyes).

  • Leg waxing is a great choice for those of us cruising ladies “blessed” with hairy legs. When you are living in a bathing suit 24/7 or even shorts, it’s mighty nice not to feel self-conscious about leg hair, wlthough as several ladies suggest, that self-consciousness fades with time. But frankly, it feels good to be “clean”.

    After a wax, your legs should stay clean for at least two weeks. By the third week you begin to get slightly hairy — the hair growth usually much diminished and noticeably softer with little stubble — for another week or two. I often went 5-6 weeks.

    If you want to consider waxing for your week in the BVI, I would plan to do it 4-6 days before you go, to make sure any irritation you might experience from a first time experience will have gone away.

    The thing about waxing is once you start, you don’t really want to go back and forth, because you tend to lose the long-term progress you make when you shave again.

    I started waxing in my 20s, and managed to keep it up throughout my cruising career. I was very hairy after shaving in my teens, and now have almost nothing.

    If long distance cruising is your ultimate aim, you will find you can get legs waxed pretty much everywhere outside the US for half the cost, and have some pretty interesting experiences in the process. It’s a great feminine forum for exchange of local information.

    Eventually, I bought my own waxing system and got my husband a lesson or two from my then favorite aesthetician. This worked fairly well for when we were hanging out in remote locations, although humidity can complicate the procedure.

    If you choose to stick with shaving, you want to avoid doing it inside the head. Those little tiny hairs can a mess to clean up (probably why so many guys grow beards!) and then they turn into gluck down in the shower sump. Lots of women shave in a bathing suit on the sugar scoop, using salt water to rinse it off.

    In warm climes, salt water baths are a pleasurable alternative, but there’s no need to do it naked, just bathe in your swim suit. Jump in, climb out, later up, jump back in, then either towel off immediately (and change suits) or squander a few pints of fresh water for a rinse from the deck shower, esp for hair and then towel off.

    Many boaters work very hard to avoid using water in their below-deck shower areas. Others don’t care for the claustrophic dimensions of many boat bathing spaces. Some simply don’t have a below-deck option.

    We certainly used our shower liberally as we cruised. We were LIVING ABOARD, not camping out!

    If your boat’s shower area is available for showering, good after-shower eitiquette would have you dry the area down post shower with a squeegee or chamois to combat mildew and wet rot on wood trim…and to make it so whoever follows you into the head for other purposes does not get wet.

    Hope this is helpful. I urge you to try waxing. That way you won’t have to give it a thought throughout the your week. You’ll have plenty enough else to be thinking about! Have fun!

  • Marian Beck

    Thank you so much! I searched for legs, shaving legs, etc. and didn’t come up with anything but couldn’t imagine the subject hadn’t come up before. Maybe I’ll try the waxing soon and see what happens. I’ve had my eyebrows done and had no problems. I’ve made several attempts to shave my bikini area and almost always have had disastrous results with rashes and ingrown hairs so I wasn’t sure whether waxing would be more or less irritating. I’ve just avoided and that and gone for swim shorts which I love anyway. I don’t know many women yet who sail so I was really happy to find the forum where I could ask questions like this.

    I did find a shampoo/body gel called Savon (I think) that is supposed to lather up in salt water and is not harmful to the ocean. Bathing in the ocean with a quick freshwater rinse sounds like the easiest/best option to me. My hair is long and thick and can turn into a rat’s nest pretty handily!

    All this is new and I’ve been trying to educate myself as much as I can ahead of time but my learning curve right now is huge. I’m spending a week onboard as a student with FairWind Sailing to do my Bareboat. Up to now, I’ve taken a small craft course and crewed several times with local clubs so this is definitely a step up! I’ve had many people tell me – “Don’t overpack!” I found a good list in a book I bought about women and sailing and I can’t remember the authors name but it’s been quite helpful.

