No Hot Water: Now What?

by Linsey Knerl on 4 June 2008 18 comments
Photo: tanakawho

It has happened to the best of us. You step into the shower, fiddling with the temp controls, only to find there is no hot water. You can curse and you can cry, but even the speediest of repairs may take a day or two (to wait for parts and/or labor.) What’s a girl or guy to do?

While you can go natural for the moment, I prefer at least one quick shower per day. And while my husband is brave enough to take an artic downpour, I just can’t bring myself to do it. I must wash in something at least lukewarm. Past days when I couldn’t shower in the traditional method have included:

Sponge baths – OK, so they aren’t exactly baths. Standing in a shower or tub with just a gallon or so of nicely heated water in a clean ice cream bucket or mixing bowl should suffice. I usually just boil a pot quickly on the stove top and add some cool to temper it. A good loofah or washcloth with your favorite shower gel should get you pretty clean. Head to toes, it takes about 2 minutes and very little water or prep time.

Microwave magic – Maybe you just realized you have no hot water – 5 minutes before you are headed out the door to work. If your procrastination has left you needing to freshen up with no time to fiddle with stovetops, try the old wet washcloth in the microwave trick. Grab your fluffiest cloth (a microfiber rag works really well), saturate it with water and set it in a microwave safe bowl. Zap it for one minute and head for the bathroom. Same head to toe cleaning routine, minus the messy pots and pans.

Skip the hair – Most of us can go a day without washing our hair. (Most of us.) For ladies with a complicated morning hair ritual, consider investing in a powder product. Hair powders are great ways to get an extra day in before washing, and they are being offered by many great hair lines including Bumble and Bumble, Lulu Organics, and Shampowder.

Your body isn’t the only thing that needs a good washing, and when we rely on hot water to clean everything from our clothing to our dishes, losing your hot water can be nerve-wracking!

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

Boil, Boil, Boil – I usually keep a few pots of water going during days with no hot water. They are easy to dump into my sink for my dirty dishes, and I just refill them as soon as I empty them. I also find that the Seventh Generation and Mrs. Meyers dish soaps are super effective when there is little hot water to be had. (The Mrs. Meyers Rhubarb scented soap helps me get over the creepies from having to use cold rinse water.)

You have it covered – Laundry is usually always OK to wash in cold water. In fact, many detergents have been specially formulated to wash well in cold. (Just save your stinky whites and bleach treatments for a day when you can use your hot cycle.)

Use the power of steam – Many cleaning tools and appliances have their own heating elements, and won’t be affected by the lack of hot water in your home. I use my Steamboy T1 religiously on my hardwood floors, and because it heats up regular tap water, my mopping routine won’t suffer from a water heater strike.

It may not happen often, but when it does, it can send a house full of people into turmoil. By having a plan in place for those days without hot water, you can live life in a relatively normal manner. And if all else fails, you can camp out at the gym and use their shower and laundry!

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Guest's picture
Lucille

Those black bag camping showers make scaling hot water after about an hour in the sun in the middle of summer up north. I have seen people take black plastic barrels (food grade) and put a water spigot on the side. Then you have a huge solar water heater.

Guest's picture
Guest

All of these are great ideas, except for the steam. That can be very dangerous if not done properly.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I agree, that steam can be very dangerous.  We only use it to clean, of course.  (and the kids are never allowed to be near it.)

I also like the camping shower idea!  It is a good idea for a single person (or a couple that would like to share!) 

Guest's picture

I love a cold shower!

Except in winter... :S

Guest's picture
Meg

Cornstarch works great as a dry shampoo and is super cheap -- especially compared to brand name dry shampoo. If you're a brunette like me, you have to make sure you brush it all out or else it looks a bit gray (using a blow dryer helps get it out, too). Baby powder will also do.

Guest's picture
Guest

I was stuck int the middle of trying to configure the plumbing and wiring for an 'at point' waterheater and presently given up for now but have instead enjoyed the huge gas bill savings from the heater constantly turning on with the slightest use. Especially because of anti-bacterial soaps, colder water isn't bad. Research has shown handwashing with colder water is better for retarding germ growth while washing them off. My grandmother aways taught even cold water for most everything I need to clean was okay as long as I immediately rinse and wash. For serious full body cleaning I go to my job's gym at the end of every other day and long shower, job perk. Otherwise, having grown up on welfare, my mother always taught us how to important key bodyparts sink bathe with a broken shower at times. That's why even if I was homeless there are always gas station washrooms and soap, to even hand clean underwear in a sink. That's long distance road traveling FYI, personal car or Greyhound.

Guest's picture
Guest

Go to the gym and shower there!!

Guest's picture

The washing machine has a hot cycle?

Guest's picture
Kate

Yikes that brings back memories of last winter. My boiler blew and i had no hot water for a week. It was absolutely miserable for the first fes days and then guess what you just kind of get used to boiling kettles and using hot water more economically. But i can tell you i was soooo glad when the boiler was fixed.

