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Q. Dear Umbra,

My two sons, age 12, shower twice a week, with prompting. I told them most Americans shower daily, and one of them stated flatly, “That’s crazy. It’s wasteful.”

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Now, I am all for saving water, but I told them it depends on the situation. What is your opinion — should I respect their earth-loving impulses or, as they begin their teenage years, teach them to pay more attention to personal hygiene?

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Shower.Go with the low-flow.Photo: MatthijsA. Dearest Kathy,

Well, I’ll be. I’ve heard of adolescents taking long, hot showers, but this is a new one. Kudos for raising such resource-conscious kidlets. This, of course, is easy for me to say because I can’t smell your sons from here.

Showering (and bathing) accounts for almost 20 percent of indoor water use. With World Oceans Day just behind us, it’s a good time to remember the impact our small daily habits have on the environment. The soap and shampoo that run down our drains can affect fish; fossil fuels are burned to heat our water. If your kiddos take 10-minute showers, they’re each saving somewhere between 100 and 250 gallons of water every week (depending on whether you have a low-flow showerhead). Impressive. Unless they’re forgoing showers to annoy you or rolling around on the carpet after particularly muddy soccer practices, your problem is an excellent one to have.

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While hygiene is generally regarded as important for getting along in the world and making friends and such, and obviously you don’t want them to get sick, our culture is a bit hygiene-obsessed. As a result, we slather ourselves with unnecessary, sometimes toxic chemicals (triclosan in antibacterial soap, for one) in artificial, “freshening” scents — and health and beauty corporations roll around in the profits like ol’ Scrooge McDuck. (Did you know that that Burt’s Bees is owned by Clorox and that L’Oreal owns The Body Shop? Showering just got political.)

There have been a spate of articles in recent months on the burgeoning shampoo-free movement (appetizingly called the no-‘poo movement by some). Your sons may be interested in that too — some who forgo the sudsy stuff or make their own report their hair is healthier and softer. Plus, you get the satisfaction of saving money, becoming a little more self-reliant and stickin’ it to the Shampoo Man. My guess is that your sons will start being concerned about hygiene soon enough, when dating enters the picture.

While only showering twice a week — especially as we’re on the cusp of summer — may sound unthinkable to some, there are a few easy ways we can all green our showers. Take shorter ones (getting a shower timer can help), and don’t shave in there. Cutting one minute off your shower time can save up to 1,825 gallons of water annually. And get low-flow showerheads — they can reduce your water use by up to half, and they’re pretty cheap. Turn down your water heater to 120 degrees to save energy. Support soap-makers who use fair-trade, nontoxic ingredients (like wacky Dr. Bronner’s) — or better yet, buy local, or make your own. (Here’s one guide to natural soap.) If you’re so inclined, pee in the shower while you’re soaping up to save a flush. And make sure you buy a PVC-free shower curtain!

Kathy, your sons sound wise beyond their years. You should be proud. And if you don’t want to tell them that they can save water by peeing in the shower and that they could forgo shampoo, I completely understand.


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