    I’ve also been wondering what to do about a PFD. I have a jacket style vest but one friend told me I should consider investing in a CO2 vest while another told me not to worry about the vest on this trip. Being not too far from Lake Erie, I wouldn’t think about going out there without one but several people have told me whatever is already onboard will suffice for what we’re doing. I know water is water and you can run into trouble anywhere so I’m under no illusion that just because it’s the BVI’s means it’s “safe”. Although, I have been spending money hand over fist to be able to go on this trip so the approx. $300. for the vest that fits me is substantial. If I do take a vest with me, the CO2 would be much easier to pack and US Air does accept them. I know I’d use it eventually, but any thoughts there would be appreciated, too.

    I can hardly wait! I’ll be leaving March 4th – onboard the 5th -11th – then on Jost Van Dyke till the 16th when I’ll head back to Columbus for my 10th (and hopefully final) back surgery. This is my little gift to myself for having endured all that.

    Thank you so much for taking your time to write to me and I’ll let you know how my waxing experiment goes! If you think of anything else, resource-wise, to pass along I’ll be grateful.

    All the best from snowy, 18 degrees Ohio to sunny Florida!

  • Glad to help with something so easy. You’ve had your eyebrows waxed, so you know the down side of waxing…it does hurt, especially when you first start. People clearly have different tolerances; it’s never been that bad for me, and for many years now I’m as likely to fall asleep! It feels like a good scrub, and because it takes off the dead skin cells, your skin really feels renewed. Some people do react with little red bumps (which go away in a day), so if you can afford it, I would go once ASAP and then go again the week before you go. That should be about five weeks. Go all the way up to your suit line, if you are hairy up there too. Then make it a new habit to wash your legs with a scrubbie or loofah in between to help discourage ingrowns. Ask the aesthetician to tell you all about it; don’t leave her to assume you’ve done it before!

    Re the life vest: I would check with Fair Winds before investing in one. They would be required to have life jackets on board to take passengers, although, if they are going to require students to wear them under way, then you might want to get your own. Definitely go for an SOS-style inflatable vest. It doubles as a harness and is much more comfortable to wear for extended periods.

    I hope you find the BVI to be as much a change-your-life experience as it was for me. The water is gorgeous, and the islands are pure layered beauty. It’s been eight years since my last visit, but I lived there for almost twelve.

    > Have a ball!

    > Gwen

  • Any soap that has a high percentage of coconut oil will lather up in sea water, the suds may not be as “bubbly” as you would expect with fresh water. I wouldn’t recommend a detergent based soap or anything with SLS/SLES since these chemicals will also dry your skin, (which coconut oil does too to some extent) and is also the affect of sun, wind, and sea water. So you would be wise to choose a natural soap with a high concentration of coconut oil which also contains an oil which is a good moisturiser. Olive, Hemp and Shea butter are all good for the skin. The Palm oil, is added to make the soap harder and longer lasting (so you don’t end up with a squishy mess).

    I also think that a soap on a rope (which you can hang to dry) and easily take with a towel to a shore-side base usefull, since this avoids the need for a soap dish.

    The biggest threat to your skin at sea is drying, due to the elements.

  • Gary

    We make a wonderful Sea soap that lathers in Sea water.
    It is handmade with Organic coconut oil.

  • Neil Harvey

    I have some friends heading to the BVI for the first time for a week bare boat charter & was making suggestions to them about what shampoos are best for “boat showers” – i.e. lathering in salt water, washing it off again with salt water, then rinsing with fresh water. I came across this blog.
    I was APPALED to see that some women suggested Joy or Palmolive dish detergents !
    I remember years ago cruising up & down the Pacific on the racing ketch “Kialoa 111” (we did about 100,000 miles in 4 years) and we’d go ashore at places like Fiji & Samoa, and see cruising people forever scratching their scalps. WHY – because when we queried them about what type of soap they were bathing with, they almost always said “dish detergent” !
    Dish detergent is designed, (amongst other things) to remove grease ! – and that’s what it was doing to their scalps, hence the dry-ness which was the cause of the irritable itching.
    We found CLAIROL Herbal Essence, an excellent shampoo that lathered in salt water & left our hair & bodies “squeaky clean”.
    This was some years ago now – I haven’t done too much extended cruising for some time now, so don’t know if they’ve changed the formula.
    Perhaps as Pam says, Johnson’s Baby Shampoo may lather in salt water.

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