How do you get around the no shower at work problem?

A nice warm shower at the end of a long cycle commute is one of life’s little pleasures. Off comes the cycling gear, away goes the sweat and out emerges the presentable human being who is ready for a day’s work. That clean feeling provides the perfect start to the day. However, many people are missing out on this pleasure. Instead, their archaic workplaces don’t provide shower facilities, forcing them to find alternative solutions.

When I inevitably get asked the sweat question on Twitter, I use my 140 characters of generously donated writing space to suggest they go slower. This is the traditional bit of advice you’ll get from different sources. You don’t need to spend six months observing people who cycle quickly and those who cycle slowly, to come to the conclusion that less physical exertion equals less sweat. It also doesn’t take six months for someone to point out the flaws in that suggestion.

Anyone who is undertaking a long commute and doesn’t wish to travel at snail’s pace is going to sweat. No matter what the Lynx adverts will try to convince you. Therefore, the “go slower” suggestion works well for short trips but not for longer commutes.

“The bird bath” is another suggestion you may have previously heard in shower deprived circles. This tends to involve locking yourself in the disabled toilet and washing using just the sink. This is a tough one to master but can be a good substitute.

For more inspired solutions to the shower problem it is useful to look at what other people do in a similar situation. Music festivals are perhaps where the biggest congregation of shower needing people can be found. Here, face wipes are the order of the day. This is effective to a certain extent and is often one of the preferred solutions. You usually end up cleaner but smelling a little like a face wipe. Not everyone’s favourite perfume.

Similarly, there is also the “shower in a bottle”. This doesn’t, as you might expect, involve dousing yourself with so much deodorant that you start to feel bad about the effect on the environment. It’s called the Rocket Shower and it was tested on the Guardian Bike Blog. It involves spraying yourself using various bottles whose contents include witch hazel to cleanse and peppermint to cool the skin. Apparently it worked surprisingly well.

Perhaps the greatest solution to an ill equipped office is a nearby gym with shower facilities. The two downsides to this are the extra money for the membership and also having to make a stop via the gym. In return however, you get to enjoy a full shower and that fresh feeling some of the other solutions can’t quite match.

As much of a dilemma that the shower problem can be, it’s not exclusive to cyclists. Spend half an hour on the tube, on a hot summer’s day, and you’ll emerge feeling less than spring clean. In fact, I would say, that uniquely grimy tube feeling is worse than a little natural sweat.

In large offices there are a decreasing number of excuses for not having shower facilities. Especially as match funding is available to help offset some of the cost. Perhaps the greatest solution to the problem would be to convince management to add shower facilities. Then if we could just get an onsite bike mechanic and massage room, we’ll be good to go…

What do you do if you don’t have a shower at work?

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28 Responses to How do you get around the no shower at work problem?

  1. lee 03/05/2010 at 10:37 am #

    I know this may seem a little simplistic but i pull up at my gym a few hundred meters from work and use the showers there. Plus i get to lock my stuff away until i collect it during my afternoon session :)

  2. Phil 03/05/2010 at 11:04 am #

    Ahh, but supposing you do have showers, what to do about the wet towel? Can’t hang it up in the office to dry as that just looks unprofessional, but can’t keep it wet somewhere as it, and consequently you, will stink on day two.

    Bring a fresh one in everyday? More stuff to carry, more stuff to send through the washing machine.

    Any suggestion? Am genuinely vexed on this one.

    • Ciarán 30/12/2010 at 9:14 am #

      I have two towels, and rotate between the two.

      The unfortunate thing is that one has to be kept in a bag all day, but this is only ~8 hrs. The first is hung to dry in a suitable place at home, and the second towel is used.

      By the time the first is needed again it’s had almost 1 1/2 days to dry, and is usually good to go.

  3. stinky 03/05/2010 at 1:10 pm #

    i just proudly smell! let my workmates deal with the problem…

    • alana 13/05/2010 at 11:37 am #

      i think it is a good idear

    • chris 19/04/2012 at 6:48 pm #

      reminds me of the quote:
      an apple a day keeps the doctor away but an onion a day keeps everybody away :D

  4. benji 03/05/2010 at 8:22 pm #

    Shower before leaving, and wear clean lycra.

