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9.06.2009

Let's talk dirty: How long do you spend in the shower?


by Guardian.co.uk

Men are hardly any faster than women, and power showers can use more water than baths, so without getting too steamed up, what are your showering habits?

Let's all hold our hands up to how much shower water we use. Photograph: Volker Otten/Getty Images

Let's talk dirty. How dirty are you? How long does it take you to scrub yourself clean of a morning?

Research by a new "Shower Power" campaign launched yesterday – in a bid to save water by encouraging short showers – shows that contrary to lazy, popular and potentially misogynist belief, women only spend a mere 39 seconds longer in the shower than men. Despite the fact that many men like myself are clearly follicularly challenged and don't need to wash our hair, we're not much faster.

This is a bigger environmental issue than you might think – the way we choose to exfoliate and freshen up has potentially dramatic impacts on our daily water consumption. In the UK each of us currently use around 150 litres a day (let's not even start on the embedded water, which adds over 3,000 further litres to our indirect daily quaffing) and the government wants individuals' daily water consumption to be cut to 130 litres by 2030. The trouble is water consumption is actually increasing by about 1% a year.

So back to that survey to find the culprits. The vast majority of women (71%) apparently take showers of 10 minutes or less and a quarter of women (26%) manage to take showers of five minutes or less. This is only slightly below the number of men who do so (75% and 30% respectively). There are also intriguing differences on age, with time spent in the shower decreasing with increasing age. The 55s and over (mean shower time: 8 mins, 41 seconds) are five minutes faster than people aged 18 to 24 (mean shower time: 13 mins 26 seconds) with well over a third (39%) of people aged 55 or over even managing to shower in five minutes or less. Does this suggest a slap-dash approach to personal hygiene in the more mature, a no-nonsense efficient approach, or a deep seated eco-consciousness and concern about water conservation?

Of course, all this scrubbing and lathering doesn't just use water – it uses energy too. Personal washing accounts for around 33% of the water used in the home and hot water is the second largest consumer of domestic energy after space heating. And rising bills are enough to make even the most bath-fond switch to showers. There have been some recent trends, such as the rise in shower-gel sales by Unilever, that confirm a money- and water-saving-inspired shift from bathing to showering. Apart from the distinct advantage of not having to scrub the tide-mark of scum from around the bath rim when you have a shower (or is that just me?), generally showers are better than baths as they use much less water. However, this comes with a couple of big fat caveats: what type of shower you have and how long you prance around in it.

A typical bath uses around 80 litres of water whereas the average electric shower sprays out about six litres a minute. So you'd have to be soaping yourself vigorously for over 13 minutes to use the same amount of water as that bath. But if you have a power shower that pumps out up to 15 litres per minute, in which case you have only 5 minutes of swift slathering before, from a water conservation perspective, you might as well have had that bath.

There are ways to make your shower even greener, of course, such as aerating shower heads that mix in extra air to mimic the effect of a power shower without the water consumption of a thirsty elephant. But when it comes to the biggest environmental impact of your morning wash, like so many things in life, timing is everything. The best way to understand how much water your morning sluice consumes is to get your hands on a shower timer and a water meter.

I'd be interested to hear how long you spend in the shower - and how successful you've been in cutting your water use, or your shower-hogging partner's use. Has anyone gone so far as sharing daily showers? Let me know in the enquete.

8.23.2009

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