How to Go Green: In the Bathroom
Photo credit: Getty Images/Peter Dazeley
[by Lloyd Alter and Collin Dunn]
The bathroom is the room where we begin and end each day, with a variety of cleaning routines designed to help keep us healthy. Odd then, that the room in which we clean our teeth, our skin and the rest of our bodies (not to mention dispose of our waste) is often filled with toxic chemicals, and, even then, not very clean itself. So, how do you stay clean, promote good health, and go green in your bathroom?
As with many sustainable lifestyle subjects, when it comes to going green in the bathroom, one hand washes the other. Eschewing excessive water use -- and thousands of gallons of wasted water -- avoiding a deluge of disposable trash, and a myriad of toxic cleaners supposed to make the room "safe" for your use, all can come from a few simple steps that combine to help you live greener in the bathroom.
So, to make your bathroom a greener place, we've compiled a bevy of tips to help clear the air, go with the low-flow, and keep the toxics out of your way. Changing up your habits and greening your bathroom will help make the planet greener, your home healthier, and your personal health more robust. Read on for more.
|Top Green Bathroom Tips||Further Reading on Green Bathrooms|
|Green Bathrooms: By the Numbers||Green Bathrooms: Getting Techie|
|Where to Get Green Bathroom Products||How to Go Green: Index|
|Green Bathrooms: From the Archives|
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Top Green Bathroom Tips
- Don't Let So Much Water Down the Drain
There are a trifecta of water-saving opportunities in the bathroom. By installing a low-flow showerhead, a low-flow faucet aerator, and a dual-flush toilet, you'll save thousands of gallons of water each year. The first two are easy DIY jobs--learn how to install a low-flow faucet here--and a toilet can be done with a little homework. To really go for the gusto, and go for a water-free toilet, check in to composting toilets (get the details in the Getting Techie section).
- Flush the Toilet with Care
When it comes to using the toilets themselves, be sure you're reaching for toilet paper created from recycled sources--remember, rolling over is better than rolling under--and avoid using products made from virgin boreal forest trees. The Natural Resources Defense Council has a solid list of recycled paper sources, so you aren't literally flushing virgin trees down the toilet. And when it comes time to flush, close the lid before hitting the button to prevent the spread of bacteria around your bathroom. Ready for the next step? Install a dual-flush toilet or dual-flush retrofit on your current toilet.
- Ditch Those Disposables
Toilet paper is about the only "disposable" product allowed in your green bathroom, so when it comes time to clean up, avoid the temptation to reach for disposable products. That means paper towels and other disposable wipes should be replaced by reusable rags or microfiber towels for mirrors, sinks, and the like; when it comes time to scrub the toilet, don't even think about those silly disposable one-and-done toilet brushes. In the same vein, more and more cleaners are being sold in refillable containers, so you don't have to buy so much packaging and can reuse the perfectly-good spray bottle, instead of buying a new one each time you run dry on glass cleaner.
- Think About What Goes in Your Sink
Once you have your low-flow faucet aerator installed, your behavior can also help keep water flow down. Be sure to turn off the water while you're brushing your teeth--some dentists even recommend a dry toothbrush--and you'll save six gallons of water each day (assuming you're diligent about brushing twice a day). Boys: if you shave with a wet razor, put a stopper in the sink and don't leave the water running. Half a sink-full of water will do the job.
- Clear the Air with Green Cleaners
Bathrooms are notoriously small and often poorly ventilated, so, of all the rooms in the house, this is the one that should be cleaned with green, non-toxic cleaners. Common household ingredients, like baking soda and vinegar, and a little elbow grease will do the job for most everything in the bathroom (more on that in a sec). If DIY isn't your style, there are a bevy of green cleaners available on the market today; check out our guide for How to Go Green: Cleaners for all the details.
- Take Green Cleaning into Your Own Hands
Doing it yourself is a great way to insure that you're going as green as possible, since you know exactly what went in to the products you're using. A few reliable favorites: Spray surfaces that need cleaning--sinks, tubs, and toilets, for example--with diluted vinegar or lemon juice, let it sit for 30 minutes or so, give it a scrub, and your mineral stains will all but disappear. Getting lime scale or mold on your showerhead? Soak it in white vinegar (hotter is better) for an hour before rinsing it clean. And to create a great tub scrub, mix baking soda, castile soap (like Dr. Bronner's) and a few drops of your favorite essential oil--careful, a little bit goes a long way here. Follow this recipe for a non-toxic bathtub cleaner and you'll never have to buy caustic bathtub cleaners again.
