I’m a bath addict. This will probably never change. Still, I often wonder if my bath vs. shower environmental footprint is really that different.
So bath vs shower: which is better for the planet? Many shower takers are quick to answer that the shower uses less water than a bath. On average, a shower uses less water than a bath, but this is really just an average result. Your bath vs shower could fare quite differently. A landmark 2011 study proved the real answer is it depends on many variables, including the size of your bathtub, the type of showerhead you use, the duration of your shower, and how high you fill the bathtub.
While we can talk in generalities, read on to figure out the size of your specific environmental footprint…or perhaps we should say, environmental buttprint.
Average Bath vs. Shower Facts
Let’s talk generalities and averages, shall we?
Most bath takers will fill the tub with about 25-35 gallons of water.
A regular showerhead spills out 2.5 gallons-per-minute. If you are still using one of these types of showerheads, you’ll need to shower for 10 minutes to fill the tub with 25 gallons of water. However, many households now use a low-flow showerhead. Most of these put out 2 gallons-per-minute. You’d need to shower for 12 minutes and 30 seconds to fill the tub with 25 gallons. And some really big earth lovers have installed showerheads that are even lower flow than that.
Therefore, judging purely by the impact on the environment, I have to admit, a shower could be more efficient. But generalities and averages will only get you so far.
Angie’s List surveyed 2,000 Americans about their bath and shower habits. While 66% of respondents bathe or shower daily, 20% take to the water to get clean every other day. A solid 45% of shower takers reported that they spent 5-10 minutes running the water, 28% of bath takers reported spending 10-20 minutes in the tub.
So where does this leave us in our quest to understand your own water usage?
Don’t Believe Shower Takers
First of all, don’t believe everything you hear—especially from shower takers. They are likely to tell you (perhaps a bit self-righteously) that they spend quite a bit less time on their cleaning ritual than bath takers.
It was a study by Unilever that confirms that people who shower can’t be trusted to report their own time. That’s right! You can’t trust a person who showers. Not for a second.
The 2011 landmark UK Sustainable Shower Study looked at 2,600 unique shower experiences that were taken over 10 days by members of 100 families. A sensor placed in the shower measured the duration of experience, while each study participant completed a “shower diary.” In the diaries, subjects reported how long they thought each shower took.
Despite reporting 5-minute showers, the study found that average shower length for participants was 8 minutes, revealing their judgment was off by more than 50%! In fact, a key finding of the study is as follows:
The shower uses nearly as much energy and water as a bath.
I’m not saying that people who soak in the tub are more virtuous. Only that they don’t fib. Or at least if they do, it hasn’t been studied yet. The best thing to do when trying to compute your actual environmental footprint is to study your personal habits as objectively as possible. That way you’ll get accurate data for your personal bath vs. shower analysis.
Bath vs. Shower: How to Measure Your Personal Water Usage
To calculate how much water you use for a typical shower, plug the drain. Now take your normal shower. See how much water fills in the tub.
Compare this with how high you normally fill the bathtub.
This should give you a good sense of whether you typically use more water for a bath or shower. However, this is not a double-blind study and your bias can impact the outcome. For example, if you want to hear that your short showers are doing a service to the earth, during the test, you might abbreviate your shower more than you normally do.
You will also want to consider how often you bathe or shower. If you shower daily but bathe only every other day, then you could be saving water by bathing instead.
Why Comparing Baths to Showers is Like Comparing Apples to Oranges
You might eat an apple because you need some crunch, and they are in season. But you might choose an orange for hydration after a sporting event. Similarly, you might decide to take a shower for an altogether different reason than you decide to take a bath.
The impact of bath vs. shower on the earth is one consideration. And the impact of your shower or bath on your entire life is another.
While a shower might serve to purely dash and go, your reasons for bathing might be a lot more involved: After all, research shows that baths can be taken to achieve everything from weight loss to the alleviation of depression.
Devices to Help You Measure Water Use
There are a number of devices on the market designed to help you calculate your water usage when bathing or showering. The idea is that if you’re truly aware, then you can take steps to reduce.
There are various waterproof shower timers on the market. Some are hourglasses with sand that will suction to the wall and run down for 5 minutes. There are other innovations like the Waterpebble that you place on the bottom of the shower and it will turn red when a preset amount of time is up. None of these has outstanding reviews, so I’d suggest going with a regular waterproof timer like this one by dretec.
FLO by Moen
This is a device installed on your home’s main water line. It’s designed to detect and stop leaks anywhere in your house. FLO by Moen comes with an app that can alert you any water problems before you would see them with your own eyes. And best of all, it helps you measure water use in your home moment by moment. You can check the app to see if there’s any unusual spike in water use. This can alert you to the fact that your teenager is about to overflow the bathtub or has been in the shower for thirty minutes and counting.
Devices to Help You Conserve Water
There are also smart gadgets coming out every day to help you conserve your water use. Here are some of my favorites:
Tankless Water Heater
Unlike a conventional water tank that stores and heats a preset amount of water regardless of whether it will be used, a tankless water heater doesn’t store any water. And it only warms the water as it’s needed. This conserves energy and costs you less. How much do you conserve? According to energy.gov:
“For homes that use 41 gallons or less of hot water daily, demand water heaters can be 24%–34% more energy efficient than conventional storage tank water heaters. They can be 8%–14% more energy efficient for homes that use a lot of hot water — around 86 gallons per day. You can achieve even greater energy savings of 27%–50% if you install a demand water heater at each hot water outlet.”
This is a one-tap shower that helps you conserve both energy and water. When showering, people tend to turn on the water and wait for it to reach the desired temperature. With the beautifully-designed Livin Shower, you set your desired temperature and when you press the button, water will flow at that exact temperature. You can press the button again to stop the water when you are shampooing and soaping up. Just by using it, you will conserve water and the company claims you will also save an average of at least $180 per year.
PerfectFill by Kohler
I’ve been waiting for someone to come out with a smart bathtub that will fill to a preset amount at a preset temperature with a simple voice command. Though not yet on the market, apparently Kohler Smart Home has this in the works. You can click here, scroll down to the bathtub, and sign up to be notified the second that this innovation hits the market.
Recycling Bath and Shower Water
Did you know that you can recycle bath and shower water? Yes, you can even hook up a special tank that is connected to your garden. Save money and water at the same time by using your bath and shower water on your plants and grass. That is a real win-win. Curious to know more? Check out Reusing Bath Water is Not as Hard as You Think.
Is there a way to reuse my bathwater? Yes, bathwater is called ‘greywater’ because it can generally be repurposed for watering plants or flushing the toilet. The issue is how you will capture the water. According to Treehugger.com, there are several options including manually collect the water in buckets for reuse, or installing a 3-way valve to divert greywater to a grey water tank in your home. You can also use a sump pump and tube to pump bathwater out a window and into a barrel for use in the garden.
How else can I make my bathroom eco-friendly? Use compact fluorescent lights which will reduce energy use by 75%. Switch out your plastic shower curtain for a 100% recyclable, PVC-free, mildew-resistant hemp curtain. Also, consider using organic cleaning products and cleaning the air with an ionic filter. Choose natural materials like cotton, bamboo or hemp for bath mats and bath towels.