Hurry up — the clock is ticking. (Photo by Shutterstock.)

You know what drives me crazy? When movie and TV characters are getting ready to bathe, and they turn on the shower and then proceed to take off their clothes, fluff their hair, get chased around by serial killers, etc. While everyone else gasps and frets over the protagonist, I can’t focus on the plot at all. “Hey!” I think. “Hasn’t anybody noticed that the water’s still running?” I mean, really. Such a waste.

I offer this as proof of my good intentions when it comes to saving water and energy, because I’m about to confess my greatest eco-sin: I love me a long, hot shower. Let anyone among you who could deny the soul-warming luxury of a steamy sudsing when you’re cold and stinky throw the first loofah.

Hold on a minute, now: I don’t always indulge these dark desires. I try to be reasonable about the length of my showers. But until now, I’d never really subjected my bathing habits to a critical eye. Turns out, it’s long overdue: Showers account for almost 17 percent of our indoor water use, and keeping that water hot ‘n’ ready (for showers and all other hot-water activities) accounts for about 15 percent of the average household’s total energy budget [PDF]. That’s a significant opportunity for savings. So, vowing to take a hard look at the state of my cleansing and to slash minutes wherever I could, I ventured to peek behind the shower curtain.

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To find a baseline value — a reckoning with the longest shower I would ever reasonably take — I timed a full-service affair that included hair-washing, leg-shaving, and face-scrubbing. For good measure, I did it right after a camping trip, so I’d be extra dirty. “Worst-case scenario should be seven, seven and a half minutes, tops,” I thought as I opened the faucet.

Eep. Not quite. Even though I was explicitly trying to be speedy, I clocked in at an embarrassing 10:38. Even with my relatively respectable shower flow rate of 1.5 gallons per minute (calculate your own here), I’d just splashed almost 16 gallons of water down the drain in the name of bodily freshness. Never put yourself to the test? I dare you to try it. Wanna bet you’re in there longer than you think you are?

Luckily, there’s help for me, and all other shower hogs out there. Here’s what works:

Keep it to one: In my unenlightened years, I confess I’d sometimes take one shower in the morning, to get ready for the day, and a second after my workout. But I rearranged my exercise schedule a couple of years ago so that I could get away with just one shower. Oh, you say, you’re Gisele, and you absolutely have to do your hair before work? Better make it the 6 a.m. hot yoga class, my dear. Voila — water usage slashed in half!

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Take it to dry land: It’s all so clear to me now. There’s no need to use an entire shower stream to wash your face, or even shave your armpits, when a splash from the sink is all you need to get the job done. And don’t even tell me you’re still brushing your teeth in the shower.

Shave it: Defuzzing one’s legs — let’s consider the options. Sure, you can always go au natural — but can we agree that’s not for everyone? Depilatories still require rinsing, and salon waxing sessions beg for a freer schedule and a heftier grooming budget than mine. So, short of plucking my leg hairs out individually with tweezers (yeah, maybe when I’m retired), it’s gotta be a regular date with a razor blade.

Easy solution: Turn off the water while you soap up and shave. Turn it back on to rinse. Some showerheads even come with a handy on-off switch for this purpose. Why not do it when you’re lathering the shampoo, while you’re at it?

Stagger it: Whatever you determine your bathing needs to be, do they all have to take place in every shower? Try washing your hair one day, shaving your legs the next. Shorter, sweeter.

Cool it: You might think that cold water would be the perfect solution — no heating energy necessary, and you’ll be so uncomfortable that you’ll race through the shower. I’ve tried it, and let me tell you, it’s not the answer. You’ll spend twice as much time in there as you engage in creative contortions, attempting to expose only the barest minimum of your surface area to the icy stream. Leave the cold shower advice to the 13-year-old boys, and try a lukewarm one instead — warm enough that you can stand it, but cool enough that you won’t be tempted to linger.

Use it: You know all that perfectly good water you waste waiting for the shower to heat up (one water-use calculator puts the average preamble at 1.1 minutes)? If you can’t shiver for a moment or two, collect the water in a bucket and use it to water your garden.

Having taken all this advice to heart, I once more queued up a timer outside the shower. Surely I could improve on my sorry showing from the day before. This time, I would simplify, stripping down the experience to only the essentials. I took a deep breath and jumped in. Go!

And she’s off, folks, starting from the top with a shampoo. Nice form on the squirt, very nice, and moving smoothly into the lather. She’s working it in, yes, and now she’s rinsing! No time to rest, she’s on to the conditioner. C’mon, c’mon, can she keep pace? Yes, yes, she’s rinsing! One more major challenge to go with the soap. Onto the bath poof, nice-looking suds. She’s soaping, excellent transition to the rinse. Oh no, she can’t find the loop to hang up the bath poof! There’s no time! Theresnotime! She’s dropping the poof, folks! Right on the bathtub floor! She’s turning off the water! There goes the buzzer!

Three minutes and six seconds. A new record! By implementing just the suggestions above, I’d managed to reduce my water usage to about 4.5 gallons. That’s more than a 70 percent improvement — and I didn’t even have to invoke the dreaded sponge bath.

OK, dear readers. On your mark, get set, shower!

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