- Keep Your Skin Free and Clear with Green Personal Care Products
Anything that's a struggle to say three times fast doesn't belong in your bathroom, and that certainly goes for personal care products like soaps, lotions, and cosmetics. For example "anti-bacterial" soaps often include endocrine disruptors, which, in addition to breeding "supergerms" resistant to these cleaners, may be doing your body serious harm and are wreaking havoc on fish and other organisms after they escape into the water stream after you flush. That's just one example; remember the rule goes like this: If you can't say it, don't use it to "clean" yourself.
- Go Green with Towels and Linens
When it comes time to dry off, towels made from materials like organic cotton and bamboo are the way to go. Conventional cotton is one of the most chemically-intensive, pesticide-laden crops on the planet--to the tune of 2 billion pounds of synthetic fertilizers and 84 million pounds of pesticides each year--causing a whole laundry list of environmental health problems for those who apply the pesticides and harvest the crop--not to mention the damage done to soil, irrigation, and groundwater systems. Bamboo, in addition to being a fast-growing sustainable alternative to cotton, is also reputed to have antibacterial qualities when spun into linens.
- Shower Yourself with a Safe Curtain
If your shower has a curtain, be sure to avoid polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic--it's pretty nasty stuff. The production of PVC often results in creating dioxins, a group of highly toxic compounds, and, once in your home, PVC releases chemical gases and odors. Once you're done with it, it can't be recycled and is known to leach chemicals that can eventually make their way back into our water system. So, be on the lookout for PVC-free plastic--even places like IKEA carry them now--or go for a more permanent solution, like hemp, which is naturally resistant to mold, as long as you keep your bathroom well-ventilated. Read these tips for protecting your natural curtain, including using treatment sprays to slow down mildew, over at TreeHugger.
- Maintain Your New Green Ways
Once you go green, you'll want to keep it that way, so remember to do regular light maintenance--unclogging drains, fixing leaky faucets, etc.--with green in mind. Check out our advice for green, non-caustic drain cleaners and leaky faucets, and be mindful of mold; click over to the Getting Techie section for more on combating the dangers of mold.
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Green Bathrooms: By the Numbers
- 21 percent: Household water use that comes from the shower.
- 26 percent: Household water use that comes from flushing the toilet.
- 1.5 percent: Household water use that comes from using the bath.
- 80 gallons:Amount of water the average American uses a day.
- 2.5 gallons: Amount of water used per day by the rest of the world.
- 260 gallons: Amount of water used by the average household in the developed world.
- 67 percent: Water heating costs for households for showers alone.
- 22 gallons: Amount of water flushed down the toilet daily in the U.S.
- $5: Cost of a low flow shower head that will cut your consumption by 45 gallons per day.
- 15,000: Amount of water you can save per year by taking a navy shower.
- 60 gallons: Average amount of water used in taking a shower.
- 3 gallons: Amount of water used when taking a Navy shower.
Green Bathrooms: Getting Techie
A Navy shower is the term used for a water-saving technique that was started in the Navy to help save precious freshwater aboard ships. The basic idea is to hop in the shower, get wet all over, turn off the water while soaping up, and then rinse clean. The small change in routine makes a huge difference: a regular shower can use as much as 60 gallons of water, while a Navy shower can check in at about 3 gallons.
Bathing like the Japanese
Bathing is a succession of steps and separated functions. The datsuiba is the first step, a dry room where you change out of your clothes. This is also where there is a sink and vanity; the washer and dryer also often reside here -- makes sense, right?
You then proceed to the area beside the tub and sit on a stool, where there is a faucet and a bucket. You don't have a shower that is running all the time while you soap up; you fill the bucket (or maybe use a hand shower) and get yourself wet, then soap up carefully, then rinse with the bucket or the hand shower. You have only used as much water as you needed to get clean, and you can stay as long as you want without waste. It is like a navy shower, but fun.
Dual-flush toilets offer two buttons -- one for "number one" and one for "number two" -- that flush different amounts of water through the toilet to help clear your waste. They save water by more closely matching the volume of water used to the job, so you aren't flushing more than a gallon when half that amount will do the job. They're available both as new toilets and in retrofit packages for your existing flusher.
Composting toilets remove water from the equation almost completely, instead utilizing nature's composting system to turn your waste into fertilizer. Some composting toilets use electricity, and some electrical systems use fans to exhaust air and increase microbial activity. Others require the user to rotate a drum within the composting toilet to allow for a predominantly aerobic breakdown of waste.
"Self-contained" composting toilets complete the composting "in-situ," usually requiring an electric fan or good natural ventilation to exhaust air and promote microbial activity. "Central unit" models flush waste to a remote composting unit away from the toilet itself -- often just beneath it. Vacuum-flush systems can flush horizontally or upward.