    This way you’re clean before leaving and so don’t smell even though you sweat, it’s the bacteria and dirt that come with sweat hanging that smells. Lycra is fast-wicking and stops the sweat from hanging around so you don’t stay sweaty or start to smell. It’ll also help keep you cool reducing the amount of sweating.

    As you get fitter you’ll sweat less anyway. I have a 33 mile round trip commute and don’t find it a problem. Just don’t wear cotton. I get far sweatier and smellier riding on the baking hot packed tubes than riding.

  5. welshcyclist 03/05/2010 at 10:11 pm #

    I have to put up with a single toilet and a washbasin, I have hot water, soap, a flannel and towel, and seem to have got into a routine that works for me, you’d have to ask my co-workers if it works for them as well though.

  6. Pete 04/05/2010 at 9:05 am #

    I used to have a 15km ride to work and found keeping the heart rate under 130 helped. I also wore cycling gear like benji mentions, it definitely does not get as smelly.

    I am now lucky enough to work at a place that has showers and rack for hanging towels. When I have been in job interviews, I have always ask if they have bike storage and showers.

  7. thereverent 04/05/2010 at 1:26 pm #

    My commute is only 5 miles across London (half the week), and I don’t go slow but try not to push the pace too much. I wear wicking clothing so to reduce the amount of sweat build up, and shorts as soon as I can.
    I don’t generally shower when I get to work as i don’t feel I need it. I have a shower before i set off (after my run) and don’t wear too many layers. The moving air seem to help keep the sweat down.

    In the summer I’m more sweaty if I’ve traveled in on the Northern line than by bike and I wouldn’t be having a shower when I’ve taken the tube in.

  8. arallsopp 05/05/2010 at 5:48 pm #

    20 mile ‘cross London commute, twice a day makes me say “BABY WIPES”

    Recommend Pampers ultra sensitive, as also removes chain oil / grease / dirt from hands, bike, cassette, office furniture, that kind of thing :)

    Additional plus is that you arrive in the office smelling like my little boy, which will make me feel very warmly towards you.

  9. Rams 06/05/2010 at 1:03 pm #

    I bought a travel shower which I hook up outside and shower in a pair of swimming shorts. I get some odd looks and comments. In the winter it’s very brisk but very refreshing, no better way to wake you up in the morning!!

  10. Adrian 07/05/2010 at 11:51 am #

    I have a shower at the office, but visit clients often.

    In the office I have my own desk area were I hang my towel over the radiator.

    When visiting clients I take a Nike Hydro towel (purchased from Argos) with me. I’ll always ask if they have showers I can use, if not I use a toilet cubicle for a quick rub down. Once you get over the feeling that you’re using a Chamois to dry yourself works well, can be rinsed in a hand sink, is lightweight a packs up small. You could look at hiking/camping shops for camp towels, or search for swim towels. They both look very similar.

  11. david 07/05/2010 at 9:32 pm #

    Stuff and nonsense!! It`s only yesterday`s sweat which smells If you are fit and sweating regularly your sweat is sweet!!However a problem for me is that i am `glowing`for about an hour after cycling and find that a shower makes this worse So I use a small hand towel to wipe away any sweat and keep it neatly folded in my drawer Wash off your sweat at the end of the day just before youslip into bed with your partner Much more fun!!

  12. David 11/05/2010 at 9:05 am #

    I cycle 12 miles to work and have decided to go slower so I don’t have to shower at work (we have 3 showers). It works – I shower before I leave – ride slower and try to get the breeze to cool me down. Then at work I change into a cleam set of clothes. Or if I don’t have any meetings I stay in my cycling gear which is NOT lycra – I have merino wall t shirts – plain black and blue hiking trousers that unzip at the knee so I can cycle in shorts.
    The reason I do this – my cycle would take 45-55 mins then 20 mins getting ready once at work, now I cycle in 1h 1h 5m and take 5 mins to change.

  13. kenny 16/05/2010 at 7:10 pm #

    I ride easy to work, trying not to work up too much of a sweat, then I use these disposable towels that surfers and runners use to clean off in the bathroom when I get to work. At first a few people thought it was odd to see a naked man in the bathroom toweling off, but now there enough co-workers doing the same thing that is just become the normal, there are even a couple chairs to sit on in the mens room to help with dressing for work. I do keep a “just in case” change of clothes at work for days that might be muddy, or heavy rain days; I learned to do that the hard way when my handle bar bag leaked and my clothes got soaked.

