Shower Less to Help Save the Planet

How often should you shower? Consider what's best for the planet and your skin.

Shower head
ViewStock / Getty Images

The World Economic Forum consistently lists water crises as a top-five risk in its annual Global Risks Perception Survey, and the United Nations calls water "the primary medium through which we will feel the effects of climate change." Regardless of expert advice and cultural norms, it's clear that daily showers aren't conducive to conservation in an era of widespread water scarcity.

As of 2021, a reported 2.3 billion people live in "water-stressed" regions. Although agriculture accounts for most of the world's water withdrawals (72%), domestic use is still substantial: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) puts the average American family's household water consumption at 300 gallons per day.

The good news is that you can help conserve the precious resource with some relatively small tweaks to your bathing habits and adjusting how often you shower.

How You Can Save Water When Showering

For starters, the EPA recommends taking showers instead of baths. Baths can use up to 70 gallons whereas showers use between 10 and 25, depending on the duration.

How Much Water Does a Shower Use?

A standard showerhead sprays 2.1 gallons per minute. With the average shower duration in the U.S. being eight minutes, that is nearly 25 gallons of water used per shower. Skipping days is one simple way to save up to 75 gallons per week.

The Impact of Shorter Showers

You could significantly reduce your water usage when showering by slicing its duration in half. According to the United Nations Foundation, limiting your showers to five minutes for one year "could save as much carbon emissions as is sequestered annually by half an acre of U.S. forest." It would also reduce your personal water use by about 45 gallons a week. 

Install Low-Flow Shower Heads

You can conserve water with a low-flow shower head. The EPA has developed a special certification for these eco-fixtures called WaterSense. WaterSense-labeled shower heads must use no more than two gallons per minute while also providing "a satisfactory shower that is equal to or better than conventional shower heads on the market."

According to the organization, if every home in the country switched to one of these water-efficient shower heads, the U.S. could save more than $2.9 billion and 260 billion gallons of water per year, plus an additional $2.5 billion that would go toward heating the water.

Today, you can find eco-shower heads with flow rates as low as 0.625 gallons per minute.

How Often Should You Shower?

Person lathering up arm with soap in shower

Grace Cary / Getty Images

Skin is the body's largest organ and its first line of defense against pathogens, so it's important to keep it clean and healthy—but not too clean, according to dermatologists. Studies point to the microbiome as an integral bacteria-fighting protective barrier, and what is the microbiome if not a medley of bacteria, fungi, and viruses?

Bathing too much—or with the wrong products or in the wrong temperatures—can disrupt the microbiome, strip the skin of its natural oils, and leave it exposed to bad bacteria.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association makes no general recommendations for adult bathing, but it does maintain specific guidelines for bathing infants and children. Newborns, it says, need to be bathed only two to three times a week. For children aged 6 to 11, "a daily bath is fine" but once or twice a week is the minimum.

While Dr. Corey L. Hartman, founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama, recommends daily showers for adults, he also acknowledges the benefits of skipping a day, including "maintenance of the skin barrier, preservation of normal skin bacteria, and environmental exposures to keep the immune system on its toes."

What's more important, he says, is the use of suds. "It is not necessary to lather up the entire body with soap, especially if the skin is prone to dryness," he says. "Soap should be reserved for the areas that tend to sweat the most and where skin touches skin like the axillae, groin, and under the breasts in women."

Keep in mind that certain shower products—particularly those that contain chemical ingredients and plastic microbead exfoliators—can devastate aquatic ecosystems. If you choose to shower daily, try switching to more natural, biodegradable products and only lathering up where and when needed.

Shower Habits Around the World

Bathing habits vary as widely as culture, cuisine, and language. Some regions stand firmly in the showering camp whereas others prefer a good old-fashioned soak instead. Where you are located may influence the length of your shower, the temperature, the time of day, and—above all—the frequency. How often people shower ranges from a couple of times a week to a couple of times a day. 

The U.S. falls somewhere in the middle of that range. Americans tend to bathe more often than folks in, say, China—where showering every other day or every couple of days is more the norm—yet far less often than Brazilians. In fact, a 2014 survey of 16 regions conducted by Euromonitor International found Brazil to be the most shower-keen country of all. Residents of the exceedingly humid South American nation have been known to shower several times a day.

View Article Sources
  1. "The Global Risks Report 2021." World Economic Forum.

  2. "Water and Climate Change." United Nations.

  3. "How We Use Water." Environmental Protection Agency.

  4. "Summary Progress Update 2021: SDG 6 - Water and Sanitation for All." United Nations.

  5. "Earth Month Tip: Take a Shower." Environmental Protection Agency.

  6. "Save Water and Energy by Showing Better." Environmental Protection Agency.

  7. "Showerheads." Environmental Protection Agency.

  8. Lee, Young Bok, et al. "Potential Role of the Microbiome in Acne: A Comprehensive Review." Journal of Clinical Medicine, vol. 8, no. 7, 2019, pp. 987., doi:10.3390/jcm8070987

  9. Byrd, Allyson L., et al. "The Human Skin Microbiome." Nature Reviews Microbiology, vol. 16, 2018, pp. 143-155., doi:10.1038/nrmicro.2017.157

  10. "How to Bathe Your Newborn." American Academy of Dermatology Association.

  11. "How Often Do Children Need to Take a Bath?" American Academy of Dermatology Association.

  12. Wardrop, Peter, et al. "Chemical Pollutants Sorbed to Ingested Microbeads from Personal Care Products Accumulate in Fish." Environmental Science and Technology, vol. 50, no. 7, 2016, pp. 4037-4044., doi:10.1021/acs.est.5b06280

  13. "Survey Shows Regional Differences in Bathing Habits Around the World." Euromonitor International. 2014.