How to Take the World's Most Efficient Shower


Having once been a commercial fisherman on a small boat with little fresh water, and more recently having been a frequent occupant in a rustic Sierra Nevada cabin with unreliable fresh water (much less fresh hot water), I have had the opportunity to develop — and refine — what I believe is the world's most efficient shower technique. You may be familiar with the so-called Navy Shower, which is similar, as the principles are the same. But whether you're interested in saving water or energy at home (as well as money), or if you find yourself on a small vessel or in a rustic abode, this routine will have you in and out of the shower and back in front of the stove in a couple of minutes — and under running water for way less than that. (See also: How to Shower Less)

Ready? Let's go!

1. Arrange Your Tools

Soap, wash cloth, a big plastic cup for extra rinsing power, towel, floor mat. You won't be shaving in the shower, gentlemen, so you won't need that stuff (ladies, see below). If you're at the cabin get your buckets situated; you'll be reusing the gray rinse water in the toilet later. (See also: 50+ Ways to Save Water)

2. Start the Tap

Depending on the rusticity of your place, you may have enough fresh water to wait for the hot water to arrive. In early summer the mountain spring that provides water to our cabin runs deep and clear, which affords us the luxury of waiting for hot water. By mid August? There's no waiting for hot water — turn on the tap and in you go.

3. Get Good and Wet

Hot or cold, get yourself nice and soaking, fill up your cup, and then turn off the tap. You're gonna be cold, but that's just more encouragement to move fast. Hopefully some of the water that rinsed off you wound up in your bucket.

4. Soap Up and Wash Off

Work the shampoo into your greasy locks and soap up everywhere else; scrub with the wash cloth. So clean. So cold! (See also: DIY Shampoo)

5. Tap On and Rinse Off

You'll spend a little more time here than the first go with the water flowing, but not much. No standing around — rinsing is work, same as cleaning. Move fast, rinse off, and then shut off the tap. Your plastic cup may be helpful here if your water pressure is lacking; fill it up and douse yourself once or twice.

Some of us are done at this point (and glad of it, 'cause it's cold), but if you'd like to continue on to apply hair conditioner or whatever, just repeat steps 3 and 4. See you in a second in front of the woodstove.

If you'd like to shave your legs, continue on.

6. Optional: Shave Your Legs

I'm offering this step based on my wife's explanation, and so I apologize if I've missed something. The idea is to get your legs good and wet, lather them up with shaving gel or whatever you use, and then, instead of rinsing your razor in running water, you'll rinse your razor in the cup, just like men do with their razors in the sink. You can even leave that gross stubble behind afterward, just like men do with their razor stubble in the sink. (See also: Razor Tricks to Help You Save)

Legs smooth and hairless? One last rinse of your gams and also your hair if you were conditioning while you shaved. And you're done. Collect your tools and stow them away. Collect your buckets and store them next to the toilet.

The process on the fishing boat was far simpler and used much less fresh water. None, in fact. When the sun was high above at maximum warmth, you stripped down to nothing and plunged over the rail and into the cold Pacific Ocean. You scrambled back aboard and scrubbed down with a piece of old towel and a few squirts from the bottle of Dr Bronner's and then back in the drink to rinse it all away. Never felt cleaner.

How do you manage to keep clean and fresh when there's little — or no — hot water? Please share in comments.

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Guest's picture

Never thought about turning off and on to conserve water. I'll try this out tonight.

Guest's picture

In Europe, this is standard practice. The showerhead is actually not connected to the wall, so you have to place it down after every rinse, and turn of the water so it doesn't splash all over the place.

I don't know that this necessarily limits water use to 60 seconds though; it never did for me.

Guest's picture

I guess it depends on where in Europe you are living because in my native Norway this is not standard practice. All the showerheads are connected to the wall. And this I've also seen in lots of other European countries.

Anyway, for saving water I agree that it's probably better when the showerhead is not attached to the wall because then you can't "cheat" and let the water run while you're soaping up and/or rinsing...

Guest's picture

In some hostels and campsites I've seen timers on the shower. You turn the handle from left to right to turn on and then it slowly rotates back to off. This lasts for about 30-40 seconds - usually takes me about 90 seconds of water for a shower though. Wonder how much it would be to install one in a home shower? Probably not much.

Andrea Karim's picture

It cost $30 (I think - it was a gift) and it attaches to the shower head. There's a button to turn the water on and off. I often use it to shower. It's a long, flexible tube, so you can aim the water wherever you need it, rather than waiting for the water to flow. This is a polite way of saying that it's easy to scrub your bum using the water hose.

The thing I don't like about it is that I get really cold in between the times that I have the water on. But that's just a part of the deal, I guess.

Guest's picture

Showers are one thing that I do not skimp on.

