Your bathrooms are probably the smallest rooms in your home. But you might very well use more resources there per square foot than in any other room. Developing a more eco-friendly bathroom can go a long way toward making your entire lifestyle greener.
Going green in the bathroom is much the same as going green anywhere else. Find a new habit that’s more eco-friendly than something you’ve been doing. Feel good about the benefits of your new habit. Rinse and repeat.
“Rinse and repeat” is an instruction aimed at getting you to use twice as much shampoo as you really need. Lathering only once leaves your hair just as clean, and you don’t have to spend as much on shampoo. You toss only half the shampoo bottles that way. So don’t rinse and repeat. See how easy it can be to start a new, more eco-friendly habit?
A more sustainable bathroom comes in three easy steps:
1. Save water in the bathroom
Between flushing the toilet and bathing, we probably use more water in the bathroom than anywhere else.
If you have an older house, you can use dramatically less water simply by replacing old plumbing fixtures with low-flow fixtures.
Toilets in older houses might use up to five gallons of water every time you flush them. No one makes such wasteful toilets anymore. And building codes wouldn’t allow anyone to put one in a new house, either.
Modern low-flow toilets use no more than 1.5 gallons of water. That represents dramatic savings. But most of the time, we only flush urine. And it doesn’t take 1.5 gallons to do that. You can buy a kit to convert your toilets to dual flush and flush urine with much less water each time.
While we’re on the subject of toilets in a sustainable bathroom, be sure you understand what never to flush down the toilet.
A standard shower head uses up to 2.5 gallons of water per minute. That’s the most modern building codes allow. If you have a really old shower head, it might use even more. At only 1.75 gallons per minute, a low-flow shower head can represent a savings of 30%. Adding aerators to sinks likewise saves water.
And other bathroom tasks, such as hand washing, tooth brushing, and shaving, can waste a lot of water. None of them require water to run full blast. If you need only a trickle, use only a trickle.
Don’t leave the water running while you brush your teeth. Dentists recommend brushing for two minutes. All the water going down the sink in the meantime is wasted. You don’t really even need to wet the toothbrush first.
When it comes to shaving (with a blade), put some water in the sink. Use that water instead of running water to rinse the razor.
Showers use less water than tub baths.
These are all easy habits for going green in the bathroom.
If you want to save water even more water, take a “navy shower.” Get wet. Turn the water off. Lather. Turn the water back on just long enough to rinse, and turn it back off.
2. Practice zero-waste in the bathroom
Being careful to save water makes a good start toward an eco-friendly bathroom, but much else we do in the bathroom is even more wasteful. Zero-waste is probably an unattainable ideal, but we can always get closer and closer by changing one or two habits at a time.
Single-use items are wasteful. Not using them can make a big difference. How many do we use in the bathroom?
First, look at all the various bottles: shampoo, liquid soap, hand sanitizer, lotion, cleaning supplies, etc. Then, consider the tubes of toothpaste and various creams and ointments. They’re all single use. You use the contents many times, but then you toss the package after it has been filled once.
For starters, look for large bottles of whatever comes with a pump. Use them to refill the old pump until it stops working. It’s a step closer to an eco-friendly bathroom, but, of course, the large bottle is still single-use.
More and more companies are packaging these products in reusable containers. Investigate them the next time you need anything of the kind.
Alternatively, you can prefer toothpaste tablets to the stuff in tubes, bar soap to liquid soap, or even bar shampoo to liquid shampoo. You might still discard the package, but it will likely be glass or paper. No plastic.
Now, consider single-use products such as makeup removing pads and cotton tips. They’re small, but we use them so often that they can add up to a huge volume of trash.
Did you know that you can find reusable cotton rounds for removing makeup? Or you can get a cleansing oil that you apply with your finger tips and rinse off with warm water. You can even find reusable swabs to use instead of Q-Tips. Pick one of these swaps to move closer to a zero-waste bathroom. Then keep picking more.
Alternative to toilet paper
Finally, consider toilet paper.
I have read about people who advocate some kind of reusable cloth something or other instead, and it grosses me out.
Much of the rest of the world uses bidets instead of toilet paper. And as it turns out, you can get a bidet attachment that will fit on your current toilet. It will get you much cleaner, and you can dry yourself with a regular towel.
But what about the extra water?
It’s true that with a bidet, you’ll use more water in the toilet, but consider all the water that it takes to make toilet paper. Your share of that embedded water counts against your total water usage.
You might as well use up whatever single-use products you already have in your bathroom. Zero-waste means not discarding anything of value. But as you come close to running out of something, try out one of these reusable alternatives instead of buying more.
Look for other ways to reduce or eliminate plastic, too.
For example, do you have a plastic shower curtain liner? Eventually, you’ll have to replace it. You can’t recycle it. So next time, get a fabric shower curtain liner. That doesn’t completely eliminate plastic, after all, I can’t find anything except polyester. But at least you can launder it from time to time. And when it’s no good anymore, you can donate it to Goodwill or somewhere else that participates in fabric recycling.
3. Practice green cleaning in the bathroom
Since the bathroom is where you practice various cleanliness routines, you naturally want to keep it clean. And it naturally gets dirtier than almost anywhere else in your home, except maybe the kitchen.
Unfortunately, many heavily-used cleaning products contain toxic chemicals. The main problem they cause is indoor air pollution.
Some people still think the stench of bleach means it’s working to kill germs. Well, it is. But that awful smell ought to be a warning that it’s not good for your lungs, either.
Ammonia and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) likewise contribute to indoor air pollution and can cause breathing difficulties. VOCs evaporate at room temperature. And any time a product has “fragrance” among its ingredients, the manufacturer has added one or more VOCs to make it smell nice. “Fragrance” should therefore be a cue to leave that product on the store shelf.
Lots of people who want a more eco-friendly bathroom like to make their own cleaning solutions from such safe and effective products as vinegar, Castille soap, baking soda, borax, lemon juice, etc. Lots of other people who care about green cleaning don’t want the hassle of the do-it-yourself route. It’s easy enough to find do-it-yourself recipes online. Or you can look for “green” brands. I personally appreciate Seventh Generation and Greenworks.