Overwashed: Rethinking the Daily Shower

Americans are overwashed.  Really.  We take more frequent showers than any other people anywhere on earth, and across all of human time.  Recently, I decided to think twice about the impulse to jump out of bed and into the shower practically every day.  I mean–why?  It’s not like I’m actually dirty.  My hair might be flat and sort of ucky, but I can wash it in the sink.  This takes less water, and much less time–lightening and simplifying my life on multiple levels.  It also allows my skin to retain its natural oils– free from the daily dousing of hot water and soap, my skin is much softer and moister, and I need less lotion.

Think you need a shower to “wake up?” I always thought so, but try this:

–Pat your head and face gently all over on awakening.

–Give your hair a quick wash in the sink with Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo. It’s paraben- free, and really does tingle–not just during the shampooing, but for a long while after.  I just love this stuff. You could also add a couple drops of tea tree oil to your usual shampoo.  If your kids are in summer camp or a school with lice issues, this will also help deter nits!

Dry brush your skin every morning.  This feels so good and invigorating, and allows the skin to exfoliate, while maintaining its natural moisture content.  There are also benefits to the lymphatic system, muscular health, and the nervous system from dry brushing!  They say it even decreases cellulite…

Feeling funky? Maybe all you need is a PTA Bath.  When I was in fifth grade, we visited my dad’s family in Iowa.  One day my mom said, “Lyanda, you should take a shower today,” and  Gramma Carrie, who raised five children in poverty in rural Iowa, said, “Oh, she just needs a PTA bath.”  We raised our eyebrows, and my cute little gramma shocked us by saying nonchalantly, “Pussy, tits, and armpits.”  Ha!  But that’s often plenty…

Lately, seeing the rampant media images from refugee camps across the globe–victims of natural, environmental,  and political tragedy, living in waterless tents–I’ve realized more than ever  how lightly I take the privilege of ready access to cheap, clean water. On a recent trip to Ethiopia, Tom took this amazing photo of a man carrying his day’s water from the river near Debre Birhan.

This isn’t about guilt–it’s about living our lives simply, beautifully, intentionally.  We just don’t have to do what we always thought we had to do by rote.  I’m not fanatic about fewer showers–if I’m gross, or sweaty, or smelly, or just really want a shower, I have one, gratefully.   But fewer is better in lots of ways, and I’ve come to really enjoy the simplicity of  non-shower days.

Rest in Peace Gramma Carrie Andrena Peterson Haupt, 1911-2001.


Thanks to Flickr users NeilsPhotogrpahy and stevedepolo.


  1. Angela

    When my children were little they all had severe eczema. The pediatrician said to only bathe them twice a week, three times MAX. This is what I’ve done for their entire childhoods … no one died. 🙂

    1. lyanda

      Trileigh–thank you.

      Angela–Yes! Babies are the most overwashed of us all. I learned this too when my daughter was an infant–parents love to bathe their babies, but it can be very hard on their sensitive skin. Other than their little bums, of course, they do not need nearly as much washing as we give them.

  2. Laura

    Have you tried dry shampoo? It is my new favorite thing. It soaks up the oil from your scalp. Not only do you get to skip the shower but also the hair dryer!

    1. lyanda

      Laura–I didn’t even know about dry shampoo! Hmm…I do love dousing my hair, but I will watch for it, sounds really interesting, and great for camping/travel.

      1. Jennifer

        Dry shampoo is awesome! I have somewhat fine hair that can become flat on no-shower days and dry shampoo really perks it up. I tried the powder first, but find that the “PSSST” spray works better for me (and is cheaper and available at Walgreens!)

  3. Kate

    Thanks for tackling this slightly taboo topic! Being a more-dry-than-oily person myself, I have gone 3-5 days between full showers for most of my adult life (except when needed/wanted), and I think it has helped my skin & hair health is all kinds of ways. Then there’s the earth & the water bill. Bonus! k8

  4. jhaygood

    i actually rarely use soap in the shower, though still do the daily rinse. it just started to seem weird to me, washing away the oils i wanted along with whatever it was i wanted to wash away. i may be lucky in terms of general b.o. so i get away with it, but it just makes more sense to me to do a solid rinse and leave it at that. but i get the point of your post, and i’m all in favor of making things we take for granted a bit more conscious, and see where that leads.