  14. Knit nurse 20/05/2010 at 1:38 pm #

    Baby wipes may be ok occasionally but they are not very environmentally friendly as they create unnecessary waste. A flannel and soap would be better – have a couple of flannels so you can change them each week and chuck the dirty one in the washing machine.

  15. Derrick 20/01/2011 at 4:06 am #

    Might seem a bit slack but I used to carry around a hose that had an attachment for the sink to essentially have a shower in the Disabled bathrooms.

    Only problem here is the amount of water on the floor but I figured most people tend to wear shoes and I push as much as I can down the drain afterwards. Also you’re taking up the disabled toilets so that can be a problem in itself but if you’re quick and no one is outside (usually not the case) then its all hunky dory

    • Andy 07/04/2011 at 3:28 pm #

      Great idea! Though if someone were waiting outside to use the toilet they may think you have a pee problem…

  16. Col 07/04/2011 at 3:17 pm #

    Shower before you leave (obviously) then wear appropriate clothing for excersize that keep you cool and wicks sweat. I’m fine cycling. Fresh as a daisy when I arrive at work!

  17. Iain 07/04/2011 at 7:29 pm #

    Shower before setting off, ride in nice and early when it’s cool [I'm locking the bike up at work before 7] (bonus is the roads are quiet too – Clapham Common to north of Stockwell on CS7 today without stopping, on;y had to brake once! No idea on speed, but well in the 20s!) I wear lycra for the 25 miles each way and it generally works fine wicking sweat away, more of a problem if I have a base layer on, although the current warm spell has removed that one! When I get to the office I just need a quick wipe down with a cold flannel – the cool water helps lower your temperature so should stop you sweating to cool down, top up the deoderant and ready for the office. I rub a tiny bit of Lush’s Handy Garugu (http://www.lush.co.uk/shop/product/product/path/154_162/id/334/skin-hand-and-body-handy-gurugu) into my palms as they tend to soak up sweat from my bike gloves (regardless of how often they’re washed) Also like Lush’s deoderant bars,(http://www.lush.co.uk/shop/product/category&path=154_187) although only used some on my commute earlier in the year when I needed a coat and so sweated much more, so can’t draw conclusions yet – may try some on tomorrow’s commute if I remember (when the alarm goes off at 04:10 you tend to frget things!) Found out about them last summer when Lush had a “Cyclists Repair Kit” with sampler packs of various things.

    Interestingly, this afternoon’s 2 hour ride home left me with virtually dry cycling gear, a 30 min walk to the shops left me dripping with sweat… Go faster to stay cooler!

  18. Toni 08/04/2011 at 11:59 am #

    I think I fall into the ‘spoilt’ category here, in that I arrive at work to a gorgeous shower with towels, shampoo, conditioner, body wash…the lot. Seriously, I’m not boasting here – I just feel so extremely fortunate! I never want to leave my job because of it!!!

  19. Charles 08/04/2011 at 12:49 pm #

    If your company is part of Cycle to work scheme isn’t there an option to get funding for showers ?

  20. Jane 08/04/2011 at 3:44 pm #

    4 miles each way so I don’t generally get that sweaty however I often shower at the office just because I can! Their water, their power, they can afford it!

  21. Phil Russell 09/04/2011 at 1:29 am #

    What is all this?? The answer is to take the tube to work—-especially in the summer. You’ll sweat just as much, but won’t feel obliged to make such a guilty issue of it all. Boring!
    P.R.

  22. Dan 09/04/2011 at 10:14 am #

    I don’t cycle far but use a mineral salt deodorant – you can use it on your chest, feet etc – and shower before leaving. When I get to work, I wipe myself with some tissues and sit in front of a fan whilst the pc is booting up! 10 mins later I’m as dry as a bone and don’t smell :-)

  23. Shane 11/09/2012 at 1:39 pm #

    “Archaic workplaces”. Jeez, nobody’s job owes them showering facilities. Get a grip.

    • welshcyclist 12/09/2012 at 9:10 am #

      Nobody’s job owes them shower facilities, think about what you’ve said, obviously you’re not involved in the dirty jobs that need doing everyday, to provide the facilities you take for granted.

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