A few years ago for Lent, I decided that I would give up hot showers. For those unfamiliar with the practice, Lent is a 40-day period where Christians give up something important to mirror the temptation Jesus faced from the devil. Who doesn’t love a long, hot shower? I certainly treasured the time to steam and relax in utter bliss. Mind you, Lent began at the end of swim season too, so I could’ve definitely used a hot shower after hours in a freezing pool in March. It wasn’t easy to turn on the cold jets of water and quickly wash my hair every day, but I truly felt good about my commitment by the time 40 days had passed.
Last semester, I learned that my roommate had been taking cold showers since she returned from her DukeEngage in Ghana where hot water was unavailable. I’m proud to report that she is still going strong! I consider myself relatively disciplined, so I wondered if I could put myself up to the same challenge. For the past month or so, I’ve started off small with a cold shower roughly three times a week. It may not be much, but it’s a start.
Before I continue, there’s something you should probably know about me that helps explain why I decided to go down this route. I have always been obsessed with cold water. I literally wrote my Common App essay about swimming in the ocean in the winter. Here’s an albeit cheesy (gag) excerpt about floating in the January water: “My mind clears, and I let thoughts come and go, in and out, like the waves on the shore.” After years of polar plunges, I’m someone who not only loves the thrill of this adventure but also knows a lot about the benefits of cold water on mental and physical health.
Many societies throughout history have recognized the benefits of cold water exposure. Scandinavian cultures (shoutout to my Norwegian ancestors!) celebrate cold immersion through daily fjord dips and polar plunges. Plenty of studies point to cold water’s ability to lower our anxiety and redirect our focus. Over time, cold water’s triggering of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain has been linked to a decline in depression. Also, cold water is better for your hair and skin!
As you can see, there are many scientific reasons why you should take cold showers. Moreover, I don’t think the connection between cold showers and shorter showers is a difficult one to make. From a personal standpoint, think of the time you could get back in a week by decreasing the time you spend in the shower. Saving just five minutes on a shower every day gives you over half an hour back by the end of the week to catch up on assignments or your favorite TV show.
From an environmental and cost perspective, cold showers have huge benefits. Did you know that standard shower heads use two and a half gallons of water per minute? By that metric, a 10-minute shower uses 25 gallons of water. That’s about equivalent to 200 coffees from Cafe! Standard costs for water stand roughly at 37 cents for a 10-minute shower, with an additional six cents for heating costs if you want hot water. This may not sound like a lot at first, but consider the impacts on a larger scale. What about shower costs at Duke?
In just one bathroom, I’d estimate 20 showers take place every day. Assuming we average a 10-minute hot shower (which, let’s be honest, is probably an underestimate), the total cost per day for one bathroom comes in around $9. For an academic year with roughly 28 weeks of the semester, it reaches $1700. If we apply these numbers to our undergraduate population of 6,640 students, it turns out we are spending $2,888 per day. Over the course of a year, that total reaches $566,126.
This estimate comes from assuming we all shower once a day. That’s probably not true. Moreover, a total of $566,126 relies on the hope that Duke showers all have “standard” shower heads; less efficient shower heads have a higher flow rate, thus using more water per shower. I mean, when’s the last time anyone checked on the Bassett dorm bathrooms?
So, what would it look like if we transitioned to colder, shorter showers? If everyone took a five-minute shower with cold water for the next academic year, we would save roughly 16,268,000 gallons of water. Duke could also save $322,106. Maybe they could put that money towards a new method to fix our lawn that didn’t involve ripping up the entire ground for a whole semester! I digress. Let me be clear: I know this scenario is highly unlikely. I’m not suggesting that everyone switch over to a cold shower every single day, but I hope this research gives you a sense of the possible impact and scale of one of the decisions we make on a daily basis.
In one of my classes last semester, we discussed the difference between individual and collective choices toward combating climate change. It can be exhausting to consider the scale of destruction facing the environment today and intensely frustrating or anxiety-inducing to feel like there is nothing we can do about it. Individual actions like cutting back on water use may not feel like such a big deal, but they do add up. More than that, they can help us feel more confident in our ability to affect change and address the problems we see in our world.
So, next time you get to the shower, take a second to pause and think. Do you really need that twenty-minute steam? Wouldn’t you just love to have a healthy glow on your skin and hair? Won’t you feel a little good about your contribution to water and energy conservation? Besides, take it from a veteran. The cold is only a temporary discomfort, and it will wear off the second you reach your room and cozy up in comfy clothes. If nothing else, you’ll appreciate your sweats more than ever.
Anna Sorensen is a Trinity sophomore. Her column typically runs on alternate Mondays.
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