Maimonides refers to washing with sand.

He may wash his clothes in water, but not with soap or using sand.

Does anyone know how this was done?

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    Avrohom Yitzchok! It's nice to see you around, even out of your usual habitat. :P
    – ezra
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 20:05
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    Ask a sparrow ;)
    – Carsten S
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 20:47
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    Some still clean cast iron pans with coarse salt and no water. I've done this before. My point being it's not a completely historical concept. Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 21:40
  • There is actually a commercial product based on this idea. Google "grip clean". It's a hand "soap" that has no soap or detergent in it. Instead it uses dirt (fine sand) as the cleaning agent.
    – slebetman
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 3:51
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    I first learned about this by watching Survivor, where contestants often clean themselves with just sand, rather than going into the salty ocean.
    – user428517
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 16:44

5 Answers 5


Washing with sand is still done today. Soap is generally thought of as "chemical" removal of dirt and oils, while sand is "physical" removal of dirt and oils.

Because sand is fine, coarse, and usually not too absorbent, it will rinse right off. There are many common products today that work the same way. Lava brand soap is a good example.

Sand is also often used in cleaning cookware. For example, when camping, you can use sand to clean a cast iron fry pan. You can not use soap, and salt may be too damaging to the environment (in a large concentration).

Washing with sand, (and not water or soap) is a good way to "clean up" when water is scarce. It will remove dirt and oils, help with sweat, and generally leave you cleaner than using nothing at all.

That said, you're reading a religious document, so there is certainly a religious reason behind using only water. Unfortunately, I don't know enough to really answer the why.

Only that washing with sand and water, or only sand, are both viable and in-use today, though perhaps soap and water (or only "soap" if we include disinfectants) is more common.

  • Sand is "fine, coarse"? Aren't fine and coarse opposites?
    – bof
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 5:19
  • @bof he probably means that even fine sand is pretty coarse compared to soap. Coarse sand is useless for cleaning, the grains are far too large (anything up to about 5mm is technically sand...).
    – jwenting
    Commented Aug 13, 2018 at 5:39
  • FWIW, modern soaps don't contain lye, so washing cast iron pans with modern dish soap is just fine. Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 1:36
  • As a child, my engineer father had a canned heavy-duty industrial soap at home. For my child-self, it looked and felt on touch like sand + creamy soap, I really think it had some kind of sand-like abrasive on it. It really worked wonders after working on the garage with grease, oil, machine tools and dirty stuff, much much better than usual bathroom soap.
    – Luiz
    Commented Apr 6, 2021 at 20:13

Sand is an "abrasive". As such, it is good for dislodging/removing dirt, etc. trapped in clothes.

But after you do this, you have to wash out the sand.

Soap does a similar job in a different way (using "chemical," rather than "mechanical" means).

  • I think people simply washed with sand and no water. I think Bedouin do this -- it might be primarily symbolic in absence of water but it is better than nothing.
    – Jeff
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 16:51
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    Depending on the fineness of the grains, it can also be "absorbent", in a way. Coarse salt can carry away grease and oil without dissolving. Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 21:42
  • @ToddWilcox: Fair enough.Thanks for the tip.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 23:54
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    @Jeff: The sentence in the OP clearly meant to convey that he washed with water alone and not with water and soap or water and sand. It is possible to use sand as a "soap". Someone even managed to get funding for such a product on Shark Tank
    – slebetman
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 3:20


Pretty much the way it sounds. (oddly, I had to wash my hair with sand this week, so I can report that it works pretty well.)

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    On a more practical note, it works because sand is an abrasive so it can be used to wear materials by friction. Here you can see a very clear example. It is advised to use a softer application when you use it to clean yourself.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 16:44
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    I've also washed with sand (when I was much younger!). It worked pretty well for cleaning my skin and hair, but not so well on clothes. After 4 weeks in the Kalahari Desert I decided to burn some of the clothes I'd been wearing rather than try to salvage them! Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 17:01

I'll give you an anecdote. When I was a kid, I grew up in a third world country. We used to wash our bodies with sand. It actually worked great, and was better than soap. Basically, you pick up a handful of sand, and rub it against yourself in the shower or near the ocean. It removes all dead skin, oil, and impurities.

I would imagine clothes would wash really well, simply wetting them, and rubbing the fabric together with a little sand. But I is probably abrasive, and I imagine it would damage the fibers if they were too fine.

The same way you wash pure wool by hand basically, if you don't use dry cleaning. Wetting the fabric, introducing a little sand, and rubbing the fabric together, keeping the fabric wet.


Heck, I've used sand on many occasions, both with and without soap....but always with water. As other folks here are saying, sand is amazing, depending on what the task is and also your circumstance. When i was in Newfoundland, Canada, as a youth, i was out fishing in very remote areas for four weeks, with my uncle. We used sand, along with mild soap and water, to do dishes at campsites. It worked great.
I also used sand, now and then, as a shampoo substitute....and I was amazed at how well it cleansed my oily teen hair and in fact made it shimmer !
We used sand and pebbles to assist in doing tough, grubby laundry, too, and unfailingly it worked quite well.

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    You might want to detail the exact method as the question asked how this was done. Commented Aug 13, 2018 at 5:00

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