Guest's picture

I have a water saver showerhead. It is high pressure/low volume with a shut off button. When it's shut off, it puts out a slight spray that keeps the hot and cold water mixed to the right temp. After living several years on the road in a travel trailer, that showerhead proved to be the most workable for two people and a ten gallon water heater. The wet down, lather and shave and then rinse works very well and now, even though I have thirty gallons of hot water available, I still use the same showerhead in my home.

Guest's picture

Ours is over the bath and works like Anne's. It can get a bit chilly showering on/off like that in the winter. Unless you are doing your hair, a strip wash is about as quick?

And it is possible to mostly dry yourself (except the hair on your head unless it's very short) with a flannel.Not as luxurious as a large towel though....

Guest's picture

Another thing I do sometimes is that if I'm at home, I keep a bucket in the shower to catch the water while the temperature rises. Doing this, you can avoid having to turn on the showerhead while shaving to rinse the blade, and you can use the basin of water to rinse off your hands between latherings (for instance, if you don't want to get your body soap in your hair), as well as to rinse any bath implements or soapy shampoo bottles when you're done. If you're really hardcore and want to save an extra 1/2 cent on water, you can even use the water in the bucket to flush the toilet.

Guest's picture

Especially in the US, we take a lot of things for granted. Even being able to take a long shower (most of us anyway). I am currently living in a place where I have about 10 min. of hot water. Sometimes I must shut off the water to shave, etc. But sometimes I am in a place where hot water is precious. This can be a shock back into reality, to say the least.

I have used this method when there is not enough hot water to have a nice long shower. I have also had to bathe in an icy lake or steam (a shock to the system but exhilerating). It's just an issue of survival.

I thought the comment about the tank on the roof was interesting. I went to Miami with my family and we booked a room in a hotel that was dirt cheap (we like cheap). We named it the hot water flat, there was NO cold water. I ran the water all night and it was still scalding hot at 4 AM. At first I was splashing water on myself with a bucket but that didn't work out too well.

I finally broke down and took my soap & shampoo down to the pool when there was nobody around and took a bath.

Guest's picture

Sorry for the late post but I just spotted this one.
I used to live in South America and had about 2 min. of hot water. At first I chopped off my long hair to save some time. But I still needed to shave my legs.
I created an extravagant plan where I warmed water on the stove in two stock pots. I would use one to shampoo and condition my hair in the kitchen sink. The other would go into a tub that I placed in the shower and would use that to shave my legs. It also gave my feet a much needed soak.
After all that I finally went to a hardware store and bought a water saving shower head for maybe $10. It uses more pressure and less water so then I was up to 5 min. of hot water and could stop doing my hair in the kitchen sink.

Guest's picture

Since you're in the market for a water heater anyway, you may be interested in getting one of the more modern just-in-time water heaters, instead. I grew up with a giant 40-gallon tank, which limits you to the amount of heated water actually in the tank, as well as keeps your pilot light running year-round (wasting gas and energy, and being a major fire/explosion hazard). I recently moved to Japan, and what is commonplace over here is a self-contained unit, about 20cm x 50cm x 80cm, that has feeds for all of gas, water and electricity. It senses water flow, and turns on and heats the water AS YOU USE IT, through a radiator-type system inside. This has the following benefits:

* Uses less space.
* Provides an unlimited hot water supply.
* Uses less energy (only turns on when you use it), saving you money.
* Is not a fire hazard.

They sell these in the US, as well. I will *never* buy one of the large water tanks, now. These are spectacular in every way.

Thank you for the shower tips, though :-)

Guest's picture

are water saving shower heads common???
ive never heard of such a thing!

Guest's picture
Cindy M

Would seem far more sensible to use a bucket and forget the shower bit. I favor #20's idea above about heating the water first if possible. You then take your time and work on your parts, ha-ha, and dry yourself now and again as you go to keep from freezing. You don't have to rush that way. Don't use a ton of soap. Do the hair first. I now take a bath daily, my one luxury, and I never fill the tub too deeply. And I do my hair in my big kitchen sink twice a week, never could understand why any woman would want to wet her hair down daily in a shower if she didn't need to. Phooey on showers. My ex and I did a lot of camping in Kentucky years ago and I managed fine the bucket of water way. Not only that, when we were first married and I moved into my ex's house (who is a journeyman plumber, by the way) he had not finished the bathrooms and believe me, I did the bucket routine for far longer than anybody would care to (and which is one reason why we eventually divorced, ha-ha, long story).

Guest's picture

To this you can add the Galbraith showering system - follow the outline of your body, then broad strokes to front and back, a little extra attention where needed, and rinse.

A simpler way to wash your hair is to dilute some shampoo in enough water to saturate the scalp, then work it to the ends and rinse. You only need more if you're dusty/dirty. Cornmeal also works well as a dry hair cleaner, better if it's too cold for any shower.

