Saving on Water

52 Weeks: Water – Dishes

Which dishwashing method costs less, hand washing or machine washing? It depends on how much water you use when washing by hand. If you leave the water running throughout the wash and rinse process, that will use a lot of water. If you run a couple inches of water in each sink or in dishpans and wash and rinse using just that, well, that’s a whole lot less. You can compare for yourself.

First, find out how much water your machine uses. It will say in the manual or on the manufacturer’s website. Then wash a similar amount of dishes by hand and track how much water you use. You can use dishpans and measure how much water they contain. Or, you can use the sink directly and measure the water as you put it in, perhaps by filling a quart pitcher repeatedly and pouring it into the sink.

Luckily, you only have to do this tedious stuff once, just to find out the comparison quantity of water. When comparing costs, you also have to factor in the cost of buying, maintaining, and repairing the dishwasher itself. Hand washing has none of those costs. Hand washing still uses electricity to heat the water, but doesn’t use any to power the washing, nor for drying.

52 Weeks: Water – Bathing

There are low flow showerheads available to limit water use in the shower. They can cost anywhere from $8 to $50. You can find them at hardware stores, discount stores, and online at According to Florida Power and Light, if it takes less than twenty-four seconds for your shower to fill a bucket to the one gallon line, you can save money by switching to a low flow head.

Also useful is the type of showerhead with a handle on it to turn off the water flow. You can have the water off while soaping or shampooing without having shampoo run into your eyes when you lean over to turn the water back on. Or you can buy a controller valve that screws on above your existing showerhead and allows you to turn the water volume down or off. They cost about $10.

I bought one and I like it very much. I have the luxurious feeling of lots of water when it’s on full flow. I can turn it to low flow when I want to and I can turn it off for part of the shower. This method uses less water than just a low flow showerhead but still leaves me feeling like there’s plenty of water in my shower. There are flow-restricting aerators for sink faucets too. Most places I’ve lived already had those in place.

Is It True? Most sources assume that showers use less water than baths. I doubt that’s an absolute. People shower for more or less time and showerheads vary in flow rate. Tubs vary in size and in how much you choose to fill them. You can test this for yourself by putting the plug in the tub drain when you start the shower. See how much water is in the tub when you finish.

I did this with a normal flow showerhead. The tub filled to about where I would have filled it for a bath, nearly full, 32 gallons. And that was a simple shower with no time spent letting the hot water run over my back, no leg shaving, nothing extra. Later I did the same in the shower that has a lower flow showerhead and used 18.6 gallons.

Next, I went back to the full flow shower and took a “military shower.” In a military shower, you get wet all over, turn off the water, soap and shampoo. Then turn the water back on just long enough to rinse off. That used 11 gallons. A military shower in the lower flow shower used 9.13 gallons.

I’ve tested the drought-inspired idea of showering with the drain plugged and then bailing the water from the tub into a bucket for other uses. I thought I might be able to use the shower water for all of the toilet flushing. The bailing was easiest with a lightweight, shallow four-cup plastic food storage container. After a week or so, leaving water in the tub for days made the non-skid strips come loose, so that was the end of that.

52 Weeks: Water – Flushing

Thanks to the investors who sold me my current condo, I have the new water-saver toilets. Newer toilets have small tanks. There’s nothing gained by putting something in the tank to cause it to use less water per flush.

Pre-1995 toilets usually have larger tanks, so putting something in the tank to make it hold less will save water. The advice used to be to use a brick. Now they say bricks may fall apart and damage the mechanism. So if you use a brick, seal it up in a Ziploc bag. Or, maybe use a plastic container full of water, in a shape that suits your tank and won’t block the mechanism. You can weight it with pebbles or sand so it won’t float around.

There are also adjustable flappers available now that let you set the flush volume. I recently learned about a thing called a toilet fill cycle diverter. It stops older toilets from wasting water during the refill phase. You can get one from, among other places, http://www.niag ara and

The old saying, “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down” would cut the water used for toilet flushing to probably less than half.

Some articles say to put a dye tablet in the toilet tank to check if the tank leaks into the bowl, wasting water. You can do this with food coloring just as well. Put a few drops in the tank. Don’t flush for fifteen to twenty minutes, and look to see if the water in the bowl takes on color. If it does, it may be time to replace the flapper that closes the hole through which water goes from the tank to the bowl.

Or, the chain may be lodging under the edge of the flapper, or maybe it’s too short and the flapper can’t go all the way down. There might be debris or hard water build up around the edge where the flapper sits. On my own experience, replacing the flapper and making sure the chain is the right length have always fixed it.

Yard and Garden – Watering

By now everyone has heard about not running the sprinklers in the sunny daytime. More water evaporates that way and goes to waste. At the same time, watering in the evening risks the plants staying damp all night and getting a fungus. The very early morning is the best time to run sprinklers.

On the other hand, sprinklers aren’t the only way to get water to your grass and plants.

In 1998, I had a garden in the yard of a rental apartment. The landlady paid the water bill and wasn’t going to pay for watering a garden. Two weeks after I planted the garden, we entered a six-week drought. I dug irrigation trenches in the garden so that water running in at one end flowed throughout the garden.

Then I went to the hardware store and bought a long length of fat hose. I connected it to the drain hose of the washing machine and drained the water from the washer out the back door and into the garden. (At that time, I used those ceramic laundry disks, so there was no detergent in the water.) The garden survived the drought.

Another good source of water is a rain barrel. As the name implies, it captures rainwater in a barrel for later use. YouTube and eHow have videos and instructions on how to make a rain barrel. You need a food grade fifty-five gallon drum, screen, two spigots and some tools. You can also buy them readymade at places like Lowes. The rain from the barrel can be hand poured, or fed into irrigation ditches.

You can use rain barrel water to wash the car, and if not needed outdoors, to flush the toilet. My grandmother used it to wash woolens.



Marie Brack is the author of Frugal Living for the 21st Century: Adventures in Using Your Money Wisely. It’s available on in both Kindle and paperback versions.

Challenge Me!

My book is all about finding useful, affordable alternatives to the things modern life has conditioned us to believe we “have to” buy.

Think of something that costs money that you don’t know of an alternative for. Challenge me to offer an alternative by leaving a comment on this or any other post. Please include the word “challenge” in your response.

A New Financial Start

Maybe you spent a bit too much over the holidays. January sometimes brings on a sort of financial repentance, and a desire to use money more effectively in the new year. My book can help with that. Frugal Living for the 21st Century: Adventures in Using Your Money Wisely deals with the need for financial change from both directions – spending less and earning more. Maybe you have friends or relatives who spend too much, or want to get out of debt. The book would make a nice gift for them, or just tell them about it. Want to retire early? Take a fantastic trip? The strategies in the book can help you move toward any financial goal.

It’s available on in both paperback and Kindle versions.

About those flushable wipes

The commercials want me to believe that I can’t possibly potty without their pre-moistened wipes. Of course people have managed for centuries without them. My local water company has this to say about them:

“They flush just fine, however, they’re not breaking down as they make their way through our sewer system. The end result is a mountain of wipes causing clogs that are costly to repair. Our public works staff is asking that you do not flush these products.”

The city’s sewer system is safe from me.