  5. We have two showers a week, tops, and we are clean and presentable and never smell! My mum used to stick us all in the bath every day when we were children. Crazy! My sister has carried on the habit with her four. Life’s too short. We could all save a lot of water with a bit more care.

  6. Tara

    Yes, my mother-in-law was shocked, when she asked when the children’s bath time was, to learn that it only comes once or twice a week, unless there is actual dirtiness. I myself am on an every-other-day routine…

    Thanks for the post! Love your blog!

  7. maggenpie

    Next step, skip the hair shampoo. Why wash away the natural oils, then try to replace them by artifical means aka conditioner? I’ve not used shampoo on my thigh length hair in four years. Its tangle free, thicker and healthier than ever, and I get plenty of compliments. I just rinse it through in luke warm water, never hot. I’m saving a fortune, and no soap down the drain.

  8. Hi Lyanda,
    I just discoverd your blog and it is wonderful. While I was caring for my parents, their specialist talked about not taking showers or baths every day because elderly people’s skin is thin and tends to be dry. Every other day is plenty so that’s what I do because I’m retired and am not getting dirty, requiring a daily bath.
    My bog is in connection with my self-published cookbook, Please Be Seated in hopes I will generate interest and sell more books. I have been doing a variety of posts on affordable entertaining, a few family stories and my own tales. Then, I began to think about the fact that children are getting very little history in school. The reason this thought came to the frontal lobe was that every time I visted my grandchildren and we ate together, they inhaled their food and ran from the table to the computer, ipod, etc. There are many chefs taking about gthering around the table as a family at dinnertime but I thought to myself, we have to keep them there for a while to interact and teach them how to converse, how to set the table properly, and any subject that we think they might find interesting. So, I thought I would write a few lines on some of the lesser known presidents of the United States and target famous people from the Victorian Era.”A Summer Lunch with Beatrix Potter” is a future post. I was trying to find out what she ate. I already knew what Peter ate. That’s how I found you.

    I lived in Washington D.C. for a year. It is against the law to kill squirrels there even though they eat all the sprouting vegetables and are not welcome, but I love them as I love all the little woodland creatures and I especially love rabbits.
    Thank you for writing such a delightful blog.

  9. I recently took to washing hair and body in a special clay and using an olive oil based soap for shaving. My skin did feel better, but I didn’t feel great about the use of rare imported and dare I say it expensive resources.

  10. Vicky

    Great article. I agree totally. The dry brush is my best friend, and I use Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap (Water, Organic Coconut Oil, Potassium Hydroxide, Organic Olive Oil, Mentha Arvensis, Organic Hemp Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Organic Peppermint Oil, Citric Acid, Tocopherol ). It’s very mild but also extremely thorough in cleansing and also has that tea tree oil tingle from the peppermint. I don’t use shampoo or conditioner or deodorant anymore, so my shower time is greatly reduced, but I will usually shower after a workout. If I miss a few days, I haven’t worked up a sweat, then I have no odor/cleanliness issues to speak of, so I don’t feel obligated to shower at all. A lot of body odor has to do with diet as well, so as long as you keep that in check, you shouldn’t smell so offensive as to require a daily shower, especially if you aren’t actively sweating every day. My exception is during that time of the month.

  11. I would have thought the T in PTA would be “tail”. Too funny! I haven’t heard of dry shampoo, but Arm & Hammer combed through hair absorbs oils. That’s probably what the dry shampoo is based on.

    The other night we were having dinner in a local park and the kids were running through the sprinkler. I asked if that counted as a bath and we all agreed that it did.

    1. lyanda

      Love all the shower experiences! Thanks for sharing, everyone.

      Martha–I absolutey agree, running through the sprinkler should definitely “count!”

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