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Is it safe to shower during a thunderstorm?

Lightning bolt over residential area
Although showers are usually indoors and lightning is outside, some experts say it's still not safe to bathe during a thunderstorm. (Getty Creative)

Were you ever told that you should never to shower during a thunderstorm? Whether or not you’re still following that rule, you may be unaware of the reason behind the warning — or if it’s even legitimate. After all, unless your shower is outdoors, the consequences of sudsing up during a storm may seem fairly minimal, right?

As it turns out, experts say that you should avoid showering during a thunderstorm if possible — and there’s a good reason why. Here’s what you need to know about showering during a thunderstorm, and why you may want to hold off on bathing when you see those dark clouds rolling in.

What’s the issue with bathing during a thunderstorm?

It's not the thunder that's the issue during a storm — it's the lightning, which every thunderstorm produces. You may be thinking: But my shower is indoors and the lightning is outside. That may be true, but electricity can still travel indoors through your plumbing system.

“The idea is not to connect yourself electrically to the outside world when there is lightning nearby,” Joseph Dwyer, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of New Hampshire, tells Yahoo Life. “Lightning currents could, for example, get inside the house through the electrical wiring, spark to the pipes and give you a shock while in the shower or the tub.”

Lightning expert Aaron Treadway, who is the acting National Weather Service’s severe weather program manager, tells Yahoo Life that the metal plumbing and the water inside are both “very good conductors of electricity from lightning that could strike the home or nearby.” Even if you have polyvinyl chloride [plastic] piping in your home, the water within it can be a risk as a conductor of electricity.

How do you know you’re in the clear to shower?

It’s important to note that it’s not just showering that’s an issue. Washing your hands or doing the dishes — really anything where you’re connected to water and pipes — could be dangerous during a thunderstorm.

Stepping into a nice hot shower right after a storm stops may seem appealing, but Treadway suggests delaying it. “Once the storm is over, it is a general rule to wait for 30 minutes after you hear the last bit of thunder to resume your indoor and outdoor activities,” he explains. “If you are close enough to hear thunder, whether you are indoors or outdoors, you are close enough to be struck by lightning or have lightning impact you.”

What else is dangerous to use during a lightning storm?

It’s important to know that the safest place to be during a storm is indoors, whether that’s in a house or a car. You want to make sure that nothing you do connects you to the outside world. While that includes using the plumbing within a house, it can also include wiring.

Using a landline phone can be dangerous during a thunderstorm, as can plugging something into an outlet, such as a hair dryer or laptop cord. You can still use your cellphone or a laptop, provided they aren’t charging and connected to an outlet.

“The wiring and plumbing in a home helps direct the lightning energy safely into the ground,” says Treadway. “As long as a person is not interacting with anything attached to the wiring or plumbing they will be safely insulated.”

What other safety tips can you recommend regarding lightning storms?

Treadway notes that it’s important to “stay away from windows and exterior doors” during a lightning storm. You should also avoid porches since if lightning strikes nearby, the charges can “still travel through the ground or nearby objects.”

The good news is that you most likely won’t be trapped inside without being able to use plumbing or electronics for very long. Thunderstorms tend to last only about a half hour on average — though this can vary, especially if there are scattered storms in the area.

Patience, however, can mean the difference between staying safe and injury or death. Lightning primarily causes injuries to the nervous system and can also cause cardiac arrest, which is why experts recommend staying inside and dry and not using anything plugged into an outlet until the storm has fully passed.