5 ways to make bathing more efficient

Forget cold two-minute showers. You can still enjoy yourself while conserving water.

Whenever I see an article on how to make one's shower routine greener or more efficient, I recoil in discomfort. My bath or shower time is one of the highlights of my day, a rare chance to escape the noise and chaos of family life and to warm myself thoroughly before crawling into bed. The idea that I should turn down the heat or shorten the length of time under the water makes me feel horribly depressed.

So I was leery when I saw Trent Hamm's article on optimizing showers for money and time, but because I enjoy his perspective on frugality so much, I gave it a try. Right away, he put me at ease. The goal is not to diminish the quality of life, he explained, but to find small and subtle ways of decreasing regular expenses in small, subtle ways that add up to significant amounts over time. He wrote,

“Seriously, don’t cut out the parts of the shower that you enjoy. For me, that’s usually rinsing with warm water, which feels really good, so I take plenty of time with it. I usually finish with a short blast of cold water because I enjoy the ‘shock' of it. That routine, which eats maybe two or three cents of hot water, isn’t worth cutting out. On the other hand, turning the water off while I’m scrubbing makes no difference and is a pure saver.”

He did get me thinking about the little tweaks I make to my own and my kids' bathing routines in order to reduce our water usage. While it's a far cry from the austere sub-two-minute navy shower, Hamm's article made me realize that these small efforts are not pointless but do add up to meaningful change over time. Here's what I do:

1. Bathe the kids together.

I often fill the tub and wash all three kids in the same bathwater. They don't all fit in at the same time, but they're not dirty enough to warrant fresh water each time. And if the baths are short enough, it doesn't cool down much – or it takes fairly little to reheat.

2. Turn off water while soaping.

This, Hamm explains, can be more effective at conserving water than shortening your overall shower, and it does not detract from the pleasure of the experience. Turn off the water while soaping your body, shampooing and conditioning hair, and shaving your legs. I sometimes fill a yogurt container with water to dip my razor or splash some extra water onto my head when shampooing. When the water comes back on, it feels like a luxurious prize.

3. Use bar soap.

I buy bar soap because it's cheap, zero waste, and made by a local green soap maker, but Hamm points out that it's better for washing:

“The reason bar soap is more efficient than body wash is that much of the body wash just runs down the drain. It is quite hard to put just the right amount of body wash on a rag, and the excess just goes to waste. With bar soap, you just wait for a bit of lather, and then you waste very little.”

He's right. I love how all I have to do is grab a bar and there's an instant lather; it eliminates the extra steps of getting a loofah or sponge, wetting it, lathering it, then rinsing it later. I also use shampoo and conditioner bars that lather rapidly and work wonder on my thick, frizzy hair. Nor do I “rinse and repeat”, which is a total waste of good product and water.

4. Clean the shower while you're in it.

A clever house cleaning hack that I recently read about on Clean My Space, you can get a dish wand with soap in the handle and use it to scrub down the shower walls while you're in it. It will add a minute to your shower time, but you'll save water if you don't have to turn on the shower and get everything wet later on in order to clean it.

5. Set a timer for the kids.

Kids have a poor sense of passing time and few concerns about conserving water, so when they're having a solo shower, I usually give them a time limit. A timer in the bathroom helps to keep them on track – 1 minute to get wet, 1 minute to soap up, 1 minute to rinse off. It's almost a navy shower, but not quite so rushed. If that seems cruelly short to some parents, multiply it by three kids, plus the minute for the changeover, and it adds up to a significant chunk of the bedtime routine.

Forget cold two-minute showers. You can still enjoy yourself while conserving water.