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Ellen's Tips for Conserving Water

Practicing water conservation saves you money, protects the health of your family and reduces the risk of damaging your access to quality drinking water. Water conservation also prevents water pollution-which hurts the environment and ultimately costs money to remedy. Here are a few tips for conserving water in your home:


How Residential Water Use Breaks Down

Although water use may vary somewhat from family to family, here is how the typical American family uses water:

  • Showers and Baths 20%
  • Potable Uses 9%
  • Clothes and Dish Washing 16%
  • Toilets 19%
  • Lawns & Gardens 36%

The biggest potential for water conservation occurs in the areas that see the greatest use. Examine these areas first. It's also important to verify that your system as a whole is free from leaks. If your water meter doesn't read the same amount at the start and end of any given two hour period where no water is being used, you may have a leak.


Showers and Baths (20%)

  1. Take shorter showers and replace your shower head with an ultra-low-flow head. Low-flow heads use an average of 3.5 gallons per minutes less than regular heads. There are currently units available that allow you to cut down the flow without adjusting the temperature knobs.

  2. It takes about 25 gallons to fill a bathtub up halfway, so use the least amount of water you can when taking a bath. Try filling the tub 1/3 full to start. Close the drain before running the water to get it hot. You'll be able to add additional hot water later if you need it.

  3. Don't let the water run while shaving or brushing your teeth.

  4. When adjusting the water temperature, decrease the water flow instead of increasing it to change the temperature. For example, if you want to increase the amount of hot water, "turn down" the flow of cold water instead of "turning up" the hot water.

  5. Replace worn out water heaters with new hot water-on-demand models and make sure to keep your water pipes insulated.

Toilets (19%)

  1. Test your toilet tank for leaks by adding food coloring to the tank and waiting 15-20 minutes. If your tank is leaking, color will usually appear. Replace any worn out or corroded parts, including sticky flush handles. Most parts are cheap and easy to install yourself. Make sure you flush your toilet after this test to avoid staining your tank.

  2. Don't use your toilet like a trash can. Dispose of tissues and other waste (for quick wipe-ups or catching bugs) in the garbage. Your toilet takes 5 to 7 gallons of water each time you flush.

  3. You can install inexpensive toilet dams to reduce the amount of water used with each flush.

Clothes and Dish Washing (16%)

Water Down the Drain
Dishes washed by hand should be quickly rinsed under a low stream from the faucet, not rinsed in a large basin of water.

  1. Retrofit all high-use household faucets with aerators and flow restrictors.

  2. Use dishwashers and clothes washers only when they are fully loaded or set for the proper size load.

  3. Dishes washed by hand should be quickly rinsed under a low stream from the faucet, not rinsed in a large basin of water.

  4. Reduce the use of garbage disposals by composting kitchen waste. For households with septic systems, garbage disposals can also add as much as 50% to the volume of solids in the septic tank.

Potable Uses (9%)

  1. Keep a pitcher of ice water in the fridge rather than letting water run every time you want a cold glass of water.

  2. Thaw meat and other foods in the refrigerator or microwave instead of running them under cold water.

  3. Use dirty fish tank water on houseplants or in the garden.


Lawns & Gardens (36%)

  1. Water your lawn only when you need to (every 5 to 7 days in the summer and every 10-14 days in the winter). Water in the early morning hours when temperatures and winds are lowest to avoid losing water to evaporation.

  2. Install a drip irrigation system or use soaker hoses. They are much more efficient at delivering water than conventional sprinkler systems. Check to make sure systems and timing devices are working properly and that your system is equipped with a rain sensor device that overrides the system when adequate rainfall occurs. Check to see that all hoses and spigots are in good working order.

  3. Landscape with drought tolerant native plant species, including drought resistant grasses, ground covers, shrubs and trees.

  4. Position your irrigation systems in a way that you are not watering your sidewalks and driveway. Sweep up debris with a broom instead of spraying down sidewalks and driveways with the hose.

  5. If you wash your car, do it on the grass to reduce run off or use a car wash that recycles gray water.

  6. Raise the blades on your lawn mower to a height of three inches or more. This will encourage grass roots to grow deeper and increase your lawns capacity to hold in moisture.

  7. Where appropriate, mulch around garden plants to help them retain moisture. Avoid over-fertilizing the lawn and garden, it increases the need for water.

  8. Use garden fountains and water features that recycle water and locate them away from areas of high wind to avoid evaporation losses.

There are hundreds of other ways to save water-and even if the savings are small, every drop counts. Encourage your friends, neighbors and employers practice water conservation, and support projects that create awareness and promote reuse.

About The Author: Ellen Brown is our Green Living and Gardening Expert. Click here to ask Ellen a question! Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at

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November 14, 20040 found this helpful

I try to do one or more things every day to save on water usage. It also helps lowers utility bills over the month.

By Gladys Hill

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By guest (Guest Post)
November 14, 20040 found this helpful

We have been on water rationing here because we are in a draught here in Colorado so here is a real old fashioned idea for saving water. We made a rain barrel. It was as easy as putting a 50 gallon Trash barrel under our down spout to save as much rain water as we could when it did rain. I know people are worried about West Nile Virus but if you keep a good eye on the rain barrel and put a couple of good squirts of plain old dish soap when you see anything in the water you can have a free source of water to water your plants We kept a vegtable garden going all one summer by this method. The dish soap will not hurt your plants as it is very very diluted. On the internet thier are even instructions for putting a spigot on the bottom like an ice tea jug so that you could cover the top. And I guess we could have covered ours when it was not going to rain but we just never knew when the weatherman was telling the truth:) But this is a good way to conserve water and if more people were to use it, It would help save on thier cities water supplies.

