Q: I've moved into an apartment with a giant tub and must know: is taking a bath really so evil (water-consumption wise)? Can I offset it by using an organic shower curtain ?
A: There's nothing quite so enticing after a trying day out in the cold, cruel, wintery world as a long, hot bath - especially if you have room for a second body or a mug of wine. But the stats are real mood killers (aren't they always?): a typical bath uses approximately 75 litres of hot water (double if you've got a big tub) while a five-minute shower with an efficient shower head uses about half of that. (By the way, if your shower can fill a 2-litre container with water in under 10 seconds, you need a new head. Look for one that uses no more than 2.5 gallons, or 11 litres, per minute.)
We're not saying that you shouldn't bathe. Just make it a special treat as opposed to an everyday event. Especially considering that time in the tub can be seriously dangerous if you're soaking in lead. Yes, you heard right: lead. For over a century, the neurotoxin has been added to porcelain enamel, and both new and old bathroom fixtures (from sinks to tubs) may leach the substance, but older bathtubs that have been scrubbed with abrasive cleansers for years leach the most. According to one sample, 62 per cent of porcelain tubs were leaching the stuff!
If you're nervous about potential exposure, Home Hardware stores carry household lead testing kits for $10. If you test positive, resurfacing your tub should eliminate your exposure to the neurotoxin. You can either do it yourself with a tub refinishing kit ($19.99 at Home Hardware) or call in a pro. Just look in the yellow pages under bathtub refinishing.
If you've got a newer acrylic model, you should be safe. Except, of course, if your vinyl shower curtain or liner is offgasing toxic fumes, as plastic shower curtains are in the habit of doing. And as we've said before, this particular type of plastic, PVC, is a nasty polluter from birth right through to its final resting place in a landfill or incinerator. To make matters worse, chemical fungicides are often added to make that curtain more mildew resistant. Even fabric curtains can be coated with water-repellent Teflon (that persistent contaminant found in most streams in the U.S.), so what's an eco-sensitive bather to do?
Unfortunately, we couldn't find any organic alternatives in Toronto, but there are hemp ones online. And really, if hemp was good enough for most of the world's sails for centuries, it should be good enough to withstand a measly shower. Rawganique.com sells naturally anti-fungal organic hemp shower curtains from $66. They even sell hemp macrame rings to hang it from. If you're crafty, you can also buy hemp fabric by the metre at Toronto Hemp Company on Yonge and sew one yourself.
An even easier way to green tub time is to ditch the chemical bath products and splurge on some organic, wildcrafted bath oils and bath teas (from $11.95 at T.H.E. Store on Avenue Road) or just reach into your kitchen cupboards and drizzle 1 ounce of organic almond oil or olive oil into the water. Add a few drops of your fave essential oils to sweeten things up. Drop the chem-filled soap in favour of a naturally zesty bar like Delucious Soap Co.'s ginger snap soap made with freshly grated ginger ($4.79 at Big Carrot on Danforth and Noah's on Bloor or Yonge, or $10 or less per pound for soapy seconds, namely off-cuts, at their Matilda Street retail shop). And why not rest that bar in a soap dish made almost entirely of recycled glass (various shapes, sizes and colours at Grassroots on Bloor or Danforth, from $22.50). Ten Thousand Villages sells fairly traded ceramic or hand-carved onyx soap dishes from $23. If bath salts are your thing, make sure to buy in bulk to cut back on packaging waste. Local Paper Bag Princess and BC-based Kootenay Soaps make all kinds of sweet 'n' sassy bulk salts, like "Aroma Borealis" or "Tired Old Ass" (from $11.29 at Big Carrot). Or whip up your own soaks, salts and scrubs with recipes from www.makeyourownmakeup.com.
Scrub your conscience clean with unbleached and controlled-harvested sea sponges by Urban Spa (from $3.29 at Big Carrot or Noah's). Or body brushes made from jute, coconut or sisal (from $2.79 at Grassroots, Big Carrot or Noah's).
Lastly, dry off with unbleached, undyed cotton towels ($39.99 for regular sized bath towel at Grassroots) or 100 per cent organic cotton towels ($42.95 for regular sized at T.H.E. Store).
But all the organic goodies in the world won't save your eco soul if you're a major water hog. If you still insist on taking baths all the friggin' time, you can wash your sins away by only filling the tub quarter-full.
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