Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Hair washing - survey results

Thanks to everyone who completed my survey on how we wash our hair in the shower. I am concerned about this because of my general concern about water use as well as energy because showers can use a lot of both. Your shower could account for half your water consumption or even more*. This is more of an issue for people with long hair, although you do not have to have long hair to take a long time in the shower. The results of the survey demonstrate a wide range of behaviour, even though I am sure there was a tendency for respondents to be more eco-conscious than average - otherwise why would they take the time to fill in my survey? Anyway, here are my main findings.

Phases and waiting times

Half of us have a two-phase hair washing process, typically wash and condition. Most of the rest of us have a single phase wash and just a few have more than two phases.

Conditioners often require you to leave them on for a while. For the majority it is one minute or less but a quarter of us are supposed to leave conditioner on for more than two minutes. On the other hand we do not always do what we are told. In this small survey only one person whose conditioner required more than one minute said they did actually leave it on as instructed. I wonder what the people who write these instructions actually expect?

Leaving the shower on

Most people turn the shower off or at least down a bit while they are lathering or conditioning their hair. However some do not - there is definitely scope for water saving there. 


I did not ask about frequency, however some volunteered this information.

Frequency of hair washing varies from daily to once every few weeks or only when especially dusty such as after doing DIY. Some people have made a conscious decision to wash hair less often - every few days rather than every day - and have not noticed any bad effects from this.

One person said they wash their hair daily but only use shampoo a couple of times a week. Not using shampoo is an easy way to save time and water.

One person said they wash their hair in the bath a lot of the time. This obviously uses no extra water. However baths use more than showers, unless you have a very long shower. **

Time in the shower

I did not ask this either, but some volunteered the information. Several people claimed to take only 2-3 minutes. One said that washing their hair takes only 30 seconds and suggested this is because they are male. In fact I am quite sure it is a function of hair length - speaking from personal experience of both long and short hair :-)

One person said they take 15 to 20 minutes on average, and only some of this time is for washing - the rest is for de-stressing and rejuvenating their mind and spirit. I believe there are other techniques for this that do not use so much water and energy! But if you think you are really going to take 20 minutes you would almost certainly use less water by having a bath instead** - which is also very relaxing.

Washing products

One person mentioned a zero-waste shampoo bar which I had never heard of so thanks for that. Though actually I have given up shampoo altogether since my hair is now so short. Another pointed out that since shower-gel and shampoo have very similar ingredients there is rarely a need for both. I think that the product manufacturers are very keen to sell us all sorts of specialist products whether or not we actually need them.

In summary
  • If we were to follow the manufacturer's instructions for washing and conditioning our hair we would use a lot more water than we actually do. In fact we rarely do as we are told, especially when we are told to leave conditioner on for a long time.
  • Quite a lot of people turn the shower off or at least reduce the flow while washing and conditioning hair. This is an effective way to save water and energy. 
  • Although some people wash their hair every day this is often unnecessary, and if you do wash frequently you can could try using just water some of the time, saving time and hence water.
  • Some people take a very long time in the shower because it is enjoyable and relaxing. However there are other ways to relax that do not consume large amounts of water and energy.
Thank you again to everyone that took part. Would you also be interested in measuring flow rates? This is obviously more trouble than filling in a survey as it involves a timer, a bucket and a measuring jug. The simplest approach is to measure how many litres of water you get in the bucket from, 20 seconds of flow. Then multiply by three for litres/minute. If you think you could do this, please let me know, and please also indicate if you think your shower head is supposed to be water saving or not. You can email me here.

* The average UK domestic water consumption is 140 litres per person per day so half would be 70 litres. A typical 8 litres/min shower would use 70 litres in just under 9 minutes. That is longer than the average but not unusual. Also if you have a dual flush toilet your total usage is likely to be less than the average. For more about water consumption, see my water usage estimator.

** A standard bath is 90 litres and a standard shower uses about 8 litres/minutes (I think, although it is hard to find good data on this). That makes a bath equivalent to a shower of 11.5 minutes. However baths and showers vary.

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