Lessons Learned from a Year without Showering

As of today it has been one year since my last shower.  Yes, I know that sounds crazy and a year ago I would have agreed with you.  I was a regular showering guy for the first 26 years of my life. Well, maybe not every single day, but just about.

So how does a regular showering guy end up going 365 days and counting without taking a shower?  It started with a long bike ride across America to promote sustainability and eco-friendly living.  I set a bunch of rules for myself to follow to lead by example. The rule for water was that I could only harvest it from natural sources such as lakes, rivers, and rain or from wasted sources such as leaky faucets.  And I kept track of exactly how much I used too, with an aim of showing just how little we need to get by.

I made it through the 100-day bike ride without taking a shower and for me that was quite the task in itself.  But everything had gone so well that I decided to continue my showerless streak.  I set a goal for 6 months and when that day passed I figured I might as well go a full year without a shower.

So here I am now, one year later, to tell you story of my year without a shower.

I might as well bring this up right away.  You think I’m really stinky right?  You think I smell like some sort of Swamp Monster like this:

Rob Greenfield Swamp Monster

Actually, nope.  When I say that I haven’t showered that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t bathing. I swam almost daily in places like this:

Rob Greenfield Water

And this:

Rob Greenfield

And showered in waterfalls like this:

Adventurer Rob Greenfield

and I used eco-friendly biodegradable soap when I needed to.

Dr. Bronner's Soap

But I learned that by living naturally I didn’t need cosmetic products anymore.  I just used some soap, toothpaste, and essential oils and found that to work real well.  This compared to previously using colognes, deodorant, shampoo, lotions, and all sorts of other products full of chemicals.   And guess what?  I had no lack of friends!

Rob Greenfield 1 Percent for the Planet

In fact some even bathed with me.

Rob Greenfield Water

And I even had some romances in that year.

Rob Greenfield Water

Nobody thought that I smelled at all.  And I surprised myself at how clean I was, just like everyone else.

prAna Rob Greenfield

I realized that water doesn’t have to come from a shower head to get me clean. You can wash yourself in lakes.

Adventurer Rob Greenfield

Rivers.

River

Or just by sitting in the rain.

River

But when natural water wasn’t available I found other places to clean myself without having an impact.  Like this leaky fire hydrant in Brooklyn:

Rob Greenfield Fire Hydrant

Or this blasting fire hydrant in the Bronx:

Rob Greenfield

I learned that I can air dry rather than using a towel.  And this meant less laundry, which saved even more water.

Rob Greenfield

And I also turned my shower time into a time to connect with nature.  It became my favorite time of the day, when I would disconnect from the stresses of life and be present with my surroundings.

connect with surroundings

Sometimes I jumped around before jumping in.

Rob Greenfield Jumping

And sometimes I just chilled out.

Rob Greenfield Naked

Other times I contemplated life.

Rob Greenfield

And on occasion I’d have guests.

Rob Greenfield Peeing

I learned that the average American uses about 100 gallons of water per day.  But I was able to use less than 2 gallons per day on my bike trip.  That’s just 8 Nalgene water bottles.  (This was not including the natural water and leaky sources that I bathed in.)

Rob Greenfield Drinking

Most importantly I learned to really appreciate every last drop.

Rob Greenfield Water

Because water gives life to all of us and the animals too.

Ducks in a Row

When I got home from my bike trip I resumed  life at home but managed to use just 10-20 gallons per day.  That is 5-10 times less than the average American uses.  I went another 8 months without showering and conserved over 5,000 gallons of water and had plenty of fun with friends at the same time!

Rob Greenfield Dumpster Dinner

And when I didn’t feel like swimming, but I needed to get clean, I just rubbed myself down with a cloth and a gallon of water.  But most importantly, I learned that you don’t have to stop showering to be a part of the solution.  Their are many easy ways to conserve water and most are really easy for any of us to do.

You can…

-Eat less (or no) meat and dairy*

-Flush the toilet less often.

-Take shorter showers or turn off the water while you’re soaping up and scrubbing down.

-Wash clothes less and in full loads

-Turn off the faucet

-Wash the dishes efficiently.

-Install water efficient showerheads and toilets.

-Get your leaks fixed.

-Grow food not lawns.

-Harvest rain.

How will you choose to conserve water?  Start today by picking just one way to conserve and with time do more and more.  You’ll likely find it to be quite easy this way.

And if you do all of that, you might start feeling like this!

Rob Greenfield Happy

Please share this story to inspire others to conserve water!
Photography by Brent Martin

*This tip was added due to an extremely large number of people bringing it up.  “It takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat, while growing 1 pound of wheat only requires 25 gallons. You save more water by not eating a pound of meat than you do by not showering for six months!”  Source: Peta  I adopted a plant-based diet a few years back but had I not already I could simply have eaten a few less chicken breasts and reduced my water usage by the same amount.  If I could do only one thing to live in a manner that is good for the earth, my community, and myself it would be eating a plant-based diet.  

Note added 09/06/2014:  Since writing this article I have learned that you should not use any soap in natural bodies of water, even biodegradable soap.  Soap does not readily biodegrade in water as it does in soil.  If you want to bath with soap you should instead take a bucket of water 200 feet from the water source so that the soap runs off of you into the soil where microbes can break down the nutrients in the soap.  Today I use soap on my hands but rarely anywhere else.  It has been 1 year and almost 4 months since my last conventional shower and my hygiene is better than ever wven having embraced a nearly soap free life. Learn more at LeaveNoTrace.com