Americans take cleanliness seriously — to the point that the average American reports taking about 6 showers per week, helping fuel a multibillion-dollar body soap industry. But while we’re all for good hygiene (no one likes being stuck next to a foul-smelling person on a bus or plane), it’s worth pausing for a moment to think about just how much water all of this bathing consumes on a national scale.
Showers are usually the third largest use of water in the typical American home, accounting for around 17 percent of the water we use indoors. And according to Home Water Works, a website created by the Alliance for Water Efficiency, the average shower is 8.2 minutes and uses 17.2 gallons of water. Baths use even more water, about 35-50 gallons of water on average.
Knowing that the average American showers about 6 times per week (according to multiple surveys from Euromonitor, SCA, and others), that means the typical person uses 5,336.4 gallons of water showering each year. But here’s where it gets really scary. With an estimated population of 325.7 million according to the US Census Bureau, Americans as a whole use a total of 1.7 trillion gallons a year showering. That’s 33.6 billion gallons of water every week! And remember, this is a conservative estimate that doesn’t factor in those who take baths, which use 2-3 times more water. It’s hard to visualize just how much 1.7 trillion gallons of water really is, but let’s try to put that into perspective:
- It’s enough to fill 2.6 million Olympic swimming pools
- It’s enough to fill all the NFL and Division 1 college football stadiums more than 10 times over
- It’s more than the capacity of Florida’s Lake Okeechobee
- It’s more than 15% of the water needed to replenish California’s drought losses, according to NASA
- It’s enough to fulfill the water usage of New York City for nearly 5 years
We live in a world where drought plagues us both close to home (California) and in many places far away (such as Ethiopia), and water scarcity issues are expected to worsen in the years to come. It’s important for everyone to consider their water footprint and to take steps to reduce it where possible. Even if you don’t live in an area where droughts are a serious concern, there’s still the fact that running a shower (especially a hot one) consumes energy. It takes energy to treat, deliver, and heat the water to your home, and once that water goes down your tub drain, it takes energy to treat it again before it can be reused. Plus, with water utility rates rising at over 3x the rate of inflation, you’ll want to save on your bill wherever possible. With that in mind, there are a few things we can all do to use less water in the shower:
- Use a low-flow showerhead. Regular showerheads use 2.5 gallons of water per minute, but a low-flow showerhead uses 2 gallons of water per minute or less. To put that into perspective, if everyone in the US switched to a low-flow showerhead, we’d save over 300 billion gallons of water each year from that alone.
- Spend less time in the shower. If you’re someone who likes a long, hot shower, try to cut back on the amount of time you spend in the shower. It’s the easiest and least expensive way to conserve water.
- Capture and reuse the cold water that comes out when waiting for the shower to warm up. By putting a bucket in the shower when you first turn it on, you can use the water you catch while waiting for it to warm up for other purposes, like watering your plants or cleaning tasks.
We’d love to know: How often do you shower every week? How long are your showers?