Historically, Americans love to shower. There are countries with frequent, muggy temps that shower more — Australia, Brazil, Mexico and Spain all post prodigious numbers — but on a daily basis, Americans hold their own. The average shower lasts eight minutes long, and the average family devotes 40 gallons of water to the practice a day.
Those numbers may have taken a dip over the last 12 months, though, as people have cut back on their weekly washes in response to the pandemic. Why? Showers often function as part of a morning or evening routine. After those itineraries were upset in early quarantine — without commutes, social events and workouts, what are you really washing up for? — many of us naturally cut back on our shower time. When you don’t leave the house, as some explained to The New York Times, dumping gallons of water and soap on your body starts to feel trivial.
For those who think this trend sounds insane, and still regularly rely on a daily shower for more than just hygienic purposes, it needs to be pointed out that less time in the shower is truly a good thing. When we talk about the fight against climate change, the length of your shower probably seems like small potatoes. But it has direct implications on raging wildfires, shrinking coastlines and melting glaciers. Cutting a shower down by just one minute will immediately save you 550 gallons of water, 170 tons of CO2emissions and $60 each year.
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Plus: we don’t need to shower as much as we do. It’s a 20th-century invention, one born in lockstep with the rise of urban living (“cities are dirty, let’s make sure we’re clean”) and the practically predatory marketing wizardry of the 1950s and beyond. As cleanliness expert Katherine Ashenburg once said, “We’re pouring so many liters of water over ourselves to remove, essentially, just a few specks; it’s an extraordinary thing to do. It’s kind of like we’re killing a butterfly with a hammer.”
If you started showering less over the last year, good for you. Your instincts were correct. You didn’t need to be showering every single day even before the pandemic, so doing so when your big trip of the day was a trip down to the basement makes no sense. Constant washing with soap pretty much strip-mines the body of its essential oils, which, ironically, makes us a lot oilier and lead to brushes with acne. It’s a similar concept with shampoo — fortunately, many men have wised up to the fact that they only need to use shampoo a few times a week.
So how often should you shower a week? The number varies based on your lifestyle (obviously, an apartment-based freelancer will have a different experience than a suburban contractor who replaces chimneys). But start thinking about going a day without a shower every couple days. If you stick to some basic hygiene hacks, the whole matter gets a little easier. Make sure to wash your hands, armpits and private area every day, wear deodorant, and after exercise, use skin-safe anti-bacterial wipes, then change immediately into a new pair of clothes.
It’s understandable that this isn’t something people want to experiment with during the usual grind — what sort of person, after all, isn’t going to shower before a meeting or first date? But if you didn’t naturally cut back on your showering during peak isolation, consider trying it now, ahead of our re-introduction to the world. Get a feel for what a day without it it feels like, and how you can control your scent. If that’s still too intimidating, just start cutting down the length back as much as possible. Your wallet, skin and the planet will thank you.
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