Why should you avoid "anti-bacterial" soap? Beware of any soap that says "anti-bacterial." They usually contain Triclosan, an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent that's also an endocrine disruptor -- the same disruptive substance that's helping Bisphenol A make all sorts of news lately. Like Bisphenol A, Triclosan has the potential to do pretty serious harm to our bodies (and those of our children) and can have more wide-ranging impacts when it leaves our bodies and enters the water system. Triclosan reacts with sunlight to create dioxin, a highly carcinogenic and toxic family of compounds, and can react with the chlorine in our drinking water to form chloroform gas, a probably human carcinogen. This all adds up to one simple conclusion: stay away from anti-bacterial soaps and cleaners, please. Read more about the trouble with anti-bacterial cleaners in TreeHugger.
Mold in the bathroom
Leaky pipes and faucets, and inadequate ventilation are most often the culprits of a moldy bathroom, so be sure you aren't leaking water by regularly checking your plumbing and fixtures. Run the exhaust fan after a shower until the mirrors aren't foggy anymore, and if you don't have a suitable exhaust fan, you can open a window or door to be sure your bathroom dries out and doesn't encourage mold growth. Mold can cause or aggravate allergies, asthma, and other respiratory maladies and health problems, so stopping it before it starts is worth your due diligence.
Where to Get Green Bathroom Products
Dual flush toilets
TwoFlush toilet retrofit
Clean Air Gardening
Low-flow faucet aerators
AM Conservation Group
Earth Aid Kit
Green bathroom cleaners
Green bathroom linens
Loop Organic at Shop Equita
EcoBathroom bamboo towels
VivaTerra bamboo towels
Green shower curtains
Simple Memory Art
AFM Safecoat X-158 Defensive Sealer -- for mildew-free natural liners for 100 days
Green Bathrooms: From the Archives
Dig deeper into going green in the bathroom with these articles from the TreeHugger and Planet Green archives.
How to Go Green
Women's Personal Care
Bathroom Water Conservation
Core77's One Hour Design Competition: Water-Saving in the Bathroom
TreeHugger Tip: Ludacris in the Bathroom
Where to Get Water Conservation Products
How to Conserve Water
Win the Battle of Water-Loo
Get Smarter In The Bathroom
Green Your Home for Winter: Install Faucet Aerators
Green your Toilet Paper - Over is Better!
Pee in Style and Save Water
The Flusher King: Testing Toilets
TwoFlush: A Dual-Flush Retrofit for Your Favorite Bowl
The Selective Flush - "If It's Yellow..."
No Splash, No Flush Urinals from Kohler
High-Tech Bidets Save Paper and Your Health
Save Water, Money with the "Toilet Tank Trick"
Hack Your Toilet, Conserve Water
Green Our Rivers, 3 Ways to Start
TreeHuggerTV - Green Your Shower
Getting Ready for Earth Day: Save Water When You Shower
Navy Showers: Water Saving Goes Hardcore
Green Your Home For Winter: Install Efficient Showerheads
Stop Wasting Hot Water in the Shower with the Road Runner Showerhead
Eco-Showerhead - The Real Deal From Real Goods
Quench Water-Recycling Shower - Guilt-Free Indulgence?
How Much Water Do You Need To Shower?
Did You Know?: Showers
How to Protect Your Natural Fiber Shower Curtain
Green Bathroom Cleaning
Is There a Eco-Friendly Alternative to Caustic Drain Cleaners?
How To: Make Your Own Non-Toxic Bathtub Cleaner
Kill that Clog the Green Way
E-Cloth Microfiber Towels
Microfiber Towels from Method
Green Personal Care
Take Cooler Showers for Better Skin
Cosmetics Ingredients : Top Five Ingredients to Avoid
Green is Beautiful
Green Bathroom Linens and Other Products
Loop - Organic Cotton Towels And Sheets
Bamboo Fiber Bath Towels
Mad Mod Bamboo Towels
PLANK Bamboo Towel Set
Rawganique Organic Hemp Blend Towels
A Towel Made Out Beech Wood: The Millennium Towel
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Further Reading on Green Bathrooms
Help stop deforestation and forest destruction by following A Shopper's Guide to Home Tissue Products from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The Green Home Guide offers a solid list of green bathroom know-how.
Grist's Umbra Fisk has suggestions for PVC alternative in the bathroom.
Want more advice for greening your bathroom with some do-it-yourself style? DIY Life offers a handful of bathroom tips to hack and DIY your way to green, as well as some pros and cons of low-flow showerheads.
Care2 has some good green bathroom cleaning tips, including some myth-busting when it comes to cleaning green.
GreenStudentU offers tips for green bathrooms on a student budget for those who don't need gold-plated soap dispensers.
eHow has step-by-step instructions for their version of green cleaning in the bathroom.
Read Energy Hawk's guide to installing new showerheads if you're looking for advice before upgrading your own.
Wikipedia's composting toilet entry will tell you everything you need to know--and more--about turning your pee and poo into compost.
Home Institute has lots of info on water conservation in the bathroom.