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November 22, 20040 found this helpful

Keep a bottle of Woolite or liquid laundry soap by the lavatory. While you are waiting for running water to warm for a shower, sponge out those panty hose or other item. Makes good use of water that would just go down the drain.

By Gladys Hill

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November 22, 20040 found this helpful

In summer I use a reverse cycle air conditioner which removes moisture from the air and 'drips' it outside. A bucket underneath gives me water for pot plants/the garden. I do the same with the water escaping from the pressure relief valve of my solar hot water system.

I collect all first run off cold water from the shower and sinks in a bucket, for kitchen use if its freshly collected otherwise for the dogs or garden.

I redirect all shower, bathroom washbasin and washing machine water to the garden. Be careful doing this though as there are 'rules' to follow to do this in a hygienic and environmentally friendly way.

In estimates I have seen up to 1/3 of clean, potable household water is used to flush toilets. I have a composting toilet which uses no water and is, surprisingly, less 'smelly' than a conventional toilet!

I live in Australia in an area of 400-500mm rainfall annually, the vast majority of that in winter. Summers are long, hot and dry and my entire water supply for my house and animals is from rainwater collection off the roof to rainwater tanks, so every drop counts for me - aspecially in summer.



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November 22, 20040 found this helpful

Set a timer for 5 minutes and take a 5 minute shower. This can save up to 1000 gallons per month. It saves on utility bills also.

By Gladys Hill

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November 22, 20040 found this helpful

Always soak pots and pans. Never scrub under running water. I always dip them in dish pan water. Take them out and set aside, and let them soak while doing the other dishes. The food inside them will be easy to remove. Saves elbow grease and water.

By Gladys Hill

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November 23, 20040 found this helpful

how clean can you get in 5 minutes? It sure takes longer than that to wash my hair.

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November 24, 20040 found this helpful

Some great ideas, folks, and especially you, Gladys. I would add this note about the pots and pans, though: if they're cast iron, never let them see soap. Scrub them with a (soap-free) rag, a dab of hot water, and table salt, rinse them in scalding hot water (no soap) and dry them well, then put them away. Don't ever soak your cast iron, even in plain water... you'll need to recondition the surface if you do. Good cast iron takes a good while to get the surface "just right", so be careful and don't mess it up.

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By guest (Guest Post)
November 25, 20040 found this helpful

When I'm washing dishes I run the water into jugs until it's nice & Warm. Or sometimes I just keep filling animals water dishes til it warms up. I stack sticky pots next to the bucket of suds & scrub & rinse the dishes over them.This generally loosens any gunk they may have on them .
When I fry, I wash the skillet while it's still almost hot,it gets a lot cleaner that way.I use nonstick skillets & some but not all nonstick pots . I spray baking or microwaving dishes with "pam",it helps a Lot.
I have long oily hair which I don't plan on cutting .
I can take a short time shower when I'm not washing my hair.
I can also tolerate cold shower water for part of my shower. This comes from having a busted heating element for 3 months last year due to lack of fundage.Brrrr>

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November 26, 20040 found this helpful

I couldn't possibly take a 5 minute shower, but that doesn't mean I have to run 10 or so minutes of water either. After the initial "wetting" of body and hair, I turn the water off while I shampoo, shave my legs, etc. I have to briefly run the water during this process to rinse the shampoo out so that I can add in conditioner, but I've found I still only have the water running for less than 5 minutes even with a longer final rinse. I've plugged the tub to catch and measure the water used during a "regular" shower and my "water on/off" shower - I use less than half by turning the water off when I can!

I also collect water that runs while waiting for it to heat up, water used to boil eggs, etc and use it to flush my toilet or water the plants. These measures have reduced my water bill considerably.

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March 17, 20060 found this helpful

I lived in San Francisco in 90 or 91 and water shortage was bad, we were asked to conserve.
My aunt went nuts, showers were timed 5 mins!
It was horrible the things she did to cut water use down while guy next door watered lawn washed car
in driveway.
Point is when MANDATORY usage came along my
aunt's house was reduced by 60% and the guy next door only 30%...the reason we were told
because my aunt did such a good job and had low
water usage on volunteer basis she would be able
to cut back more easier.................
It is what happened and it was NO fun.
BEWARE, I mean conserve just don't go crazy.

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March 17, 20060 found this helpful

I forgot to mention when Mandatory water cutback
came around if you dared to go over the alloted
numbers you were FINED and it was costly.....

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By guest (Guest Post)
March 23, 20060 found this helpful

im old fashioned, so i save rain water in a barrel when it rains and i bath in water that barely covers the top of my foot, may sound strange but i guess i am old fashioned.

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June 7, 20070 found this helpful

Put a brick into the cistern of your toilet it cuts back the amount of water you use when you flush

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August 16, 20120 found this helpful

Thanks for sharing all of your tips. I plan on making use of some of them.

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September 29, 20150 found this helpful

I keep a large bucket in the shower to catch the cold water as it heats up, and I always keep a bucket in the sink to catch my rinse water as I do the hand, I try only to use the dishwasher once a week. I use the caught water in the garden. My water bill is very low. Hope this helps someone who conserves.

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