I have to admit I was shocked the first time I learned about cultures where showering normally was a once a week – or even one a month – practice. You see, I am from south China, a coastal city with an abundance of water, an area of the world where people shower at least once a day. Curious about the global average, I discovered 43% of global consumers take a sponge bath at least once a day according to the Euromonitor International’s Personal Appearances Survey. However, people do not think or live in the same way as we do in north China.
Whether you recognize it or not, expectations related to frequent showering may arise from pressure related to societal norms. In warmer climates frequent showering seem to make sense, yet in balmy regions like Turkey and Spain, bathing is less frequent. Dermatologists Dr. Joshua Zeichner and Dr. Ranella Hirsch discovered “a lot of the reasons we do it [bathing] is because of societal norms” and that it’s “really more of a cultural phenomenon”. I found this personally true; my mother in the south called me “unhygienic” after noting my shower frequency had reduced to 3-4 times a week after living in Beijing for four years.
But here’s the thing: frequent showering may actually be doing you more harm than good.
Showering too often, especially with hot water, actually is bad for the skin. Frequent showering washes away the good bacteria which aid the immune system, while also drying out the skin, resulting in small cracks that put the body in higher risk of infection. Babies and toddlers exposed to dirt and bacteria may develop less sensitive skin, preventing allergies and conditions like eczema.
So, back to the question: Scientifically speaking (vs. culturally), how often do you REALLY need to shower?
In general, you can probably skip a day or two. Under California’s dry climate, you could probably go even longer between shower. Think of all the water and time you’ll save! The length of the average shower is 11 minutes and uses about 27.5 gallons of water. Skipping showering every two to three days actually saves you 33-43.2 hours a year. If all 38 million California’s residents decreased their shower frequency to three times a week, we’d save over 217 billion gallons annually.
For those no shower days just use a washcloth or a cleansing towel to wipe clean sweatier parts of the body like the under arms, under the breasts, genitals, butt, and your face (perhaps not in that same order, nor with the same washcloth). Of course, your showering needs will depend on climate and how active your are. But be reasonable…if you’re filthy, hit the showers.
Besides taking fewer showers, how can we save more water while showering?
1. Take shorter showers. Aim for less than 5 minutes: We can all be more mindful about how long we take in the shower. Setting a kitchen timer or stopwatch is an easy way to keep track. Or try making it a competition with others in your household to see who can wash the quickest. Showers that last less than 5 minutes use less water than one bath, though that varies by showerhead.
2. Install a low-flow showerhead: It may cost you some money up front, but water conservation efforts will save you money down the road. Conventional showerheads flow at 5 gallons per minute or more, whereas low-flow showerheads typically flow at 2 gallons per minute or less. Some people may wonder whether such shower heads produce enough flow; look for EPA-certificated products on the market, as they’ve been reviewed and rated to “provide a satisfactory shower that is equal to or better than conventional showerheads on the market”.
3. Cut down behavioral waste with a special shower valve: Hot water doesn’t arrive immediately when you turn on the shower, and some people have developed a wasteful habit of turning on the shower then walking away to do other things until the shower warms up to their liking.
While some people suggest putting a bucket in the shower and reusing the water later for watering plants, flushing the toilet, or for cleaning, it is not a convenient solution. The truth is most people don’t want to really change their habits a whole lot, nor be inconvenienced. Evolve Technologies’s “thermostatic shut-off valve” can be installed behind the showerhead and was designed to abate this wasteful habit. The device permits cold water flow out freely when first turned on, but then tamps down on the flow when the outgoing water temperature hits 95 degrees. So when water stops flowing in the shower, you know the shower is sufficiently hot; the flow can be started back up at the pull a cord.
4. Shower Navy style: “Navy showers” as they’re known originated amongst sailors serving onboard naval ships where fresh water supply was often scarce. The Navy shower method is comprised of three steps: 1) an initial thirty seconds spray to get sufficiently wet, 2) followed by turning off the tap while soaping and lathering without running water, and finally 3) rinsing off in a minute or less. The total time for the water being on is typically under two minutes, conserving a great deal of water in the process. But even when stretched out to a luxurious 4-5 minutes by civilians, incorporating a “water off” lathering habit is a great idea for water conservation.
5. Keep airplants in your bathroom: If there is sufficient natural daylight in your bathroom, an efficient way to make use of the mist from a shower is keeping the elegant and drought-tolerant Tillandsia. Do note that the moisture from showering is supplemental to watering these airplants; never rely on the humidity produced by showers as the sole source of water for keeping airplants alive. However, airplant kept and cared in bathrooms with frequently used showers may prove to be healthier and happier than those kept elsewhere around the house.