The Great Unwashed

There has been a lot of hygiene talk out there lately.

After the New York Times article entitled The Great Unwashed, hit the streets, people started popping up all over the place admitting that they hadn’t washed their hair in years, or conversely, expressing disgust that there are people out there who don’t shower everyday.

I actually had people sending me articles on it. (Which either meant that they identified it as something I do and sent it to me out of support thinking I’d be interested, or that they think I’m really dirty and were sending me a not to subtle hint that they figured out my personal routine. . ..)

Either way, this is my official stance on personal hygiene. Wash if you’re dirty.

It seems like common sense, but I can’t believe how many people think that not showering every day is filthy. We wash people; we just don’t shower. It’s called a washcloth and a bar of soap, and no I do not sweat at my desk job (I don’t even really sweat on the 4.6km mostly flat bike ride to the office). Why would I want to waste over 100 litres of water at the end of the day?

Although this project started out all about landfill waste, you can tell we’ll started to expand our interests a bit. Wasting water or energy is just that: waste. And when you consider that hot water can use up to 25% of your household energy budget, cutting your shower length or frequency can save some pretty big time and money. Why wouldn’t you try it?

9 Comments

Filed under Hygiene

9 responses to “The Great Unwashed

  1. Rebecca

    Ha! I still can’t decide if you should be flattered or offended.

    I was broken of the daily shower habit 25 years ago when I was an exchange student in Norway. Get this – my host family actually did an intervention on me because they were so concerned about my “unhealthy habit” of showering daily! At the time my resonse was to take up swimming, but once freed of the morning shower ritual, I found it was impossible to make myself start doing it again.

    I do admint though, that I sometimes take daily long baths on winter evenings, but it’s mostly for warmth and not cleanliness. I can’t use soap (except a tiny bit in the obvious places) or my skin gets too dry. But in my environmental defense, I leave the hot water in the tub until it cools so that it helps heat our very chilly house.

    Here’s to sanity in cleanliness!

  2. Sara

    I shower about once a week, sometimes more, sometimes less depending on what I have been doing and if my hair is getting a bit greasy and needs another dose of baking soda and vinegar. I follow the staggered shower method, getting wet, then turning off the water to soap down and wash my hair, turning the water back on when I need to rinse. I also have two low buckets in my shower that catch the water as it runs off me and I then use this to flush my toilet later on. Using the yellow mellow technique, I don’t flush my toilet often…but when need be, I give it a flush then pull off the back of the toilet and wait for it to start filling and then pour in my shower water. The next time I need to flush, the bowl will fill up with my shower water. It is the poor man’s grey water system! I also have a home made toilet damn in my toilet to ensure that less water is needed with each flush. Take an empty plastic container with screw top lid, remove any label, place a rock in it to weigh it down and fill with water. Now when the tank refills it will use less water as the jar takes up the space that would have been filled with water. Different tanks can support different sizes of toilet dams…see what size you can use without messing up the flush ability of your toilet. I would love to hear other people discuss simple, cheap ways to save water.

    • Rebecca

      Wow! Regarding the “mellowing of the yellow” – we have tried, but the smell is just too overwhelming! We have a very small house and it doesn’t take long for the entire house to smell like an outhouse. How do you deal with the smell?

      And if you’re into extreme water savings… I used to use gray water from bathing to do laundry by hand. We used a laundry plunger and a round waste bucket (bigger than a standard bucket). It takes some time and energy, but you can actually get your clothes much cleaner than in a machine. Similarly, I had a technique for washing dishes by hand in which I re-used the gray water to do the main rinsing of crud off of the dishes, and then did the actual wash and rinse with barely any water at all.

      Sadly, I had to give up washing things by hand because of severe skin reactions to soaps and detergents (even baking soda would dry my hands to a crisp) and after 12 sets of gloves in a few months…. well, you get the idea! We now have super-efficient machines that do it for us… still less efficient than doing it by hand, but no more hives and eczema!

  3. The Environmental Goddess

    Hi there!
    Great blog! I also don’t shower everyday (more like twice a week) and I only wash my hair 1-2 week. I have long hair and basically have a system of letting my hair down for 2 days, half up for another day, in a bun or something similar another day, and then in a braid or ponytail for another day or two! It really never appears greasy that way and I get complimented on my creativity! I find it so strange when people get grossed out that I don’t shower everyday, I mean, most days I go to work and come home…on public transit, so I don’t really get dirty. When I dance or do other exercise, I make sure to wash thoroughly with a wash cloth. Anyway, I just wanted to share! Keep up the good work!

  4. Ellen

    Hi! I’m going to come out of the lurker’s closet now because I have a question. I would love to conserve water by going the no-shower route, but my hair gets so greasy. If you’re only using a washcloth and soap, what do you do about your hair? Is the dry-shampoo, I keep hearing about any good, because I’m always hesitant when new chemicals come out on the market and I haven’t had a chance to look into it yet.
    At the moment I shower about every second day and don’t bother with deodorant. I’ve been told that I smell nice on a couple of occasions when I hadn’t bathed in a couple of days (Are you sure? I asked). I’d gladly rely on my eau de naturelle and shower even less if my hair didn’t get greasy after a day and a half. Anyone have suggestions?

    • I think you are already doing awesome by not showering every day! My hair is on the dry and frizzy side, so I don’t have the oily problem, but people tell me after a a couple weeks of washing their hair only twice a week, their scalp catches up. Apparently instead of store bought ‘dry shampoo’ you can use cornstarch. Like The Environmental Goddess’ comment below, I tend to wear a ponytail after the first few days, so it’s not as obviously dirty.

    • Rebecca

      I’d suggest going “no poo”. Google it if you’re not familiar – basically a baking soda wash and vinegar rinse instead of shampoo… although I use citric acid instead of vinegar because I don’t like the vinegar smell.

      But if you’re not willing to go that far off the eco deep end, you might try steering clear of any hair products that contain silicones – any ingredient ending in “cone”, “xane” “zane” or anything similar. Silicone products are designed to coat the hair shaft (which they do nicely) but they also don’t allow your hair’s natural oils to soak in. So if you use silicones your hair tends to get greasy quicker. One tip if you do decide to go “no poo”, it’s a good idea to do a clarifying wash (just use some cheap shampoo that has no silicones) before you start because silicones build up on your hair, and even if you stop using them, they’ll still be there unless you wash them out.

      And Jen is absolutely right about your scalp adjusting. Once you stop drying it out on a regular basis it will produce less oil and sebum. I haven’t used corn starch since high school, and I seem to recall it being sort of disgusting. But when I first went “no poo” and was letting my scalp adjust, I had great luck brushing with natural fiber brushes. If you brush with a wooden bristle brush, the sebum (the waxy stuff) will stick to the bristles (it’s gross but effective), and boar’s hair brushes help to re-distribute the oil down the shaft of the hair.

      I’m happy to say that I’m 2.5 years without shampoo or any other hair product, my hair has never looked or felt better, and I only wash once a week. And I actually have to put oil IN my hair now! NEVER thought I’d be doin’ that! Good luck!

  5. Another thing I’d like to see talked about more is anti-bacterial hand soap. Stop it stop it stop it!! This stuff ends up in the ocean!

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