The End of Running Water

If you haven't lived without running water, and haven't even thought about what that might be like, this article might help prepare you for a future reality where such things as flush toilets and showers are memories, not realities. Returning from Third World countries to the USA often involves culture shock, and one of those shocks is the amount of everything we waste, including water. Most of the people in the world don't have running water, so they don't take showers. Oh they bathe, when they can, but they don't stand under a stream of water that runs down a drain. They use water more carefully.

We all know that we waste water, lots of water, when we have a shower during 'normal' life, no emergency. How many gallons do you think we use for a shower? On average, 25-50 gallons for a 10-minute shower, depending on your showerhead. Ever see a 55-gallon barrel? Ah, but we would never do that in an emergency, no, we would use water carefully. Okay, try taking a shower 'carefully', just to see how little water you really need to get yourself clean.

For this experiment, I highly recommend using a 5-gallon bucket or smaller and a plastic mug - about a pint - which you use as a scoop. I lived in India - I was there maybe 30 times, the longest stay was six months - and there, this system is widespread. The bucket, often about a 2 or 3-gallon size, is filled from a hose or spigot, and the entire bath is done with this water. Begin by just getting wet - one or two scoops is enough. See, you've already saved gallons of water. Now that you're wet, do what you usually do in the shower - wash.

Some people soap all over and then rinse off the soap. Others use a wash cloth with soap, scrub and rinse. Others don't use soap at all on their skin, because most soaps remove skin oils and dry your skin. Some people use a luffa sponge or other mild abrasive, like a natural-bristle brush, to remove dead skin and clean in a way that soap can't. Whatever your shower ritual, do it as you like, then use a scoop or two to rinse. So how much water did you use for a full shower? Maybe a gallon?

Oh, but we forgot to wash our hair, and everyone knows that shampooing and rinsing your hair takes a lot of water. So is there a way to do it with less? Probably. If you start your bath (I think we can stop calling it a shower) with two scoops over your head, you can wet your hair while pouring that first scoop, and the rest falls down to wet the rest of you. It helps to move your hair around while pouring. In fact, I've found that by mixing just one or two drops of shampoo in that first scoop of water, the water is 'wetter' and soaks into my hair withour rolling off.

So now to the shampooing. My experiments have taught me that, if my hair is really dirty and oily, I use less water and get my hair cleaner if I do two small washes instead of one big one. So I use a medium amount of soap or shampoo, wash really well into my scalp, then rinse with one scoop of water, pouring from back to front while bending over. Then I use a much smaller amount of soap and wash again and rinse. Trying to wash really dirty hair with a lot of shampoo to get it to suds properly appears to use more soap and still not get my hair as clean as doing it twice with less.

So how much water have we used? A gallon and a half max? Not too bad for a first experiment. We still have enough to wash our underwear and maybe a shirt. Now let's say we are in a serious emergency and have so little water that even a gallon is too much for a bath. For this next experiment, let's limit ourselves to one quart. Before you get excited and protest that a bath is not possible with only a quart of water, let me make it easier - we're not going to wash our hair. There, feel better? Bald people can really save a lot of water, no?

You may already have done what some of us call a 'sponge bath', with a sponge or with a wash cloth. In that case, you are done - no need to do it again. If you haven't yet tried a sponge bath, here's one way. I pour a cup of water or so in a small bowl, soak a wash cloth, wring it so it doesn't drip and then wash from head to toe, scrubbing firmly. I then use another cup of water to rinse the cloth and wash myself again with the cleaner cloth, Finally, I rinse the cloth with a little more water, so it's ready for tomorrow. I use about a pint of water for my bath, and I actually feel cleaner than when I stand under a shower, wipe soap over me and rinse. If I feel a quart isn't too much, I can wash my hair with the other pint.

You might be thinking that this is not fun, taking a bath in a pint of water. Reality check: Survival is rarely advertized as a fun activity. I live in the desert most of the year, and sometimes I have very little water. I have adjusted to bathing with a pint of water or less, and I feel clean, even doing this once a day for several weeks. Sure, I prefer to wash my hair more often, but I do these experiments to discover what is possible and to adjust with having and using less.

Another experiment I did which I don't recommend, unless you are an expert with much experience. I fasted without water for six days, in summer in Paraguay. You may have heard the 'prepper dogma' that you can't live that long without water. You know, the 'rule of threes': You can live only three minutes without air, three days without water and three weeks without food. Don't take that as prepper gospel, it's just somebody's clever formula to impress people which means nothing to anybody with experience.

My personal limits are different than yours, and yours are different than another's. I survived easily for six days without food or water, I have held my breath for five minutes, and I fasted on just water twice for 23 days. I don't say this to brag, but rather to tell you not to accept dogma or imposed limits on your abilities. Some people, believing that they cannot live longer than three weeks without food, will die on day 22 or 23, because they have accepted somebody else's irrational limits.

Many years ago a starving and dehydrated man crawled out of the desert into a town and had lacerations on him which did not bleed until he drank enough water to thin his blood. Don't underestimate your power to survive under outrageous conditions. Oh, and don't waste water - there, end of lecture.

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