One thing to be aware of is that water-saving showerheads are not compatible with all tankless/demand water heaters. When the shower switch is off, it can trip the sensor on the heater, and you have to turn the water on and off and let it warm up again.

Guest's picture
Amy K.

Something I grew up with an just assumed was normal: combing your hair in the shower. I realize now that we had low water pressure and needed all the help we could get to rinse out shampoo/conditioner. It works somewhat like a squeegee to get the residue off.

Basic idea: Shampoo, rinse, and run your comb through your hair while rinsing to hurry along those suds. Similarly, after conditioning use the comb to hurry the conditioner out as you're rinsing. The comb won't do anything on its' own, and it's not a huge improvement, but it does help. I used that tip this weekend at our campsite.

As for Anne of comment 12: I have a similar shower setup, and I bought a Shut-off for hand held showers at Home Depot. Initially I bought it because I had a shower stall in my apartment, and I wanted a moment to pause and shave my legs :-)

Guest's picture

I live in England and pay £11 a month for water just for myself, not to mention cost of electricity. I heat a little water in the kettle and put a pint or so in a plastic measuring jug. Measure in a small amount (I use a teaspoon for shoulder-length hair) of shampoo, stir with the hand to mix and bend over the bath where a plastic washing up bowl is waiting. Wet the ends of long hair in the jug, then pour over the hair. Repour from the washing up bowl. Wash hair and scalp in the usual way. Squeeze out as much shampoo as possible, then rinse under the shower, which in my case can be hand-held. Follow the same procedure for conditioner; before rinsing I soap myself from a bottle of diluted shower cream, then rinse hair and body thoroughly. I have the plug in the bath, so that I can retrieve the water for flushing the toilet. Less water is used because the toiletries have been diluted. I find this is better for my sensitive skin, as well as saving money. By the way, if not washing hair, I wear a showercap and make myself get under the shower while it is still cold. This definitely speeds up the shower!

Guest's picture

thanks for the article. DH has been practicing this since I've known him. Me? Although I grew up "green", I have come to treasure long showers. However, since cutting my hair short, my time is down to 4 min. We have installed a water-saver button, and that helps a lot! :)

Guest's picture

actually this article is useful. americans usually take having hot water for granted. i know i do. my parents are both from rural china and we still have relatives there. they have propane heated water. so most ppl just do a quick sponge bath. my cousins recently visited there and they said they didn't wash their hair for a week which is pretty gross considering how freaking hot it gets there. i think they could've done it if they knew about these tips. so this isn't stupid!

Guest's picture
Penny in Australia

I've always been a water-saving freak (off-topic, but there was a local promotion when I was little about a monster called the H2Ogre, who sang songs about what it would be like when all the water was gone to encourage people not to waste water, absolutely scared the pants off me).

Now just to get the husband to do this. He can easily spend 10 minutes in the shower, before I bang on the door to remind him to get out.

Seriously I can rinse, lather, rinse and be out in under 60 seconds (assuming no leg shaving, which is pretty rare, and I only wash my hair once a week).

Guest's picture

This is great if you can do it. I have tried unsuccessfully in the past. An investment in a low flow shower head can save big money.

Guest's picture

this works espically when my sister wants to decide @ the last minute she wants to get in the shower when we are getting ready for school

Guest's picture

Good, but not exactly what I was looking for. On days when I wash my hair I take 6 times longer - any hints for how to rinse my hair faster? I tried last night and now I have dandruff (never a problem for me before)

Guest's picture
Alicia, Mom of the Frozen North

I went a-wall when I got our first electric bill at our new house. It was over $400. (Our last place, the electric bill never saw $100) Between electric heat here in Northern MN, a drafty 109 year old house and being a Stay-At-Home-Mom, we use a lot of electricity! This is a great tip I will surely be using.

Guest's picture

I love using speed soap to take a quick shower, because you just spray it on once. Then, rub it in, rinse off, and you're done. You never have to go for the soap a second time, and you cover your whole body, fast!

Hot Mess brand speed soap is the only one I know of. I think it's the first. Just google hot mess speed soap to find it.

Happy fast showering!

Guest's picture

To be honest if you are taking more than five minutes in the shower you are seriously wasting time and water, as well as not doing your skin any good. After all showewrs are for washing in not languishing about daydreaming under. Soaping down and rinsing off with warm water should take so little time anyway. Having the shower too hot can seriously affect the skin, showers should be warm not hot. Hair shouldn't be washed everyday, three times a week should suffice. Leg shaving can be done after the shower. You don't need to get yourself wet before hand as you start washing down the minute you get under the shower head. I can be in and out in three or four minutes easily.