How Toxic Is Your Shower?

Studies have found disinfecting chemicals can be absorbed into your skin and lungs if you don’t filter them out first.

By Leah Zerbe,
You don’t want your bathing experience to be dirty. But between harmful chemicals in many shampoos and soaps and the way they can react with the chlorine in our tap water to create more chemical chaos, business as usual in the bathroom needs to change. One easy way you can do that is by installing a shower water filter. True, water filtration may not have as much cache as carrying a reusable bottle or the searching out an organic cosmetics line. But it’s just as important because we suds up every day (most of us, anyway).

Fortunately, there are retailers out there who want to help you clean up your act. At Natural Products Expo East in Boston, the Aquasana water filter booth was a happening place. (Consumer Reports regularly recommends Aquasana filters.)

THE DETAILS: Earlier this year, the President’s Cancer Panel, along with eating organic and avoiding plastic, recommended installing both drinking water and shower water filters as one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself from developing cancer. That’s because previous studies have found some pretty alarming statistics regarding unfiltered shower water, including the fact that people absorb 100 times more chlorine in a 10-minute shower than they do from drinking a gallon of the same water.

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“Most people know they should be filtering drinking water, but they don’t always realize if they don’t want to drink unfiltered water, they might not want to shower in it, either,” says Todd Bartee, CEO of Aquasana, a leader in the home water-filtration industry.

WHAT IT MEANS: Filtering your shower water isn’t just a way to conserve water; it’s also an indoor air-pollution eradicator. Hot, steamy showers are relaxing, but the heating up of chlorine (if you’re on city water) can create chloroform, a known carcinogen. Add that to the fact that homes are generally pretty well insulated, and it’s easy to see how chloroform can actually recirculate throughout your home, aggravating asthma or other respiratory issues. The heat of the bath also works to open your pores, which causes your skin to absorb more of the chemicals found in your personal-care products.

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From a cosmetic standpoint, the mild bleach in your tap water can actually strip colored hair of its hue, cause skin to dry, and aggravate conditions like eczema.

Here’s how you can help keep bath time safe:

1. Test your tap.

Every summer, people who get their water from a municipal source should receive a water-quality report to get an idea of what’s in their water. This helps you shop smarter when looking for a water filter, because no every filter can remove every contaminant. (If you’re on well water, find an EPA-approved water-testing company to check your water for bacteria, heavy metals, and other harmful substances). For a copy of your town’s latest report, enter your zip code in the Environmental Working Group’s National Drinking Water Database.

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2. Find the right filter.

Not all water filters are created equally. To filter out chlorine, be sure to look for NSF/ANSI Standard 46, which means it’s third-party tested to effectively remove chlorine. If your water test turns up elevated levels of other contaminants, make sure you buy a filter that is certified to remove them.

3. Clean up your cleaners.

Be picky about the products you use to clean not only your house, but your body, too. Choose plant-based soaps, like certified-organic Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, and avoid shampoos and soaps that are artificially scented by steering clear of ingredients like “fragrance,” “parfum,” and “linalool,” a compound found in certain plants, but usually in a synthetic form in personal-care products. And wash your hands clean of ever using the antibacterial chemical triclosan, which messes up hormone function and is linked to the spike in antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

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Elisa F.
Elisa F.1 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Marie W.
Marie W.3 years ago

Let's question why water is so contaminated.

Jeremy K.
Jeremy K.3 years ago

Consider a vitamin c shower filter

Angie B.
Angie B.4 years ago

I hadn't thought too much about toxins from the water when showering until about 4 years ago. I then bought one of the shower filters from Aquasana. It was very easy to install and I was pleased to know that I was helping my entire family with that one little action. We have well water, but with the industrial estates creeping ever closer to our property, I'm sure there are parasites, chemicals and other toxins that have made their way into our water table. I would recommend the Aquasana filters to others as they are affordable and seem to have a really good reputation for quality based on my research. Thanks for such an informative article. It's always encouraging to find good health tips. If you have more to add, we'd love to have you share some of your insight at and help others there, too.

Natalia R.
Natalia V.4 years ago

I'm in Canada Ontario. How does the water here compare to the USA?

Cassandra Lai
Cassandra Lai4 years ago

Thank you so much, may this article be read by more people , increasing the aware of how water is affecting our daily life in a huge way.

Elaina Tess
Elaina Tess4 years ago

Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo & Conditioner doesn't contain sodium laurel sulfite and I love it! It will make your showering experience more healthy!
Today is my birthday! Please sign my petition to get a recycling program in my school system!! :) Thank you!!
(Just copy and paste the link to your browser)

Tony R.
Anthony R.4 years ago

Perhaps it's different in the USA but in the UK the water is actually safer than bottled water. Tap water is checked in laboratories against 57 parameters which can detect 80-90 different substances tests, whereas mineral waters only has to be tested for only 13 chemicals and bacteria - less than one quarter as many substances as are tested for in tap water. There are also no requirements that mineral water be tested daily or even weekly. (
Bottled water is a con and an environmental disaster with greenhouse gasses emitted from transport, bottle manufacturing and everything else. Let's not mention chemicals from the plastic bottles leaching into the water eh?
Do a search for Coke-cola and Dasani and see how stupid these corporations think you are.Wake up and smell the roses people!

Carole L.
Carole L.4 years ago

Thank you, very informative.

Lika S.
Lika S.4 years ago

Thank you. This is helpful if you can afford filters, organic shampoos, etc. There are many people just eking by. Many people are homeless around my parts, and unemployment is very high.

So, just out of curiosity, I'm wondering if it's possible to go from the opposite end of those who pollute our waters in the first place, to why we need the extra chlorine in the first place, so we can make our water clean for even our most poor and destitute.