In the Navy (Day 229)…

bucket shower

OK, I promised in my monthly recap that I was going to make some bigger green changes this month, so here’s the first one: navy showers.

As the Wikipedia entry explains, navy showers involve turning on the water, getting wet, turning off the water, lathering up, turning the water back on, rinsing off, and finally turning the water back off.

It means that while you’re standing there fussing with shampoo bottles and getting all sudsy, there isn’t any excess water going down the drain. By the time you’ve finished, the H2O should’ve only been running for about two minutes.

This idea originated on naval ships, where, ironically, supplies of fresh water were often scarce — now, many modern hippies have taken it up for both environmental and economic reasons. Whereas a 10-minute shower uses as much as 230 litres of water, a properly done navy shower usually only requires just over 10 litres, which means that over the course of a year, a single person can save up to 56,000 litres of this precious resource.

Which is great and all, but come February, standing in the shower all damp and soapy, in complete darkness, with only a couple blasts of lukewarm water to keep me going will SUCK.

Photo of a crewman taking a bucket shower in 1917 courtesy of this website

23 Responses to In the Navy (Day 229)…

  1. Hellcat13 says:

    Heh. I was just wondering how you were doing with the lights off thing. It’s awfully dark in my neck of the woods at 6:15 these mornings, and I don’t see it getting much better!

    I’ve shortened my showers down a bit by adding my conditioner before my shampoo is completely rinsed out and by not letting the conditioner sit in my hair (I have fine, straight hair, so this actually works better since there is less build up)…but holy brrrr! Our heat is turned down VERY low overnight since we like sleeping cold. I don’t know, a navy shower might just very well contribute to a bit of frostbite!

  2. Toby says:

    I’ve actually been thinking about doing this. I’m a a guy who shaves in the shower, and I know that is an awful waste of water. A lot of faucets make it hard to the water turn on & off without scalding/freezing yourself in the process though. Perhaps I can find a showerhead with a convenient on/off button?

  3. teaspoon says:

    My hat’s off to you for this one. I’ve tried this a few times, but I have a weakness for hot showers and I just can’t manage to use this method more than once in a while. I’d rather shower less often than take a navy shower every day.

  4. Shawn says:

    Toby, this low flow shower head works great ( I have one) and it has an on/off switch.

    You’re a trooper, Vanessa 🙂

  5. Do you have a detachable showerhead? If so, maybe you can wash your hair first over the tub and then jump in the shower afterwards. This might help because only your head would be wet for the first part. It might also help to use a 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner so you only have to rinse your hair once. Anyways, just a few ideas from someone who is not brave enough to do this herself 🙂

  6. Theresa says:

    You can buy a little 3 dollar doodad to put in between your shower pipe and your shower head with the handy on-off button. We converted both of our showers with these when we moved to a place where we get water delivered into our cistern. It makes it really easy to turn the shower off for the navy shower, and also easy to adjust the flow downwards even when you have it on.

  7. Laura says:

    Something like this might come in handy. And it would combat the scalding/freezing/paininthebutt problems with turning off the water by the handles.

    (I haven’t shopped with that company personally, just giving the pic and description as a suggestion.) 🙂

  8. sillydoggies says:

    Congrats for taking that leap. I read Navy showers on Curbly or Lifehacker a couple of months ago. I seriously considered at the time, but haven’t made the plunge.

  9. limesarah says:


    I was an exchange student in Germany for a year, and almost everyone showered that way because water is a lot more expensive there. One tip that I find useful — when you turn the water back on, turn the cold on first. There will still be warm water in the pipes from when you turned it off, giving you a few seconds to turn the hot on before it runs out, and if you don’t get it adjusted in time, it’s just a bit chilly. If you turn the hot on first, the hot water is waiting at full strength after the warm runs out, so you risk getting scalded if you don’t turn the cold on fast enough.

    I hope that made sense. You may also have less sticky faucets than I do, and so can adjust the knobs simultaneously. Really the best setup for this sort of thing is the sort where there’s just one knob that you rotate for temperature and pull in and out for water pressure.

    When it gets hot again, sponge baths are surprisingly refreshing, use almost no water, and can get you just as clean as a shower if you know what you’re doing. But that’s not a change for January unless you’re actually in a water-poor area.

  10. Rhett says:

    We just made this switch, too, and should be doing an episode of Greentime on this as soon as we have a chance to do a little research (maybe tonight, but my doctoral research is kinda in need of my efforts tonight).

    We used to have a massive shower head and I am scared to think of how much water it poured out every minute. We weren’t happy with the thing, anyway, and wanted to ditch it, so I got us a detachable shower head that has two high pressure mist (low flow) settings and a “pause” setting that reduces the flow to the tiniest trickle. Taking a navy shower with it is a breeze…just twist the knob one click to the “pause” setting, lather up, then click it back on to rinse. I love using the wand-style heads anyway because I like being able to direct the water as I want it. Plus, when the shower head is closer to your skin, you generally set it a little less warm, since it doesn’t cool off on the way to your body.

  11. blah says:

    If I were you Vanessa, I’d really reconsider this whole taking a shower in the dark thing. It seems more like a safety factor to have the lights on when you’re in the shower, especially since you’ve now narrowed it down from hot steamy 10 minute showers to 3 minutes of bathing in with luke warm, trickeling, water that is conserved at the bottom of the shower to shave your legs in and then later used for grey water (ok, that’s a little much, but you get what I’m saying) 🙂

  12. blah says:

    Rhett, where did you get your low flow shower head? I’ve looked for one with a pause button and couldn’t find one anywhere

  13. gettinggreen says:

    Hmm, yeah, that’s a good idea — washing the hair first, then getting into the shower after. But no, I don’t have a detachable showerhead, unfortunately. I do, however, have the kind of one-handle, pull out to adjust flow, turn around to adjust temperature kind of dial so that’s pretty easy to maneuver. And blah, you’ve just made me realize how utterly ridiculous my shower routine has become!! Haha, oh dear.

  14. Stacey says:

    At every apartment we rent, my husband and I replace the showerhead with one of these:

    The great thing about it is that you turn your knobs at the beginning of your shower to find your temperature, then regualte the flow from the showerhead.

  15. Stacey says:

    One more thing! On really cold days, instead of turning the water all the way off and freezing to death, you can turn it down to a mist and avoid hypothermia.

  16. emily says:

    Like limesarah, I learned to take navy showers while in Germany. Here in the US, I get called an extremist.

    My tip for wintertime showers is that, if you have bathroom vent, leave it off while you’re wet and naked; you can turn it on to get rid of mildew-causing steam later. That cold breeze is sometimes enough to push me over the edge, and then I rinse off warm for so long that there are no savings! (In a rental, it can be hard to decouple the light and the vent, though…)

  17. Kim says:

    Yes, please get the showerhead Stacey recommends. THey sell that at Wal-Mart and almost every single hardware store I’ve ever been it. I love mine and even at full power its 1.5 GPM.

  18. kimberly says:

    that’s awesome. my dad’s been trying to get us onto that shower tip since we were kids. it took me more than 2 decades to finally realize the merit 😛 good stuff…

  19. Daisy says:

    I like to keep my bathrooms as hot as possible or keep my house warm before I take showers that way not having such hot water doesn’t bother me. I live in Florida so I am sure I have no idea how nice it is to come home to a hot shower in winter however I think you should do this in whenever you can. Saves on your electric bill by not running such hot showers and changing your thermostat is never a bad thing.

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