Guest's picture

I've never used anything but cold water for laundry and dishes (okay, maybe lukewarm for dishes in the middle of winter), and everything gets clean just fine. Use the chance to learn how to use less hot water every day--you'll save money from heating the boiler, too.

Guest's picture
Jammix

Haha, here we have a so called "heater" which only works when the weather is already hot and you want to bathe in cold water instead.

What did I do?
I got an electric kettle :)
Sure saved me time.

Guest's picture

John McCain has been stealing all your hot water to feed to dehydrated babies.

Guest's picture
steve

Ok, if the water heater is off and you need to have your morning ablutions, put 2 cups of water in the microwave for 5 minutes. Pour it in the sink. Add some cold water so you don't burn yourself, then wash your face and shave (guys).

This costs exactly 2 cents at 24 cents per kw.hr.

If you need a bath, do the same with a quart of water and use it in a plastic tub inside your regular tub for a nice hot sponge bath. If you take a plastic cup in with you you can rinse your hair too.

total cost, 4 cents. Time till hot water: 10 minutes.

I have been doing just the face wash and shave on one day, followed by a shower the next, and I have found that it's just as refreshing in the morning as showering every day. And it saves about 50% on the water heating bill.

Using the stove to heat up water works but uses more energy compared to a microwave. And having hot water going all day seems a bit much to me, but I guess it depends on what you need to accomplish during the day. Since I can get hot water on demand in a few minutes using the microwave, that's how I do it.

Guest's picture
steve

Like some other posters, I have completely stopped using hot water for clotheswashing, and I don't even use a dryer but hang dry all my clothes inside, 12 months of the year. It's easy, it works, and it's free.

Now if I could just get around to hacking the dishwasher and disabling the heating element in it (putting it on a switch) I would be completely satisfied. It also needs to be put on a switch or power strip because it's one of those new ones that's "always on" even when it's off. That's another project for this winter.

Guest's picture
steve

"stinky whites" wash fine in cold water too.

How washing works is that the soap releases the bond between the dirt and the fabric. Then the water floats the dirt and other stuff off. We don't need hot water for this process to work, we're just kind of addicted to it.

Essentially, washing is a process of dilution, and the rinse cycle gets most but not all of the dirt or whatever off. There will always be some left. Unless you increase the rinse water to a huge amount, and then there is a probabilistic point where there is a decent chance that not even one "dirt" (undesirable) particle would remain.

Unless your clothes have been festering in a vat of e coli bacteria, really you never need hot water. Unless you are trying to *sanitize* clothes, in which case yes, you need water of 130F or so.

Guest's picture
Leticia

Where I come from hot water is necessary for showering. Period. Nobody I know washes clothes, or dishes, or cleans floors with hot water.

Where it's cold in winter, people might install an electric faucet on the kitchen, but that is it. For comfort, not sanitation, mind you.

When you have babies on diapers, you might need to boil them every few uses. If you have someone at home that is bed bound, you might need to boil clothes and sheets every time they are changed to prevent lesions on the skin.

Other than that, I wash all my clothes on cold water, wash all my dishes on cold running water, and clean my house with cold water, all the time. The only use I found for washing clothes in hot water is to shrink stuff made from wool and silk, not a very good proposition on itself. Machines to dry clothes are not a common thing to see around here either. We use clotheslines, or other contraptions for this. In the sun if you have the luxury of space, but inside works great also.

Scientists are researching if the excess cleaning that Americans do might be related to allergies: you keep your immunologic system idle, so it finds "work" where it shouldn't. I like to keep a few harmless bacteria around - my soap is not anti-bacterial, my dish soap isn't either and you can bet I wont boil clothes unless I have a kitchen rag that smells really bad. I have two anti-bacterial cleaners, one for the kitchen surfaces and another for floors and bathroom, that I use once every two weeks. That is it.

I often wonder if all USA is like that, addicted to hot water, because what might make sense where the weather is below freezing for quite a few months in the year might not make sense down by the border with Mexico, where I expect the weather is very different.

By the way, now I have to go hang a load of laundry. All the best.

Guest's picture
Tamster

Hi Leticia, I am, probably one of the few people I know, in the USA, who is NOT a germaphobe. I can't believe the amount of anti-bacterial soap, and bleach, that I see so many people using. You know what, these are the same people that are sick all the time. I have tried to tell people, that I rarely get sick and if I do, it is short lived. I do not need a scientific research team, to tell me, what I already know. You need a good balance of good and bad bacteria, or you'll catch everything that comes down the path. And by the way, thanks to all of you clean freaks and antibiotic junkies for accomplishing one thing and one thing only. You have made the germs bigger and badder. That is a bad thing...for all of us.

Guest's picture
Boilers

ha, i never thought of the towel-in-the-microwave trick. that's pretty neat, I can't wait until the next time I'm left without hot water to try it!