Why you should care

Because we’re going through water like there’s no tomorrow.

“They don’t need a bath every day,” my friend Debbie informed me shortly after we moved to Deutschland with two young children in tow. She referred me to a bit of German wisdom about bathing frequency, suggesting that babies and young children need to be thrown in the tub only once or twice a week. My American husband — known to shower twice a day — was horrified, but I kowtowed to peer pressure and hid the bubble bath.

The water bills plummeted, no one got sick or lice and my youngest, who had suffered from a bit of eczema, stopped developing her itchy rash. Recently, Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf urged us to take showers instead of baths, for water conservation reasons. While it’s unclear which uses more water (so much depends on water pressure), one thing is certain: We’d save even more if we just hung up the towel. Why not just turn off the tap?

Americans, while perhaps the cleanest, are the worst offenders.

When it comes to water consumption, some of us are greedier than others. Americans, while perhaps the cleanest, are the worst offenders. Data from 2011, according to Statistica, shows the U.S. using 1,630 cubic meters per capita of water, followed by Estonia at 1,400, New Zealand at 1,190 and Canada at 1,130. Germany, by contrast, used just 400 cubic meters and Great Britain an eye-watering 140.

No doubt Americans are excessive. Unless covered in mud, there’s no reason to bathe ourselves, or our children, every day. Dr. Marie Jhin, a dermatologist in San Francisco, points to American Academy of Dermatology guidelines and notes that most kids under the age of 11 need to bathe just once or twice a week or when they get muddy or swim in public pools or lakes. Babies “probably only need to bathe a similar amount, even less,” she says, noting that parents shouldn’t mess with infants’ natural skin oils by exfoliating them too much.

As they hit puberty, though, send them to the showers! Teens get a bit oilier and tend to play more sports, so “once a day is a good” guideline, she says. But folks in their 20s to 50s can cut back to every other day and even less in their golden years because elderly skin tends to dry out.

But “people really are used to taking showers every day,” Jhin says, and herein lies the problem: habit. To gradually introduce healthier daily routines — both for the environment and our skin — she recommends shorter showers and not oversoaping. Using less shower gel and shampoo will help cut down on time under the hose. My own kids are growing, with my eldest approaching those oilier teenage years. I’ll have to see whether I can get her to shower more while getting my husband to shower less … a surefire way to cause quite a stink.

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