Bath vs. Shower Water Usage: Which Is Better for the Environment?

By Maureen Wise in Thinking Sustainably

Choosing to take a bath over a shower or vice versa often depends on what kind of mood you're in and what you're setting out to accomplish—whether you need to quickly clean yourself up or just want to soak and relax. But what if there's more to consider when choosing between the two—specifically, which one is better for the environment? Let's settle the bath vs. shower water usage debate.

To understand the environmental impact of bathing, there are a few things to consider. The most obvious is the amount of water you use, but the heat of the water also changes your environmental impact.

Calculating Water Usage

When considering your shower vs. bath water consumption, you need to understand the amount of water you're actually using.

How many gallons of water does your showerhead use? If you don't know, you can conduct a simple flow test with a timer and a bucket with gallons marked on the side. Turn your shower on full force and let it run for one minute into the bucket. The level shown in the bucket is your gallons per minute.

You also need to know how long your showers really are. Keep track for a week or so and calculate your average.

Next, figure out how much water you use in your baths (or the baths your kiddos take). One way to do this is to take a bath and mark the water level on your tub with a dry erase marker. Then use that same bucket to dip out the water gallon by gallon and dump it into your sink. It's unlikely that you are filling the tub completely full.

You can also use an estimate to calculate your water usage. Check out this calculator from the United States Geological Survey, which approximates five gallons per shower minute and 36 gallons per bath.

woman wearing towel and checking temperature of bath water

Bath vs. Shower Water Usage Comparison

Without actual calculations, a shower may seem like the greener option for water usage, but it really depends on your personal usage. Older showerheads often emit five gallons of water per minute. Modern water-saving showerheads can use as low as 1.75 gallons of water per minute, often 2.0 or 2.5 gallons. But high-end showers with many sprayers and streams of water can be up to twelve gallons per minute!

When full, most conventional tubs hold 36 gallons of water. Freestanding soaking tubs can typically hold 50 gallons, but some may hold up to 65 or more gallons.

If you have an older showerhead that uses five gallons a minute and you take a ten-minute shower, that's 50 gallons of water. If you fill your 36-gallon tub half full, you're only using 18 gallons, which is a lot less water. That's why it's important to do the math to figure out how much water you truly use.

Water Heat

Water heating uses a great deal of energy—up to 18 percent of your household usage, according to the Department of Energy. Along with using less water, lessening your hot water usage will also reduce your environmental impact. A cold shower might even be good for your mental health!

Check your water heater and see if you can reduce the heat a few degrees. It's recommended to select 120 degrees Fahrenheit to reduce scalding. See how comfortable you are with a few degrees below that standard.

Shower head

This water measuring exercise shows us that the bath vs. shower water usage debate greatly depends on the length of your shower and the height of your bathwater. Do what you can to shorter your showers and lower your bath water depth. Also, consider the temperature of your water to save energy at home.

For more inspiration on living a greener life, follow the Thinking Sustainably board from @tomsofmaine on Pinterest!

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Why It's Good

Considering your environmental impact in everyday choices helps you minimize the negative impact your actions can have on the planet.