Bathtime in a Global Drought: Water-Saving Tips

Journalist Steven Solomon recently delivered a talk arguing that in the next 30 years water will become “the new oil,” meaning that global water shortages will cause people to start killing each other (especially in places like Pakistan). And despite plentiful rain in California this year, our fresh water supply is rapidly dwindling. So, do I give my kids a bath before bedtime?

I was an environmentalist before I became a mom. I water my plants with undrunk water glasses. I take 2 minute showers. I plant native plants. But when my first baby arrived and the seemingly timeless advice “babies need a bath before bedtime” was bestowed, I had to think really hard about it.

I was told that bathing babies before bed should be part of every healthy bedtime ritual. But in drought-ridden California, it felt wrong to bathe a child that showed no visible signs of dirt every single night. So I didn’t do it (and they did not sleep very well, I might add.)

Then my children got older, more enthusiastic about their baths, and it became harder to deny them. Bad day? I need a 30 minute break? I know that if I throw those children in the bath…ahhhhh…take me away!

But I struggle with more than just the nightly bath. Children LOVE water in so many forms. They make rivers in the sandbox, potions with flower petals, mix colored waters in old glasses, play in the sprinklers, spray it from spray bottles, fill baby pools with it… Generally, when you introduce water to children, you’ve got a recipe for fun and thrills.

Yet children have virtually no concept of conserving water, and it’s so awful to feel like the crotchety witch warning them not to use any more of it. Especially when the little ones just don’t really understand that when they pour the cup of water into the grass, they won’t have it anymore…so they want another cup or, better yet, the hose.

Next: Water-saving tips

Every drop of water matters, but I also I don’t want to stop my kids from enjoying one of the simple pleasures in life – the touch of water. With that in mind, I’ve managed to incorporate a few water-saving water-play strategies into our fun family time:

- I save baths (roughly 60 gallons of water) for biweekly events and invite the kids to share my shower any other time.
- Though I do allow the occasional sprinkler romp when our grass needs a drink (average of 1,000 gallons to water the grass), I usually rely on spray bottles. The kids spend hours spraying everything with only a couple refills.
- Rather than providing a hose or unlimited water in buckets for play, on warm days I freeze large chunks of water in mixing bowls and let the children play with the ice as it slowly melts. (Coloring the chunks or adding bits of plants makes things even more fun.)

Toes on ice

On the other hand, I can make other lifestyle choices that save considerably more water – savings I don’t “see” because it’s embedded in the production process:

Because some of these choices save so much more water than a single bath might waste, can an eco-conscious person save on the big things and then not feel so bad wasting a little water to share joyful water experiences with kids? Or at this point in our existence, should we be saving every way we can?

Share your water saving strategies and thoughts below.


Emma S.
Emma S.5 years ago

I'm very abstemious with water generally - so I sort of 'save up' for the odd wallow, and usually get something nice from Lush to make it special. (I do shower every day!)

Beng Kiat Low
low beng kiat6 years ago


Anubandh Srivastava

i was suggesting someone not to use reverse osmosis technique unless it is a must because it wastes a lot of water and she replied:- "so what at least we will get clean water to drink". this was the statement from a highly educated school teacher.

Jane L.6 years ago


Jani Oosthuizen
Jani O.6 years ago

God, sad how much goes to waste. to think there are people who are dying of dehydration

Pamela S.
Pamela S.6 years ago

My mother has been doing this since the early seventies. When I wash my towels, I re use the wash water. You can now buy big plastic tubs to hold the water in---we used the old metal ones. When the machine starts to drain the wash water, I turn the machine off, take the drain nozzle out of it's holder, put the drain nozzle in the tub. Start up the machine, let the water drain into the tub. I will then use this water to wash jeans, sheets, etc. The only difficult thing is to scoop up the water out of the tub. I use a plastic bucket and scoop the water back into the machine, suds and all. You're saving on soap, and water. When my children were young, I used the towel water to wash their cloth diapers. I realize it may be time consuming, but, really this world is WORTH IT.

Philippa P.
Philippa P.6 years ago

North Americans are far too concerned about dirt and germs. My parents were British; and, while eating dirt was never encouraged, no one ever had a moment's worry about it. A quick wipe with a handcloth and all was well.

Being British we also shared bathwater, it was tradition in British households where hot water was a luxury.

If it's yellow, I let it mellow.

Nora J.
Nora J.6 years ago

I should say 'reading your comments'.

Nora J.
Nora J.6 years ago

Thanks Nicky M. Hearing your comments makes me even more dismayed at the way many of us take this most precious resource for granted. What do they say about not appreciating the true value of water until the well is dry?


Like others from hot dry countries, leaving comments. I had to raise my children in a very dry place, in Australia. The rainwater tank was the only source of water and baths were, indeed a rare treat! The bath would be filled with minimum of water. The littlies would have their turn and then... well, working on the assumption that the dirt was 'all in the family'.. good old mum got in last! after this there was some lovely grey water to bucket out and use to flush the loo! ( Many people in the country had notices on the back of their toilet doors saying,"if it's yellow, let it mellow! If it's brown, flush it down!" I am afraid that is what we had to do.( Many people would grow a lemon tree in the garden so that any male person who felt led, could save a flush by using the 'citrus loo!' After all, the loo is one of the biggest wasters of water. Every drop of water went on the plants and we certainly didn't suffer from many allergies as, due to lack of water, there was always a healthy amount of good old germs around to keep our immune systems in tip top condition. ( I am not joking!) All this over-washing and virtually sterilizing everything has caused such a terrible epidemic of lazy immune system. It was second nature for the children to conserve water. My son did make one blunder. He decided to recycle some water out of his hot water bottle. very good idea, except for one thing. He decided to use the water to make us all a pot of tea! Bad idea! it tasted like a rubber!